Weeping relatives of two women killed in a quiet market town in Northern Ireland crowded into a courtroom yesterday to face the man accused of their murders.
The families of Michelle Bickerstaff, 47, and Margaret Weise, 50 - who were found dead in Dromore, Co Down five years apart - huddled together, clutched hands and wiped away tears as stone mason Leslie James Anderson Ross was remanded in custody.
The 66-year-old - an ex partner of both women - showed no emotion as the two murder counts were put to him by a clerk at Armagh Magistrates Court.
The two women were found dead in Ross’ home town of Dromore, Co Down.
Ms Bickerstaff, a mother-of-four was found dead in April 2012 while Ms Weise’s body was discovered in August 2007.
Dressed in a black jacket which was unzipped, jeans and a dark coloured jumper Ross, who had been in police custody since Tuesday looked tired and drawn. He stood in the dock - just a few feet from the distressed relations of his alleged victims - shoulders slouched and flanked by two prison guards. Ross’s thick grey hair was unkempt and some light stubble was also visible.
For the most part he stared straight ahead only occasionally looking towards the ground or at his defence lawyer in the well of the court.
As he was led from the dock to be taken away to Maghaberry high security prison in Co Antrim, Ross threw a brief glance towards the bereft families in the public gallery but there were no verbal exchanges.
Relatives of a third woman - mother-of-one Lily McKee, 52, who died in December 2002 - were also at the court hearing. Ms McKee, a divorcee and former beauty queen, also lived in Dromore and according to her only daughter Jenny Dickson had been in an on-off relationship with Ross for 11 years.
Police said a file on that investigation would be submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Ross, whose family was once heavily connected to the licensed trade, was questioned before by police and then released without charge.
Outside court Ross’s lawyer confirmed he would be denying the charges.
He said: “In essence Mr Ross has indicated that he categorically and vehemently denies all allegations of wrongdoing. That has been pointed out to the court this morning and at the earliest opportunity he will robustly defend all matters.”
Ross is due to appear again via videolink on September 19.