Moors murderer Myra Hindley, the woman who came to personify evil for many, has died, a Prison Service spokesman said tonight.
Hindley, 60, died following respiratory failure.
She was taken to West Suffolk hospital at Bury St Edmunds with a suspected heart attack earlier this month.
“Her next of kin have been informed,” said the spokesman.
“There will now be a coroner’s inquest as is routine with a prisoner who dies in custody.”
Hindley, a chain smoker, had experienced ill-health for much of her 36 years behind bars, suffering from angina, suspected strokes and osteoporosis.
Hindley and her insane accomplice Ian Brady, 64, were sentenced to die in jail in 1966 for three child murders. In 1987 they confessed to two more child killings.
But she had clung to the hope that she might one day win her freedom despite the determination of successive Home Secretaries that she should die behind bars.
It was thought that a recently-launched House of Lords legal challenge aimed at stripping home secretaries of the power to keep prisoners in jail after they are no longer considered a risk might eventually have led to her walking free.
Her death spared future Home Secretaries the furore which would have surrounded her release from Highpoint Prison in Suffolk.
Brady and Hindley were jailed for the sexual abuse, torture and murder of young children.
Pauline Read was the first child to suffer the consequences of Brady and Hindley’s sadistic and warped minds.
The 16-year-old vanished on July 12, 1963 on her way to a disco near her home in Gorton, Manchester.
It was not until 1987 that her body was found in a shallow grave on Saddleworth Moor after Hindley and Brady’s jail-cell confessions.
John Kilbride vanished four months after Pauline – the day after President John F Kennedy’s assassination in the United States.
He was lured up on to the moor, sexually assaulted and murdered.
A photograph taken by Brady of Hindley posing on the edge of John’s grave holding her pet dog would later lead police to the young boy’s resting place.
The body of the murderers’ next victim, 12-year-old Keith Bennett, has never been discovered.
He vanished after leaving his home in Chorlton-on-Medlock in Manchester on June 16 1964.
Lesley Ann Downey was murdered on Boxing Day, 1964.
The 10-year-old – their youngest victim – was enticed from a fairground to the house Hindley shared with her grandmother in Hattersley.
In Hindley’s bedroom, she was stripped, sexually abused and tortured as they forced her to pose for pornographic photographs.
The harrowing attack was recorded on audio tape by Hindley. The tape lasted 16 minutes 21 seconds.
Earlier this month it was reported that Hindley was being given free nicotine patches, worth £20-a-week, on the NHS in an attempt to stop her smoking.
She had been taken to hospital for heart tests last month and specialists ordered her to give up the habit.
Hindley was understood to have given orders to her lawyers before a 2000 operation that she was not to be kept alive artificially if she lapsed into a coma.
She also ordered that none of her organs should be offered for transplant if she died and detailed that she wanted to be cremated and her ashes scattered at a secret location.
Home Secretary David Blunkett had been expected to lose a crucial case later this year on his powers to set inmates’ sentences.
Convicted killer Anthony Anderson went to the House of Lords last month because the 15-year minimum term his trial judge said would serve a minimum was increased to 20 years by the Home Secretary of the day.
The minister lost the right to set sentences for child criminals after a European court ruling on James Bulger’s killers Jon Venables and Robert Thompson.
However, Mr Blunkett has vowed to pass a new law to keep high-profile killers like Hindley in jail even if Strasbourg rules the current system illegal.
The results of the Anderson case are due in December. If he won, Hindley was expected to apply to Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf for a new minimum sentence.
Hindley went into the hospital on November 12, sources said.
She had also been admitted for several days earlier in the month after suffering the suspected heart attack.
Mark Leech, editor of the Prisons Handbook and the inmates’ newspaper ConVerse, spent three hours with Hindley in her cell at Durham jail in 1997.
He said: “I had been on a TV programme talking about life sentence prisoners and said that in a small minority of cases life must mean life, and that Myra Hindley was one of them.
“She invited me to see her because she wanted me to change my views.
“I came away not with an alternative opinion but with an entrenched one.”
He added: She struck me as a very emotionless, very cold person – perhaps that’s inevitable after 30-odd years in jail.
“But she was very adept at telling you what she thought you wanted to hear, if she thought it would bring her closer to release.”