Episode 51 - The Murder of Banaz Mahmod

In broad daylight on a warm summer afternoon in 2016, British politician and MP for Batley and Spen, Jo Cox, was murdered in cold blood. Horrified witnesses at the scene scrambled at the sound of gunshots and the sight of an unknown attacker with a sawn-off rifle and knife in hand. Jo Cox’s death stunned the nation and sent shockwaves through Britain’s political circle. 

As investigators begin to gather evidence that would explain the horrific murder of a beloved politician, wife, and mother of two, the nation is left with a pressing question–what could have possibly led a man with seemingly no history of violence to brutally murder a female MP that he had never met? The answers to that question were more troubling than anyone could have imagined. 


Jo Cox was born Helen Joanne Leadbeater on June 22, 1974, in Batley, West Yorkshire, England. Her mother, Jean, was a school secretary and her father, Gordon Leadbeater, worked in a toothpaste and hairspray factory. Jo was raised in Heckmondwike and attended a state grammar school where she exhibited early leadership skills by becoming a head girl. 

Jo was the first member of her family to go to university, attending Pembroke College, Cambridge, where she initially studied Archaeology and Anthropology before transferring to Social and Political Science. At university, Jo struggled to fit in at first, as many of her peers came from wealthy or privileged backgrounds. While other undergraduates took vacations during their gap years, Jo would spend summers packing toothpaste in the factory where her father worked. Though her time in Cambridge had knocked her confidence and set her back in many ways, she was able to overcome those difficulties, and through sheer perseverance and ambition was able to find both academic success and long-lasting friendships there. 

The inspiration for Jo’s future as an MP came after she visited Parliament at the age of fifteen and after graduating from Pembroke College in 1995, she worked as a parliamentary adviser to labour MP Joan Walley until 1997. Jo would eventually become the head of Key Campaigns in Britain in Europe before working as a political advisor to Glenys Kinnock, the wife of Labour leader Neil Kinnock who at the time was a member of the European Parliament.

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Jo spent a decade working with aid groups. This work would make a significant impact on her life and her career in politics would make a dramatic shift as a result. 

As an aid worker, she would meet with rape victims in Darfur in Sudan and talk to child soldiers about their traumatic experiences of being forced to kill their own family members. Through her charity work and interactions with those less fortunate, Jo’s beliefs and political views were influenced, and she became passionate about social issues and humanitarian crises. 

Jo met Brenden Cox in 2005, while working for the same charitable organization. They quickly bonded over their shared love of adventure and travel and in 2009, less than five years after they met, they married in the small village of Knoydart in Western Scotland. The couple would have two children together.  

Between her duties as a mother and wife, and her busy work schedule, Jo had her hands full, but motherhood only ignited her passion to help others. By 2015, Jo had fought for the rights of women and children with vigor and earlier that same year she took the opportunity to make her lifelong dreams of becoming an MP a reality. After a brutal campaign, she won the vote, increasing the Labour majority. 

Jo’s life had come full circle. She had two beautiful children, a supportive husband, and the career she had dreamed of since she was just a girl. Jo’s husband, Brenden, would later recall an afternoon when he and Jo were sitting on a bench overlooking the garden at their Welsh cottage. Their children, then 5-year-old Cuilin and 3-year-old Lejla were a free yards away, playing when Jo turned to her husband and said, “You know, we’ll look back on these days as the happiest days of our life.” 

But just four days later, Jo Cox was dead–brutally murdered by a man she had never met. 


On June 16, 2016, the West Yorkshire village of Birstall was bustling with people. That afternoon, there was a football match between England and Wales which drew even more people into the local pubs. 

That same day, Jo Cox was on her way to meet constituents at a routine political surgery in Birstall. Unbeknownst to her, a man by the name of Thomas Mair was lying in wait, a bag in hand and a baseball cap pulled low over his face.  

When Jo arrived at the Birstall Library, Thomas Mair unleashed an onslaught of violence. 

Jo was shot three times with a twenty-two. rifle, once in the chest and twice in the head, then stabbed fifteen times, including in the heart and lungs. People scattered down Birstall Market Place at the terrifying sounds of gunshots, screaming and desperately searching for cover. Jo Cox’s manager, Fazila Aswat, tried to fend off the attacker by hitting him with her handbag but eventually backed away in fear for her life. 

Thomas Mair repeatedly shouted, “Britain first,” as he committed the heinous crime. 

A 77-year-old retired mines rescuer named Bernard Carter-Kenny was also stabbed after coming to Jo’s aid, but he survived the attack. Jo Cox would not be so lucky. At only 41 years old, Jo succumbed to her injuries shortly after being admitted to the hospital. 

Thomas Mair was tackled and restrained a mile from the murder scene by unarmed police officers after he disregarded his baseball cap and jacket. He was promptly arrested. 

As Jo’s loved ones come to the devastating realization that she has been murdered, police officers and investigators work to piece together what happened and more importantly, why. Those answers would only be found inside the life of her murderer: Thomas Mair. 


After the murder, Thomas Mair’s cap and jacket were found in an overgrown garden. Forensic evidence would quickly reveal that his clothing items had gunshot particles consistent with the gun used in the attack. Jo Cox’s DNA was also found.  

There was no question about who committed the murder but as investigators took a closer look into Mair’s private life, the reason became disturbingly clear when a trail of deep-seated hatred began to emerge. 

Thomas Mair was a 53-year-old unemployed gardener at the time of the murder. He was born in Scotland but had lived in Birstall in West Yorkshire for most of his life. He lived an unremarkable life and neighbors that knew him said he would occasionally mow their lawns but that he never had visitors, barely talked, and usually avoided eye contact. 

His home reflected him in many ways–unassuming. The quaint house where he lived his life was neat and sparsely furnished with tidy cupboards and single beds in the bedrooms. But the more police combed through, the more signs they saw of his far-right ideologies. 

Detectives found a Third Reich eagle ornament with a swastika on a bookcase in one of the bedrooms. On the organized bookshelves sat dozens of books about the German military, Nazi race theory and white supremacism. 

The civil rights group the Southern Poverty Law Center obtained records proving Thomas Mair had links to the neo-Nazi organization National Alliance dating back to 1999, 17 years before he murdered Jo Cox. 

When police went through his search history and internet usage, they found more evidence of his obsession with the far-right. In the days and months leading up to the murder, he was reading articles about Nazi figures, the Ku Klux Klan, and Dylann Roof, the white supremacist and convicted mass murderer who killed nine people, all African Americans, during a Bible study at their church in the U.S. 

Mair’s act of violence drew inspiration from another right-wing terrorist named David Copeland. In 1999, Copeland planted three bombs in London, targeting Black people, Asians, and gay people. Three people died and over 140 were injured in the attack. 

It was evident that Mair was a domestic terrorist in the making but his greatest grievance was with the white people whom he believed were collaborators to the supposed existential threat against the white race–the liberals, the left, the mainstream media, and ultimately, Jo Cox. 

Jo Cox did not share Mair’s views, and it is speculated that Jo was specifically targeted because she was a passionate defender of the European Union and immigration. Mair saw her as a traitor. But perhaps, the root of Mair’s hatred could be traced back to early childhood. 

As a child, Thomas Mair was abandoned by his mother after she married a Caribbean immigrant. The couple lived in Batley while Mair was raised by his grandparents in Birstall, only a couple of miles away. 

One of Mair’s internet searches was on “matricide,” the killing of one’s mother. During the trial, an otherwise cold and stoic Mair reacted to the mention of mothers and motherhood. It would seem that while Mair’s political and racist ideals were the driving force behind his act of violence, Jo Cox, mother of two, was the target of his displaced rage and resentment toward his own mother.  


In the aftermath of the murder, neighbors of Mair suggested that mental illness was to blame. Mair’s family confirmed that he had been treated for obsessive-compulsive disorder with a focus on cleanliness. Evidence of his OCD tendencies was found when police searched the home. After he was arrested, Mair was examined by a psychiatrist who found no evidence that his mental health was so severe that he was not responsible for his actions. He was declared a sane man and fit for trial. 

On June 18, 2016, when asked to confirm his name in court, Mair said, “My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain,” only reaffirming what investigators and the public already knew: Thomas Mair was a white supremacist, and now he was a murderer too. 

The jury would take 90 minutes to convict Thomas Mair of Jo Cox’s murder and that same day on November 23, 2016, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Due to his conviction and the nature of the crime, Mair was considered a terrorist by the United Kingdom. 

During her brief time in parliament, Jo Cox made a significant impact, campaigning for international issues, education, and children in need. She strived for tolerance and diversity, values that would ultimately cost her her life. 

After the guilty verdict, Jo’s family made sure to carry those values onward and celebrate her life. Her murder was an act of terrorism driven by the kind of hatred that divides people, but her tragic death instead pulled the nation together.  

Jo’s energy for life was immeasurable and while she had passions and ambition for her career, her priority was always as a mother to her two children. And it was that love that propelled her towards making the world a better place for them. The reaction to her death across Britain and around the world only solidified that the values she lived by are widely shared. 

Nearly 7 years after her death and Jo’s influence has remained. A foundation set up in her honor has helped over 35,000 women in the years following her death. The annual Great Get Togethers held by the foundation has brought together eighteen million people, all from diverse backgrounds, coming together to make connections within their communities. 

It is a testament to her life’s work and the way she was able to touch people with her kindness, humor, and humanity. Her senseless murder devastated her family, leaving a void in their lives that can never be filled but it only helped to prove what she spent her entire life fighting for–that there is no place for hatred, and that a world that is tolerant and inclusive is not just possible but achievable. 

Though the extent of Thomas Mair’s evil may never be fully understood, the people of Britain can rest a little easier knowing that he will never have the opportunity to harm another person again. 


Obituary: Jo Cox 

Wiki: Murder of Jo Cox 

Jo Cox Murder Trial 

Far-right Terrorist Jailed 

The Slow-Burning Hatred that Led Thomas Mair 

What Happened to MP Jo Cox? 

Nazi-obsessed Loner Gets Life 

Jo Cox Foundation 

Why Was Jo Cox Murdered?