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Who Was The HallBottom Street Hammer Killer?

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Frieda Hunter and Joe Gallagher

Hallbottom Street, in the Greater Manchester town of Hyde is situated in the picturesque area of the base of the Pennines. It hasn’t changed too much since the 1970’s, when it was part rural lane part mix of council housing and stone cottages. But in 1979, this picturesque road was blighted by being the scene of a horrific double murder. A young couple were bludgeoned to death in their own home in what a senior detective investigating described as “one of the most vicious killings I have ever come across”. It is a crime that remains unsolved to this day.

The victims were 30 year old part time taxi driver Joe Gallagher, and his girlfriend of two years, 20 year old barmaid Frieda Hunter. The couple had lived together for about a year in their semi- detached council property, no 3 Hallbottom Street, Hyde. Frieda and Joe were described as being a devoted couple, very outgoing and involved in the popular and predominant biker community of the 1970’s. Joe was from the Wythenshawe area of Manchester, and was described as being academically outstanding, doing well enough in studies to have a promising career as a laboratory technician. Perhaps there was some essence of nomad in Joe, for he left his promising laboratory career and signed up for the Army, leaving home and spending three years as a serving soldier. It is not documented as to whether Joe had a remarkable Army career or not, but when he left after serving three years he adapted a totally contrasting “hippy” kind of lifestyle, a world away from the regimented routine of Army life. He lived for a time in a commune near Glastonbury, and then moved further north to Birmingham. Here, Joe was briefly married to a woman who bore him a son. But the marriage did not last, although it is unclear as to whether at the time of his death Joe was divorced or still married. The couple split up and Joe found himself embroiled in the biker culture and heavy rock scene of 1970’s Britain. He rode a Triumph Tiger motorcycle and found a job as a roadie for a band. It also about this time that Joe began to use cannabis, which was commonplace in the biker culture of the 1970’s.

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The pub where Frieda worked, The Queen’s Hotel

Frieda Hunter was 10 years Joe’s junior, and had moved down to the Hyde area from her native Scotland to study a creative arts course at the local Polytechnic college. She hadn’t enjoyed the course and decided to drop out, but as she had made a lot of friends and also enjoyed the biker culture and the music scene, Frieda had decided to stay in the area. Frieda and Joe met and began a relationship in the late 1970’s, and eventually the couple moved in together to 3 Hallbottom Street. In mid- February 1979, Frieda had started working as a barmaid at the Queen’s Hotel in Hyde, and on Saturday 24th February had worked a busy shift. Joe had collected her from work after closing time that evening as was their routine, and the couple had gone home.

It was the last time both Frieda and Joe were seen alive, except by their killer.

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The couple’s home, 3 Hallbottom Street, Hyde, pictured in 1979

By Wednesday 28th February 1979, a friend of Joe’s and fellow taxi-driver was concerned that he hadn’t been able to reach him for several days. He had called at the house on two occasions since the Saturday evening, with no reply, and his concern was grave enough that when there was no answer on the Wednesday, he decided to force his way into the property. His concern was heightened when he found the rear kitchen window already broken, and upon entering he discovered something horrific. Joe and Frieda were found in their upstairs bedroom. They were lying together in their blood-soaked bed, each of them having received at least 14 blows each to the head and face. The couple had been battered to death in an attack so severe that their heads had been effectively destroyed. When found, the body of Joe was laid across Frieda as if he had tried in vain to protect her from an attack. The later post mortems were to determine that the likely murder weapon had been a large and heavy hammer, and that Joe and Frieda had been killed possibly up to three days before they were found.

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The broken kitchen window to the rear of the property

A murder enquiry was immediately launched, but house to house enquiries soon established that no sound of a struggle or screams coming from the house had been heard at any time between the Saturday and the Wednesday. No suspicious activity had been noticed by any of the couple’s neighbours or residents of Hallbottom Street throughout this period, and there were no obvious or immediate suspects. Investigating officers appealed for witnesses who had noticed anybody in the area that was heavily blood-stained, which the killer would surely have been due to the ferocity of the attack. But no one came forward to report seeing anyone who had been. A mass search for a murder weapon was undertaken, with specialist search teams searching ponds, drains and rubbish tips in the area. But this was to no avail; no murder weapon was or has ever been found.

A possible motive for the savage killing was also elusive. Neither Joe nor Frieda was found to have had any disagreements or arguments with anybody, and neither was found to have anybody who bore them a long standing grudge. They were described by all who knew them as being devoted to each other, and no evidence was found that suggested that either of them had been having an affair. Detectives reasoned at first that the couple had been murdered during the course of a robbery that had gone wrong. Supporting this theory was the fact that an empty wage packet of Joe’s was found on the floor of the couple’s bedroom, and Frieda’s purse was found to be empty. But nothing else was found to be missing, and a simple robbery would not explain the horrific level of violence used.

“From the ferocity of the attack, this was personal – facial and all head, that’s where the injuries were inflicted. Yes there was an empty wage packet, an empty purse, but it was clear the person had gone upstairs, killed them, come back out, and gone.” – Det Sgt Julie Adams, GMP Cold Case Unit

It was this ferocity, this complete overkill that led detectives to believe that the motive for the couple’s violent deaths was very much more of a personal motive, and answers may perhaps actually lay in the lifestyle that the couple had and the circles that they moved in. Their lifestyle was scrutinised and the murder enquiry soon focused solely upon this, with police becoming convinced that the key to solving Joe and Frieda’s murders lay within the biker community. It was established that Joe and Frieda had many friends who were members of the Dragon’s North West chapter of the Hell’s Angels. Many of these were involved in criminal activity and there were more than a few unsavoury characters within this society.

But this was to prove a mammoth task. Joe and Frieda had many friends and acquaintances that shared their passion for biking and rock music, and during the course of the enquiry detectives were to carry out nearly 2,000 interviews spanning the length and breadth of Britain. What became apparent throughout the course of these interviews was that, like many fellow members of the biker community in the 1970’s, Joe and Frieda were both regular cannabis users. It was said more than once that Joe himself was a known cannabis dealer. Joe’s family claim that they knew he used cannabis, but that it was to ease chronic pain he suffered following a series of operations upon a facial disfigurement that he had had since birth. It has never been established whether he dealt in cannabis or was just a user.

Was the murder then drug related? It was certainly a working theory, but this does not explain the level of violence used – or why Frieda was killed also? In fact, the press jumped on the drug angle and this led to Joe’s family feeling that because he was a cannabis user, the press highlighted this part of his character rather than focus overall upon the kind of man that he was. They believe that this led to a lack of public sympathy due to how drug use was viewed as unsavoury and was frowned upon, and even made potential important witnesses not come forward or want to get involved. Joe’s family described how their whole family suffered following this:

“The Press were extremely unkind to us. They needed a story and said he smoked cannabis – it was something they came back to. That was just a tiny little part of Joe. People my mother had known for years ignored her in the street, and parents at my school demanded that I was expelled because they reckoned my brother was a drug addict. It got really nasty.” – Margaret Linnane (Joe’s sister)

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Press clippings from the time of the original murder investigation

But ultimately, this line of enquiry like all others in the case drew a blank. The theory that the murders were drug related remained exactly that, just a theory. Throughout the course of the enquiry, several suspects were interviewed and eliminated, and no one was ever charged in connection with the brutal double murder. It has been reviewed periodically over the years, and the Greater Manchester Police Cold Case Unit is keen to stress that the murder file remains open. They are optimistic that there is still someone out there who has information that could help solve the murder of Frieda Hunter and Joe Gallagher, and that due to the passage of time and the public having more open mindedness nowadays about cannabis use and non-conventional lifestyles, this person or persons may now come forward and give vital information.

There is relatively little information available for research about this case bar what has been presented here, and what is available poses many questions. Did the killer or killers bring the murder weapon with them, or was it something they used as a weapon that was to hand? Who was struck first, was it Joe or Frieda? Who was the intended target – was it Joe, Frieda, or was it both? I do not think that the killer was invited in – I believe it likely that the couple were battered to death in bed whilst asleep. No screams or sounds of struggle were reported at any time, so this would seem likely. There is no mention of any signs of an attack in another room, and why would a killer do so but then move the couple to the bedroom? This does then suggest someone having forced entry – but someone I believe was known to the couple. Someone who knew their movements and knew that they would be home at the time. Perhaps someone who had followed them home after Joe had picked Frieda up from the Queen’s Hotel, and waited for the opportunity to break in and attack. This suggests a planned attack, not a random burglary gone wrong. I also do not believe that it should be discounted that the motive for the murder was jealousy, perhaps committed by a jealous suitor. With the absence of any witnesses having seen anyone fleeing the scene, it is even impossible to determine whether the killer was male or female. To overpower a couple would normally suggest a strong male – unless they were attacked whilst asleep. The level of overkill suggests a crime of passion, a moment of madness.

Of course, this is all speculation. There is no physical description of any suspects, there is no report of any forensic evidence being left behind by the killer, and there is no definitive motive. There is not even any way to determine which of the couple, or if it was the both of them, was the intended target? It is very likely that the answer did lie within the circles that the couple moved in, but detectives could never find the answer in these circles. It is likely that someone still knows or suspects who is responsible for the murders, but perhaps fear of reprisal has prevented them from coming forward for all these years. Joe and Frieda do not deserve this.

 “The couple’s way of life may not have appealed altogether to those with more conventional backgrounds, but they were perfectly harmless and innocent people who worked honestly for a living and had a stable relationship.” – Coroner Peter Revington (speaking at inquest)

Anyone with information can contact GMP’s Cold Case Unit on 0161 856 0320 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

 

 

 

The Murder of Veronica Anderson

For more than a quarter of a century, Widnes mum Lorraine Rigby has had to live with memories of a sight that will haunt her to her dying day, one that left her family shattered. In August 1991, when Lorraine was just 19 years old and pregnant with her first child, she had the tragic and haunting task of identifying her mother’s body. Her mother, 42 year old single mother Veronica Anderson, had been brutally murdered in a horrific and as yet, unsolved crime.

“I’m still angry about it, I used to have nightmares because I had to identify her. I was 19 and pregnant. That was quite horrifying because my mum wasn’t married so there was no-one else to do it. My brother was only seven. It was hard sitting a seven-year-old down and telling him his mum isn’t coming back. That was the hardest thing of all. It affected the whole family.” – Veronica’s daughter Lorraine Rigby

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Veronica Anderson

Veronica was known to family and friends as Vera, and was a mother of two, a son and daughter. She was described as a devoted and loving mother, and was eagerly awaiting becoming a grandmother for the first time as her 19 year old daughter Lorraine was pregnant with her first child. The family lived in Hadfield Close in the town of Widnes, Cheshire, and on Saturday August 24 1991, Veronica was at home watching television. Lorraine was out that evening and her 7 year old son Neil was in bed.

What may sound like a run of the mill Saturday night was to be the final night of Veronica Anderson’s life.

What has been established is that Veronica received a telephone call sometime that evening, although the identity of the caller has never been ascertained. Whoever it was and whatever they had to say, it was cause enough for Veronica to need to contact a neighbour and ask them to babysit Neil while Veronica popped out for ten minutes. This was at 10:10pm that evening. Veronica dropped Neil off at the neighbour’s house, then drove off in her Ford Cortina car, registration number PCX 38X, saying that she would be back in ten minutes. That was the last time she was seen alive by anybody who knew her.

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Veronica’s Ford Cortina

The Old Tannery Complex in nearby Penketh, Warrington, is now an urbanised area, but back in 1991 it still consisted of old derelict buildings and wasteland left over from when the area was a thriving tanning works. Because the buildings were set back off the road, the area had become the type of place used by courting couples for privacy, and also as a haven for soft drug users. As a result of this constant activity, police patrols to the area were quite frequent. That Saturday night was no exception, and a patrol car passed by there at 10:45pm and noticed no cars there.

At 03:18 in the early hours of Sunday August 25, Veronica’s Ford Cortina was found parked up at the Old Tannery Complex, and Veronica was found dead inside, heavily blood-stained and slumped over the steering wheel. She had been murdered by having had her throat cut, and the subsequent post mortem also showed signs of strangulation. Veronica was found fully clothed, and although there were signs of a struggle, there were no apparent signs of robbery or of a sexual attack – this was later confirmed by the post mortem.  No murder weapon was found at the scene, but found nearby was a single blood-stained cotton glove, and a length of sash cord – similar to the type used to tie back curtains.

News of the brutal murder shocked and scared the communities of Warrington and Widnes, and locals were especially anxious to help in the police investigation. Nobody was anxious to have such a savage murderer on the loose, and public response to the police investigation was very encouraging. Some 6,500 statements were taken from people throughout the massive enquiry, but these ultimately led nowhere. No apparent motive could be found for Veronica’s murder. No forensic evidence from the killer was reportedly found in Veronica’s car. No witnesses came forward to say they had seen or heard any screams or sounds of a struggle at the murder scene within the crucial time window. Tracing the origin of the glove found at the scene, and the sash cord, proved fruitless. But the enquiry did produce one possible sighting that was of interest to detectives.

Witnesses came forward to say that on the evening Veronica was murdered, at about 10:30pm, a woman strongly matching her description was seen in the company of a man at the Crown and Cushion pub on Warrington Road, Penketh. This pub was located very near to Veronica’s house, no more than a 10 minute drive away. It is also very close to where her body was discovered at the complex on Tannery Lane. Was this Veronica and her killer?

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The Crown and Cushion Pub in Penketh, Warrington, as it appears today

The man she was with was described as being Caucasian, aged mid 30’s to early 40’s, having short cut mousy coloured hair, and having a neatly trimmed mousy coloured moustache. He was described as being of slim build with a thin face, appearing almost sunken at the temples. When seen with the woman who was possibly Veronica, he was wearing a fawn coloured jacket. An artist’s impression of the man was released to the public and is reproduced below:

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Who was the man seen at the Crown and Cushion pub?

Detectives also appealed to the public as to the origins of the blood-stained glove found at the murder scene. The glove was a natural coloured industrial type cotton glove labelled with the manufacturer’s name, “Minette”, on the bottom corner. Forensic examination of the glove confirmed that it had been worn by the killer, and that it had come into contact with Veronica. Police believe that her killer dropped this glove by mistake when leaving the scene. Tracing its origins was ultimately unsuccessful however, as was the appeal to trace the origin of the sash cord.  Both were commonplace items widely available, and these lines of enquiry soon drew a blank when they could not be connected to anyone. It is not reported if Veronica was strangled manually or with a ligature – therefore it is worth bearing in mind that the sash cord found at the scene may have been a piece of rubbish left there innocently, and was unconnected with Veronica’s murder.

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A glove similar to the one found at the murder scene

The years following the investigation saw detectives follow up many different lines of enquiry, even travelling to Europe on occasions to follow potential lines of enquiry. But each of these enquiries led to nothing. The case was appealed on Crimewatch UK and extensively in the local press, but to no avail. A £30,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Veronica’s killer was raised by Crimestoppers and offered. It has never been claimed, despite numerous renewed appeals over the years. The latest appeal was just last year (2016).

More than 25 years have now passed, but Lorraine still remains hopeful that her mother’s killer (or killers, for Lorraine believes it possible more than one person was involved) will be brought to justice. It is shown clearly even now, more than a quarter of a century later, just how painful the fact that her mother’s murder is still unsolved is:

“I would like for them [the murderers] to come forward. It would be good if they did. As time goes on I think there’s more than one person that knows about it. Just through the injuries my mum had, it’s hard to imagine it was just one person. It’s hard because I’ve got young kids now, I’ve got a three and a six-year-old, and even they ask about my mum. Obviously we have got pictures and they ask things about nana Vera. We say she’s up in the sky and they ask if they can go to see her. They don’t really understand but it’s nice that they ask about her” – Lorraine Rigby (speaking in 2016)

This is a very sad crime, and a frustrating one as there are so many dead ends from what would appear to be such promising lines of enquiry. As with any murder enquiry, the victim’s life is always scrutinised in an attempt to establish any possible motive or suspects. Detectives scrutinised Veronica’s, but have never found any motive as to why anyone would want to kill Veronica. The consensus from her family and friends was of her being “a caring, loving person who was not into drugs and had no money”. No obvious enemies were found, or suspects in her murder identified. She was not found to be involved in any illegal activity, an illicit affair, or indeed any romantic relationships. I do not believe that the possibility that she may have been in a relationship should be discounted, however. Perhaps they were just well hidden, or a secret?

The telephone call Veronica received on the night she was murdered was important enough for her to have to go out, having to get her son out of bed and arranging care for him with a neighbour. One press report has her saying she needed to go and meet her brother, and this may be what she told the neighbour looking after Neil. This was obviously untrue, her family would have been interviewed at great length and this would be a fact that would have been firmly established early in the investigation had it been true. This may just be a mistake in the press reporting then, or it may have been an excuse made by Veronica hiding her true motive for heading out that night. Did she have something to hide, perhaps a secret (perhaps illicit) relationship? It seems more likely that it was an impromptu meeting that she was going on and not a “date” – she left the television on, left her purse at home, and even went out in flip flops. If Veronica had pre-arranged to meet someone – surely she would have pre-arranged a babysitter for Neil, and gone out dressed and made up for a night out? All this seems to suggest Veronica planned to return home after only being away a short time. But frustratingly, the caller has never been identified.

Was then, Veronica the woman seen in the Crown and Cushion pub just 20 minutes later? The distance between her house and the pub, especially if she was driving, certainly makes it possible. Again, this would seem a promising line of enquiry – but press reports are scant in the detail. It is not reported if the couple appeared intimate (i.e touching hands), were they arguing or laughing and joking, what they were drinking, who exactly it was that saw them, when the couple left etc. It should also taken into account that the witness reporting the sighting may have been intoxicated at the time of the sighting, and the bombardment of publicity in the aftermath of Veronica’s murder has somehow distorted who the witness has seen.

It should also not be taken as fact that this was definitely Veronica and her killer, because it may of course not have been. However, repeated appeals over the years for both the woman and the man depicted in the artist’s impression to come forward have been unsuccessful, no one has ever yet come forward to identify themselves as the couple and so rule themselves out of the enquiry.  It is highly possible that this was Veronica and her killer having a drink, but it is difficult to see where this line of enquiry can now lead after so many years. The artists impression of the man has also become less of a line of enquiry due to the passage of time, due to the person ageing, features changing, and of course the very realistic possibility that the person depicted is now dead or living elsewhere. But it of course may still be able to jog someone’s memory even now.

Because of the frustrating lack of information available following research about this crime, and the scant details that are available, it is mostly an educated guess that the reader can make about what motivated Veronica’s killer. It seems to have been a very personal murder, committed by someone I believe that was well known to Veronica and who was familiar with the local area. I also believe it very possible that her murder was actually unplanned and committed in the heat of the moment. Firstly, I believe Veronica’s killer was someone well known to her, a strong possibility that it was someone Veronica was in a sexual relationship with, or possibly having an affair with. A secret lover could explain why no one knew about Veronica being in a relationship, because it was illicit and would have caused trouble or shame? This could explain why she would feel the need to rush out of her house at a moment’s notice, possibly to have an impromptu encounter with a lover. This could also explain her possible reason for fabricating the purpose she was going out that Saturday night to her neighbour, and could also explain why Veronica’s car and body were found in a secluded area – perhaps where secret lovers may meet for sex? Here is a hypothetical theory as to the sequence of events, however I must stress that this is no way should  be taken as definitive. It does raise several questions:

Veronica receives an impromptu telephone call from her lover asking to see her – a spur of the moment request and one that supports the theory that it may have been someone that it may not have always been able to see so easily – someone perhaps already married or in a relationship? Seizing the chance, Veronica then hastily arranges care for her son and rushes out in a hurry, fabricating a reason for going out at short notice because this was a secret relationship, perhaps with somebody well known in the local area, again someone who it was not always easy to see? Perhaps she had been asked to meet the lover at a pub nearby – for example the Crown and Cushion? Widnes is a large area, and this pub is far enough away from Veronica’s house that she and a lover may have been away from prying eyes? Perhaps Veronica and whoever she met then went off somewhere private – perhaps for sex or perhaps to talk without being disturbed? I also believe that the location Veronica was found at was one well known to the killer, one that he was familiar with. This suggests somebody from the local area. I also believe the possibility exists that both Veronica and her killer drove to this location in separate cars, and that she was killed where she was found. She was found in the driver’s seat of her car, and I believe that the attack took place within her car. I do not think that her body was placed in this position after death – what would be the possible reason for this?

I do not believe the reason Veronica was killed has its basis in a sexual motive – she was fully clothed, was not raped, and no mention is made of any signs of her having had intercourse that Saturday. I believe a possible, indeed more likely reason is that Veronica was killed in the heat of the moment following an argument, perhaps after a refusal to have sex with someone? Or after her having threatened to spill the beans about an affair like a woman scorned, after pushing to be more than someone’s secret lover? Perhaps in a fit of rage her killer slashed her throat and then strangled her because the slash did not kill her outright, and fear of discovery overtook remorse for their actions? Perhaps she was strangled first and then had her throat slashed? Panicking, the killer then left the scene in their own car, dropping some items in their haste? The fact that it was only a single glove discovered suggests haste and that it was dropped by accident – surely both gloves would have been taken by the killer? No one was reported as being seen hastily running away from the scene during the unaccounted four and a half hour time window, so it would seem likely that the killer arrived and left in their own car. Haste also supports the theory that this was a spur of the moment crime, plus the fact that no attempt was made to hide Veronica’s body, and that she was found very near to where she lived. An argument that spilled into murder?

Of course, this is a hypothesis only, and I am only surmising here based on the available evidence. The exact sequence of events from when she was last seen alive to her body being discovered have never been ascertained, and quite possibly may never be. Instead, there remain many unanswered questions about Veronica’s murder, the majority of which have been highlighted here. The telephone caller that Saturday was never identified – who was it, and what time did they call? The couple in the pub have never been identified – was this Veronica and her killer? There is a five hour window between Veronica last being seen alive and being found dead, with no record of her car being seen anywhere in this window – where was she in this time, and exactly what time was she killed? It may be possible that there were potential witnesses at the time who saw something or someone, but were reluctant to come forward at the time out of fear of reprisal, or misplaced loyalty. It is the absence of these witnesses coming forward and the answers to these questions that help to deny Veronica and her family justice.

However, the enquiry is still open and is reviewed regularly, and with forensic science and the ability to extract DNA samples from items ever advancing, plus identifications through familial DNA matches now available, it is possible that vital clues may yet be gleaned from the items that were seized by police. These items are still retained, for example Veronica’s clothes, the blood stained glove and the sash cord. Until that time however, or a guilty conscience leading to an important new witness or a confession, the investigation will remain at a standstill. Veronica’s family and friends will remain living with the pain that the person who killed a mother, grandmother, sister and friend may still live in the area, walking free, having never yet faced justice for her murder.

Anyone with any information about Veronica’s murder can contact Cheshire Police on 101 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

Who was “The Beast Of Stanmer Park”?

Stanmer Park, in Brighton, is a large open park directly west of the University of Sussex campus in Brighton. A beautiful park, it is filled all year around with dog walkers, families taking advantage of the many outdoor pursuits, cyclists, walkers and runners. It is a very appealing and memorable place, where countless people have spent many happy times. But Stanmer Park does have a blot on its horizon, because in 1978  it was the scene of a horrific, brutal and as of yet unsolved murder.

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Margaret Frame and her husband Peter

In 1978, Margaret Frame was 36 years old and was married. Described as being quiet by nature, Margaret was nevertheless regarded by all who knew her as being devoted to her husband Peter, and nine year old son Andrew. The family lived in a modest house on Saunders Hill, Coldean, and Margaret worked as a cleaner in the evenings at nearby Falmer High School, which was on Lewes Road, about a mile and a half from her home. Directly the other side of Stanmer Park.

Margaret had worked as usual on the evening of Thursday October 12 1978, and when she had finished set off to walk the short distance home as she had done many times before. Margaret’s journey took her through Stanmer Park, but she had no reason to be fearful. She was very familiar with the route and it was only a short walk back home.

But that night, someone was watching her. Someone followed her through Stanmer Park.

When Margaret did not arrive home that evening, her husband Peter was frantic with worry. Finally, he reported her as missing to police the next day, after having spent most of the day looking for her himself.  A massive hunt for Margaret got underway, and police and volunteers scoured the area in vain. Appeals were made for her to come home, and enquiries were made to see if Margaret had perhaps gone off with someone – perhaps a lover – to start a new life. Police were eventually forced to discount this theory and had to concur with all of Margaret’s friends and colleagues that she was a devoted wife and mother, and wasn’t the type to run off with someone. It seemed likely that Margaret had come to some harm.

This was sadly realised as fact ten days after she had disappeared, on October 22 1978. Margaret’s body was found buried in a shallow grave by a specialist police search team. She had been savagely attacked, raped and her body severely mutilated. Reconstructing the crime, police were led to believe that Margaret had been attacked from behind by her killer, who had stabbed her in the back. He had then savagely raped her and left her to die. But, and for reasons police have never been able to explain, the killer then returned to Margaret’s body. He removed all of her clothes, then dragged her body for over 500 yards into a thick wooded area of the park. Before burying her, the killer removed all of Margaret’s jewellery and took it with him. But the final and perhaps most chilling aspect is that the monster had slit her throat from ear to ear. Police believed that a serious attempt had been made to remove Margaret’s head.

The discovery of Margaret’s body brought fear to Brighton, similar to the fear that gripped the north of England that same year with the Yorkshire Ripper still at large. Scared locals and the local press dubbed Margaret’s killer, “The Beast of Stanmer Park”. An intense investigation into Margaret’s murder was undertaken, with some 5,000 house to house enquiries carried out in the local area, and 2,500 statements taken from members of the public. A fingertip search of Stanmer Park was carried out for a possible murder weapon, which police believed was an extremely sharp, serrated, long knife. It has never been found. Replicas of Margaret’s missing jewellery were appealed to the public, who approached detectives in their hundreds offering to help. A link to the appeal is reproduced here:

Margaret Frame Jewellery Appeal

Her background and relationships with family, friends and colleagues was examined in an attempt to gain a possible insight into someone wishing her harm. Everything that could possibly be done at the time was done. But nothing was found. Margaret did not have a secret life, and was not involved in an illicit affair. She seemed to be well liked and well regarded by all who knew her.

The police enquiry drew a blank. Despite all of the extensive enquiries, no-one came forward to say that they had seen or heard anything that night. No one had been seen hurriedly leaving the park that evening, and no one had heard any screams or the sounds of a struggle. Detectives had no forensic evidence from the killer to work with, and the only motive that they could establish was that Margaret was a random victim of a maniacal sex killer. Eventually, the enquiry was wound down, with nobody ever charged, and the murder squad was disbanded as manpower was re-distributed to other crimes that needed investigating. It was suggested that detectives had strong suspicions about the identity of the person responsible, but could never get enough evidence to bring charges. “The Beast Of Stanmer Park” had escaped justice.

But the crime has never been forgotten or the murder file closed, and Margaret’s murder was re-appealed by police in 2000, albeit with no success. This was met with sadness by local residents, who still remember the effect Margaret’s murder had on the community back in 1978:

“It was very upsetting to all the staff and everybody concerned, the governors and her colleagues. There was an element of fear because women were confronted with their vulnerability in their own community.” Ray Blackwood – local resident and chairman of governers at Falmer High School, 1978

Frustratingly, there is very little information concerning this case available for research, apart from what has been presented here. Very little is known about the killer – there is no physical description available of any suspects, no reports of any forensic evidence recovered from the offender, and no details of any exact items of appeal that police made, except for reproducing Margaret’s missing jewellery.  It seems reasonable to surmount that this is not the first offence of this killer – the savagery and mutilation of the body suggests that this is a person who is familiar with violence, almost certainly a sex attacker. The lack of detail presented in the scant information available makes it difficult to profile Margaret’s killer, and leaves more questions than provides answers. Margaret was found naked – where were her clothes? Had they been taken as some sort of trophy, or concealed? Were they found with her? It is details like these that help paint a psychological picture of the man responsible. No weapon has ever been found, so it is a reasonable assumption that Margaret’s killer brought it with him and took it away again. A person prowling around a large, dimly lit park at night armed with a large knife would only do so for one reason.

It has become a bit of an urban legend that Peter Sutcliffe has been looked at as a suspect in Margaret’s murder due to his employment as a lorry driver travelling all over the country. 1978 was the midst of Sutcliffe’s killing spree, however, nothing to suggest his culpability has ever surfaced. The author of the definitive book on other crimes that Sutcliffe allegedly committed (Yorkshire Ripper – The Secret Murders – reviewed on TTCE in a previous post) told me that he examined Margaret’s murder out of possible interest but found no evidence to suggest that Sutcliffe may have been responsible for the crime. It seems that Sutcliffe’s involvement in the crime does not extend further than that of urban legend.

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Peter Tobin

However, developments that have occurred in the years after this horrendous crime suggest that the name of Margaret Frame has surfaced as a possible victim of infamous British serial killer Peter Tobin. The crimes of Tobin are very well documented and it would serve no purpose to recount them here, apart from a brief summary of the murders that Tobin has been convicted of and is serving a whole life tariff for. Tobin is known to have killed at least two young girls in the 1990’s, Vicky Hamilton and Dinah Mcnichol (whose bodies were both found buried in the garden of a former home of Tobin’s in 2008), and was sentenced to life imprisonment for the horrific rape and murder of another young woman, Angelika Kluk, in Glasgow in 2007. Due to Tobin’s nomadic lifestyle and the amount of places he has lived in the United Kingdom throughout his life, he is suspected of being responsible for many more murders and disappearances throughout the United Kingdom. These include the infamous “Bible John” killings in Glasgow in the 1960’s, although no charges have ever been brought against him for these murders. According to prison sources, Tobin himself claims to have a grim tally of up to 48 victims.

Is Margaret one of these victims? Where the murder of Margaret Frame becomes a possible connection to Tobin is the many similarities with the modus operandi that he is known to have utilised with his known victims, and the details of her murder. Tobin was known to take jewellery from his victims, and Operation Anagram, the police investigation into Tobin’s life and movements, appealed on television and in the press several items of jewellery that were found in his house in an attempt for members of the public to identify, so police could possibly tie Tobin to other disappearances or murders. Some of the jewellery police found was years old, and very unique. Of course, every item of Margaret’s jewellery – her watch, earrings, and all of her rings – had been taken.

Tobin was also a convicted serial rapist and sexual sadist. He is known to have stabbed Angelika Kluk to death after raping her, and concealed her body.  He is suspected of doing the same to both Vicky Hamilton and Dinah Mcnichol, although their bodies were skeletonised when found some 17 years after they had disappeared, so an exact cause of death could not be ascertained. And both girls were buried. Raped, stabbed and buried –  the same as Margaret.

But what is perhaps the most telling factor that possibly ties Margaret’s murder to Peter Tobin is that in the years preceding and succeeding 1978, Peter Tobin lived in a succession of houses less than three miles from Stanmer Park. Displayed here is a Google Map link showing addresses where Tobin lived over the years, note the proximity to Stanmer Park.

Peter Tobin Brighton Addresses

I am in no way suggesting that Tobin is definitely responsible for Margaret’s murder, it is up to the reader to draw conclusions for themselves based on this albeit circumstantial evidence. But this man will highly likely have offended before Margaret’s murder, and again afterwards. I believe that Tobin is a definite person of interest in this case and if not already, should seriously be looked at as a definite suspect by Sussex Constabulary. He is a sexual sadist and a convicted serial killer who has the same psycopathy as the man who raped, stabbed and buried Margaret Frame. He can be placed just a few short miles away from Stanmer Park at either side of 1978. Surely the chances of two men with the same psycopathy and same intent to rape and kill women, living in the same area at the same time, stretches credulity? It is of course possible, it is just my opinion that it is highly unlikely. Of course, unless Tobin himself confesses, it may never be known for certain if he is responsible or not. There is no forensic evidence to link him definitively to the crime, no DNA evidence, and Tobin himself is notorious for not talking to police about his crimes. He just tells them to “prove it”.

It may just be possible that “The Beast of Stanmer Park” is already serving a life sentence. Perhaps time will tell.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast.

 

Who killed Karen Hales?

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Karen and Emily Hales

The end of November is usually a time that families are excited and happy, beginning to prepare for Christmas. For the Hales family from Ipswich, in Suffolk, the end of November brings with it a tragic anniversary for them. 23 years ago, in 1993, 21 year old Karen Hales, was brutally murdered in the most horrific set of circumstances. Whoever responsible has never been found, leaving the Hales family still grieving the loss of a beloved daughter, partner and doting mother at the hands of a cold hearted, callous killer.

Karen Hales had so much to look forward to in life. She came from a doting family that she was very close to, and was engaged to a man that she loved and who cherished her back, her fiancée Peter Ruffles. Peter worked as a mechanic at a local bus depot, and Karen was employed part time at Boots in Ipswich. The couple had been together for six years, since their schooldays, and lived together along with their 18 month old daughter, Emily, in a two bedroom house on Lavenham Road, Ipswich. They were looking forward to getting married, and were a popular and well liked couple.

Sunday 21 November 1993 was a normal Sunday for the family. They had spent the early part of the day visiting Peter’s family, and come the late afternoon Peter started getting ready for his evening shift at the bus depot. This was only a short distance from where the couple lived. Usually, Karen would see her parents on a weekend, but when Peter offered to drop her and Emily around at their house, Karen declined. It had snowed heavily that weekend, and not wanting to go out in the cold, Karen had planned to spend the day catching up on cleaning the house. As they had done many times before, Karen and Emily waved Peter off to work as he left their house at about 3:50pm, before he started his shift at 4:00pm. Just a regular Sunday.

What happened in the next 50 minutes is the stuff of nightmares. The exact sequence of events have never been ascertained, but what is known is that the lives of Emily, Peter and the Hales family were changed forever.

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Graham and Geraldine Hales

Peter had only been at work for a short time, when he received a visit from Karen’s parents, Graham and Geraldine Hales. They had called in whilst passing to see Peter to ask if he could have a look at a fault they had with their car, to which he agreed to do so. They enquired after Karen and Emily, to which Peter said they were having the afternoon at home, catching up with the housework. Telling Peter that they would call in to visit the girls at home, Graham and Geraldine bid him farewell and left.

They arrived at Karen’s house at 4:40pm, just 50 minutes after Peter had waved to Karen and Emily as he left for work. There was no answer when they knocked, and upon trying the door handle they found that unusually, the door was unlocked. Karen was very security conscious, and as at 4:40pm it was dark, this was especially out of the norm. More alarming was the overpowering smell of smoke that greeted Graham and Geraldine as they entered, and as they moved into the house they discovered a sight that will remain with them until their last day on earth.

They discovered the burning body of their daughter in the kitchen. A post mortem later was to determine that Karen had been stabbed multiple times, and then her body had been set on fire. Most disturbingly, the killer had shown no regard for 18 month old Emily – who had almost certainly witnessed her mother being brutally murdered, and who had been left in the same room as Karen’s burning body. Fortunately, she was unharmed, but if Graham and Geraldine had not called when they did, this would have been a double murder.

“This was an absolutely horrendous crime, not least because Karen was callously killed in the presence of her 18 month old daughter and because her parents were left to discover her body in truly horrific circumstances.” – Detective Superintendent Andy Smith (leading the hunt for Karen’s killer)

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The house on Lavenham Road where Karen was murdered
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Police begin to conduct a forensic examination at the house

Immediately, police launched one of the largest investigations in the history of Suffolk Constabulary. A team consisting of nearly 50 officers conducted house to house enquiries in the surrounding neighbourhood, and carried out a detailed fingertip search and forensic examination of the house and gardens. A major publicity campaign was launched, passing motorists were questioned in the event that they might have seen something, and witness statements were taken from people living in the immediate vicinity. Karen’s background and relationships with family, friends and work colleagues were looked at to establish if anyone had any possible motive for meaning her harm.

They found nothing. There was no forensic evidence left by her killer, and no clear motive for Karen to have been murdered – she was well liked and highly regarded by all that knew her. She was not involved in anything illegal or illicit. She had not been sexually assaulted, and hardly anything had been taken from the house, although Karen’s purse containing a small amount of money was missing. Also missing from a block in the kitchen were two Laser 7 kitchen knives. Were these the murder weapons? Neither the purse nor the knives have ever been found. Peter was cleared as a suspect very early in the investigation, as were the couple’s family and friends. Nearly 1500 lines of enquiry were followed up by police, but Karen’s killer eluded them. Police still believe that Karen possibly knew her killer, as there were no signs of forced entry to the house, and no footprints in the snow at the rear of the house.

When four months had passed with no results, the case was featured on Crimewatch UK. The reconstruction is reproduced here:

Crimewatch UK Reconstruction March 1994 – Karen Hales murder

The reconstruction into Karen’s murder raises a couple of points. The night before she was murdered, Karen and Emily were alone at home as Peter had gone to a local pub with workmates. Karen heard a sound outside, and when she approached the front door (which was securely locked) she was alarmed to see the door handle being tried several times. She was too frightened to call out or look through the window to see who it was. As there had been a spate of burglaries in the area in the past few weeks, was this the latest in the line and Karen and Peter’s house had been chosen at random? Or had someone targeted Karen specifically and, failing to get her that Saturday night, came back the following day?

Police also had collated several sightings of a man that they wished to eliminate from the enquiry, who has never to this day been traced or has come forward. Described as being aged between 20 to 30 years old, of slim build and about 5″10 tall, this man was seen by several witnesses on the day of the murder – crucially within the time window that Karen is known to have been murdered. It is likely the same man each time because each of the witnesses described the distinct blue/grey parka with a fur lined hood that the man was wearing. He was first spotted by two men who walked past him at the bottom of Lavenham Road at about 4:30pm. The man then walked out into the nearby main London Road and drew attention to himself by running across the road, causing a couple who were driving past to narrowly miss him. They provided the below photo fit:

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Who was the man in the parka?

The man was also seen at about the same time that Karen’s parents discovered her body. Crucially, this was in Chantry Park, which is about 400 yards from Karen’s house. Again he drew attention to himself. A woman walking her dog there at this time remembers a man, again wearing a fur lined parka coat, running strangely as though doubled over. He stopped to stare at her, before running off again and disappearing into the park. Who was this man?

Following the massive appeal, the enquiry has wound down. Two men were arrested in connection with Karen’s murder early in 1994, but both were released without charge. Suffolk Constabulary are keen to stress that the enquiry has never been closed, indeed, is periodically reviewed. Karen’s murder has been re-appealed several times over the years by them, and by Karen’s family. The Evening Star newspaper offered a £50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Karen’s killer in 2005 – but this has never been claimed. Throughout these appeals, the pain of Karen’s killer still never having been found is apparent on all, perhaps put best by her daughter, Emily.

“Please come forward. I beg you. It would be closure for me and my family. It will not bring mum back, but at least someone would be going to pay for what they have done and it would certainly make us feel a lot better. If we were to know who did it, it would bring closure. I think about her every day. It’s hard. I don’t feel like I have had a normal family life. Although I was young, you have this picture in your mind of someone hurting your mum. When it gets to the time when it would have happened you think ‘this is when it happened’” – Karen’s daughter Emily.

This is a truly horrific crime, which does indeed raise more questions than provides answers. What then, can be said about the killer? Firstly, it is near impossible to ascertain any kind of physical description of the killer, although I believe it to be a male. It is a sad statistic that women are predominantly killed by men. It is probable that the man in the parka had some level of involvement – this was a massively publically appealed crime and anyone having nothing to hide would surely have come forward and eliminated themselves from the enquiry. Why then did this man not? In the absence of any suspects, the photo-fit of this man is all that is available to form any picture of a possible suspect. However, this is a double edged sword because it cannot be determined definitely if this man was involved, so to place too much emphasis on this being the face of the killer may lead away from the real killer. Also, the photo-fit is now 23 years old. People age and faces change with aging.

I believe that the killer was either from or was very familiar with the local area. It has been shown that offenders operate within an area that they are geographically familiar with. Karen and Peter’s house is part of a large sprawling housing estate, an unlikely place to have chosen for a random burglary. But a different story for someone familiar with access and egress from the estate. Was he then known to Karen? Police considered seriously the possibility that she knew her killer, due to the fact that there was no sign of forced entry to the house. Karen was security conscious and would always have looked through the window to see who was at the door before answering – surely even more so after having been frightened by someone attempting entry to the house the night before? It is unlikely that she would have willingly answered the door to a stranger – leaving a couple of possibilities. Perhaps whoever was at the door was known to her, or posed as an authority figure to gain access? Once the killer was inside however, Karen was murdered horrifically and cowardly in a short space of time. And these actions display a lot about the killer’s psyche.

I believe the killer is, or was, a high functioning psychopath. Someone who could appear normal, but with little or no regard for human life except self preservation. What other type of person could murder someone, then start a fire and leave an 18 month old child in a house to die? This man was organized – he managed to gain access to Karen’s house and committed the murder in what must have been a short period of time without being seen or heard. He was not seen leaving and left no forensic evidence at the scene. The missing knives are likely the ones to have been used to murder Karen – the type of knives were commonplace and practically worthless. They have never been found, so the possibility exists that they were kept as some form of trophy. But equally, they could have been disposed of anywhere, and were likely taken because they contained forensic traces of the killer. Removal of forensic traces is possibly also the reason why Karen’s body was set on fire after death. Perhaps the killer was himself injured in the act? Setting fire to Karen would destroy any bloodstaining, or DNA that the killer may have possibly left – this seems the only reason to possibly do this. If the aim was to leave nobody alive, then an 18 month old toddler would not have been able to fight off a killer. It is not known if an accelerant was used or not to start the fire – did the killer bring it with him and then take this away after the act?

There is the possibility that the killer is now himself dead of course, or in prison or hospital for some reason. If this man is still alive, I believe that he would now be middle aged. I do not believe that Karen’s murder was his first offence, and I believe that this man will have come to the attention of police or local medical authorities before or after the crime. I also believe that someone has lived with knowledge or suspicion of who this killer was for many years, perhaps remembering someone coming home heavily bloodstained for example – which Karen’s killer would have been? Or a friend or relative of the killer noticing a change in someone’s behaviour after the murder and having the seeds of suspicion sown? This is a strong possibility – the crime was very widely publicised and remains notorious, and someone must know or at least suspect someone of being the killer. But with the absence of any suspects or forensic evidence, it sadly appears that the killer of Karen Hales will evade justice, barring a deathbed confession, or the burden of guilt becoming too much for someone to bear. Neither the Hales family, Peter, Emily or Karen deserve that.

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Karen’s headstone, still lovingly tended by her grieving family.

Anyone with any information in relation to Karen Hales’ murder can contact the Joint Norfolk and Suffolk major Investigation Team on 101, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

 

Who killed Alice and Edna Rowley?

“These were atrocious and vicious killings. Someone must have an overwhelming load of guilt on their conscience.” – Dr Richard Whittington (Coroner – speaking at inquest in August 1988)

It is exactly 29 years ago that a vicious and cowardly murderer shocked the city of Birmingham by carrying out a horrific double murder. The victims were two elderly sisters, Alice and Edna Rowley, whose lives were senselessly taken in a brutal murder that netted the killer a haul consisting of nothing more than a few petty items. The crime is still unsolved, and police hope that someone out there still has vital information that can bring this monstrously evil killer to justice.

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Edna and Alice Rowley

Alice and Edna Rowley had run their shop on the corner of Greswolde Road, Sparkhill, for more than 50 years, and were familiar figures in the neighbourhood, driving their old Morris Minor back and to from the local cash and carry. They were known for their charitable and kindly nature, often giving out free sweets to local children and regularly giving donations to local causes. Alice and Edna were creatures of habit, opening very early in the morning and remaining open throughout the day, so, when on December 23rd, 1987, the shop that stood at 94 Greswolde Road remained closed by the mid-morning, neighbours were concerned. The sisters were both elderly; perhaps one of them had taken ill or had had an accident? Concerned neighbours who failed to get any response from knocking eventually contacted police.

When police arrived, officers forced their way into the sister’s home, and found a site so tragic and shocking that it shook hardened officers. In the small downstairs living room, Alice was found lying on the floor. Edna was found lying in her bedroom. Both were clearly dead, Alice having ligature marks visible around her throat, and Edna having severe bruising around her eyes. Post-mortems later determined that 87 year old Alice had been strangled with a scarf or a towel, although it was never found, and 77 year old Edna had been beaten and smothered to death. All that had been taken were two boxes of chocolates, a bottle of Tia Maria, a battered brown leather suitcase, and a radio cassette player. The chocolates and alcohol were the sister’s Christmas presents to one another.

Initial inquiries revealed that the sisters had last been seen alive the previous evening at 6:45pm, and had probably been killed not long after closing the shop for the evening. The initial thought of police was that they had interrupted a burglary in progress. But this theory was dispelled with a closer examination of the scene. An untouched meal lay on the dining table, and there were no signs of forced entry to the shop or upstairs premises. It appeared as though the sisters had been about to sit down to an evening meal when the killer had struck. Had he conned his way in on pretence, or had the kindly sisters invited someone knocking on their door in, as they had a habit of?

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Floral tributes adorn the doorstep of the Rowley’s shop

Over 100 police were drafted in from across Birmingham as the subsequent murder investigation began in earnest, with house to house enquiries carried out in the surrounding area. A search of the shop and living area was carried out to determine if anything else had been taken, or any forensic evidence had been left behind by the killer. The sister’s backgrounds and lives were looked at to determine if there was anyone with a possible motive for harming them. Police left no stone unturned in one of Birmingham’s biggest ever manhunts, making more than 5,000 individual inquiries and taking more than 1,600 statements. Every male living in the surrounding area was fingerprinted. The crime sickened police so much that a £10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer was offered. This was a first of its kind for the force.

“We certainly have not personally offered a reward before and I cannot recall any other police force taking this step. However, this outrageous offence demands that we consider all avenues of investigation and assistance.I earnestly ask the public, including members and associates of the criminal fraternity to examine their consciences, consider the nature of the killings and report their suspicions.” Asst Chief Constable Tom Meffen (speaking in 1987)

But police didn’t have much to go on. The search of the premises revealed no forensic evidence, blood traces, footprints or unidentified fingerprints, and a murder weapon was never found. An item that was found, however, was an empty packet of Walkers Bitza Pizza crisps. This was found lying at the bottom of the stairs – and it was established that these type of crisps were not sold in the shop. Had the killer brought them with him? The origin of the packet has never been explained. House to house enquiries also revealed very little – no sounds of struggle or screams were heard, and no one was seen leaving the scene. The sisters were found to have been well liked, were well known, and were very well respected in the local area. They had no immediate family and neither had ever married, all they had was the shop, and each other. They were described as independent and from a generation that was hard working, proud and brave. Evidence to this effect is that on a previous occasion, Alice had been confronted by an armed robber in the shop, but had struck him with a broom and caused him to flee. The sisters were the type to have a go, not cower.

House to house enquiries early in the new year did, however, give police one possible lead. A neighbour living near the shop who had been abroad over Christmas came forward to police upon hearing about the murder when he returned to the area early in the new year. The neighbour reported that on December 22nd, he had seen a “scruffy looking” man, “like a vagrant”, knocking on the door of the shop at about 7:30pm. This would have been just after the shop had closed. Crucially, the man was knocking on the internal glass door of the shop and not the outer one. This same man was seen at the same time by a woman walking towards the shop. The witnesses described the man as being middle aged, with grey streaked greasy hair, and was wearing a grey or brown jacket with dark trousers. An artist’s impression was created and was widely publicised locally and nationally. Enquiries were made at hostels, night shelters and places frequented by down and outs, but this “vagrant” never came forward, and was never traced. Who was he? The artist’s impression is shown below:

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The artist’s impression of the “vagrant” seen knocking on the door to the shop – who was this man?

When all avenues of enquiry had been followed up and exhausted, the incident room was scaled down – although the case has never and will never be closed. It has been re-appealed on numerous occasions over the years, including several times on Central television and the subject of a Crimewatch UK reconstruction. But nobody has as yet been brought to justice for this cowardly murder.

What then can be said about the killer? Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to determine anything for certain. There is scarce information available about the crime, so to build up a picture of the killer depends largely on hypothesis. I am led to believe that this is not the first crime committed by this man – it is a level of offending reached rather than started at. It does not appear to have been a planned murder either – perhaps more spur of the moment? For example – the offender may have conned his way in on pretence, or pretended to have been ill even, planning to then steal in a distraction burglary? He may have been caught in this act by one of the sisters, then panicked – and took the most drastic action possible and killed both? Neither of the sisters had been sexually assaulted, so sex can be discounted as a motive, and there is no suggestion that either sister had any enemies, or were involved in anything illegal or immoral – this leaves robbery as a motive. But why only take such paltry items? There is no record of any money having been taken – in a shop where there would more than likely be a cash float. Just some Christmas presents were taken. This suggests that robbery became an afterthought – and that the murder of the two sisters was unplanned. This is furthered by the method of murder – strangulation. It is a very spur of the moment method, and all points to a robbery going horribly wrong, and the killer just grabbing items to hand before fleeing, panicking after having killed two elderly women.  This theory gains credence by the fact that police discovered that this had actually happened a few weeks before. A bogus water board official had called at the shop a few weeks previously, and had got as far as the kitchen before being exposed as an imposter – although how this was ascertained is not revealed. Was this connected – were the sisters targeted again by the same person? The bogus water official was never traced either.

It is also important not to base the sole picture on the artist’s impression, although difficult because it is the only lead police have to go on, and the fact that any man matching the description was never traced nor came forward to clear themselves makes this man the prime person of interest. But it should not be stated with certainty that this is the face of the killer – the man could have been innocently asking for directions somewhere, and had chosen a shop because of its focal point of knowledge of the local area.  He could have been someone known to the sisters. He may even not have recognised himself from the artist’s impression, or he may not have even been a local man – perhaps a traveller passing through, or a long distance delivery or lorry driver. He is either an important potential witness, or he may of course, be the killer. But either way he has never been traced, and if this man appeared middle aged in 1987, then he would be elderly himself now. If he is even still alive of course. So the artist’s impression is largely rendered useless today.

With no suspects, no forensic evidence and no leads, the investigation has remained inactive for many years now. It has frustrated detectives who have examined every piece of evidence and theory available, and have examined any possible links with other unsolved crimes throughout the UK. None have been definitively linked however. The shop itself no longer exists now, instead an Islamic Cultural and Education Centre stands on the site where it was.

94 Greswolde Road – as it appears today

The murder of Alice and Edna Rowley is still unforgotten in the community where they once lived though, and the unsolved crimes are periodically reviewed by specialist teams of cold case detectives, who urge anybody with information to get in touch to help. Sadly, it is likely that barring a deathbed confession or someone’s conscience getting the better of them, that that information will not be forthcoming, and that the killer will escape justice for this despicable crime.

Anyone with information can call police on 101, or the Crimestoppers charity anonymously on 0800 555 111.

 

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

 

Who Was The Killer On The 14:16?

There is a £20,000 reward that so far remains unclaimed, for information leading to the arrest of the brutal killer of a young woman nearly 30 years ago on a London train. The murder seems to have been an opportunistic and reckless killing, and the killer himself was injured whilst conducting the savage attack. As a result, police have a sample of the killer’s DNA, powerful evidence that will help convict him should he be found.

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Debbie Linsley

Debbie Linsley had many things to look forward to in 1988. Her life was going well and her career was going places. Originally from Orpington in Kent, 26 year old Debbie had found employment as a trainee hotel manager in a hotel in Edinburgh, and although she missed her family and friends back home, she had adapted to life in Scotland well. She had spent several months settling into her new life, and by the near end of March 1988 she had returned to visit her parents for a few days. This visit had a dual purpose; Debbie had been on a hotel management course in Hertfordshire, and her bosses had allowed her to spend a few days visiting her family at the family home in Bromley, south east London. A fortnight later, Debbie would be back down again: her brother Gordon was getting married, and Debbie was due to be a bridesmaid at the nuptials. She had managed to have a bridesmaid dress fitting during the visit, which she had been especially excited about.

“She was here three nights and was due to leave in the late afternoon to go
back to work in Edinburgh. But on the course she met the manager of the
Sherlock Holmes Hotel in London and she left earlier than planned to drop in
and see this guy in Baker Street about a job there.” Arthur Linsley (Debbie’s father)

In order to see about this job, Debbie would have to travel into London. A journey she was very used to, Debbie boarded a train with the intention of heading to London Victoria station. It was 23 March 1988, and Debbie got onto the 14:16 train from Orpington to London Victoria at the London suburb station of Petts Wood. Here, Debbie had bought cigarettes and a ticket, and was seen boarding the train at 2.18pm. She was fashionably dressed for the era, wearing a blue skirt, white blouse and black leather jacket, and got into the second compartment of a carriage near the front of the train. Back in the day carriages such as these allowed passengers to smoke. Trains back in the late 1980’s were still of the old fashioned carriage type, with room to seat up to just six people and with doors at each side, and it was into one of these that Debbie boarded the train that bright March afternoon. It is unknown to this day if there was anyone else in the particular compartment that Debbie boarded.

The Orpington to London Victoria train journey is a pretty straightforward one, with a direct train arriving in London Victoria on average 35 minutes after departing from Orpington. Sadly, Debbie was never to make that fateful journey alive.

The train arrived on time at London Victoria that day, and as was custom British Rail staff began a systematic check of each carriage before the train departed on its return journey. At 14:50 that afternoon, porter Ron Lacey was horrified to find the lifeless body of Debbie Linsley lying in a pool of blood in one of the carriages. She had been brutally stabbed to death. All trains on that particular line that day were cancelled, and a systematic search for a murder weapon began. Commuters were stopped and questioned as to whether they had seen anything, and a police manhunt began with Debbie’s last movements being pieced together.

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Detectives examine the scene of Debbie Linsley’s murder

It was quickly ascertained that Debbie had gotten onto the train just 32 minutes before she was found slaughtered, which gave detectives hunting the killer a relatively short window of time. This would help to pinpoint the exact location of the attack, and it gave them a good chance of narrowing down a list of any possible suspects who could have been on the train at the time. Because it was such a short period of time, the likelihood that someone had possibly seen the killer was quite high. What narrowed down the timeframe even further was that it was discovered that Debbie had had time to smoke two cigarettes, and eat part of a sandwich before being killed. In a relatively short train journey, this would put the time of the murder closer to a stop nearer the end of the journey. It was established from enquiries from stations along the route that that particular train had up to 70 passengers, of which to the present day almost 60 of them have been eliminated. Of the passengers questioned that day, it was an 18 year old French au pair, Helene Jousseline, who had information that may have been crucial.

Helene was sat on the train in the next compartment to where Debbie was sat, and just after the train left Brixton, which was the final and longest part of the journey between stops. Helene heard piercing screams coming from Debbie’s compartment. The terrified girl heard screaming for two full minutes, but was too scared to raise the alarm. At the inquest into Debbie’s murder, Helene described what she had heard in a chilling recollection:

“I had never heard such screams. They stopped for about five seconds and started again. She called out as if for help. They were screams of fear and very, very loud. I wanted to use the alarm but I remained glued to my seat.”- Helene Jousseline

These screams occurred as the train passed in full view of houses adjoining the track, but police enquiries revealed nobody who had seen or heard anything. When the train pulled into Victoria just 6 minutes after leaving Brixton, Helene saw a man who appeared to be limping away from the compartment where Debbie was found murdered. She described him as being of large build, aged about 40 to 50 years old, with collar length ginger hair and a moustache. However, she lost sight of this man amongst the crowds. At that time, Victoria station had upwards of 250,000 people passing through it per day, with nearly 1500 trains passing through. A large enough crowd for a killer to slip away into almost unnoticed?

A  possible sighting of what may have been the same man was made earlier on the journey. At Penge East station, a witness noticed what was described as a “stocky man, aged about 30, with dirty blond hair and a pale jacket”, getting out of a single compartment on the train and going into an open compartment near the front. Was this Debbie’s compartment?

The post mortem showed that Debbie had been stabbed up to eleven times, in the face, neck, chest and abdomen. The fatal wound had penetrated her heart and caused massive bleeding. She had struggled against her killer, as she had defensive wounds to her hands. The murder weapon, determined to have been a very sharp knife with a blade of between 5 and 7.5 inches in length, was not found at the scene and has never to this day been discovered. Robbery was ruled out as a motive, as Debbie was still in possession of her purse, her jewellery and £5 in cash that she had borrowed from her brother. Police were forced to conclude that Debbie had died fighting off a sexual assault, which the killer had failed to do as Debbie was found fully clothed. It was also concluded that she was targeted at random, making the chances of finding the killer that much more difficult.

The investigation was very thorough, with Debbie’s family and friends all ruled out as suspects. Her boyfriend in Scotland was eliminated from the enquiry, and no one could be found who bore Debbie any grudge. Debbie’s last movements were reconstructed by police, and a policewoman dressed identically to Debbie retraced her final journey in the hope that it may jog a viewers memory. But nothing came of it. After an intensive enquiry police were no closer to identifying Debbie’s killer, and the investigation was scaled down. Murder investigations are never closed unless the killer is detected, but often remain at a stage of limbo where they are only periodically reviewed when funding becomes available, or new evidence comes to light. But in Debbie’s case, police do have a crucial piece of evidence. As Debbie had put up a struggle, it was found that the killer had injured himself during the attack. His blood was found at the scene, and samples were taken. The advances in forensic science have now allowed scientists to create a full DNA profile from these blood samples, so today police do have a DNA sample of the killer. However, no match has yet been made on any samples held on the DNA National Database. There is also the frustrating possibility that because the DNA National Database was only started in 1997, if Debbie’s killer had been convicted of any offence before that date then his profile would not be on it. There is also the real possibility that the killer may now be dead himself, and may never face justice.

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A policewoman re-enacts Debbie’s final journey

What can be said about the killer? Analysis of the crime raises more questions than answers. It is a premeditated crime, yet an opportunistic one. Premeditated for the fact that the killer was stalking the streets with a large knife, but opportunistic because why attack a woman in broad daylight, on a train where a passenger could get on or disturb the killer? Where thousands of people would be at any given time, making the risk of detection and apprehension very high? It seems to have been an overwhelming compulsion to kill by this man, regardless of the risk of detection and apprehension. I believe that this man will have come to the attention of police before Debbie’s murder, perhaps even to mental health authorities. A crime of such magnitude is not a first time offence. It is likely that the killer was unemployed and unable to hold down a steady job – after all, he was able to travel the rail network on a midweek afternoon – and will have likely been a loner.

Physically, there is not much that can be ascertained. It is important not to give too much emphasis that the killer is the person matching the description of the man seen by Helene, he may have just been the first person she noticed in a state of high fear and unease. He may have been just another person in the crowd – Victoria station would have been busy that Wednesday afternoon, perhaps busier than usual because on that day, England were playing the Netherlands in a football friendly at Wembley Stadium. A description of this man was widely circulated, but he was never identified not came forward. No one else came forward to say that they had seen a stocky man limping away from the direction of the incoming train. And as time passes, people age, change their features and hair colour etc – so this person (if still alive) would look remarkably different from that description now. The overkill and lack of caution suggests an offender younger in age than 40 years old – there is a level of immaturity and a lack of refinement in killing and a lack of forensic awareness, so I would believe the killer to have been in his late teens to mid 20’s at the time of Debbie’s murder. There are two men currently serving life imprisonment who I believe should be considered persons of interest to the investigation.

Colin Ash-Smith is a convicted killer serving life imprisonment for knife attacks on two women in 1988 and 1995, and for the savage knife murder of 16 year old schoolgirl Claire Tiltman in 1993. The crimes of Ash-Smith will be chronicled in a future post on TTCE. The other person I believe could be looked at as a good potential suspect is Robert Napper. Napper is serving life imprisonment for the infamous 1993 Wimbledon Common murder of Rachel Nickell, and the horrendous slaughter of mother and daughter Samantha and Jasmine Bissett in Plumstead in 1994. I believe that the locale of these attacks, the timeframe, method and even in the case of Ash-Smith a possible match to the description given by Helene and the unnamed witness make them very strong potential persons of interest in this case.

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Arthur Linsley, Debbie’s father

The legacy of Debbie’s murder is still felt by many. Porter Ron Lacey was so traumatised by finding Debbie’s body that he never worked at the station again.  Helene still to this day lives, perhaps unfairly, with the guilt of having not raised the alarm upon hearing the chilling screams that day on the train. But understandably, it is Debbie’s parents and brother who feel her tragic loss the most. Sadly, Debbie’s mother Marguerite died of a stroke in 2011 having never seen Debbie’s killer brought to justice. Her father Arthur still holds out hope that one day her killer will be identified and face punishment for her murder.

“We learnt to live with Debbie’s death and the fact that nobody has been made
accountable for it. But you do not give up hope entirely. We know that Debbie injured her killer and somebody somewhere must have noticed that. All it needs is a phone call” – Arthur Linsley.

He reflects sadly on the families loss:

“Everybody loved Debbie. She was full of life and always had a stream of kids
following her around. I never got to walk Debbie down the aisle or watch her have her own children. All she did was get on a train in the afternoon in broad daylight. She
paid for it with her life.”

Det Chief Inspector Chris Burgess, the detective  leading the cold case review of Debbie’s murder, again reemphasises that the police still believe that someone somewhere holds the key to Debbie’s murder, and that they are determined that the killer will be identified.

“There is a possibility that the person who did this could now
be dead. But that does not mean we are ever going to stop looking for them. If someone still has a suspicion but is not sure, then there is no need for them to worry. We have a DNA sample of the person responsible which will prove whether it was them or not. But we need their name. I am certain somebody out there knows it and I would ask them now, after all this time, to please come forward.” – Detective Chief Inspector Chris Burgess (Met Police)

Anyone with information is asked to call detectives on 0207 230 3893 and 0207 230 0992, or alternatively Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

 

Who Was The Cheltenham Axe Murderer?

For more than thirty years now, a vicious killer has evaded capture in the cultural town of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. The crime, a horrific, maniacal and cowardly murder of a defenceless pensioner, is still vividly remembered by the people of the town, and is constantly re-appealed in the hope that time will bring in fresh information, which in turn will bring the closure that a family so badly needs.

Keith and Vanessa Aris were worried. They had not heard from Keith’s mother, 73 year old Constance Aris, for a few days, something which was well out of character for the grandmother. Constance, who had been widowed for many years, lived alone in an attractive terraced house in Cheltenham’s Roman Road area. At just over 5ft tall, Constance was a very active person, a churchgoer who was loved by family and friends alike. She doted on her two grandchildren, Siobhan and Damian, and Constance, who was nicknamed “Little Granny” by her grandchildren, would be in touch with her family most if not each day, either by visiting or telephoning.

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Constance Aris

So when they hadn’t had a visit or a telephone call from Constance by 28 February 1985, Keith and Vanessa decided to go around to her house to make sure she was alright. They were concerned that she had fallen, or taken ill. What they found when they arrived at the house at 9:15am that morning was a scene of unspeakable horror. Thirty one years later, it still shakes the Arises to the core, and is a sight that nobody should ever have to see.

Using their key to open the front door, Keith and Vanessa entered the house and walked into the hallway. After calling out to his mother, Keith pushed open the sitting room door. Doing so, he came across a site that he readily admits he will take to his grave with him.

The television was on quite loudly, and Constance was slumped in her living room armchair. Blood spattered the walls and ceiling surrounding the chair, and Keith could see that his mother was clearly dead. She had been brutally battered to death.

A shaken Vanessa and Keith called police, and a murder inquiry was launched. 70 police officers were drafted in to hunt for the killer, in the biggest manhunt Cheltenham had ever known. Constance’s body was taken to the mortuary and a post-mortem was performed, bringing chilling results. It was determined that Constance had been brutally battered to death and struck no less than five times with a heavy weapon.

The most likely weapon, the coroner decided, was an axe.

Shaken police officers were appalled at the level of violence, and led them to believe they were hunting for a maniac.

” This was a premeditated, vicious attack on a virtually defenceless old lady. It was a brutal, callous attack with a degree of violence which could not have left any doubt that death was going to be the result.” – Detective Chief Superintendent Don Holland

Piecing together Constance’s final movements, it was established that Constance had attended one of the groups she belonged to, a Friendly Society meeting, at St Mark’s Community Centre in Cheltenham on the afternoon of February 27th. She walked from the centre in Brooklyn Road as far as Libertus Road with a friend, where they arrived at about 6:15pm. Constance’s movements after leaving her friend remain a mystery. Libertus Road is in very close proximity to Constance’s home in Roman Road, so if she had headed straight home she would have arrived by about 6:30pm. No witnesses ever came forward to say they had seen Constance after her friend left her however, so it cannot be ascertained if she was accompanied or followed home by someone.

“We have never traced anyone who saw Mrs Aris making her way on home from there. She may have perhaps had a lift or been befriended by someone.” – Detective Chief Superintendent Don Holland (speaking in 1988)

It was estimated that Constance had been brutally killed then sometime between 6:30pm on the evening of February 27th, and 9:00am the following morning when her son and daughter in law made the horrific discovery. Police believed at the time that Constance may have unwittingly let her killer into the house. She was very security conscious and made a point of locking doors and ensuring all windows were shut. February is generally a cold month so no windows are likely to have been left open by Constance, but no clear sign of any forced entry was found. Did Constance let her killer in, or had he accompanied her home?

The motive for murder has never been clearly established. Constance was an extremely small old lady, and would have been easy to restrain. At the time, the police consensus was that Constance’s murder was the result of a burglary gone wrong, but Constance’s family and friends said she was unlikely to have had any significant amount of money in the house. An assortment of her possessions were taken, however, including some watches, stick pins, items of dress jewellery and her pension book. It was the amount of extreme violence directed at a defenceless old lady that police have never been able to explain or understand.

The police manhunt for her killer was massive. Constance’s family, friends and neighbours were all looked at and ruled out as suspects. Her background and life was scrutinised for any possible suspects who would wish her harm, but nobody was identified as a suspect. It seemed that she was loved and liked by all who knew her. Police road blocks were set up at either end of Roman Road, and a large electronic display screen flashing “MURDER” was placed at Lansdown train station, where hundreds of commuters were interviewed. Officers searched rubbish bins, drains and manholes throughout Cheltenham, combing the area looking for a murder weapon. One has never been found. 4,500 interviews were conducted in house to house enquiries, and 2,800 statements were taken from people living in neighbouring streets and the local area. But police did not uncover the vital clue that would lead them to the killer. They had no witnesses that had seen or heard anything suspicious, nor any suspects or suspect description.

They did however have one piece of forensic evidence, the sole forensic evidence that was left by Constance’s killer. A solitary fingerprint, one that could not be identified, was found at the murder scene, although it is not stated exactly where in the house that the print was discovered. Armed with this, in the course of the enquiry police took 1,200 sets of fingerprints from everyone who lived within a square mile of Constance’s home. These were then sent to Bristol’s Regional Fingerprint Bureau in Bristol, where they were painstakingly checked by hand against the print found at the murder scene. A result was never matched.

“You never get over something like that. Of course, you have to try to move on and live your life, but the grief is always there. It makes us angry when we hear that other cold cases are solved but not this one. We still harbour some hope that one day the killer will be brought to account. It has had such a huge impact on our lives and on the family.”  – Vanessa Aris (daughter in law)

This is a sad and brutal crime to have happened, and Constance’s family deserve to see her killer brought to justice. What then, can be learned about the killer’s identity and personality? As always, this is the opinion of TTCE and in no way is it suggested this to be fact, it is purely hypothetical based on the scant evidence available. To begin with, it is likely but not definite that the killer is a male. Violent crimes are predominantly committed by males, and this certainly is a violent crime. The concept of a random female committing such a violent murder is highly unlikely. Burglary is also predominantly committed by males too. TTCE believes that the overall motive was robbery. A large assortment of Constance’s possessions had been taken, and none of these, such as items of jewellery or watches, has ever reappeared. It is possible that these items were sold elsewhere for a quick profit, or even taken as some form of macabre trophy – but why then take so many? The amount of items taken suggests someone with an overall motive of looking for haul.

TTCE is also of the opinion that the killer is someone either from or extremely familiar with the local area. When viewed, Roman Road is filled with terraced houses and offers little access or egress apart from at either end. Looking at the houses too, each one is near enough indiscriminate (at least in present day), so it is impossible to look at one and know that the occupants are elderly. This can be determined sometimes by telltale signs such as the presence of rails fixed to the outside walls. However, there is nothing to suggest that there is any sign of things such as these at Constance’s house. Her house was on a busy road within a network of busy, pedestrianized roads, therefore a bizarre choice of property to choose at random. Offenders predominantly commit crimes in areas they feel comfortable with, that they know and that they know how to access and escape from. To blend in to. For these reasons, TTCE believes the likelihood of the killer knowing the area intimately, or living within the area for these reasons is massively high. The absence of any clear sign of forced entry raises the possibility that Constance had been watched going home, or had been followed home by her killer. Perhaps she was known to the killer. If she had been followed, this is an offender with the mindset of committing a crime, premeditated and not a spur of the moment occurrence.

It is also highly unlikely that this is the solitary crime ever committed by this offender. Crimes of this magnitude are built up to, so it is likely that this offender will have offended before Constance’s murder. It would certainly suggest an offender who had burgled before, or perhaps a confidence trickster experienced in talking his way into houses. This does not necessarily equate to the offender having killed before, but certainly suggests an experienced criminal. There is no evidence of any sexual assault against Constance, but the level of violence used against her is disturbing. This is a defenceless old lady slaughtered in the most horrific way possible – why was this necessary? It suggests a killer who is either a sadist, or who has psychopathic tendencies. Or chillingly, perhaps both. The murder weapon was or has never been found, meaning it is unclear (if it was an axe, and the general consensus is that it was) if the weapon was taken to the scene by the killer, or was found and used at the scene. This lack of clarification creates a hurdle in attempting to glean an insight into the mindset of Constance’s killer. There is a psychological difference in the offender who uses what is nearest to hand as a weapon, and the offender who comes prepared with a weapon. Either way, the killer showed some forensic awareness by taking the murder weapon with him. It is a chilling thought that a killer possibly stalked the streets of Cheltenham, carrying an axe and with murder on his mind. Equally chilling is the possibility that he used a weapon he found at the scene, then took it away with him as the ultimate trophy.

Was Constance deliberately targeted? There is no evidence to suggest that anyone had a deep seated grudge against her, and she was not known to have any enemies. Regardless, TTCE believes strongly that Constance was deliberately targeted, either by being known to her killer or followed home by him. Even if she was followed home by someone who she was a stranger to – there is no way of ascertaining that she lived alone. Also, the chances of choosing a house at random that the sole occupant happens to be a defenceless elderly lady is highly unlikely. The more likely circumstances, in the opinion of TTCE, will be accounted below.

There are multiple possible scenarios as to how the killer got into Constance’s house. One is that Constance disturbed a burglar. There are problems with this – if she disturbed a burglar, signs of forced entry to the property would surely be apparent? TTCE believes it more likely that the killer followed Constance home, and then conned his way into her house, perhaps by posing as an official from something such as the Gas or Water Board, or a salesman of some sort. This would explain the lack of forced entry. Once inside, Constance was overpowered and possibly threatened to reveal the location of any money. The threat of bludgeoning may have been used to coerce her. Because she had no large sums of money, her constant denial was not believed by the killer and threats became actions. It is possible that the sheer brutality and overkill was committed in the heat of the moment, or it may have been pure bloodlust…..

Did the killer strike again some months later? TTCE believes that a case to be a possible match for the same profile of Constance’s killer is the October 1985 murder in Bristol of pensioner Violet Milsom. TTCE covered this unsolved case recently, the link to which can be found here: Death Of A Kindly Pensioner The victimology, overkill and violence used, lack of evidence of forced entry, and even location all make for compelling reasoning to compare both crimes as being the work of the same person.

As a frustrating case with a lack of clear motive or suspects, all the reader can do is surmise here based upon the facts available, and then can only offer a hypothesis. With the passage of time, there is the very real possibility that the killer of Constance Aris is now dead and will never face justice for his crime. If he is still alive right now, would likely be middle aged in the 45-60 year old bracket. He may live in the area, or may have moved away or overseas. TTCE believes that this man will have come to the attention of police or mental health services at some point in his life, so his name will be somewhere in the system. It is impossible to believe that a person capable and so ready to use such horrific violence on a person could ever remain under the radar, nor ever offend again. Yet the fingerprint has never been matched to any held on file. Of course, as a case such as Constance’s is only periodically reviewed as and when new information is received, or funding allows, there may still be a development in this area at a future date. Police are still looking for this killer, and Constance’s case will never be closed. The murder has been regularly re-appealed over the years, and it is still believed that somebody out there has knowledge of who this killer is, that the killer told somebody what he had done. In the latest re-appeal, in 2010, this was echoed by Gloucestershire police.

“It would be very unusual that in 25 years since it took place that person has not told someone what he has done. Someone out there must know something. The perpetrator could very well still live in Cheltenham. I would appeal to anyone with new information to come forward and contact us. It could help solve the town’s most notorious murder. The people of Cheltenham are still very aware of this crime and would like to see it solved,” – Detective Chief Inspector Dave Sellwood (Gloucestershire Police, speaking in 2010)

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Any new information can be passed to police on 0845 090 1234.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

The Murder of Jacqueline Palmer-Radford

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Jacqueline Palmer-Radford

The village of Eversley is a small village located in the community of Hart in the county of Hampshire, UK.  It is a wealthy community, located close to the large towns of Basingstoke and Reading, and is considered peaceful and relatively crime free. Eversley  is an old English term meaning  “Wild boar clearing”, and a testament to this is reflected in the presence of a boar depicted in the village sign.The type of place every family would enjoy living in.

The one blot on the otherwise idyllic appearance of Eversley, however, is that since 1992, Eversley has lived in the shadow of a brutal, still unsolved murder.

Jacqueline Palmer-Radford was 40 years old in 1992, and lived with her two sons, aged 17 and 6, in a converted Post office, Riversdale House, on the main road running through Eversley. Jacqueline and her husband had separated amicably in 1990 after 18 years of marriage, and since then her and the boys had remained in the family home. There were plans for Jacqueline to put the house on the market and move to a smaller house, although the house had not yet been put on the market.

Wednesday 01 April 1992 started as a day like all others for Jacqueline and the boys. Her oldest son attended college some miles away and commuted via train, so Jacqueline dropped her older son at the nearby train station at about 8:30am. As usual, on the return journey Jacqueline dropped her youngest son at his school in the village of Crowthorne, four miles away. She was back at Riversdale House by 9:15am, which can be confirmed as she spoke to her mother on the telephone at this time. Jacqueline had sounded fine and her usual self, and told her mother she was going to spend the day shopping in Basingstoke.

What happened that day has never been confirmed.

At 4pm that day, Jacqueline’s youngest son was still waiting for Jacqueline to collect him from school. This was most unlike Jacqueline – she was a conscientious mother and her life revolved around her sons. If she was going to be late for any reason she would have telephoned the school, or made arrangements for him to be safely collected. Her eldest son was also waiting at the train station to be collected. Eventually, he made his own way home, arriving at about 17:30pm.

What he discovered is something that no child should ever have to discover. He found his mother lying on the kitchen floor of their spacious home, suffocated. According to differing reports, she had also been raped.

As with most cases, Jacqueline’s estranged husband was an immediate suspect in her murder. He was arrested and questioned, but was able to provide an irrefutable alibi for his movements the entire day, an alibi that was corroborated by witnesses.  Police were to eventually completely rule him out of the inquiry.

By the time June 1992 had arrived, the police inquiry was nowhere nearer to solving the case. There were a few points of appeal that they had to make, and a TV appeal was made through Crimewatch UK. The Crimewatch appeal was aired on Thursday 18th June 1992, and built up a picture of Jacqueline’s life and what was known about the days leading up to the day she was murdered.

What emerged was a picture of a doting mother. Since her separation, Jacqueline’s life had revolved around her sons, and she did lots of activities with them. Jacqueline wasn’t employed at that time, but kept herself busy and had begun to widen her interests and social circles. She began playing many new sports, such as tennis and badminton, widening her circle of friends in the process. She had also made enquiries into undertaking a study course through the Open University. She was well liked and all who were interviewed testified to her good character. None of Jacqueline’s friends or family knew of any romantic relationships that Jacqueline was involved in, her life seemed to revolve around her sons.

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A Vauxhall Chevette, similar to one described by witnesses.

The Crimewatch appeal focused predominantly on two vehicles and their occupants that police wished to eliminate. The day before Jacqueline was murdered, she had picked her youngest son up from school at 3:15pm as normal. At the same time, one of the other parents at the school remembers seeing a brown hatchback car, possibly a Vauxhall Chevette, parked across the road.  The occupant did not seem to be watching the school but instead seemed nervous and tense, staring straight ahead.

Crucially, what could have possibly been the same car was sighted the next day, the day of Jacqueline’s murder, right outside Riversdale House at 9:05am. Chris Gayler was on his way to work in Reading, and his daily commute took him through Eversley and past Riversdale House. As he pulled level with the driveway to Jacqueline’s house, he had to wait behind a brown hatchback car, similar to the one sighted at the school the day before. The car was indicating right, and turned into the driveway of Riversdale house. Who was the caller?

At about the same time, employees of an office block located about 200 yards down the road from Riversdale House noticed an unfamiliar car parked in their car park. The car was either a beige or yellow coloured Metro, and the occupant was a lone woman. When she was first sighted, she had a headscarf on and was reading a newspaper as though to hide her face from view. Office employees checked periodically and the car remained there for a number of hours, and later on they noticed that she had removed the headscarf. She was described as being in her mid to late 20’s, slim, and short haired. She had left the car park by 12:00pm – who was she?

There were two other people that police wished to trace. A motorist driving nearby remembers a man running down the road away from the direction of Riversdale House at about 11:00am. This man was described as wearing a raincoat, jogging bottoms and trainers, and was carrying a carrier bag in each hand. Then at about 12:00pm, a motorist driving past Riversdale House noticed a smartly dressed man carrying a clipboard stood outside the house. As mentioned, Jacqueline had plans to sell the house and downscale – was this an estate agent? Nobody ever came forward to eliminate themselves. Perhaps this man dropped an expensive pen whilst he was there – a search of the house and grounds found a distinctive pen on the driveway. It’s retail value (in 1992) was between £30-32 pounds, so it was quite a substantial amount then and surely wasn’t just a throwaway item. It did not belong to Jacqueline or any of her sons, and police enquiries failed to establish its owner.

It is a very sad case indeed, and frustratingly information on it is very scarce. What can be established? There are conflicting reports about the murder, with some stating that Jacqueline was sexually assaulted and others not mentioning this. The Crimewatch UK appeal certainly negated to mention this fact. An article on the True Crime Library alludes to Jacqueline having been raped,  yet was found fully clothed. Would a rapist killer bother to redress his victim? It goes on to suggest that Jacqueline was killed by someone she knew, someone who raped her and then killed her when she threatened to report him. But would a killer bother redressing his victim? TTCE thinks this is unlikely, but cannot deliver a definite opinion due to conflicting reports. The presence of a sexual assault or the lack of a sexual assault presents two differing offender profiles, and as TTCE is unsatisfied as to the evidence for or against, cannot comment upon this.

It does however, seem likely that Jacqueline was killed by someone she knew. She spoke to her mother at 09:15am on the day she was murdered, and her mother reported that Jacqueline sounded fine and was heading out shopping for the day. If the sighting of the brown car turning in to Riversdale House driveway is correct, and the timing is correct, then the driver must have been at the house during the phone call to her mother – meaning it was someone Jacqueline knew and was comfortable enough to let into her home. There were no signs of forced entry or any signs of struggle, which further supports this theory. Nothing was missing from the house, and Jacqueline’s purse and belongings were all present in the house.

So why Jacqueline? Police enquiries failed to find anything illegal or illicit that Jacqueline was involved in, and she had no apparent enemies. Her murder  has the feeling of being an unplanned crime,  perhaps for the following reasons, which TTCE must stress are purely hypothetical. Perhaps Jacqueline was involved in a relationship she wished to keep secret. It is understandable that as she doted on her sons completely, she would keep any possible romantic attachment separate from them until she was sure it was serious? Perhaps it was an affair she was having, and she was killed by her lover following a heated row over something? Jacqueline’s family and friends all testify that her having an affair would be completely out of character, and were unaware that she had been seeing anybody. This is not to suggest that this should be disregarded – plenty of people are extremely private and consider their business to be exactly that, their business. The location of the body also suggests it being a spur of the moment crime – why would anyone move a body to the kitchen? It would be more likely that a row escalated and she was killed where she was found. A planned murder would surely have taken place in a different room, for example a bedroom if it was a sex crime, or a bathroom where a killer could clean up any forensic traces more easily. Jacqueline would have also been possibly restrained, and killed in a different way, for example with the use of a knife. Again, due to the lack of information on this case this has to remain speculation.

Over the past 24 years, the crime has been re-appealed, but police are no further forward in identifying a suspect than they were in 1992. The points of appeal outlined here are vague at best, and may be completely nothing to do with the crime whatsoever. Yet it was widely appealed, and none of these people have ever come forward for elimination. Police have little if nothing else to go on. Jacqueline’s sons have both grown up now and long since moved away. But they have had to grow up without a mother, and they have had to grow up knowing that whoever killed Jacqueline has never faced justice for his crime. It remains as big a mystery as it did that fateful day in 1992.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

“Back In 2 Minutes….”

“It is without doubt the strangest inquiry I have ever been involved with. How a happily married woman could vanish without trace on a sunny Saturday morning in a busy town centre is totally baffling.” – Detective Chief Inspector Colin Edwards(speaking in 1992)

One of the most baffling cases in North Wales police history, and one its biggest investigations, is the much celebrated disappearance of antiques dealer Trevaline Evans in 1990. Now, 26 years later, it is still commonly claimed by police to be one of the strangest cases they have ever investigated.  Trevaline has long since been declared dead and it is accepted that she was the victim of a murder. But her body has never been found, there are no suspects, and no discernible motive for her disappearance. It remains as puzzling a case 26 years later as it did back in the summer of 1990.

Llangollen is a small town in North Wales situated on the edge of the River Dee and at the foot of the Berwyn Mountain Range. It has a population of less than 4000, but is a thriving visitor and tourist centre, with people attracted by the many beautiful and scenic walking routes it has to offer. The annual Llangollen International Eisteddfod and Fringe Festival attracts many thousands of visitors to the town in the months of June and July, and June 1990 was no exception.

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Trevaline Evans

Trevaline Evans was a 52 year old businesswoman who lived and worked in the town, running a small antiques shop on Llangollen’s Church Street. She was a family woman, happily married to her husband Richard, and had a son, also called Richard. Trevaline and Richard were also the proud and doting grandparents of two boys, Huw and Owen. The couple lived comfortably in a modest house on nearby Market Street, and were financially successful, owning a holiday bungalow in the North Wales coastal town of Rhuddlan. Saturday June 16th was a normal working day for Trevaline, who would open her shop, Attic Antiques, daily about 9:30am and remain open until about 4pm. Friends and neighbours of her and Richard were accustomed to popping in for chats throughout the day, along with browsing customers and visitors to the town.

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Trevaline’s Shop, Attic Antiques, in 1990
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Richard Evans

Richard was away that Saturday at the couple’s holiday bungalow in Rhuddlan, having been there for a week at the time doing some renovations to it. Trevaline had accompanied him there at the start of the week, but had returned to Llangollen on the Wednesday before she had disappeared. When Richard tried calling home that Saturday evening, there was no answer. After having tried a few times, he rang neighbours and friends to see if they had seen or heard from Trevaline, but to no avail. Richard began to wonder if perhaps his wife had had an accident and was hurt somewhere, and again contacted their neighbours to ask them to visit the shop. Perhaps Trevaline had fallen and was hurt? His concern turned to alarm when the neighbour who had gone around to the shop reported that Trevaline’s car, a dark blue Ford Escort estate, was still parked in its usual spot just 30 yards from Attic Antiques.  The shop was locked, and the sign that would become synonymous with the case, “Back in 2 minutes” was fixed to the door. Thoroughly alarmed, Richard contacted the police to report his wife as a missing person.

“Back in 2 minutes” would hardly suggest a woman who is about to voluntarily disappear, indeed, from the off, Trevaline’s disappearance is perplexing. Enquiries revealed that that Saturday morning, 25 friends and visitors had called into the shop. All of the friends who had visited testified that Trevaline appeared normal, relaxed and happy, and had made plans to go out with some friends that Saturday evening. When the shop was searched, Trevaline’s handbag, car keys and jacket were left there. A bouquet of flowers and some fresh fruit were also there that Trevaline had been given by a friend that morning, and that she had said she planned to take home with her. The note affixed to the door, when coupled with the items that remained in the shop suggest Trevaline had just nipped out on an errand and had not meant to stay out for very long.

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The handwritten sign taped to the door of Attic Antiques

The resulting police investigation turned into the biggest missing person’s enquiry in North Wales history, and no stone was left unturned. Posters with photographs of Trevaline were plastered around the town and neighbouring villages. House to house enquiries were conducted at every household in Llangollen and the neighbouring villages. The town and surrounding countryside were exhaustively searched, divers combed the River Dee and Llangollen Canal, and detectives exhaustively spoke to Trevaline’s family, friends and neighbours and tourists to try to ascertain Trevaline’s movements on that day. Over 1500 people were spoken to within a 12 mile radius of Llangollen. Appeals were made in the local and national press; televised appeals were made, and Richard offered a £5000 reward. Yet all this led to nothing, it was almost as though Trevaline had disappeared off the face of the earth.

The exact events of that day have never been fully explained, and indeed can never be for definite, but detectives can best estimate the following from what is known: At about 12:40pm, Trevaline left her shop, leaving the note affixed to the door. This time can be determined as near approximate because a friend spoke to Trevaline in her shop at about 12:30pm. Trevaline then bought fruit, namely an apple and a banana, in a nearby shop on Castle Street, which she was seen crossing at about 1pm. Castle Street is the main street in Llangollen and is about a quarter of a mile from Church Street, so allowing for travelling on foot and queueing in a shop on a busy Saturday afternoon, this timing would seem accurate. Again this sighting can be confirmed because Trevaline was sighted by people who knew her well, both in the shop and when crossing Castle Street. The last confirmed sighting of Trevaline, again by someone who knew her well, was 90 minutes later at 2:30pm near her home in Market Street.

That sighting is the last definite sighting of her to this day.

There were two more sightings of a woman matching her description following this, but neither have ever confirmed as being Trevaline. At 2:35pm, a woman matching her description was seen walking out of town along the busy A5 road, heading towards the town of Corwen. Then at 3:45pm there was another sighting, this time of a woman matching her description walking into Park Avenue, which borders the River Dee. It is possible that Trevaline returned to the shop just after she was seen at 1pm, although this has never been definitively established. What raised this possibility was the discovery of a banana skin in the rubbish bin at the shop. Of course, there is no way to ascertain that that was the banana she had bought at the shop that Saturday, it could have been from a previous day.

The most promising lead police had as a result of the massive enquiry were reports that Trevaline had been seen several times in the company of a man other than her husband. Described as “well dressed”, this man was seen several times with Trevaline on the days leading up to her disappearance. He was seen in deep conversation with Trevaline in her shop on the Thursday before she disappeared, and she was also seen walking into town with a similar well-dressed man the next day. Two witnesses reported they were convinced they had seen her in a Llangollen wine bar with this man on the Friday night before she disappeared. Trevaline was again seen having a “heated” conversation with someone matching the “well dressed” man’s description in the back of her shop on the day she disappeared. Was this the same man each time? An artist’s impression of this man was widely publicised at the time, but this man – or possibly these men – have never been identified and have never come forward. Who was he? Frustratingly, this artist’s impression is unavailable to reproduce here, but is considered no longer relevant to the police investigation anyway.

All leads were investigated to exhaustion but came to nothing; though as with many high profile missing person’s inquiries, in the years following her disappearance there have been several twists and turns with the Trevaline Evans case. To the credit of police they have investigated each possible angle. Sightings of her have been reported as far afield as London, France, and even a remote town in Australia, but none of these have ever been confirmed. In 1993, three years after Trevaline’s disappearance, police utilised specially trained body sniffer dogs to searching a canal bank near Llangollen. They had done so on the basis of a member of the public having an “overwhelming feeling” that Trevaline was nearby. The year before a large area of woodland in the World’s End area was searched after a spiritualist medium claimed she was convinced Trevaline’s body was buried there. World’s End is a desolate area in close proximity to Llangollen, but nothing was found despite extensive searching. In 1997, Trevaline was declared legally dead, but police had long since been convinced that she had come to harm and they were dealing with a murder rather than a missing person. To this extent, at one time police considered a link between Trevaline’s disappearance and convicted killer Robin Ligus, who is serving life for the murder of three men in Shropshire in the 1990’s. However, this was ultimately ruled out. With no other leads to pursue, the investigation was left inactive.

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The Re-appeal posters from the 2001 investigation.

However, the inquiry was reopened and freshly appealed in January 2001, this time very much conducted as a murder inquiry. It concentrated upon Trevaline’s movements in the three days leading up to her disappearance, although by this time police had decided to disregard the artists impression of the well-dressed man from 11 years previously, describing it as “inaccurate now”. Posters of Trevaline were again put up in Llangollen and the surrounding area detailing her last known movements. House to house enquiries were again made in Llangollen, and a televised appeal was made for the second time on Crimewatch UK. Trevaline’s husband Richard was also arrested and questioned over her disappearance, but was ultimately released without charge. Once again, this investigation drew a blank.

As has been shown, it is a complex disappearance and TTCE believes that there are three explanations that are possible; Trevaline was abducted, Trevaline voluntarily disappeared, or Trevaline had some sort of mental episode and wandered off, perhaps suffering with amnesia. Starting with the latter, of course it is well documented for individuals to have sudden mental anguishes and to abandon all rational thinking. This can be triggered by a sudden event or as a result of a series of stresses. Trevaline and her husband had a happy marriage, and were devoted parents and grandparents. They had no money troubles, seemingly no stresses at all. Everybody who knew her who spoke to her on that Saturday were in unison that she was happy and had plans that evening – not the actions of a woman with suicidal thoughts. If she had had some sort of mental breakdown and had wandered off then it is more likely that she would have been recognised and found if alive. How far could she get on foot, with no money, without being seen? If she had committed suicide, then it stands to reason her body would have been found. Although the countryside around Llangollen is vast – the searches of the area at the time of her disappearance were equally as vast. The canal was dragged, the River Dee searched. Coal mines and caves in the area were looked into and local woods were searched. Surely a body would have been found had Trevaline committed suicide or died of natural causes? TTCE believes that this is an unlikely explanation for her disappearance.

Did Trevaline voluntarily disappear then, being of sound mind? As shown, Trevaline and Richard were financially secure and comfortable. They were happily married and Trevaline was a devoted wife, mother and grandmother. She had her own business, many friends and was well liked and outgoing. It seems extremely unlikely that she would voluntarily run off and start a new life. And if she was willing to disappear, however, then there are many questions that are raised.

Why was she leaving her life behind? There has been speculation that the well-dressed man Trevaline had been seen with in the days preceding her disappearance was a secret lover, and that she left to start a new life with him. This has never been proven and remains just that, speculation. The investigation scrutinised Trevaline’s life, and nothing was found to suggest she was having an affair.  Trevaline’s friends and family also claim that this would be extremely unlikely. If however this was the case, it raises questions.

Why then did she not leave the night before, or first thing in the morning? Richard was still away, she could have left anytime, even days before. Why that Saturday? Why even open the shop at all, knowing she was going to leave it all behind that day? Why take no clothes with her – no clothing was found missing from Trevaline’s house -, and indeed, leave behind essential items such as a handbag, money and a car? Why would you use no money – Trevaline’s bank account was never touched after her disappearance? Why buy fresh fruit and flowers – only to leave them behind? Why go to the lengths of deliberately disappearing in such a way that created such an enigmatic disappearance, knowing how missed she would be and the furore that disappearing in such a way would cause? And can it really be believed that a devoted mother and grandmother would excommunicate herself from her family, willingly? At the time of her disappearance this possibility was examined thoroughly and was dismissed. Everything that is definitively known about that Saturday suggests that Trevaline had left her shop to do errands, and fully intended to return. The handwritten note was checked by family members, and the handwriting was confirmed to be Trevaline’s, not written by someone else.

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A Google Street View of the former Attic Antiques, taken in 2009

No, it is the opinion of TTCE that Trevaline was abducted and murdered. It is also likely that she knew her abductor/killer, and it was someone that she felt familiar and comfortable with enough to be alone with. It seems likely that Trevaline set out to meet somebody that afternoon, but whether she did return to the shop or not at any point cannot be ascertained. TTCE is of the opinion that she didn’t return – why would you leave a sign on the door saying “Back in 2 minutes” if you had returned?  Frustratingly, there is a window of about 90 minutes between confirmed sightings of Trevaline that afternoon where her movements are unaccounted for – was she with her killer during this time, and what were they doing?  It is unlikely that she was abducted from the shop, as a forced abduction would have caused a disturbance and would have been witnessed – there are houses in very close proximity to location of where the shop on Church Street was. It no longer exists as a shop now, as the above image suggests. But the reader will still be able to appreciate how built up an area it is – surely an abduction would have been heard or seen? Trevaline would also be an unlikely choice for a random abduction – a middle aged shopkeeper? An easier random victim would be a hiker or tourist, a victim pool that Llangollen is rich in all year around. TTCE is of the opinion that Trevaline was taken soon after the last confirmed sighting of her.Where remains a mystery.

The abductor must have had a vehicle and must have been extremely calm and collected – Llangollen is one of the busiest towns in North Wales and on a Saturday quite near to the Eisteddfod, there would have been more people around than usual. No one reported seeing any sort of disturbance or scuffle between a man and a woman that day – so it seems likely that wherever Trevaline went, she went at least voluntarily to begin with. Perhaps the person she knew offered her a lift back to the shop? The abductor must have been able to restrain or incapacitate her, and then take her to places unknown to either kill her and dispose of the body, or just to dispose of the body because Trevaline was already dead. All this would have been done without drawing any attention to them – it is likely that the abductor had a house or premises and this is where Trevaline was taken and killed. TTCE believes that this was out of Llangollen, possibly up in rural North Wales or towards England. But this covers such a sheer massive geographical area, that without specific information pinpointing an exact area, it would be impossible to ever find a burial site unless one was discovered by chance. And none has been in 25 years.

Frustratingly, it is the lack of any real insight into what happened that afternoon that perplexes the most – all this is speculation based upon the scant evidence and leads in the case. There is no body. There is no discernible crime scene. There is no motive. There are no suspects. There is nothing in Trevaline’s past to suggest she had any enemies, or was involved in anything illegal or illicit. Her disappearance has the feel of being an impromptu crime, but a very well executed and very personal one. North Wales police claim that the investigation is not closed, but unsurprisingly is currently inactive. Sadly, most of the people who mourned Trevaline’s disappearance have now died themselves without ever knowing what had happened to her. Trevaline’s father, her brother David, son Richard JR and her husband Richard have all passed away now, but there is a surviving brother, Leonard, who still lives in the area. He has lived with the agony of not knowing for over a quarter of a century now.

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Leonard Davies

“The officers who worked on the case at the time, the ones I got to know, have all retired. There are no new theories about what happened, or any fresh evidence, and I realise the police have financial limitations. I would like the investigation to continue, I am forever hopeful of finding out what happened.” – Leonard Davies (Trevaline’s brother – speaking in 2015)

 

Will the mystery of Trevaline Evans ever be solved?

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

 

 

Who was the Tunbridge Wells Bedsit Killer?

The warm night of 22 June 1987 brought death to Tunbridge Wells, a large town about 40 miles from London, in the county of Kent. It was that night that a monstrously evil killer struck, taking the life of a young woman and destroying a family in the process. Horrifically, the same man killed again just a few months later only about a mile away from the scene of the first murder. He has never yet been caught.

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Wendy Knell

Wendy Knell was 25 years old in 1987 and worked as a shop manager in a Supasnaps store on Camden Road, Tunbridge Wells. She was attractive and slim, and had a boyfriend, bus driver Ian Plass. Although their relationship was becoming serious, Wendy lived alone in a basement bedsit at the end of Guildford Road, Tunbridge Wells. On the night of 22 June 1987 Ian and Wendy had spent the evening together, and it was approaching midnight when the couple arrived back at Wendy’s bedsit on Ian’s motorbike. That night was a Monday, and with both having to work the next day Ian dropped Wendy off, waving goodbye to her as he watched her get in safely. He then left and went home.

But somebody else was watching her also.

The next morning, Ian was contacted by staff at the store where Wendy worked, enquiring as to her whereabouts as she hadn’t turned up for work that morning. Ian went around to the Guildford Road bedsit to check on Wendy, and what Ian found when he arrived was the scene of unimaginable horror. Wendy was lying dead in her bedsit, savagely battered and had been strangled to death. She had also been brutally and savagely raped, and was left lying naked and covered in blood. Police were contacted by a shaken and distraught Ian, and began the murder enquiry by making house to house enquiries in the immediate area. A methodical search of the bedsit and surrounding areas began, and Wendy’s background and life was looked at to see if there was anybody who jumped out that could possibly bear a grudge or have the capability to commit such a heinous crime.

Police found nothing in Wendy’s background to suggest she had any unwanted admirers, and her family and friends were all in chorus that she was popular and well liked. She was faithful to Ian, and Ian was ruled out as a suspect almost immediately. Police could find no clear signs of forced entry to Wendy’s bedsit, and nobody in the neighbouring properties had heard or seen anything. Detectives came to the conclusion that the killer had gained access through a rear window, and was lying in wait for Wendy when she arrived home. He would have been there when Ian dropped her off.

The search of Wendy’s bedsit and the house to house enquiries revealed a number of possible leads. A few days before Wendy was murdered, a 19 year old female neighbour of hers was warned by a strange man not to leave her windows unlocked. An e-fit of this man is shown below.

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Face of a killer?

Who was this strange man – and why was he drawing attention to himself in such a way? He has never come forward, or been traced.

Police discovered during the search that Wendy’s diary had been taken from her purse, along with a distinctive key ring. The key ring had a small brass cow bell attached to a multi-coloured key fob, a brass plate with “Woman of the Year” engraved on it, and two keys. They have never been found, and were likely taken as trophies. A muddy footprint was also found on a blouse lying on the floor of her bedsit. It was from a Clarks and did not match any of the shoes owned by Wendy, Ian or Wendy’s family and friends, leading detectives to believe that it belonged to Wendy’s killer. Detectives also believed that this trainer would have been rare at the time. Forensic detectives managed to recover trace elements of semen found upon Wendy’s body, leading them to be able to recover a partial DNA profile of her killer.

The enquiry continued and all leads were followed, with no success. The women of Tunbridge Wells lived in fear at the time; however, this fear had almost been put to the back of their minds by 5 months later.

Almost.

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Caroline Pierce

Like Wendy, 20 year old Caroline Pierce also worked on Camden Road as a shop assistant. She also lived alone in a bedsit, coincidentally only about a mile from where Wendy had lived. There is no indication that both women knew each other, although they may have known each other by sight. It is reported that both women used the same café on Camden Road, so this is feasible. On the evening of 24 November 1987, Caroline had been for a night out with friends and had gotten a taxi back to her bedsit in Grovesnor Park. It was about midnight when she was dropped off, and as the taxi drove off, somebody attacked Caroline outside her bedsit. She managed to scream just once before she was abducted. Neighbours who heard a scream looked out of their windows, but saw nothing. The killer had been waiting in the shadows, and had efficiently abducted the young woman. When Caroline failed to arrive at work the next day, her concerned family reported her as missing. Officers immediately thought of Wendy Knell, and alarm bells rang that raised the question. Had the killer struck again?

40 miles away from Tunbridge Wells, a farm worker in St Mary in the Marsh on Romney Marsh discovered Caroline’s decomposing body in a drainage ditch three weeks later, on December 15. Like Wendy Knell, she had been battered to death, strangled and again savagely raped. It was clear that Caroline had been dumped there some time before, not long after she was last seen by the taxi driver. The clothes that she had been wearing on the night she was abducted, a long black skirt and a red jumper, were missing and have never been found. Caroline’s handbag was found nearby however- although her keys had been taken from it.

As with the Wendy Knell enquiry, detectives examined Caroline’s life searching for leads that may possibly lead them to her killer. They found nothing; Caroline had no boyfriend and had gotten on well with her family. She was popular and well liked, and all of her friends that were with her on the night she was abducted reported nothing out of the ordinary, no one had been seen paying Caroline extra attention or following her. Nobody had rowed with her, and she had left alone in a taxi. The taxi driver who dropped her off was interviewed and reported not seeing anyone hanging around the bedsit where Caroline lived. Tragically, he had driven off and turned the corner when Caroline’s killer struck. Detectives were convinced that the same man was responsible for both murders, and officially linked the two. The inquiry into both murders continued, but when all possible avenues had been explored, the inquiry wound down, although was never closed. Both cases have been appealed twice on Crimewatch UK years apart, and in each case calls have been received and possible names for the killer have been put forward. However, the crucial call has never yet been received. The hunt for the vicious killer remains active with regular reviews.

Is the same man responsible for both murders? TTCE is of the opinion that to believe that both murders were committed by two different people would be near impossible, even regardless of police officially linking both killings. What would be the odds of two men with the same psychopathy operating separately within a mile of one another, and randomly choosing two women that are quite similar in appearance, that worked in the same road, lived a mile apart from each other in bedsits, and it is reported that both used the same cafe in Tunbridge Wells for lunch? Surely too great to seriously consider? The mirrored features of the MO in both murders also support both killings being the work of the same man. Both women lived alone in bedsits. Both women were of similar physical appearance. Both women were raped, battered and strangled. Both had items taken from them as trophies – and in both cases this included a key ring and keychain.  Although detectives could find no evidence that either women had been stalked or followed, they remained convinced that the killer had deliberately targeted them – had he seen them at different times in the café perhaps? Did he frequent the Camden Road shops through living or working nearby?

What is then, known about the killer? To begin, it is impossible to ascertain a physical description of this man, even if the e-fit that police issued concerning the strange man who warned the neighbour is used as a basis. The passage of time since both killings is so vast that any appearance will have changed drastically. It is very likely that these are not the first crimes this man has ever committed. The level of violence, both physical and sexual used in each murder is too great for these to be this man’s first offences – crimes of this magnitude are built up to. It is likely this man is or has been a prolific burglar, and is very familiar with the Tunbridge Wells area – Guildford Road for example is a very populated street of terraced houses and it would take someone of experience and confidence in housebreaking to be able to enter unnoticed. He may have lived in the area at the time or at least at some point, or may have worked there.

It is also likely that this man will have sexual crimes in his past, as has been alluded to above; levels of horrific sex crimes such as these are unlikely first offences. This may include rapes or serious sexual assaults, and would almost certainly include perhaps being a Peeping Tom or a prowler. It is very likely due to the locations of the crimes that this man had watched and surveyed them on several occasions, and had measured the level of risk of offending here, the risk of disturbance or capture, and assured himself of clear routes of access and egress from the scenes. He is likely to have followed and stalked either or both women – they were not randomly chosen and it is likely that this man had learned their habits over a period of days or even weeks. It would be easy to label this man as being seriously psychologically disturbed, and he does have a serious sexual disturbance to have committed such horrific crimes as he has. But as any reader of true crime will know the psychopath can often operate successfully, functional in society, and under the radar. This killer is calm and collected and shows signs of organisation, yet abandoned all of this and was savage almost beyond control in the actual murders themselves. He left no fingerprint evidence and such minute trace evidence at the Knell murder scene that it took years for forensic science to advance to the point where a full DNA profile was obtainable from this evidence. He was patient and calm enough to watch and wait for both women, and was able to rape and kill Wendy without anybody in the adjoining bedsits hearing or seeing anything. He was able to efficiently and swiftly abduct Caroline from a populated street, meaning he owned, or at least had access to a car. Caroline’s body was not found for nearly 3 weeks and had been transported nearly 40 miles from where she lived. How else would she have been moved here? And why was she killed and moved elsewhere – this is a significant difference from the Knell murder, and is likely that the Romney Marsh area was another area that the killer was familiar with. It is possible that the killer had a place nearby, perhaps a workshop or building that he knew he could take Caroline to to minimise risk of detection. Perhaps he had apparatus at such a place to inflict extra pain and suffering upon her.

The taking of trophies highlights just how much this killer relished what he had done, and by collecting personal property from each victim, it creates his own macabre trophy cabinet. It is common for keys to be taken from victims by the offender as a trophy, examples being the Railway Rapist John Duffy, and the Pembrokeshire quadruple killer John Cooper. It is this necessity to relive the crimes by taking a trophy that must leave the reader of clear opinion that this man will have gone on to kill again. These murders have excited this man to the extent that he has taken an effect to help him relive that euphoria he felt – but as with other killers that feeling fades over time and needs to be repeated, refreshed. There are several cases of unsolved murders of young women around the country in the years following the Bedsit murders that police have examined that could be possibly linked. The use of a car in the Pierce murder drastically expands the potential geographical killing ground of this man – yet police have not to date been able to forensically link the man to other crimes in the country. It does not fit that this man would just stop killing unless it was due to circumstances out of his control. Perhaps he was caught and imprisoned for other offences, or there is the possibility that this man is now hospitalized, or even dead. Or of course, he may still be alive, free and still offending, perhaps in a different part of the country. If so, he has honed his murder skills as he has been able to have avoided detection for decades. Who knows just how many other murders this man may have been responsible for?

“These crimes are right at the top end in terms of violence. It would be unusual for someone like this to stop. Usually there is a build-up to attacks like this. We are not ruling out that this man could have attacked many more women. But at the moment we cannot forensically link him to more crimes”.   – Detective Chief Inspector Rob Vinson (SIO Kent Police Cold Cases Unit)

Two names that have been consistently linked with the case are that of serial killer Peter Tobin, and bus stop killer Levi Bellfield, due to their links with the Kent area. There is much documented about these killers and their crimes, so it is not the intention of TTCE to recap their crimes here. Both men are currently serving whole life tariffs and are being looked at for possible links to other unsolved murders UK wide, but in the case of the Tunbridge Wells bedsit murders, both men have been cleared on the basis of their DNA not matching the sample taken from the crime scene of the Wendy Knell murder. And it is the killers DNA fingerprint that remains the strongest, most crucial piece of evidence that detectives have– although a matching result on the National DNA database has so far proved elusive. Detectives have visited many persons of interest in the inquiry and to date have eliminated over 500 persons through DNA samples, and swabbed over 1000, visiting countries as far afield as Australia and Canada on the basis of information received. This elimination process continues as detectives still receive names and information from the public after every appeal. There are several high profile killers already serving life in UK prisons that, due to their MO and choice of victim when killing, it is the opinion of TTCE that they would undoubtedly be persons of interest to the inquiry. However, it is quite likely that because these killers DNA would be on the database already, they have been ruled out.

This man is believed to be one of the most dangerous and possibly prolific killers that Britain has ever seen, and destroys whole families through his actions. Caroline’s parents emigrated to Spain in the years following her murder, and although they are fully supportive of the investigation remaining open, they shun and decline any publicity because of the suffering that Caroline’s death has caused their family. Wendy’s family still to this day bear the scars of losing their middle child in such awful circumstances. When speaking to the press on the 25th anniversary of their daughter’s death, Pamela and Bill Knell told how the murder had impacted their lives.

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Pamela and Bill Knell

“It’s driven us apart as man and wife. My wife can’t bear me near her. She’s afraid of anything physical. If I put my arm round her, she’ll say, ‘Don’t do that’. Before we had the perfect life but from that day it’s just a stressful life. You just go from day to day and try to cope.”   – Bill Knell

“I had just turned 50 when we lost Wendy and everybody told me my life was going to begin – but it ended. We don’t want to die not knowing what happened and who did this, and we feel renewed hope that he will be caught. Things wouldn’t get a lot easier but we could sleep easy because of where he is, hopefully locked up for life” – Pamela Knell

The Knell family were given a bottle of champagne after the murder to “celebrate when he’s caught”. Amid frustration that this man still has not faced justice, the bottle was thrown away some years ago. But police have not given up, as the detective leading the cold case review had this to say about his quarry.

“What we realise is that over time allegiances change. Someone may have been shielding the killer and for whatever reason that person has not come forward yet. It’s important to note that any member of the public shouldn’t be afraid to give us names. We’ve got his DNA. Only the guilty man needs to fear us. We keep looking. You should spend every day looking over your shoulder because we’re still looking and we’re going to find you” – Detective Chief Inspector Rob Vinson (SIO Kent Police Cold Cases Unit)

Anyone with information should call Kent police on 01634 884 043 or the confidential Crimestoppers number on 0800 555 111.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

Who Killed Joy Hewer?

It was 11:18pm on the evening of October 17th 1995, that a phone call to the London Fire Brigade would be the start of one of the most baffling and complex murder enquiries that the Metropolitan Police have ever undertaken, one that is still unsolved to this day. That day was a Tuesday. For 52 year old Joy Hewer, it should have been an unremarkable day much like all of the others in her life. Instead, it was her last day on earth, as she was brutally sexually assaulted and knifed to death in her home by an unknown assailant. If that wasn’t horrific enough, the killer then set fire to Joy’s sixth floor flat – endangering all of the other residents who lived within the block.

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Joy Hewer

Joy had lived alone in a sixth floor flat in a tower block in Walthamstow, North East London, for many years. She had been brought up in the area, and as she had never married, had devoted her life to her career as a primary school teacher. She was well liked and remembered as a kindly and dedicated teacher, but had retired in 1990. This left Joy to devote her time to the other focus of her life: the church. Joy was a devout Christian and visited several churches in the Walthamstow/Notting Hill areas of North London, although mainly worshipping at St Mary’s Church in Walthamstow. It was at St Mary’s where evidence of Joy’s devotion to the church is most prominent – she volunteered at soup kitchens based there, involved herself in helping to clean the church, fundraise for it and other local charities, undertake the admin for the church, even assisting at the London Healing Mission. Was this where she met her killer?

On the day she was murdered, Joy had been volunteering at the mission. A friend and colleague of hers saw Joy leaving the mission at about 3:30pm. It is unclear where Joy went immediately after leaving the mission, as police have never been able to establish exactly her movements for periods of time of up to two and a half hours from leaving the Mission to arriving home. What is known however is that Joy visited a chemist near to her flat in St David’s Court, Wood Street at 5.50pm. The staff there knew her by sight and so credence can be given to this sighting. She then arrived back at her flat at about 6pm, so Joy had most likely gone straight home after visiting the chemist. This time was confirmed by one of the other residents of St David’s Court, who spoke to Joy as they passed by in the communal hallway. Where had Joy been in these missing hours?

After arriving home, Joy made several telephone calls that evening to family and friends. She was very close to her family, especially her nieces and nephews. It seems sad that such a gentle woman, described by all who knew her as fantastic with children and who lived a quiet and peaceful life, never had children of her own. As is often the case, perhaps Joy expressed any maternal feelings she may have had towards her two nieces, and her nephews. All family and friends who spoke to her describe Joy sounding as normal as ever that evening. The last time Joy can be confirmed as being alive is at 9:45pm that evening, when she telephoned her brother and spoke to her nephew. She had sounded fine and after chatting for a few minutes, Joy told them she was soon going to bed.

Ninety minutes later, Joy was either dead or close to death.

A couple who lived directly underneath Joy described how “loud bangings and scraping noises” coming from Joy’s flat had disturbed them as they were getting an early night. This had occurred sometime between 10:30pm and 11:00pm, and they had just decided to go upstairs to investigate further, and possibly complain, when the noises stopped. When they did not reoccur, the couple decided not to act and instead went to sleep. That decision may have allowed a killer to escape – or more chillingly, have saved the couple’s lives.

A female operator working the evening shift took a telephone call at 11:18pm that evening that remains a major mystery, one that police have still never been able to get to the bottom of. A call was made from a public telephone box on Fulbourne Road, Walthamstow, which is just off Wood Street where Joy lived. St David’s Court flats can be clearly seen towering over the immediate landscape from this road; it is quite an urban area. The caller requested the fire service attend, as he had seen smoke billowing from Joy’s flat. The recording of the 999 call is reproduced here:

999 Call

When the fire service arrived and broke in, Joy’s flat was an inferno. Two fires had been started – it was later determined deliberately – both in the lounge and in the bedroom. Joy’s body was discovered in her bedroom, but it was soon apparent that she hadn’t died as a result of burns received, or hadn’t asphyxiated. She had been stabbed multiple times in the chest, and brutally mutilated. Cruelly, she had also been sexually assaulted.

27 minutes after the 999 call requesting the fire service, police arrived on the scene to begin a murder investigation after being summoned by the fire service. The residents of St David’s Court were all spoken to and left to come to terms with the fact that a gentle, Christian lady had been so brutally murdered, and the callous killer had left a fire burning that could have just as easily led to their deaths also. Detectives spoke to Joy’s family and friends, her former work colleagues, and members of the congregation from St Mary’s in an attempt to find someone bearing a grudge, someone with a motive to commit such a callous and despicable crime. They drew a blank. All police could come up with was the universal impression of Joy being a well-liked, kind hearted devout Christian without an enemy in the world. What then, made this woman a target for a killer?

 “Joy was someone who would go out of her way to help others. She lived a quiet and peaceful life which was totally at odds with her last terrifying moments. It is likely that she suffered greatly at the hands of her killer”

                                                                                                                Detective Inspector Susan Stansfield

Police believe that Joy knew her killer, at least well enough to allow him access into her flat. Several points suggest this to be the case. Firstly, the access. St David’s Court has a main access door that is controlled with a keypad lock and an intercom system, allowing residents an extra sense of security. People cannot just walk in off the street – they need a key. For genuine callers who do not have a key, there is an intercom system and a release mechanism that can be controlled from a button in a tenants flat. There was also at the time CCTV covering the main access door. The resulting police investigation determined that Joy was security conscious – her door was fitted with a Yale type lock, and had a chain on it, as well as a spyhole which Joy would have habitually used. As she was so security conscious, Joy would have been extremely cautious about allowing a stranger into her flat so late at night. There was no sign of forced entry into her flat, and the killer had to have got in somehow. Police found evidence that Joy had had a visitor at least some time that evening. Two used coffee cups were found within the flat, house proud Joy would never have used two but instead would have used one and rinsed it out to drink from again. Two cups suggests a visitor. But Joy had never mentioned anything about having a visitor in any of the phone calls she made that evening – was she buzzed later on by someone she knew on the pretence of them requesting help for something, and her kind hearted Christian belief of always helping others took over any natural caution?

“Joy was our loving sister who was absolutely no harm to anyone. She’d enjoyed her work as a teacher, adored her nieces and nephews and was fantastic with children. She regularly attended church and often helped at charity events. We’ve never forgotten the moment we were told she’d been murdered. It will never make any sense to us”

                                                                                                                                    Penny Barnes, Joy’s sister.

The resulting police investigation drew a blank. No motive for Joy’s death could be found, no murder weapon was or ever has been found, and police were left with more questions than answers. Why would someone butcher a gentle middle aged woman in such a way – and why start a fire, knowing of the massive risk it would entail to lives? From the footage of the official police video, Joy’s flat looks to have been ransacked – although there is no way to ascertain how much of this mess was caused by the fire itself, and by firemen exercising the containment and extinguishing of the blaze. It is also not reported if anything was stolen from Joy’s flat. Four months later, in February 1996, the case was featured as an appeal on Crimewatch UK. Police went through their main points of appeal at the time, and although calls were received, nothing helped to further the investigation. The case was never closed and was subject to periodic reviews. Finally, 20 years later, a fresh appeal was made and detectives in charge of the case presented strongly their two major lines of enquiry.

Crimewatch UK re-appealed Joy’s murder in December 2015, nearly 20 years after they had first made an appeal concerning it. The reconstruction and re-appeal is reproduced below, and makes for disturbing viewing.

Crimewatch UK Appeal – December 2015

The first point of appeal was to re-appeal as to the identity of the caller who alerted the fire brigade that evening. Listen again to the recording – it is a recording of good clarity. The caller states that he noticed a fire whilst driving past, but does not seem to know which road Joy’s flat is on to describe the exact location to the switchboard operator, although he knows what the flats are called. He does not seem to know which road the public telephone box that he is in whilst talking to the operator is on, as he asks a person stood at a bus stop the location where it is. Based on an analysis of the time of the call, and the locale, it was determined that the person asked was queuing for a night bus – either the 212 to Walthamstow Central or W16 to Leytonstone. Police believe this caller to be a crucial witness. Whoever he is, or was (there is always the possibility that this man is now dead) he stopped to let authorities know about the fire. If he was otherwise uninvolved and was just a responsible passer- by, then why has he never come forward? There are a number of possibilities for this. Did the person just call to do the responsible thing, and then put it completely out of their mind? Highly unlikely – surely it is human nature that if you report something as serious as a fire – then you would remember doing so vividly, and indeed, would examine local press and media coverage knowing you were the person that alerted the authorities? Did the person just wish to remain anonymous because he was involved in some other form of crime that evening, and wished to avoid prosecution? This is possible, but the person must have known that his voice would be recorded and that he could possibly be traced through being recognised- surely someone afraid of arrest or prosecution would have just left raising the alarm to someone else? Was he just passing through the area, and is not local to Walthamstow? This would support the fact that he had to ask the exact locale from someone – although he knew the flats were called St David’s Court – which suggests he has at least some local knowledge.

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Joy’s living room after the fire.

The other possibility is that this man was involved, and a possibility that should be considered seriously as there is long established precedent of a killer calling to report their crimes to the authorities (Colin Ireland, The Zodiac Killer, BTK to name but a few). Was this the voice of the killer eager for his handiwork to be discovered? But this hypothesis raises questions also. If it was the killer calling to eagerly have his handiwork discovered – then what was the reason for starting the fires? Fires would have destroyed his handiwork. It is more likely that the fires were set out of a need to destroy any forensic evidence that the killer had left behind. He may have started the initial fire in the bedroom (where Joy was attacked and most likely murdered – one chilling aspect of the official police video that is shown in the Crimewatch UK reconstruction is the sight of Joy’s heavily bloodstained dressing gown placed on the ironing board in the bedroom) to remove forensic traces, possibly his own blood or semen. Did he also attack Joy in the living room, and that was the reason for that separate fire? Or did he start the fire and then, the enormity of what he had done – placing the entire occupants of the block at risk – hit him and he panicked and informed the emergency services? This man has never come forward, and has never been identified to this day, leaving speculation to his involvement.

The other point of appeal that detectives have to make is that of establishing the identity of a man spotted entering St David’s Court just after 10:30pm the evening of Joy’s murder. There is a quite grainy still from a CCTV camera showing the man entering the block of flats at this time. It is not of the greatest quality, but police are confident that someone would be able to identify him. The image is reproduced here:

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Who is this man?

Enquiries with the occupants of the other flats in St David’s Court drew a blank as to the identity of this man – nobody came forward to say that they had allowed him access, or that they had had a visitor. That left the only person who could have admitted him to be Joy – is this the face of her killer? He is a white short haired male and appears aged between 30 to 40 years. If this man is still alive, although will now be aged between 50 and 60 years, with short hair.

He has never been traced.

Twenty one years have passed now and the killer of Joy Hewer has still never faced justice for his crime. It is very likely that Joy’s killer certainly knew her, and knew where she lived – what would be the chances of picking a flat – on the sixth floor – at random and finding somebody living there that could be easily overpowered and murdered? A person with a need to satisfy an uncontrollable urge to kill would surely have directed this at the first person available to them. No, TTCE believes it fair to say that Joy was the deliberate target of this attack. Where had she met her killer? Joy did a lot of volunteer work at the London Mission – perhaps it was there. It is important to remember that this is part of a world where along with people in genuine need of help, there may be people who operate on the fringes of the criminal world, perhaps deeper. Joy would certainly have come into contact with several people from this world – but what makes a middle aged spinster the target for such a violent death? TTCE believes that the killer is someone involved with this world somehow – although is aware of what a mammoth and near impossible task it would be attempting to identify a specific individual person based upon the sheer number of people who must use the services of the Mission each year.

What do we know about the killer? Sadly, very little. It is undisputed that it is a male, and it is known that he is a ruthless, vicious, and a sexual pervert. It is the opinion of TTCE that this man will have been able to appear as unthreatening and reassuring – he was able to gain access to a middle aged woman’s flat quite late at night without breaking in. This man will have been very much in control and would appear to be an organised killer – after his onslaught, he calmly started not one but two fires – it would take a degree of self-control and enormous psychological strength to remain in the presence of a fire and then start another one! He is forensically aware and left no traces, no murder weapon. He was able to egress the property without being seen or challenged, and did not panic about CCTV. He was aware enough to remember to take Joy’s keys to allow himself egress from the building – otherwise how did he get out? He is also remorseless, and has such disregard for human life that he started a fire that could quite easily have claimed the lives of countless others. This will not have been this man’s first criminal offence, although it may have been his first murder. It is likely that he has a background in burglary, trespass and possibly for minor sexual offences, meaning he will have come to the attention of police or the local health authority before. A crime of this magnitude is not a person’s first offence – things like this tend to be built up to. The same applies to the level of forensic awareness that this man had – that is only refined over time. This is a horrific crime, and one that Joy’s family have had to suffer the anguish of seeing it unsolved for over two decades now. There is a £20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of her killer, and her family have never given up hope that Joy’s killer will one day face justice.

“We’ve waited so long for answers but we’ll never give up hope. Someone has evaded us for two decades but this latest appeal with the £20,000 reward could finally help us secure justice for Joy.”                                                                                                                      – Penny Barnes (Joy’s sister)

Anyone with any information can contact the Incident Room on 020 7230 7963; or alternatively, to remain anonymous, call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111

 

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

The Murder Of “Auntie Elsie”

Thursday, September 08 2005 will be remembered by many people for a variety of reasons. In the US, the country in general was still shocked by the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. Residents of the area of Wrexham, North Wales, will arguably remember more so the loss that day of 200 jobs at the Meritor HVS plant on the Llay Industrial Estate, which hit the local community hard. And for one family, the Hughes, in the nearby village of Abermorddu, Wrexham, it was the night that a cowardly killer tore their family apart by leaving a defenceless grandmother to die in a pool of blood for a quite meagre sum of money. To this day it is a sadly unsolved crime, and one that TTCE has a personal connection with.

The village of Abermorddu is on the direct main route between the towns of Mold and Wrexham, in North Wales. It is a quiet village, adjoined to the once popular tourist village of Caergwrle, and is a mix of private and council housing. Many of the residents are elderly, having lived or worked in the area for the majority of their lives, and have settled in the community because of its status as a quiet place to live. Elsie Hughes was one such person.

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Elsie Hughes

Elsie was 90 years old, and had been a widow for a number of years, since a young age. She had not worked for many years since being the head cook at nearby Castell Alun High School, where she had been known quite endearingly as “Auntie Elsie”. This was a moniker that had never left her, it was how she was known locally, and indeed made her well liked and familiar in the area. Elsie had family living in nearby Caergwrle, and although she was quite infirm and advanced in years, retained her independence by living alone in her house on Hawarden Road, Abermorddu. This had been her home for more than 50 years.

It is a sad fact that increasingly, the elderly fall prey to distraction burglaries. Elsie was no exception here; in August 2008, Elsie had fallen victim to a distraction burglary at her home. Her trusting nature had been used against her and burglars had managed to get away with her life savings, a sum of cash thought to be near £1000. Despite this, Elsie did not stay down for long and that fighting spirit that characterises that generation won over. Indeed, by just three weeks later, the night of September 8th 2005, Elsie had settled back into her normal routine. That night was a Thursday, and should have been unremarkable. It was, until at about 9pm when neighbours of Elsie heard what were described as “worrying and unusual noises”. Elsie’s daughter Jean Griffiths was contacted at her home in Caergwrle, and came around to investigate. Jean was worried – perhaps Elsie had been taken ill, or had fallen? Nothing could prepare her for the horror she was about to find.

Upon entering the house, Elsie’s daughter found the frail pensioner on the floor in her living room, lying in a pool of blood. She had been horrifically beaten about the face and head, and had been left with substantial and serious injuries. The house showed signs of being ransacked, and it was later discovered that the assailant had fled the scene with just £200 in cash. Elsie was rushed to the Wrexham Maelor Hospital, but her injuries were too severe and she never regained consciousness, sadly dying the following morning. A post mortem determined that she had died as a direct result of being battered, although it could not be determined if a weapon had been used or not. Police immediately launched a murder inquiry.

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Police and Forensic SOCO’s examine Elsie Hughes’ house

An incident room was set up based in Wrexham Police Station, and a mobile incident room was stationed nearby to Elsie’s house in Abermorddu itself.  A forensic team set to work examining Elsie’s house, and police conducted a fingertip search of the entirety of Hawarden Road, and nearby Crossways. House to house enquiries were carried out all throughout Abermorddu, and extended into the adjoining villages of Caergwrle, Hope, and Cefn Y Bedd. Public outrage had been provoked due to the brutal killing, and the response and assistance was encouraging. The crime shocked the community, as friends and neighbours testified.

“My wife gave me a call to say there was a commotion outside. As I pulled up I couldn’t get round because there were that many police cars on the road. I think we’re all shocked and worried really. My grandparents only live round there and they’re elderly too so the first thing I did was give them a call, to make sure they were ok” – Robbie Reilly, Neighbour

“I’m shocked quite honestly. We’ve known her for years. She was a very friendly sort, bit of a character really in the community. I don’t think she could get about very well anymore on her legs. It’s a bit unnerving really to think it can happen in such a small community.”                           George Edwards, friend                                                                     

It was quickly established that Elsie had no known enemies, leaving the motive for the crime to be theft. A methodical search of her house established that there was only money that was missing. It was surmised that Elsie had disturbed an intruder or intruders in her house, prompting her to be attacked. Police were, however, at a loss to explain the appalling level of violence used against her.

“This was an appalling attack on a defenceless elderly lady. The individual who left Elsie’s home on Thursday evening, 8 September, would have been heavily bloodstained and I am confident that someone must hold some further information on this individual”

                                                                                                Detective Chief Superintendent Ross Duffield

Witnesses soon came forward with descriptions of the prime suspect that police wished to trace, a hooded man who was seen fleeing from the house on the night of the murder. He was described as being 25 to 30 years of age, of medium build and about 5”10 in height, and having short dark hair with a fringe.  He was described as wearing a white or light coloured hooded top, black tracksuit bottoms and white trainers. He was described as carrying a plastic Spar carrier bag, and crucially, may have spoken to a couple parked in a people carrier vehicle at the end of Hawarden Road, opposite the Kowloon House takeaway. The photo fit issued of the suspect is reproduced here:

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“Hooded Man” photofit

This man was seen by several witnesses that evening, around the key times of 8:30 to 8:50pm. A later sighting places a man fitting the description of this suspect heading towards Hope, between the Indian restaurant by Caergwrle train station, and Hope School in Hawarden Road. This is very close to Elsie’s house. Who was this man? Detectives were anxious to trace him, and a widespread public appeal was made in an attempt to get him to come forward, described by the officer leading the hunt.

We are very anxious to trace this man. He was seen going towards Elsie Hughes’ house at about 8.30-9pm. Some moments later, he is seen to emerge from her house. He begins to run and then stops and walks normally and then appears to turn left into Crossways. If anybody has seen this person or somebody matching his description in the Abermorddu, Caergwrle and Cefn-y-Bedd areas between 7pm and 10pm on Thursday evening, they should contact us immediately”

– Detective Chief Superintendent Ross Duffield

Detectives also made an appeal for a couple who had been sighted in the Kowloon House takeaway between 6pm and 7pm that evening to come forward. They were remembered as strangers by the proprietors, as Abermorddu is a small community where everybody who lives there tends to know everybody. They were never traced. Was this the same couple sighted in the people carrier, who possibly spoke to the hooded man? If this was the same couple, who were they – and why did they hang around as strangers in a small village for nearly three hours that evening? They have never come forward.

elsie2
Elsie’s family make a televised public plea.

Weeks passed and the investigating team turned to a nationwide appeal. Elsie’s murder was featured on the BBC’s Crimewatch UK programme in October that year, with her granddaughter Helen Hutcheson making an on camera, impassioned public appeal. TTCE remembers the reconstruction well. This prompted several calls to the incident room from all areas of the country. It gave police several new names and information to check out. Sadly, none of these names or information has ever led to a breakthrough, and, despite a massive reward of £100,000 for information leading to the arrest of the killer being offered, Elsie’s murder still remains unsolved.

As mentioned before, TTCE has a roundabout personal connection with this unsolved case, and it stretches back to the Crimewatch UK reconstruction. TTCE grew up in a neighbouring village just 4 miles from Abermorddu, and went to the school where Elsie worked. At the time of Elsie’s murder, it was and remains a great source of interest around the local area, because like the old cliché, that type of thing doesn’t or shouldn’t happen in the village where you live. Abermorddu is a mere 4 miles from where my parents still live to this day. So a shocking crime of that magnitude does resonate close to home, and people tend to take interest. TTCE of course has always followed the case closely.

It came to the night of the Crimewatch UK reconstruction, which was broadcast nearly a month after Elsie’s murder. In those days I was partial to the programme and never missed an edition, although for some reason (I cannot exactly remember why now) I had not been able to watch it on the evening of transmission. I had recorded it though, and watched it the following day, taking great interest in the appeal concerning Elsie’s murder. As I was watching, the photo fit produced above was shown, and I was struck by a thought of “Wow, that looks just like ___________”(for obvious reasons, I will not publish names). The person I had in mind was a person I had known for years, and who indeed still lived in the same village as my folks. Minutes after I had finished watching it, my home phone rang and it was my mum, who had also watched Crimewatch. During our conversation, she asked me if I had watched it and I said that I just had finished doing so. And then, without me saying so, she said just how much she thought the photo fit looked like the same person I had in mind!

I went into work that night with this playing on my mind. Elsie’s family pleading for people to get in touch with any information, however small, resonated with me and after consideration, I decided to call the incident room and voice my suspicions. I got through to the Murder Incident Room and left my name and address, along with the information (suspicions) that I had concerning the possible identity of the person depicted in the photo fit. A couple of days later I had a message left at home from a detective from the investigating team, asking whether they could come and talk to me at home. I contacted back and agreed, and a mutual time was arranged.

When they came to visit me, I enquired as to whether they needed me to make a written statement corroborating the information I had volunteered to the incident room. I was taken aback then when the detective then told me that the reason they had come to visit me that day, is that they had received information from someone (no names were revealed for obvious reasons) that suggested my name as being a match for the photo fit……

After my initial shock (it isn’t every day that police come to visit you with you as a possible murder suspect in their mind), the rational thought returned that I had nothing to fear here because I know one hundred percent that I did not commit the crime!. I should also state here that I looked then or now look nothing remotely like the photo fit, a fact that was commented on immediately by the detective who came to interview me. Of course though the investigating team are duty bound to follow up every avenue of enquiry, of this I am completely in agreement with and support. I co-operated as fully as I could with their questions, and was able to give an irrefutable alibi for the night in question. My wardrobe was checked fully to see if I had any clothes matching the outfit the suspect was described as wearing. The soles of all of my shoes and trainers were checked to see if a matching pattern to the footprint was available. A full statement detailing the reason for the visit, what had been asked and my responses, and details of all searches was produced as is standard police practice, and I read through and signed once I was satisfied. I was even asked to give a DNA sample, which I volunteered without question. I was told by the detectives who visited that they would be in further touch if they needed to speak to me again. I never have heard from them after that.

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Nike Court Tradition Trainers

Police do have one piece of forensic evidence available to them, that they had recovered from Elsie’s home. A bloody footprint was discovered at the scene, and was matched to a Nike Court Tradition trainer sized between 7 and 9. These are widely available in sizes ranging from infant to adult, and have a distinctive squiggle pattern upon the sole. Bizarrely, this information and details of this line of appeal were never released to the public until the third anniversary of Elsie’s killing, for reasons that have never been revealed. By that time, the investigation had been scaled down, although is still active. The detective in charge, Detective Chief Inspector Neil Anderson, appealed about the trainers:

“The prints were left by a person wearing a pair of similar training shoes between sizes seven to nine. The body of this kind of training shoe was white. However, they had various colour Nike emblems upon them – so the colour of the symbol and wording may indeed have been different from the pair pictured. I’m asking people to think back to the time and to ask themselves if they knew someone with a similar training shoe or if they bought a pair of trainers as a present for someone. I’m particularly keen to speak to people who may have noticed that the trainers suddenly went missing around the time of Elsie’s death – or simply that they were never worn again by the person in question.”

                                                                                                                Detective Chief Inspector Neil Anderson

An appeal of this kind may seem like looking for a needle in a haystack. Take for example the passage of time – why release such important details only 3 years later? If say, the footprints were made by a brand new trainer at the time – 3 years later due to constant wear any sole will have worn down though wear and tear, making any comparison difficult if not impossible. That is even with a new trainer; if they were old at the time of the murder they would be even more worn down by this time, if not destroyed and/or disposed of. A forensically aware killer would have disposed of the trainers almost immediately. But detectives are duty bound to investigate all lines of enquiry, it just seems to TTCE that this was a wasted opportunity that if publicised earlier on in the investigation, may have been more of a productive line of appeal that it ultimately has been.

TTCE believes that the best line of enquiry remaining available in this case is to attempt to identify the person seen running from Elsie’s house that night. It cannot of course be said definitively that this was the killer – but is obviously the most important person police wish to talk to. This may or may not even have been an accomplice – although if it was, why was the real killer not seen? It is a busy, very populated road. And why would they split up? I believe it more likely that this was a solitary offender. Of course, by now 11 years have passed. This person may look markedly different now from the likeness that was publicised. This person may be dead, in prison for another crime, in hospital, or may have left the area. They may have even been a visitor to the area that night and may be from an area miles away. I am inclined to believe this is likely, along with the couple sighted in the Kowloon House that night. I do not believe that they were from the Abermorddu/Caergwrle locale themselves, as the police enquiries, publicity and local interest was so widespread that it would have led to them being identified or coming forward if they were. It is also unlikely, although not impossible, that it was a couple from a neighbouring village for the same reasons.

A logical conclusion is that the distraction burglary and the murder are connected, or at least one person has knowledge of both. The chances of the same house – in a busy residential street – being targeted by completely separate persons within a matter of less than a month seems almost too unlikely to comprehend. Understandably, for a long time police considered that both were directly connected. In October 2008, a woman from Silverdale, Newcastle-under-Lyme, appeared in Mold Crown Court charged with the distraction burglary. Margaret Berry, 25, was acquitted at trial of stealing £1,000 from Elsie’s home. She has always denied the crime since her initial arrest, and police have never been able to officially connect both crimes. TTCE draws emphasis to the word “officially” here – surely it stretches credibility to think that this was a coincidence?

In the 11 years that have passed since Elsie’s brutal killing, police have made a number of arrests connected with the crime, but have never been in any position to charge anyone for the murder. It is officially still unsolved. In 2006, two men were charged, convicted and jailed for perverting the course of justice relating to the investigation. John Andrew Thomas, 37, of Rhuddlan Court in Ellesmere Port, and Charles Jones, 32, of Alyn Road in Buckley, admitted giving false information relating to a blue Ford Escort van – registration number N960 KFX – to detectives involved in the murder enquiry. Detectives wished to trace this van as it was sighted in the area on the night of the murder, and Thomas and Jones denied ever being in possession of the vehicle when questioned. They later admitted they had, and admitted disposal of the vehicle, thus providing concealment of material evidence. Both received custodial sentences.

All these years later, I still do not know, and will unlikely ever know, who volunteered my name to the murder investigation team. The fact that I looked so unlike the photo fit suggested to me that my name was given maliciously to cause discomfort and upset to myself, and I still to this day harbour suspicion as to who I believe was responsible. I still pass by Elsie’s house each time I go to visit my folks, and I am always reminded of the tragedy that befell the Hughes family. She was as has been described, much loved within the community – more than 100 people attended her funeral in Hope Parish Church (and the service was relayed outside via loudspeaker to crowds gathered outside the church) – and deserves justice. The murder is still a topic of discussion in the local area, and is re-appealed annually. Although the investigation is still officially ongoing, the longer the passage of time, the more remote the chances of detecting the killer. It seems now that sadly, barring a confession or someone’s conscience getting the better of them, any other form of detection seems unlikely. Frustrating also is the titbits of information available, so much so that it is difficult to account a detailed and chronological account of the investigation to date. The overall impression gained is that police have reached an impasse, and quite possibly know the identity of the killer but just cannot obtain the evidence necessary to charge and convict. This vicious, cowardly killer needs to be caught and punished, only time will tell if this will happen or not. “Auntie Elsie” deserves her justice.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

 

Death Of A Kindly Pensioner

 

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Violet Milsom

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

The Llanrwst “Pitchfork” Murder

North Wales Police have a number of unsolved murders on their books, and one of the most baffling is the brutal murder in 1975 of pensioner Huw Watson. A near crippled old man, he was found butchered in a burning cowshed that he called home. A police investigation into the murder raised more questions than it provided answers. The case is frustratingly hard to find information about, and almost seems to be forgotten due to the passage of time. TTCE has decided to highlight this just to show that it, and other cases like this, is not forgotten. Others will be recounted in the coming weeks.

Huw Watson had spent his working life around farms and farming. He had spent the best part of 50 years working as a threshing machine engineer before the onset of combine harvesting. In later years he had driven a road roller and tractors before ill health had caused him to stop working. Reclusive and long since retired, the 77 year old pensioner had now settled to live in the small town of Llanrwst, where his home was a squalid cowshed near a hay barn just off Station Road. Huw was not originally a native of Llanrwst, he hailed from Llanfihangel Glyn Myfyr near Cerrigydrudion, but after leaving there as a young man he had never gone back to the area, instead settling in the Llanrwst area where he had spent so much time working. He had no family, and had never married.

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Huw Watson

Perhaps as a result of a hard working life involving hard physical labour, and due to his age, Huw was left a near cripple by the time he was 77 years old. He could not walk without the aid of two walking sticks, and one of his legs was near useless. Due to this, Huw was a well- known and recognisable figure in the Llanrwst area. His infirmness made any journey for him cumbersome and challenging, but one journey Huw made regularly was to bask in the hostelry of the Pen Y Bryn Hotel in Llanrwst’s Ancaster Square, where he was a familiar figure who would visit each evening. Drawn by the warmth and company, Huw nevertheless kept to himself, normally drinking alone and enjoying his pipe. However, he was not aloof and along with his habitual love of a game of dominoes, Huw could often regale the clientele of the hotel by holding court with tales of yesteryear that would appeal to a generation gone by.

The night of Tuesday, December 9th 1975 was no exception. Llanrwst was preparing for Christmas celebrations, and festive cheer was beginning to settle over the town. Huw had spent the evening drinking in the Pen Y Bryn Hotel, had played his customary game of Fives and Three’s, and was happily watching other people playing. It was remembered later that the constant pain Huw felt due to his crippled leg seemed to be worse that night, as in order to watch the dominoes being played he had cause to lean on the shoulder of another regular who was stood at the bar. Huw said goodbye to his friends just after 21:30 that evening, and set off on his journey home. This journey would have taken a considerable amount of time.

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The Pen Y Bryn Hotel, where Huw Watson spent his final hours before he met his killer

Huw was never seen alive again after leaving the Pen Y Bryn Hotel that evening.

At about 23:15 the same evening, two police officers on patrol were driving along Station Road, when they spotted a building on fire. Realising it was the hay barn adjacent to where Huw lived, they quickly raised the alarm, and fire crews from Llanrwst and nearby Betws y Coed were soon at the scene. Where the barn stood was located behind houses on a quiet, residential part of Station Road. As is human nature, locals came out of their houses to offer assistance and to watch the emergency services activity, and lingered on their doorsteps throughout the night watching the scene unfold.

 

Huw’s body was discovered in the hay loft in the early hours of the morning by firefighters who were attempting to bring the blaze under control. It initially appeared that Huw perhaps may have fallen, and tragically his pipe had started a fire that had soon raged out of control and claimed his life. A post-mortem was carried out at the scene soon afterwards by Home Office pathologist Dr Donald Wayte, with the cause of death being determined as asphyxia. But a full scale murder investigation was launched by North Wales Police the very next morning – because Huw also bore signs of being stabbed more than 20 times, possibly with a weapon similar to a pitchfork….

Police very quickly realised that they had little to go on. After Huw’s body was found among the hay bales, detectives undertook a painstaking search of the site using floodlights. But they were hindered by the effects of the fire on the scene, the passage of firemen through the crime scene, and the lifestyle Huw had had. He had lived in a state of near squalor. The officer leading the hunt for Huw’s killer highlighted the difficulties police faced from the off:

“Many clues were destroyed by firemen tackling the blaze. The clothing was burnt so we could not get any fibres for forensics. Mr Watson lived in a cowshed that was in a terrible state. If he had been living in a house, we could have looked for fingerprints.”

                                                                                                    – Detective Chief Superintendent Eric Evans

The murder hunt was launched and an incident room was set up at Llanrwst Police Station. About 40 detectives were drafted in from all parts of North Wales to assist in the hunt, including members of the regional crime squad. After establishing a timeframe between Huw last being seen alive, and the fire being discovered, detectives realised they had a timeframe of about an hour to account for, in which time Huw met his killer. It would have taken Huw at least 25 minutes to get home at the speed he could manage, which would get him home at about 22:00. The fire was discovered at 23:15, so it was surmised that Huw was attacked shortly after he had arrived home and that the killer had spent a considerable amount of time with his victim. This was determined due to the wounds on Huw’s body.

“Some of the wounds inflicted on Huw were very serious, but others were superficial. We think that whoever committed the crime spent some time in the barn with the victim.”

                                                                                                    – Detective Chief Superintendent Eric Evans

Detectives were left baffled by the motive for Huw’s death. However, it was feeling in the local area that gossip and local rumour had led to Huw being targeted for robbery. As is so often the case, a reclusive elderly man with no family is rumoured – perhaps rightly or wrongly – to be wealthy and miserly. Perhaps the killer had overheard local gossip that Huw had a considerable sum of hard cash lying around the cowshed he called home. Indeed, investigation uncovered rumours amongst the villagers that this sum could be as much as £300, although this claim was never confirmed. What helped fuel these rumours was the fact that Huw was often seen to be paying for rounds of drinks with £20 notes – although this may have been a genuine attempt to change his weekly pension down into smaller, more manageable sums.

As Christmas of 1975 approached, the investigation continued and uniformed officers visited every house in the Llanrwst area as part of the inquiry, which was later extended to all properties in the neighbouring village of Trefriw. In total, police interviewed more than 6,000 people, took many statements and made a number of public appeals, which ultimately proved fruitless. Police however, did have one person they wished to trace.

As Llanrwst is a small town, any stranger is noticed sooner rather than later. The initial appeal for information leading to the capture of Huw’s killer brought reports of a stranger sighted in the area that detectives wished to interview to eliminate from their enquiries. This man was sighted at Llandudno Junction, a mere 10 miles or so from Llanrwst, at 9:50pm on the night of the murder. The same man was also spotted in Station Road in Llanrwst mere minutes before the fire was noticed. There is only a distance of 12 miles between these two points on a very direct route. Was this the same man? The timeframe between sightings makes it certainly possible for it to be. He was described as being 20 to 30 years old, bearded, of medium build and with dark hair, and wearing a dark overcoat and trousers. A similar man was seen early the next morning boarding a train for Llandudno Junction, but appeals for him to come forward and eliminate himself were unsuccessful, and he has never been traced.

The case file remains open, but the passage of time and lack of forensic evidence makes the possibility of the killer being brought to justice very remote indeed. Indeed, it seems to be a case that there is incredibly few places to start investigating from. It remains police feeling, indeed has always been, that a stranger to the area killed Huw. When interviewed by North Wales Daily Post newspaper 13 years after the murder in a feature concerning cold cases, Detective Chief Superintendent Eric Evans reinforced this view.

“If the offender was a local person, we still feel sure that there must be someone who would have seen him with his clothing disarrayed or would have noticed a change in his manner, such as nervousness.”

                                                                       -Detective Chief Superintendent Eric Evans speaking in 1988

The only suspect ever to have seriously been in the frame is the bearded stranger spotted in the vicinity of Station Road that evening. But there has only ever been a vague description of this man (which is recounted above) and he has never been traced.  Huw was found to have no known enemies, and more than 6000 people in the local area were questioned and ruled out. If then it wasn’t a local person responsible, how then was Huw targeted, and was robbery the motive? It is known that local rumours abounded about Huw being financially well off, perhaps as a result of receiving a lump sum of pension back pay, or having an insurance policy mature. He was also very infirm, unable to walk without the aid of walking sticks, and would have been easy to overpower. It is known that Huw lived alone in a state of squalor, so it stands to reason that a person who calls a cowshed a home and has such a simplistic lifestyle is unlikely to have anything of particular value, except cash. However much cash Huw had to his name is unknown, so it is impossible to say how much, if any cash was stolen. Indeed, it is not known exactly what, if anything was taken from the scene. Yet Huw’s wallet was found in the ashes, containing £18 in notes. This equates to £170 today, so in 1975 this was a substantial amount of money, far too much to ignore if robbery was a motive. It stands to reason that a wallet would be a primary target of any thief, so why was this not taken? If it was dropped, why did it not burn?

What was the need for such violence towards a defenceless, crippled old man, 20 plus stab wounds with what could have been a pitchfork or sharpened screwdriver? And why these particular weapons? For a pitchfork to have been the weapon, it would seem that this was an opportunistic crime as it is a cumbersome weapon to wield. It more than likely suggests a disorganised offender, one who used what was to hand rather than having come to the scene prepared to kill. If however, the weapon was a sharpened screwdriver, there is the possibility that this could have been brought to the scene and taken away by the killer. An organised offender brings a weapon with them. No determinable weapon was ever found, but there could be an explanation for this.

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The barn adjacent to the cowshed where Huw lived. This is all that remained after the fire.

Huw had already been stabbed several times before the fire started, but the cause of death was attributed ultimately to asphyxia. The stab wounds, although serious, were not ultimately fatal, although due to the number of them, it’s very likely they would have proven fatal if Huw had not asphyxiated first.  Police opinion was that Huw had been tortured horribly in an attempt for the killer to gain the whereabouts of any hidden cash sums he may have had. This was reinforced by the discovery that whilst some of the stab wounds were superficial, others were deeper and more severe. As though a killer was experimenting with torture. An even more chilling theory is that after being stabbed, Huw was then tortured in a most chilling way possible, with him left helplessly watching a fire deliberately set in an attempt to gain information as to the whereabouts of his hidden riches? Supporting this theory is the fact that Huw’s body was found in the hay loft itself, and not in the adjacent cowshed where he lived, although the cowshed was consumed in the fire also. He could not have climbed up to the position he was found in by himself, so why was he placed there? Was he placed there because it was a position he could not move from, and he was left to die horrifically? What kind of callous killer would do that to a defenceless old man?

It is of course possible that the fire was started accidentally, although fire service investigators who examined the scene were inclined to believe it to be arson.  What other purpose then could the fire serve? Setting a fire would bring emergency response, because it would be rapidly noticed. This would accelerate any discovery of a crime, therefore reducing the likelihood of an offender escaping.  No, it is more than likely that the fire was started deliberately to remove any trace evidence of the killer from the scene, perhaps to destroy fingerprints or any other forensic evidence. This may also be why no determinable weapon was ever found, because it had been destroyed by the fire.

More than 40 years later, there are still more questions than answers concerning the murder of Huw Watson. The case is still officially open, but the trail has long gone cold. The absence of any forensic traces from the scene has hampered detectives, along with the absence of a clear suspect and absence of motive. Barring a deathbed confession, or someone who has been harbouring guilt or knowledge for four decades finally breaking the silence and coming forward, it is difficult to see how this savage crime will ever be solved. The killer might now be dead himself, or may be serving a prison sentence for an unconnected crime. Or he may still be walking free carrying his guilty secret with him. Hopefully though, one day Huw’s killer will be brought to justice and the picturesque town of Llanrwst can close the chapter on one of the darkest days in its history.

 

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

 

 

The Dogwalker Killings – did one person kill at least FOUR different women?

Over a number of years there have been numerous murders in which the victims have been lone women, of varying ages, who have been attacked and brutally murdered whilst walking their dogs in rural areas. TTCE will focus upon four of them. From the initial account that will be chronicled here, there then lay a period of 11 years dormant, and then 3 brutal attacks within a year. It is important to express here that each case has never been definitively linked with any of the others, indeed, police have always resisted officially linking them, even refuted the link in a couple of them. Could it be possible however, that the same person is responsible for all?

Helen Fleet enjoyed her retirement years, living in the house she shared in Osborne Road, Weston Super-Mare, with her younger sister, Betty Sparrow. Being a widow of 20 years, and since retiring from her job as a factory inspector, 66 year old Helen spent a lot of time walking her beloved dogs, brown mongrel Cindy and white West Highland Terrier Bilbow. March 28th 1987 was a Saturday, and it was late morning when Helen set off in her blue Datsun car, parking it on Worlebury Hill Road, near the entrance to Worlebury Woods. This was a regular place for her to walk Bilbow and Cindy.

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Helen Fleet

What followed has been difficult for police to piece together, due to the lack of apparent motive. The best hypothesis is that Helen had finished her stroll and was heading back towards where she had parked her car when she was set upon by what must have been a maniac. A scream was reportedly heard by two people in the woods at about 12:20, and it was about 20 minutes later that Mrs Fleet’s body was found. Tragically, it was a friend of Helen who found her, Sylvia Lewis, alerted by the barking of the dogs.

Sylvia Lewis could never forget the sight that she came across. She saw Helen lying motionless on the ground and in a panic, ran to a nearby house to raise the alarm. The occupants of the house, David and Hazel Davies, returned to the scene with Sylvia and discovered Helen dead. In what police later described as a frenzied attack, Helen had been severely beaten, repeatedly stabbed and even strangled. There was no indication of a sexual assault, and Helen had not been robbed.

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Worlebury Woods, scene of the Helen Fleet murder.

Police hit the ground running with the investigation, taking hundreds of statements, house to house enquiries and interviewing more than 5000 people. The focal point of the investigation, however, soon cantered upon 2 people. Two youths were seen fleeing the woods about 30 minutes after the murder, both described as being aged 15 to 18 years old, wearing distinctive ski jackets.

A few weeks after the murder, Avon and Somerset Police released a photo-fit comprised by descriptions of a youth who had been seen by witnesses talking to Mrs Fleet. The witnesses described the youth and Mrs Fleet talking as though they were known to each other, and the photo-fit bore strong resemblance to one of the youths that were spotted fleeing from the woods following the murder. The case was reconstructed on BBC TV’s Crimewatch UK in May 1987, with several calls received but none giving the breakthrough police needed.

When no arrest happened as a result of the massive enquiry, as time passed so with it grew local opinion that someone had gotten away with the brutal murder of a defenceless pensioner. However, the enquiry was never closed, and on the 10th anniversary of the crime it was reported that the advancement of DNA testing was being used to try and solve the crime. Fingerprints, clothes, blood and other forensic evidence had been recovered at the crime scene, and had originally tested negative for clues. However, it was hoped that with advancement and refinement of DNA techniques, a breakthrough may be made. Sadly, it wasn’t.

Three years later, another avenue was explored.  A TV appeal was made featuring the case, in which detectives and forensic scientists from the National Missing Persons published a digitally “aged” computer enhanced image of the original 1987 photofit of the youth seen talking to Mrs Fleet days before she was murdered, as a youth then would be in their 30’s by that time. Acting on the belief that the youth was known to Mrs Fleet, an appeal was made to the public to compare the original photofit and the “aged” picture, and to call in if any viewer recognised the person.  It did result in a new witness emerging, who said he had often seen Mrs Fleet talking to a youth in the woods, and who played with her dogs, which supported original witness accounts. However, the identity of this person has tantalisingly always eluded police, and despite the offer of a £7,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the killer, no one has yet been brought to justice as the 30th anniversary of the crime approaches.

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Kate Bushell

Skip forward 10 years now, to November 1997. The murder of Kate Bushell has already been accounted by TTCE in a previous blog post (June 2016), so a summary is all that is necessary here. A lone female, walking a dog, brutally and savagely murdered in an opportunistic attack. See the initial post Who Killed Kate Bushell? on TTCE for further details

Then in 1998 there were two more brutal murders, two women again whilst both were walking dogs.

On Wednesday July 22 1998, 52 year old housewife Julia Webb set off on one of her twice daily walks with her Golden Labrador dog Rosie. It was Julia’s custom to walk Rosie twice a day for about 45 minutes a time down Kennel Lane, in the village of Sandiway, Cheshire, where Julia lived. Kennel Lane borders a dense wood, and as Julia set off from her home in Weaverham Road at 3pm that afternoon, she promised neighbour Bessie Woods she would stay away from the wood. Although it was often used by joggers and courting couples, like other places of its kind the Kennel Lane wood was also reputed to be frequented by drug dealers and “strange men”.

When his mother had not returned by 5:30 pm, her concerned 26-year-old son Christopher set off to look for her on his bike. Minutes later, as he approached Kennel Lane Woods, he spotted Rosie whimpering and alone. The dog led Christopher into the nearby woodland, where he found his mother’s body in bushes 10 yards into the undergrowth.  Police were baffled by the brutal, apparently motiveless killing. Julia’s body was discovered still fully clothed, wearing her red T-shirt, striped skirt and flat shoes. Her glasses lay nearby and there were no signs of any sexual attack or robbery. Julia had been battered to death in a frenzied attack, with numerous blows to her head inflicted with a blunt weapon. No weapon has ever been found.

Despite a massive police enquiry, in which they actioned over 4,300 lines of enquiry, police struggled for leads to this crime. Mrs Webb had no known enemies and was described by her family as ‘placid’ and unlikely to engage in a confrontation. Her husband, long distance lorry driver John, and sons Nicholas and Christopher were examined and eliminated as suspects. Crimewatch U.K reconstructed the crime in September 1998, and frustratingly the public response produced crank calls and vague sightings of people seen in the area at the time, including three men who were never traced. One was described as being a middle aged white haired man using a very distinctive red walking stick. Also elusive was a ‘George Michael’ lookalike with designer stubble, driving a silver Ford Orion car, and reports of a ‘red faced man’ seen running across nearby Daleford’s Lane around the time of the murder.

Despite this extensive hunt, and the offer of a £30,000 reward, Julia’s murder remains unsolved. But the case remains open, and is reviewed periodically. On the anniversary of Julia’s death in 2000, her husband John was interviewed.

“She was very placid, not someone who would get involved in a confrontation. I can only think whatever happened had something to do with Rosie. The dog is very friendly by nature, but also very inquisitive. It is possible she was sniffing around someone, perhaps startled them and they hit out at her.

“In those circumstances Julia would probably have come to her aid and got involved. I can’t think of any other reason why.” – John Webb

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Lyn Bryant

Back in the south of England, Truro, Cornwall, the 20th of October 1998.  Lyn Bryant, another housewife, a 41 year old mother and regular dog walker set off to walk her Lurcher dog Jay along the Ruan High Lanes, which were less than a mile from her house. Although isolated, this was a familiar route to Lyn and one she felt so familiar with she regularly walked Jay unaccompanied down them. Mrs Bryant set off that mid- afternoon wearing a brown waxed coat, a blue pullover, dark jeans and brown walking boots. At 2:40pm on 20 October 1998, a passer- by found Lyn’s lifeless body in the gateway to a field, brutally stabbed to death with wounds to her neck, back and chest. Again, there was no immediate sign of a sexual attack, no murder weapon found or no sign of robbery, however, Lyn’s spectacles were missing. A thorough search of the murder scene revealed no clues or forensic traces.

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Aerial view of the Lyn Bryant murder scene

The resulting police enquiry was codenamed Operation Grenadine, and involved every male aged between 14 and 70 years of age that lived in Cornwall’s Roseland peninsula being interviewed.

“Mrs Bryant almost certainly put up a struggle and fought for her life. The killer would have been extensively bloodstained and mudstained”. – Detective Chief Inspector Chris Boarland

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Photofit of a person of interest released by Devon and Cornwall Police in 1998

When piecing together Lyn’s final movements, witnesses reported seeing a man talking to her at 1.45pm on Tuesday just under an hour before her body was found. Lyn was seen talking to the unidentified man near the Ruan Methodist Chapel, just 100 yards from the murder scene. He was described as being in his 30s, around 5ft 9ins tall, short dark haired, with bushy eyebrows and wearing light coloured clothing. Police canvassed the area extensively, contacted local businesses with closed-circuit television, asking them to examine the films to report anything suspicious. They also made an appeal to trace the driver of a white van described as bearded, 50+ years of age, largely built, who was seen following Mrs Bryant’s grey Sierra out of a nearby garage where she had stopped to buy milk. None of these leads or enquiries have ever led to an arrest, and the enquiry remained has remained quiet, albeit with two macabre twists.

Six months after Lyn was murdered, a member of the public out walking discovered a pair of spectacles, identical to the ones missing from Lyn, less than three feet from the spot where Lyn’s lifeless body was discovered. The spectacles were later confirmed to belong to Lyn. It seems inconceivable that the spectacles had been missed in any crime scene searches or photographs of the murder scene. Had somebody else, someone totally unconnected with the crime dropped them in a bizarre coincidence, or had the killer taken them, then returned to the scene to relive the killing, to fulfil some sick fantasy?

Then, in 2015, self-proclaimed psychic drag queen, 50 year old Tristan Rees, went to the police with a remarkable story. Mr Rees claimed that from mid-1999, he had been receiving visions of Lyn Bryant after being visited by her spirit on many occasions. He went on to describe a vision of seeing Lyn’s killer stalking her, and described a killer of slim build, with greying ginger hair, wrinkled face and wearing a dark blue boiler suit.

‘The visions just came to me at any time. It was almost like looking at a film but I’m right there next to her and the killer. It was always the same, pictures of her walking down the lane and the killer following her and then he walks back to a van he’s got. His boiler suit and boots were covered with blood, but you couldn’t tell it was blood because it was on dark material” – Tristan Rees

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Tristan Rees, self proclaimed psychic.

 

The description given here differs remarkably from the sketch police issued at the time of the man they wanted to trace who was seen talking to Lyn. No information should ever be discounted until definitively proved as false, and it is worthwhile to keep an open mind, regardless of the sensationalism of the source.

It is of course, a jump to state categorically that the same person is responsible for each of these killings. Although these killings have been linked in a Blog post entitled The Dogwalker Killings, it is for the reader to examine the possibility that the same person could be responsible; this is in no way suggested by TTCE as fact.

Four killings are chronicled here, spanning a period of 11 years. Are they connected? There are certainly similarities throughout.

  • Lone women, walking dogs in isolated places.
  • All of the attacks have occurred in the daytime, in good visibility.
  • There has been massive overkill of violence in each case, and some form of weapon This is predominantly a knife, but has also involved the use of a blunt instrument, although no weapon has ever been found in any of the crimes.
  • There has never been any evidence of any sexual assault.
  • There has never been any evidence of Robbery
  • The dog or dogs have never been harmed in any of the attacks.
  • They are organised crimes – the killer has brought and taken away any weapons used; he has left no DNA fingerprint or any useful forensic traces; he has managed to escape undetected in each case, albeit only possibly seen fleeing in the case of the Bushell murder.
  • Yet they have hallmarks of being spontaneous and opportunistic – in each case each woman has been attacked in a place where an offender could be interrupted at any moment by a passer-by. Almost as if there is an overwhelming need to kill, and the offender is driven by this and it is this need that overrides any fear of being caught.
  • At least once, the offender has returned to the scene of the crime some months later.

Hypothetically speaking then, let’s say the same man is responsible for all. Bearing in mind an offender will find a target group of victim that appeals to them, the target group here is the lone female. It is unlikely that it is the dog walking that is the linking factor, if it was the dog in each case that was for some reason the trigger for such violence, one would expect the dog to be injured or killed as part of the attack. This has not happened. Nor can the triggering factor be a particular breed of dog, all dogs concerned in each case have been of different breeds.

If Helen Fleet was the first victim of the killer, it is likely that he was in his teens at the time. The amount of violence used, and different methods of trying to kill (stabbing, battering, strangling) suggest an immature offender who is unsure of what they are doing, for want of a better expression, unrefined. The teen theory would tie in with the photo-fit of a suspect police have constantly appealed to trace over the years.

The next known murder occurs over ten years later, and is just as savage, perhaps more so because Kate Bushell was killed so brutally – with a single stroke. So, why a ten year gap? There are several possibilities for this. The killer could have been imprisoned or in hospital through this time, they may have left the country to work abroad or been serving in the Armed Forces. They may have had a stable relationship that had managed to keep a lid on any murderous thoughts. But something has triggered these thoughts returning – perhaps a change in personal circumstance or the breakdown of a relationship?

Eight months later, another woman, Julia Webb, is killed, the only killing out of the 4 where a knife is not used. It is also geographically the furthest killing away in comparison to the other 3. But this should not rule out the possibility that the same person is responsible. It is feasible that a person needs to travel the country as a course of their employment, there is also precedent that people will kill on such work trips also. Serial killer Robert Black, for example, abducted and killed children whilst on business trips delivering posters all around the country. Did the killer of Helen and Kate, whilst in the area on business, find an opportunity on a lonely lane in Cheshire, at just a point where Julia Webb was unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Back to Truro, three months later. The most consistently linked cases out of the 4 detailed here are that of Kate Bushell, and Lyn Bryant. They are very close in geographic proximity, close enough to suggest that the same man is responsible for both killings. Or at least it becomes hard to imagine that there is more than one maniac within a relatively small geographic area who has a penchant for attacking and brutally murdering women out walking dogs, in opportunistic broad daylight attacks?

So what do we know about this hypothetical offender? Firstly, we can estimate it is a male. Statistically, women are predominantly killed by male offenders. We can estimate the age to today be between 40-50 years of age. A teenager in 1987 would fit into this age bracket now. We can surmise that the offender is familiar with the areas the killings have occurred. These are organised crimes, at least to the point where the offender has a weapon on their person, and it is highly unlikely a killer will take a day trip to somewhere they have never visited to murder someone at random. Familiarity with the crime scenes brings with it greater chance of escape without detection, so familiarity with each crime scene means someone with local knowledge of each place, either having lived or worked in the area. The offender will likely have a previous history of offending, one does not commit a brutal murder as a first ever offence. This suggests that somewhere within the records of at least one of the police forces involved, the name of the offender will be there somewhere.

Of course, this is just TTCE hypothesising, based upon similarities that can be determined between each crime. But this may not be such a far- fetched theory after all. Retired police officer Chris Clark is the author of a book entitled Yorkshire Ripper: The Secret Murders (which coincidentally will be the subject of the next TTCE book review), and has studied the cases in great depth. Conversely, he believes that at the very least, the murders of Helen Fleet, Kate Bushell and Lyn Bryant are linked by strong circumstantial evidence, and that being dog walkers is a key linking factor, with the dogs possibly the trigger for such violence.

“I believe the murders have many similarities. The mode of killing and the similar geographical area are the two most obvious links. But it is also highly unusual for a killer to choose a dog walker in each case. I believe that, psychologically, this is a key element. The dogs may form an important part of the murder ritual, but he doesn’t want to kill them”-Chris Clark (retired police officer)

Mr Clark feels this is highlighted by what has been suggested above, the lack of harm to any of the dogs. He then moves on to highlight the lack of robbery or sexual assault in each case, and highlights the relatively small geographical catchment area of the three killings (from Weston-super-Mare, it makes a triangle of 61 miles to Exeter, and 148 miles to Truro).

“These elements are unusual. They do not point to a sexual motive – more towards a person suffering insanity. Geographically, the murders are within a relatively small area, and the nature of the first killing makes it inconceivable that he did not murder again. I have concluded there is strong circumstantial evidence to link them all. I feel we have one killer who no doubt is still walking around.” – Chris Clark (retired police officer)

All four cases remain open, and detectives from each Police force concerned have liased with each other over the years. A connection has never been officially confirmed. They may be individual crimes and completely unconnected. But there are enough similarities, and any student of true crime will be aware that a multiple killer develops an MO, has a victim category that he or she favours. Four separate killers? Or has the same man killed at least four times, perhaps many more……?

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

 

Who Bombed “The Jolly Farmer”?

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Firemen tend to the scene of The Jolly Farmer explosion, 05 December 1989

The village of Blacknest, in Hampshire, is a quaint English village the like of which number into the thousands. This tiny Hampshire village, however, has a macabre claim to fame unlike the vast majority of other villages. Blacknest has set the scene for two brutal murders in its history – and both have centered on what is commonplace the hubbub of any small village’s life, the local pub.
Today, there are few patrons of Blacknest’s local pub, the Jolly Farmer, that would ever imagine the role it has played in this dark chapter without reading the immortalisation that both murders have received in a display on the walls. Indeed, TTCE lived in Hampshire many years ago and used to frequent this pub, and had never heard of either case before reading about it in the bar of the pub itself.
In the 19th century, on the site where the Jolly Farmer stands now was once an alehouse named The Cricketers. It was in The Cricketers one night that the landlord, the fantastically named Cyprus Knight, took a shotgun and in a drunken stupor blasted his wife to death. Within hours, Knight was arrested and detained, and following his trial for her murder some time later, was hanged at Winchester Prison.
The Cricketers never recovered from this horrific incident, and was knocked down a couple of years later. A new pub took its place, The Jolly Farmer, but in 1989 this pub was again the scene of a horrific incident.
It was the run up to Christmas and the village was in full preparation, as is every other village around that time. At 2:40am on the morning of Tuesday December 5 1989, a massive explosion shook the village. It was loud enough to have been heard more than two miles away, and residents woken by the blast became rapidly aware that the source of the explosion was The Jolly Farmer.
Locals rushed to the scene to see what they could do to help, and awaited the emergency services, who were there in force inside of 15 minutes after the explosion.

The explosion had been massive, and the pub had been totally destroyed. All that remained was the chimney stack, the outside post-box, and the pub’s sign, albeit scorched and damaged. Christmas presents, furniture and glass lay strewn across the roads where the force of the blast had deposited them, and beer casks, furnishings and bottles were found in neighbouring fields more than 100 yards away.

Afterwards, locals and emergency services described a macabre and chilling scene. In the midst of the rubble and mortar, a moving hand was spotted poking through the wreckage. It belonged to The Jolly Farmer bar manager Richard Dean. Rescuers climbed onto the rubble and pulled him out of the fire, his still burning clothing searing into his flesh. Dean suffered severe burns to more than a quarter of his body and would subsequently suffer mental issues and months of hospital treatment, but was at least alive.

Pub chef Clifford Howes had not been as lucky, however. He was found, almost burned beyond recognition, in the cellar. The 34 year old had died a horrific and agonising death, being burned alive whilst trapped under burning beams and pinned down by heavy flaming masonry.

Initially, the explosion was thought to be a tragic accident. Any number of things could have caused a fire to ignite, and with the amounts of flammable liquid and canisters of pressurised gas that would have been in the pub, an explosion would have been inevitable. However, two discoveries the next morning caused investigators to determine that the fire was started deliberately.

The following morning, when the charred remains of Clifford Howes were discovered, an overpowering smell of petrol was detected in the cellar. Then, it was discovered that the telephone lines to The Jolly Farmer had not been destroyed by the explosion, but had been professionally and deliberately cut. Detectives were dealing with an unbelievably savage and planned crime, and launched a murder enquiry.

Investigators later determined that the fire had been started by the killer, or killers, pouring gallons of petrol down through the wooden doors of the cellar. A homemade wick had then been placed down and ignited, but this had failed to burn down. However, the petrol vapour had still built up in the atmosphere of the confined space of the cellar. A recently installed electric dehumidifier had activated, causing an electric spark which had ignited the petrol vapours and caused the massive explosion.

Former landlord Arthur Thompkins recalled afterwards:

“I had no knowledge of it at all until four or five in the morning, when I got there I was told that one person was in hospital badly injured and another person was missing. They didn’t find Clifford at all and they kept saying that he must have wandered off, and it wasn’t until they excavated right down into the cellar that they found him.

The full force of the blast went straight up through his room and it would appear that everything came down, all the ceiling and masonry, came down on top of him because he was right down at the bottom of the cellar”. – Arthur Thompkins

Clifford Howes had indeed been asleep in his room at the time, and his first floor bedroom had taken the full force of the explosion. It had collapsed right the way down into the cellar, taking Clifford with it and causing him to die horrifically.

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A fireman examines evidence removed from the scene of the Jolly Farmer explosion

What was the motive for this crime? Was the fire personally aimed at either Clifford or Richard as a target, or were they just unfortunate enough to have been in the pub at the time? Was it burned down for monetary gain, perhaps in an attempt to claim an insurance payout? Was it somebody who had perhaps bore a grudge, having been barred from The Jolly Farmer in the past or who had fallen foul of a member of staff? Was it a mistake, and a different pub that was the actual target was missed?

Police examined the backgrounds of both Clifford and Richard to search for any motive that anybody would want for them harmed or killed, but drew a blank. Hampshire police questioned all locals of Blacknest, and customers and staff from The Jolly Farmer, and examined the theories outlined above. All drew a blank, to this day there is simply no motive that police have ever discovered.

They did however, discover as a result of enquiries that a car had been seen speeding away from the pub seconds after the explosion happened. Frustratingly, a make or decent description could not be obtained. A massive appeal was launched, but this and numerous other public appeals have always failed to identify the driver. It is one of the many frustrating points about the case that has never been resolved. Did the killer stay and watch? If not, why has the driver of the mystery car never come forward?

The pub was rebuilt, and 100 days later was reopened, with the tribute to Clifford immortalised on the wall inside. It became a thriving business again, and TTCE always found it a very pleasant place to visit. Arthur Thompkins, the landlord for many years, sold the pub in 2003, and to this day remains convinced that someone bombed The Jolly Farmer because they had got the wrong pub.

“There was absolutely no reason to target us. The police had all these theories for a motive but they found nothing because there was nothing to find. It was just a quaint little pub in the middle of nowhere. Why would anybody target it? It’s ridiculous.

I’d like closure, I’d like to know the answer but it’s a thing in my past now and you have to move on. I’m resigned to the fact that I’ll never know.”  – Arthur Thompkins

The case is still open, and is reviewed periodically as funding becomes available and as changes in DNA technology dictate its possibility. A review in 2003, however, failed to generate any new lines of enquiry.

The detective in charge of the original investigation, Chief Superintendent Mike Southwell, is now retired. Yet he still remains haunted and baffled by the case because the killer or killers have not been brought to justice, and the case remains unsolved.

“It’s not closed and there are still things that we need to find out about that case. I am convinced to this day that the murderer is still detectable,” Chief Supt Mike Southwell (retd)

What was the reason behind such a heinous act? With all cases of suspicious fires, those who would benefit from any insurance claims were suspected – but police ruled this out as a motive. The backgrounds of all of the staff who worked at The Jolly Farmer were examined in depth, but nothing or no one was discovered as a result of these enquiries who could be found to bear any grudge or indeed had any motive for wanting anyone killed, or the pub destroyed.

Was it then, a case of mistaken identity? There are 21 pubs around the United Kingdom with the name The Jolly Farmer. At least 7 of these are currently found within the county of Hampshire. There is a very real possibility the killer or killers had simply got the wrong pub- but that still leaves the question of why someone would want a pub burned down anyway? This is a very valid possibility, but after the passage of so much time and with such a wide net to cover all of these, it seems a near impossible task. Perhaps it was the pub itself that was the target, and not either Clifford or Richard. After all, there are more direct, less risky ways to kill somebody you were planning to kill. Burning a premises down, then waiting to see it burn, would provide a risk to the perpetrator themselves. It is TTCE’s opinion that this was in fact the case, and that the murder of Clifford Howes and attempted murder of Richard Dean was a secondary outcome, unintended perhaps? Even if murder was unintended, it was however, a very determined perpetrator. The killer(s) would have had to purchase and transport the petrol, pour it, have pre made a wick and placed it down into the cellar. They would have then had to light it, and watch to ensure their process had been successful. And of course, had cut the telephone lines to ensure that the emergency services would have the biggest delay possible. Somebody wanted The Jolly Farmer gone.

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The Jolly Farmer as it stands today.

The Jolly Farmer is still open now after its rebuild, and is a thriving business. Without sounding like an advert, it is a very pleasant place to visit. If you ever find yourself in the village of Blacknest in the English county of Hampshire, call in and experience it for yourself. Make sure to take time to read the local press cuttings concerning the 1989 fire, study the charred postbox that was all that remained after the explosion (and is now fixed in a display case with the aforementioned cuttings inside the pub) and take time to remember that the killer who so callously murdered Clifford Howes and who came close to killing Richard Dean has never yet been brought to justice. There may well be a member or members of the public who have the information needed to make a breakthrough in the case, but have not yet come forward. A sense of massive guilt about the crime, or a misguided loyalty or duty to protect someone may be preventing this. Hopefully though, as time passes, loyalties may change and this person or persons may now come forward and provide the information that is so needed. Anyone who has information can relay it to the Northern Major Crime Department at Basingstoke, on 0845 045 4545.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast.