It is nearly 31 years now since a kindly pensioner was found horrifically murdered in her own home, a basement flat in the Ashley Road area of Bristol’s St Paul’s district. The victim, 62 year old grandmother Violet Milsom, was found by a family friend who had called early in the morning to do some gardening for her. What was discovered that day was a scene of horror that shook hardened detectives, and still leaves police baffled over 30 years later.
Sometime between the evening of 30 September and 01 October 1985, a twisted killer had broken into Violet’s basement flat, sexually assaulted her, strangled her with her own clothing, and left her body in a partially clothed state, horrifically mutilated with a 5inch knife. Exact details of the extent of Violet’s injuries have never been revealed, as police have determined them too disturbing to publish. The weapon used was thought to have been a Stanley type knife, and has never been discovered. Also used to restrain Violet was a pink dressing gown belt, which had tied her wrists together. Importantly, this belt did not match any clothing in the flat, and did not belong to Violet. Police believed the killer had brought this item with him with the specific intent of using it as a restraint.
The resulting police investigation consisted of 80 detectives, who undertook a massive enquiry and began to paint a picture of Violet’s life and background. It was hoped that some clue would be found that may help identify a motive for her murder, and that may lead ultimately to the killer. What was discovered after enquiries was a picture of a loving, kind grandmother. Violet had been divorced from her ex husband James for 14 years before her death, and had had no subsequent relationships since, according to her family. She had not worked for several years before her death, and her previous employment had been in a chicken bar in St Pauls. She had lived alone in her basement flat for the 3 years preceding her death, but was on good terms with neighbours and was known throughout the local area, visiting the local grocery store opposite her flat twice daily for newspapers. She was known as a lady who would welcome any caller to her door, and would regularly give money to homeless people she came across. However, living alone, Violet would habitually take a sleeping pill at about 7pm and would not answer the door to any callers after this. She had even drawn up a handwritten sign and placed it in her window, stating “NO ANSWER AFTER 6 O’CLOCK TO ANYONE. THANK YOU”.
On the night she died, this sign went missing. Did her killer see this, and this acted as an invite to him because it suggested a person living alone?
Enquiries determined that Violet was last seen alive about 4pm on the afternoon of 30th September. She had drawn out the full amount of her £37 pension money from St Pauls Lower Ashley Road post office, and had gone out to do some shopping. What happened between her returning home and being discovered murdered the next morning has remained a mystery, as detectives had few clues to go on. There was no sign of a break in at the flat, and no neighbours reported hearing any screams or sounds of a disturbance. All of the pension money was missing, but a small amount of cash was found in a purse in Violet’s flat. Chillingly, it was this discovery that led police to believe that robbery was only a secondary motive. They believed that the primary motive was sexual.
“We may be looking for a man who is a thief as well as a sexual pervert. What he did to Mrs Milsom was done deliberately, and not in the heat of the moment”
– DCI Malcolm Hughes, leading the investigation, speaking in 1985.
After fruitless months of investigating many potential leads, detectives were at a standstill. It was ultimately decided by the investigating officers, that an approach to the TV series Crimewatch UK may perhaps be the best course of action. A TV reconstruction would re-enact the last few days of Violet’s life, in an appeal to the wider public for information. TTCE remembers watching the reconstruction even so long ago now, 30 years and more. The name of the victim had always stayed in his mind, hence research and chronicling the case for this blog. Frustratingly, it is another case that widespread detailing of is unavailable, and TTCE believes strongly that Violet deserves some recognition and acknowledgement that her killer has still escaped justice.
The Crimewatch UK reconstruction focused on a number of points as it faithfully and accurately as possible recreated a picture of Violet’s last few days. Firstly, Violet had spoken to neighbours about an attempted break in at her flat at an undetermined point within the 8 weeks preceding her death. She had been relaxing at home late in the evening when the sound of smashing glass had roused her. Going to the front door, Violet disturbed three youths who had smashed the glass in her door window, and then ran away when challenged. Police had been made aware of the attempted break in at the time, and this attempt was reconstructed in the Crimewatch UK film. Coincidentally, a description of three youths who were seen outside her flat on the night of her murder was also given. Was it the same three youths Violet had scared away?
Three other people also featured in the reconstruction that police considered persons of interest to the investigation. Firstly, a few days previously, Violet had been sighted with a young man outside a furniture store in nearby Stokes Croft. Secondly, a man was seen coming out of a gate in the location of Violet’s flat at about midnight on the night Violet was murdered, although the witness who saw him could not be sure if it was Violet’s gate or not. He was described as being white, slim, having unkempt collar length brown hair, aged in his early 20’s, wearing light denim jeans and a light woollen sweater. Lastly, a young man was seen in Ashley Road the same night crouching and banging his head against a nearby garden wall. This man was visibly upset and was heard to be crying “oh no”, and was then seen to collapse into a crouching position and begin to sob. None of these men ever came forward following the appeal, and they have never been traced. Both the sobbing man and the man spotted with Violet outside the furniture store were similar in description to the man spotted coming out of the gate. Could it be possible that all three sightings were of the same man, and if so, who was he?
Also highlighted in the reconstruction was another puzzle. An old Christmas card had been found in Violet’s flat. It had been sent in either 1976 or 1977, and had contained the following:
To Vilet, for my sweetheart at Christmas, Steve.
The author of the mystery card was never identified. Curiously, Violet’s name had been misspelt and it is reprinted above as it was found written. The card was obviously important enough for Violet to have kept for a number of years, and is worded as a very personal card to send. But Violet’s family had been unaware of any relationships she had had since her divorce from her ex-husband James in 1971. Who was the mystery Steve? It was yet another question.
What then, is known about Violet’s killer? It must be stressed that what is recounted below is the opinion of TTCE. It is not definitive, and it can be at best classed as an educated guess.
- As police have classed the motive for Violet’s murder as a primarily sex crime, TTCE believes that the person responsible will be known to police. A person does not sexually assault, murder and mutilate as a first offence. This person will have offended before, of a sexual nature as well as other crimes such as vandalism and theft. Preceding murder, this may but will not definitely include rape, and is almost likely to be a person with a fetish.
- He will likely be known to police or healthcare professionals due to offences he has committed, it being likely he has served time in prison or hospital, or been cautioned or fined for these. This is emphasised by some level of organisation to the murder that can be gleaned from the scant details available about the case. A restraint was brought to the scene, along with a knife which was then taken away. An organised killer will plan his crime, and in his actions here he has shown at least some level of being forensically aware and having organisation. He left no DNA at the scene, and came and left prepared to restrain and kill. Yet the killer left the restraint at the scene – perhaps due to panic to get away?
- It is likely that if this person is still alive, he will have perhaps killed again. To build to a crime of this magnitude and then never again repeat it does not make sense. He will have needed to repeat the experience, to recapture the euphoria he gained from killing Violet, which will have faded as time passed. How does he recapture it? He goes out and kills again.
- It is possible that the killer suffers from a form of mental or personality disorder; indeed, he may be a seriously disturbed sexual offender. This was the opinion of investigating officers at the time, and remains so. The level of violence aimed at Violet was horrendous and completely unnecessary towards an elderly lady, suggesting a person not capable of restraint or rational thought.
- If the killer was one of the people appealed for in the Crimewatch UK reconstruction, he would be between 45 and 60 years old now. It is important however, not to rely too much on any physical description. After a passage of 31 years people change drastically in looks, build and appearance.
- It is likely the killer would be familiar with the Ashley Road/St Paul’s area of Bristol. People offend in places that they are geographically familiar with, as this provides maximum chance of a successful escape from the scene of any offence, avoiding detection and ultimately apprehension. Perhaps the killer lived or worked in the area. Perhaps he had gone to school there. Perhaps, he lives there now…?
- It is possible that the killer knew Violet in some way, or at least knew that the flat she lived in was occupied by an elderly lady who lived alone. Had he watched her? This idea seems likely, what would the chances be of a killer picking a property at random to break into, finding a victim that he had come perfectly prepared to restrain and kill with – an elderly lady? Far too high.
- Also, why was the note from the window taken? It is possible that the killer had touched it in some way, perhaps even taken it as a trophy. It has never been found.
- There is the possibility that the killer may now be serving time in prison for an unrelated offence. He may be hospitalised due to debilitating illness, physical or mental. He may have left the country. He may even now be dead. Or he may still be walking the streets, still offending now.
31 years have almost passed now, and although the investigation is reviewed regularly, no further progress has been to this date made in bringing Violet’s killer to justice. Police have never officially linked the murder of Violet Milsom to any other murders, either in the Bristol area or nationwide. There are however, several killers serving whole life tariffs in British prisons that could possibly be responsible, and TTCE believes there is a strong possibility that one of these may be responsible for Violet’s murder. But with the lack of definitive evidence proving this is the case, detectives have hit a brick wall with the investigation. It remains as much of a mystery now as it did on the morning Violet’s body was discovered, and Violet’s family still live with the knowledge that the killer of their matriarch has never to this day faced justice. The words of DCI Malcolm Hughes perhaps echo this – just how much of a pressing need there is for this man to be caught and brought to justice.
“Someone in the area must have heard something; I cannot believe that no one knows anything. The whole family is shattered by this. She was well liked by every one of her neighbours and would always welcome anyone who called at her door. The person who did it must be really sick” – DCI Malcolm Hughes
The True Crime Enthusiast