“It was dark in her flat when we went in. We found her lying on the floor. There was lots of blood on her clothes. I felt for a pulse but there was none. I ran out and called an ambulance.” – Estrellita Villacamea
Summervale House, in the Werneth district of the town of Oldham, Greater Manchester, is a 16-storey block of flats situated near the busy Manchester Street roundabout just off the main A62 road. The Werneth area is a blend of low-level housing, commercial premises and industrial units, close to Oldham’s Spindles Shopping Centre, and situated less than two miles from the Royal Oldham Hospital, but the blocks of flats dominate the area. It was on the 7th floor of Summervale House that a young nurse was brutally murdered in a frenzied attack in her own home nearly 15 years ago now. Her killer has still never been brought to justice, although police do believe that they know the identity of her killer.
Debbie Remorozo came from a large family in the farming and fishing village of Kinalansan in the Philippines. In 2000, when Debbie was 24 years old, she came to live and work in the UK, finding employment as a coronary care nurse at the Royal Oldham Hospital. It was a job that she loved and worked hard at, and Debbie was well liked by her colleagues. She was attractive and had male admirers, but was claimed to have had a boyfriend in Birmingham and was not known to be casually dating anyone else at that time. Indeed, the impression she gave off was that she held what many would consider to be old-fashioned views about relationships. Debbie lived alone in a flat on the seventh floor of the Summervale House block of flats, about a mile and a half from the hospital where she worked, and although had friends, Debbie did not socialize much. Her life seemed to revolve around her job, although she was also a regular churchgoer. She was described as being “austere” in how she lived, often opting to work overtime and saving as much money as possible to send back home to her family in the Philippines.
“What is startling is the simplicity of Debbie’s life. She would get up, go to work and do 12 to 14 hours, come home, make a meal and go to sleep. Her sole purpose was to generate cash for her family back in the Philippines.” – Detective Superintendent Steve Heywood (speaking in 2002)
On Saturday 7th December 2002, Debbie had worked a day shift at the hospital as was part of her 8hr shift rotation pattern. She had turned up for work at 7:00am and had been due to finish at 3pm, but stayed longer to write-up her notes from the shift. Colleagues described this as being normal practice for Debbie, on what was a normal, uneventful shift. Uneventful, apart from one slight event. Not long before she finished for the day, Debbie took a telephone call at work which colleagues were later to tell police had left Debbie seemingly “distressed”, although she didn’t share any details with her colleagues. It has never been revealed as to the identity of this caller, or even if it was possibly connected with her murder. She then completed her shift paperwork and left the Royal Oldham Hospital. It was customary for Debbie to walk the relatively short distance from work to home, and colleagues did not report her as saying she had any plans to go anywhere other than home after finishing work that day. She was caught on the hospital CCTV at 3:27pm leaving the grounds, wearing her nurses uniform, dark blue NHS issue jacket and distinctive orange bobble hat, and heading in the direction of Summervale House.
She was spotted on the CCTV at Summervale House arriving home between 3:45pm and 3:55pm. It was clearly identified as Debbie, where she is seen using a key to gain access to the building. The Summervale House complex was at the time protected by a steel fence surrounding the grounds, and was manned 24/7 by a security guard/concierge. Inside, electric mag locks and fob access controlled access and egress on not just the external doors, but also the internal doors that led off to the corridors on each floor. It must have appealed to the security conscious Debbie to live in such an environment.
The CCTV showing Debbie entering the building was the last time she was seen alive by anyone except her killer.
The following day, Sunday 8th December, Debbie was due to again work a day shift at the hospital from 7:00am to 3:00pm, but never turned up. It was not like the conscientious Debbie to have slept late, so concerned colleagues called her several times but to no avail. Finally, after several attempts throughout the shift, and concerned that Debbie was ill or had had an accident, one of Debbie’s worried colleagues, nurse Estrellita Villacamea, went around to Summervale House to investigate. What she was to find there shocked and scared her to the point where herself, and many of the other Filipino nurses who worked at the Royal Oldham Hospital, considered leaving in fear that a brutal killer was amongst the midst of the closely knit Filipino community they belonged to, and that any one of them could be targeted next.
At 5:40pm, Estrellita arrived at Debbie’s block but found the door to Debbie’s flat locked and no response coming from repeated knocking. By now alarmed, a spare key was obtained, and Estrellita entered the flat. Debbie was found in the living room. She was fully clothed and was laid out on the floor of her lounge in what was later described as “a crucifix shape”. Blood covered her clothes, and a table cloth covered her face and upper shoulders. She had been repeatedly stabbed in the neck, chest and back in what was described as a “frenzied” attack, with wounds penetrating her heart and lung. Two bloodstained kitchen knives were found in the flat. Estrellita immediately checked for a pulse to see if her friend was still alive, but when she found there was none, contacted police.
Police arrived on the scene rapidly, and quickly established that there were no signs of forced entry to the flat. There were no signs of anything being taken or any ransacking, and Debbie had not been raped or sexually interfered with. The subsequent autopsy established that it was likely that Debbie had died between 4:00pm and 7:00pm the previous night, very soon after she had arrived home from work, and that death had been due to shock and massive blood loss from her wounds. Enquiries with other residents of the flats revealed nothing – no one had heard any sounds of a disturbance or screams that Saturday, and no bloodstained killer was witnessed fleeing the building or caught on CCTV – although traces of Debbie’s blood were found in the stairwell of Summervale House. The lack of any signs of forced entry to the flat suggested that Debbie had willingly let her killer into the flat – suggesting someone that she knew. Her family and friends confirmed that Debbie was a security conscious person and would never have willingly let a stranger into her home. This was echoed by police.
“We think Debbie knew her attacker. Debbie was a careful person who would not let anyone other than someone she knew into her flat – someone who could have been in the block” – Cold case investigator Andy Tattersall
Without a clear motive, a team of 30 detectives were forced to look more closely at Debbie’s life – perhaps something would jump out and provide a clue as to why she was killed? Nothing did. No one was discovered with a motive for wanting her harmed in any way – police were just left with a picture of a quiet, well-liked and hardworking devout Catholic whose life revolved around her work. There were no secret boyfriends or love affairs discovered, and Debbie was not involved in anything illegal or immoral. Aside from speaking to Debbie’s friends and colleagues, the congregation at the church Debbie attended, and members of the Oldham community in general, detectives even travelled to Debbie’s home village in the Philippines to speak to her family and people who knew her there, to see if anyone there had information that could help – or even a motive could be found originating from there. Nothing was found, and the investigation soon ground to a halt. A few weeks after her murder, Debbie’s body was flown home to be buried by her devastated family.
She was remembered by friends and ex colleagues at a special mass at St Patrick’s church at Oldham on the first anniversary of her death, and by that time there had been little progress made in the investigation into her murder, despite a £10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Debbie’s killer. Convinced that the key to Debbie’s murder lay within the closely knit Filipino community, appeals had been made throughout several Filipino communities nationwide in both English and the Filipino language Tagalog. A man of 26 and a woman of 31 had been arrested in connection with Debbie’s murder, although both had been interviewed and later released without charge. The following year, scientists had managed to obtain a DNA profile from evidence taken from the crime scene that detectives believed could identify or eliminate Debbie’s killer, although it has never been revealed the item that this sample was obtained from, nor the form that it took (blood, saliva etc). Detectives working on the case had after a while become convinced that they had identified Debbie’s killer – and had gone so far as to prepare a file of evidence. But senior lawyers for the Crown Prosecution Service decided that obtaining a successful conviction in the case was an unrealistic prospect – and subsequently refused to authorise a charge being made. With this decision, plus the lack of any further progress being made, Debbie’s murder was classed as a cold case. It has been re-appealed several times over the years, but remains officially unsolved to this day.
There is relatively little information available to research about the case apart from what is recounted here, but what is a common thread is that Debbie’s murder is only officially unsolved. To prepare a file of evidence for prosecution means that police were suitably convinced that they knew the identity of Debbie’s killer, and had evidence that could at least place them at the scene of the crime. A former detective who worked on the case said:
“I’m hundred per cent sure I know who’s done it. And people out there will know who’s done it.”
But with no charge being authorised, Debbie’s murder is still officially classed as a cold case. For legality, there are no details available about any suspects or the specific kind of evidence that is held with regards to the identity of Debbie’s killer. Those examining are left to surmise the events, which is hindered by the lack of detail available concerning the murder. What is available tends to raise more questions and possibilities than provides definite answers. It should be noted that the following is in no way suggested as being definitive, it is a working hypothesis.
Examining what is known, it is likely that Debbie knew her killer, or killers. This is not the work of an intruder breaking in and the murder being the work of a robbery gone wrong. Nor is this likely a sex crime – sex as a motive would at least show some evidence of attempted rape or clothing being disturbed. None was reported. Police from the outset have always believed that someone went to Debbie’s flat with the intention of arguing with her or for a confrontation – and this seems likely. Debbie would not have allowed a stranger into her home – and a burglar/opportunist attacker would seriously not choose a 7th floor flat of a relatively secure block to target for a random break in. No one suspicious was reported entering or leaving the building that Saturday, and no screams or sounds of a struggle were reported. TTCE believes that her killer was either a neighbour of Debbie’s or at the very least someone she was acquainted with who lived or worked in the same block or complex, or a visitor that she authorised entry to. A killer living in Summervale House would support the fact that traces of Debbie’s blood was found in the stairwell of the block, but no bloodstained killer was seen leaving at any time that day. Did the killer(s) go home and clean up – perhaps only needing to go as far as a couple of floors up or down? Of course, it is entirely possible that Debbie’s killer was a visitor, and cleaned themselves up as best as they could in her flat, before composing themselves enough to leave.
TTCE believes that Debbie’s murder may not have been necessarily pre-meditated. It was reported as a “frenzied” attack, and more than one knife was used to brutally stab her to death. Yet the knives had not been brought to the scene – they were Debbie’s own knives, taken from the kitchen and left at the scene. Was this an escalation of an argument and a knife was grabbed in the midst of a struggle, or was Debbie attacked when she was unawares and incapacitated with a stab wound, before being repeatedly stabbed again? There is also the possibility that there was more than one killer responsible. The use of more than one knife to stab Debbie suggests two people working in tandem, perhaps one restrained her initially whilst the other stabbed her? It is reported that the attack happened in her lounge, but this is where the lack of details available about the scene make a hypothesis difficult. For example, were there any signs of Debbie having made tea or coffee for any visitors? Was there any heavy bloodstaining to the sofa or chairs? Where exactly were the knives found, and why were two used – did one break? Did the attack happen solely in the lounge, or was their evidence of a scuffle in another room? Did Debbie’s body show any signs of being beaten? It is details like the answers to these questions that help paint a picture of the events of the murder, which in turn helps narrow down the field of suspects.
Also, much is reported of Debbie’s body being laid out in a “crucifix” shape and having her face covered. The shape she was lay in could be the result of how she naturally fell, or her killer may have stabbed her repeatedly whilst she was lay on the floor and inadvertently moved her into that position. Or she may have been deliberately posed like that. Her face was also covered with a tablecloth – and whilst it is believed that this was an act of remorse by the killer, this should not be accepted as fact too quickly. It may have been done to stifle any screams, or even have been an attempt to smother Debbie. It may have even been done out of guilt, or just been used by the killer(s) to clean themselves up and just happened to fall across her face when discarded. But without access to crime scene photographs to ascertain the exactness of the position of this, and Debbie’s body, these are points that could be misleading and possibly points that have been over-sensationalised.
What then, was the likely motive for Debbie’s murder? TTCE believes the likely motive was a personal one, the result of someone having a serious grudge against her. Police have always been convinced that her killer(s) went there that day to confront Debbie – but why? It is unlikely to have been over money – Debbie was frugal and did not live beyond her means, and was not reported as having been in the habit of borrowing money to or from people. Debbie’s life was looked at in enough depth to know that she was not involved in anything illegal or immoral either, so this too is an unlikely reason for the source of any argument. TTCE believes that the most likely reason for anybody to confront Debbie would have been jealousy, or perhaps as a scorned lover. Debbie was a very attractive woman and it is known that she had male admirers – yet kept them at arm’s length. Perhaps one of these admirers came to confront her about being rejected? The possibility also exists – and this is a very real one – that Debbie’s killer was a woman, or perhaps the multiple killer theory is correct – after all, why would a single killer use two knives? Perhaps someone viewed Debbie as a love rival or the reason a relationship failed or was unrequited, and she was stabbed to death in the heat of the moment in a crime of passion – perhaps in mid argument? There are many documented cases of love rivals committing the most horrendous of crimes in the heat of passion – a red mist just descends. Was Debbie’s murder in the same vein?
Police do have a DNA sample that they believe was from the killer, and DNA evidence is very conclusive. Yet for the CPS lawyers to refuse a charge based on an unlikely conviction being able to be obtained, this supports the theory that the profile will match someone who could readily explain away a reason for their DNA profile being in Debbie’s flat, meaning that Debbie’s killer was indeed known to her. TTCE believes it likely that her killer has been spoken to – and identified, possibly even arrested – but has so far managed to escape justice. The murder of Debbie Remorozo is at a standstill now, and investigators are left awaiting either new information coming forward, a confession from someone who has her death on their conscience, or more conclusive scientific evidence being obtained – which is an unlikely prospect after so long, and as a DNA profile already obtained wasn’t classed as enough evidence, one wonders what other forensic evidence could possibly be obtained now? A tree planted in memory of her in Oldham’s Maltby Street grows now, and Debbie’s family still live in hope that before that tree grows much further, her killer will be brought to justice. Debbie does not deserve to be forgotten.
“We are still hoping though that with the help of scientific approach and new technologies now, justice for my sister will be served soon. Fourteen years have passed (and) we never heard again from the Manchester police and investigators. We’ve been hopeless and frustrated since then not knowing where and how we can get results of the investigation and the reason why someone killed my sister” – Dennis Remorozo (Debbie’s brother)
Anyone with information concerning Debbie’s murder can contact GMP’s Cold Case Unit on 0161 856 0320, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
The True Crime Enthusiast