Inside the head of a killer – warnings signs of a schizophrenic Sunderland knifenman

Ronald Dixon
Ronald Dixon
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A DAMNING report this week claimed schizophrenic Sunderland killer Ronald Dixon should have been detained under the Mental Health Act long before he stabbed a health worker to death.

Today, the Echo examines Dixon’s Wearside past, and reveals how there were chilling early signs of what was to come.

On May 19, 2006, Dixon stabbed Ashleigh Ewing 39 times before walking into a nearby police station and handing himself in.

University graduate Ashleigh, 22, was working for Sunderland charity Mental Health Matters, which was at the time supporting Dixon.

This week, the independent panel set up following the killing, criticised health chiefs and ruled that Dixon, who was 35 at the time of the incident, should never have been managed in the community.

Today, we look at the brutal killer’s history and the warning signs that were ignored.


•attacked his parents in their Sunderland home with a hammer as they slept, before walking into a nearby police station and saying “I’ve killed my father”.

•was taken to Sunderland Royal Hospital’s A&E department where he claimed there were good and evil spirits in his head which had infested him during a trip to Zimbabwe.

•claimed he was royalty while in cells at Houghton Magistrates’ Court.

•threatened to kill Wearside magistrates when he appeared before them in relation to criminal damage charges.

•believed he was the secret son of the Queen and her father Edward VIII

•claimed his mother, the Queen, had a plate put in his head which brought his thoughts up on a screen

•believed doctors in a royal palace did a lobectomy on his brain which made him forget his past.

Despite his obvious delusional state of mind, Dixon was still allowed to be cared for in the community in the years prior to him stabbing Ashleigh to death.

The independent panel revealed how from his first encounter with mental health services in 1993, Dixon developed a well-established history of psychotic symptoms and bizarre behaviour.

Born on February 3, 1972, Dixon was the youngest of three children.

He was known to have disliked school, was bullied, fell in with the wrong crowd, and left without any formal qualifications.

In September 1994, already socially isolated, he enrolled at Monkwearmouth College to study GCSEs in maths, physics, politics and information systems. He failed to complete his studies.

Enrolling on Youth Training Schemes he went on to work for a Sunderland tool firm, as well as a city laundry.

It was just two months after starting college that Dixon suddenly attacked his parents in the early hours of November 11, 1994, as they lay in bed at the family home in Shakespeare Street, Southwick. In the hours before the assault, he had downed a two litre bottle of cider before going to bed at 1am. Unable to sleep, he became focused on the fact his father appeared to be forgetting things.

Getting up, he went downstairs and picked up a hammer before going into his parents’ room and attacking them both. Both were hit across the head, before Dixon ran downstairs and out of the house.

Wearing only a T-shirt and underpants he fled to a nearby police station and, in frightening similarities to events more than 10 years later, told police “I’ve killed my father. I’ve hit him with a hammer. I went into the room, he woke up and I just hit him”.

Dixon later claimed the attack was on “impulse” and that by attacking his parents he hoped someone would take notice of the fact things were “going wrong for him” in life.

The next worrying development came in January 1997, when his parents were forced to call police after he claimed there were good and evil spirits in his head which had infested him during a trip to Zimbabwe three to six months previously. There was no evidence this trip had happened.

Taken to the city’s A&E department, Dixon claimed voices from the evil spirits were talking to him, directing him towards doing things, although he never elaborated as to what those “things” were. He believed people were trying to kill him and was becoming increasingly paranoid.

Between September 1997 and March 1998, Dixon was arrested on numerous occasions, and frequently made claims he was the Queen’s son Robert Windsor.

In February 1998, he smashed a TV and again repeated claims of his royal connections and wishes to kill members of the Royal family. While in custody he made repeated claims that a colonel would get him out.

From June 19, 1998, to November 1999 Dixon was detained under the Mental Health Act.

During this period he made claims doctors in the palace did a lobectomy on his brain which made him forget his past, the Queen had a plate put in his head which brings thoughts up on a screen, and that he had been sent to the North East by the Queen in 1972, and she was trying to keep his existence a secret.

Yet still, despite all of these bizarre and clearly deranged actions, Dixon was allowed back into the community in the hope of managing his condition.

In October 2007, Dixon pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Ashleigh on the grounds of diminished responsibility and was ordered to be detained indefinitely in a secure psychiatric unit.