IT ranks as the most intensive manhunt Hampshire police ever conducted as scores of officers scoured the countryside for a psychopath who had blasted a shy and friendly sheep farmer to death and put isolated communities in fear of their lives.

"Do not approach this man," was the urgent warning issued to the public by Detective Chief Inspector Roger Honey. "He is highly dangerous and I urge them to contact us immediately and not have a go."

Specially trained armed marksmen surrounded a New Forest cottage where Richard Gambrell had hidden for almost two weeks in the height of winter. Two shotguns, recovered from the empty property after being stolen from a farm at Vicar's Hill, Boldre, bore his fingerprints.

Gambrell, 23, who had been locally educated, loved birds and animals but was a loner who shunned people. A well educated student drop-out with a troubled background, he quickly drifted into crime, principally targeting remote homes in Wales. When he was jailed for four years in 1977 for a series of burglaries, a judge denounced him as a man of very dangerous tendencies.

Sadly, he never spoke a truer word.

On January 23, 1983, he murdered farmer John Williams, described by local police chief Superintendent John Lewis as "one of the happiest men in Wales because he lived in what he believed was paradise."

Gambrell had lain in wait for Williams, whose home he had once burgled in the hillside village of Llanddewi Briefi, near Aberystwyth, for more than three hours while he was drinking in a local pub and then blasted him at least five times in a bedroom with his own double-barrelled shotgun before fleeing with his savings.

From his detailed knowledge of sheep tracks and old drovers lanes, the self sufficient Gambrell often slept rough in the lonely Cambrian mountains and evaded capture as police combed more than 400 square miles of rugged countryside amid fears he could hold a family hostage in desperation.

Daily Echo: Richard Gembrell - the killer.

It was initially suspected he might have escaped to Cumbria where he had once worked as a part-time shepherd, but Yorkshire police went on full alert as a man answering to the fugitive's description had gone to hospital in Wakefield complaining of chest pains and was told to return later. He failed to do so and a workman's hut in the hospital ground was entered with the loss of clothing.

The hunt was then dramatically switched to the New Forest when it was discovered he had been staying at a weekend visitors centre just down the road from his old school. The cottage had been burgled and upstairs hidden under a bed were two 12-bore shotguns stolen from the farmhouse - one a single barrel, the other doubled barrelled.

Dozens of police on foot patrol with dog handlers were deployed in the area, searching farms, country houses, outbuildings and sheds for signs of anyone who had been sleeping rough.

In a press conference, it was revealed the wanted man was wearing the workman's clothing which principally consisted of an army greatcoat and a blue waterproof Kagol-style jacket. An adopted child whose parents lived in Kent, he was said to be 6ft tall with dark brown wispy hair tinged with ginger, and had nicotine-stained teeth and long bony nicotine-stained fingers.

Gambrell was eventually arrested after making an elementary error when he phoned his former geography master for help. The teacher immediately informed the police and agreed to meet up with his former pupil while wearing a bulletproof vest and accompanied by a friend who in reality was an undercover police officer. He was tricked into getting into a car and detained.

Daily Echo: John Williams - murdered farmer.

Gambrell denied murder when he appeared at Cardiff Crown Court but was swiftly convicted. He was jailed for life by Mr Justice Michael Davies with a recommendation he should serve a minimum term of 20 years for what the judge condemned as "a brutal and merciless killing."

In the hope of finding the firearm and the missing money, Supt. Lewis visited Gambrell in Durham Prison.

"I was afraid to meet him," he admitted. "When I walked in, there were five wardens to keep him in order. The first thing he told me was 'I know you' because I took him into custody in '77. He promised to tell John's sister about the whereabouts of the money and the gun, but he was unreasonable and refused to say anything.

"We haven't found the gun which is a worry, because if he was freed again, he could find the gun. But who knows if he would come back here again?"