THE IN­VES­TI­GA­TION

No body, no clues, just a sight­ing of Me­lanie in a club, de­tec­tives had few leads to find her killer

Real Crime - - Unsolved Case -

A po­lice inquiry be­gan im­me­di­ately. Me­lanie Hall had no his­tory of dis­ap­pear­ing. She did not lead a ‘ chaotic’ lifestyle. She had no rea­son to have van­ished. She had a lov­ing fam­ily who missed her dearly, fran­tic with worry.

On the Tues­day, po­lice be­gan a pub­lic ap­peal for in­for­ma­tion. They re­leased to the press a photo of Me­lanie at her grad­u­a­tion a year ear­lier. It was the first time the name Me­lanie Hall hit the news­stands. It would not be the last.

The ap­peal for wit­nesses was heeded. Many came for­ward who had been out in Bath on the Satur­day night. Over the fol­low­ing weeks more than 1,000 club­bers would be in­ter­viewed. But in the early stages, of­fi­cers were reap­ing few re­wards. Per­haps she was be­ing held against her will? On Thurs­day 13 June, Steve and Pat Hall faced the press cam­eras for the first time, plead­ing for her safe re­turn.

An un­usual step was taken the fol­low­ing day by a des­per­ate po­lice force want­ing to jog peo­ple’s mem­o­ries and to find Me­lanie safe and well. Avon and Som­er­set Po­lice pro­duced a com­puter- gen­er­ated pic­ture of what she would have looked like on the Satur­day night. Me­lanie had been wear­ing a pale blue silk dress with a round neck, black suede shoes with straps across the front, a cream sin­gle- breasted long- sleeve jacket and was car­ry­ing a black satchel- type hand­bag. Still, there was no sign of Me­lanie.

Search­ing the Avon

On Satur­day 15 June, a week after Me­lanie’s dis­ap­pear­ance, Avon and Som­er­set Po­lice drafted in ex­tra of­fi­cers to pa­trol the streets of Bath and to ques­tion peo­ple in and around Cadil­lacs club. Then they started search­ing the river. The River Avon in Bath is a beau­ti­ful but treach­er­ous stretch of wa­ter in which many young peo­ple have fallen and met their deaths over the decades. Po­lice divers were drafted in, but they found no sign of ei­ther Me­lanie or her be­long­ings.

Two fam­i­lies liv­ing near Wal­cot Street both said they heard a woman’s chill­ing scream cry­ing, ‘ leave me alone, let me go’

on the night Me­lanie van­ished

The same day, Me­lanie’s boyfriend, Dr. Kurl­baum, re­leased a state­ment de­scrib­ing how he was dev­as­tated by her dis­ap­pear­ance. He would soon re­turn to his na­tive Ger­many.

De­tec­tives used other tac­tics. They ap­pealed on the In­ter­net for in­for­ma­tion – a new strat­egy, as wide­spread use of the World Wide Web was still in its in­fancy. And there were more tra­di­tional tech­niques, in­clud­ing a poster cam­paign and po­lice re­con­struc­tions. But a fort­night after Me­lanie’s dis­ap­pear­ance, of­fi­cers were forced to ad­mit they were no nearer to dis­cov­er­ing her fate.

Screams in the night

But the fol­low­ing day came a break­through, per­haps. Two fam­i­lies liv­ing near Wal­cot Street both said they heard a woman’s chill­ing scream cry­ing, “leave me alone, let me go” on the night Me­lanie van­ished. These were fol­lowed up but came to noth­ing.

The days con­tin­ued pass­ing. They be­came weeks and even­tu­ally months. In Oc­to­ber, Steve and Pat Hall held an emo­tional press con­fer­ence in which they ad­mit­ted they be­lieved Me­lanie must be dead. Still the tac­tics con­tin­ued. Po­lice re­leased home footage from Me­lanie’s grad­u­a­tion – an at­tempt for a killer to search his con­science. The at­tempt was in vain, or the killer did not search hard enough. If play­ing on heart­strings wouldn’t work, then per­haps hard cash would. A £ 10,000 re­ward was of­fered. In­for­ma­tion came in, but none of it led to Me­lanie Hall.

Crim­i­nol­o­gists and po­lice re­view­ers have stud­ied

Me­lanie Hall’s dis­ap­pear­ance and won­dered how a killer could have snatched Me­lanie from the streets. “For her to com­pletely dis­ap­pear, it had to be fairly quick,” said Dr. Jane Mon­ck­ton- Smith, a lec­turer in crim­i­nol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Glouces­ter­shire. “She didn’t wan­der the streets for a long time, it must have been fairly quick be­tween the last time she was seen and her be­ing in the com­pany of the per­son who killed her. That must have been quite a short win­dow.

“It must have been quite quick that she got some­where where she couldn’t be wit­nessed. That seems log­i­cal, if noth­ing else. She prob­a­bly got into some­body’s com­pany that she was happy to be in their com­pany, be­cause [ oth­er­wise] there would have been an al­ter­ca­tion, maybe.”

The first ar­rest

In Jan­uary 1997, six months after Me­lanie’s dis­ap­pear­ance, Dr. Kurl­baum re­turned to the UK. Po­lice ar­rested him and ques­tioned him all day while they stripped his car and made foren­sic searches of the ve­hi­cle. He later said, “When I was ar­rested I was over­whelmed. I can un­der­stand how aw­ful this must be for Me­lanie’s par­ents. But I had noth­ing to do with her dis­ap­pear­ance.”

Po­lice were get­ting in­creas­ingly des­per­ate. On the oneyear anniversary of Me­lanie’s van­ish­ing, they held an ap­peal, as they did the fol­low­ing year. Me­lanie’s case loomed large over the pretty city.

The­o­ries abounded. Some were fan­tas­ti­cal. Could John Can­nan, who was al­ready in prison in June 1996 for the mur­der of Bris­tol new­ly­wed Shirley Banks, have ar­ranged Me­lanie’s killing from be­hind bars? This was a se­ri­ous propo­si­tion sug­gested at the time. There was also a se­ries of rapes car­ried out in Bath. In one, the at­tacker dropped a cap that had the Bat­man logo on it. Could this be the same of­fender? The so- called ‘ Bat­man rapist’?

In 1999 fa­ther- of- two Marc Shilli­bier mur­dered teenager Re­becca Storrs by smash­ing her head with a ham­mer. He sex­u­ally as­saulted her too. Shilli­bier con­fessed to a cell­mate that he had killed Me­lanie Hall. He later re­tracted his claim and re­fused to en­gage with of­fi­cers un­der in­ter­view.

In 2003, de­tec­tives had what they be­lieved to be a break­through. What led them to farm­land at the ham­let of In­gles­batch near Bath has never been re­vealed. But of­fi­cers ar­rived early one morn­ing, ar­rested two men and started tak­ing soil sam­ples from the land. After seven years, had they fi­nally found Me­lanie Hall’s re­mains? Had they also found her killer or killers? Pat and Steve Hall were in­formed of the de­vel­op­ment. News crews camped out­side the cor­don, await­ing news that didn’t come. Noth­ing was found. The men were re­leased. They were in­no­cent.

The fol­low­ing year, Me­lanie Hall was for­mally de­clared dead. The years passed. At the Halls’ home, Pat and Steve kept Me­lanie’s room as she would have wanted it. Po­lice made ap­peals on the tenth anniversary of her dis­ap­pear­ance. Her sis­ter, Do­minique, made a pub­lic plea for in­for­ma­tion. But the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, it seemed, was pe­ter­ing out.

Dis­cov­er­ing Me­lanie

In Novem­ber 2009, a work­man was clear­ing a mo­tor­way verge at the side of the M5 near Thorn­bury in South Glouces­ter­shire, some 32 kilo­me­tres north of where Me­lanie dis­ap­peared in Bath city cen­tre 13 years ear­lier. He pulled back scrub, find­ing a bag. As he moved that bag he no­ticed

what he be­lieved to be bones. Po­lice were called. They cor­doned off the area, and foren­sic teams were brought in.

There were five bin lin­ers, buried and half- buried in soil and un­der­growth. Inside were the bones of a woman: arms, a pelvis, legs and a skull. There were few other clues as to who this might be. But there was a gold pat­terned ring. Po­lice showed an im­age to Steve and Pat Hall, who said this was Me­lanie’s great- grand­mother’s wed­ding ring, which she used to wear on the mid­dle fin­ger of her left hand. Den­tal records would later con­firm that this was in­deed Me­lanie Hall.

At a press con­fer­ence, Steve Hall said, “13 years ago we had a young, vi­brant daugh­ter. Happy, with a fu­ture in front of her. Today we have a bag of bones dis­carded at the side of a mo­tor­way in a hor­ren­dous crime, a crime that has caused un­told an­guish for my­self, my wife and fam­ily.”

More than that, Avon and Som­er­set Po­lice had a call from the Greater Manch­ester force. A man had turned up at Chea­dle Heath po­lice sta­tion in Cheshire and said he’d killed Me­lanie. But there was some­thing strange about this. The

37- year- old was put through psy­chi­atric ex­am­i­na­tion, and it be­came clear he had noth­ing to do with her mur­der.

Back in the West Coun­try, the bin lin­ers were start­ing to re­veal how Me­lanie died. Would they also lead de­tec­tives

to her killer? Po­lice found rope at the scene, which had been used to tie the bags, and also a set of car keys. A post mortem could not say con­clu­sively how Me­lanie had died, but she had suf­fered a vi­o­lent blow to her head and face. Her jaw and skull were both frac­tured.

The inquiry was now be­ing headed by De­tec­tive Su­per­in­ten­dent Mike Cour­tiour. He told re­porters that the rope was be­ing sent off for analysis. He made an ap­peal for any­one who knew some­one who had that type of line, a blue three- strand rope, in 1996 to come for­ward. And he added that he might be look­ing at a crim­i­nal con­spir­acy: “It is pos­si­ble that more than one per­son was in­volved in the dis­ap­pear­ance, mur­der and dis­posal of Me­lanie Hall’s body.”

In­quiries con­tin­ued, and even Philip Kurl­baum made a pub­lic state­ment about the case – a short sen­tence, re­leased through the GP surgery in Glouces­ter­shire where he now worked, and where he was a set­tled fa­ther of two. It read, “I am very sad for the fam­ily. It must have been a very dif­fi­cult time for them. It has been a long time – 13 years.”

On 11 De­cem­ber 2009, in the mag­nif­i­cent Bath Abbey, Me­lanie Hall’s funeral was held. Her cof­fin car­ried a sin­gle bou­quet of yel­low roses – her favourite colour. It was a good­bye her fam­ily had waited 13 years to make.

There were fur­ther ar­rests. In July 2010 a 38- year- old man was ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of Me­lanie’s mur­der. He was re­leased soon after. In Novem­ber 2013 a 44- year- old Bath man was ar­rested and re­leased. In 2016 a 45- year- old man from nearby Wilt­shire was also held and later re­leased too.

On the 20th anniversary of Me­lanie’s dis­ap­pear­ance, Steve and Pat Hall said they were per­son­ally of­fer­ing £ 50,000 for in­for­ma­tion that would lead to Me­lanie’s killer. The Sun said it would dou­ble that. It re­mains one of the big­gest crim­i­nal re­wards in Bri­tish his­tory. “It’s a huge amount of our sav­ings and we are giv­ing up our se­cu­rity to make this hap­pen,” said Steve Hall. This is money that was orig­i­nally set aside to help us in old age and help us if we were ill and help our sur­viv­ing daugh­ter and grand­chil­dren get started in life. This is our fam­ily fi­nance we’ve put at risk here be­cause this is the last thing we can do to help catch Me­lanie’s killer.”

That was 2016. It ap­pears the lure of money hasn’t worked. Me­lanie Hall’s killer – or killers – evade jus­tice still.

c lub a t When Me­lanie’ s fr iends left thesit­ting around 1.10am, she w as seenfloor . Did alone on a stool by the danceand talk her killer spot her on her o wnc lub? to her? Or f ol­low her out of the

Me­lanie’s bo yfriendPhilip K url­baum stormed of f after see­ingher danc­ing with an­other man at Cadil­lacs night­club. He nev ersa w her a gain op­po­site- top A post mortem showed Me­lanie suf­fered cat­a­strophic head in­juries, in­clud­ing a frac­tured skull and jawop­po­site- bot­tom Mul­ti­ple ap­peals were made for wit­nesses who were in and around Cadil­lacs night­club that Satur­day night and early Sun­day morn­ing, and 1,000 peo­ple out that night were in­ter­viewedtop Me­lanie stayed on her own in Cadil­lacs after her boyfriend and other friends had left

Me­lanie’s re­mains w ere f ound in bin lin­ers tied with b lue rope . Of­fi­cers asked f or inf or­ma­tion a bout an yone who w as kno wn to be us­ing this com­mon type of rope in 1996 Op­po­site Me­lanie’s par­ents, Steve and Pat, and her sis­ter Do­minique have spent the last 22 years won­der­ing if her killer will ever be found

hear ing a Two f am­i­lies in Ba th re­ported, let me woman scream, ‘ Lea ve me aloneppeared. Her go,” on the night Me­lanie disare­ceiv ed a skull la ter rev ealed tha t she’dgest­ing she blow to the head and f ace, sug was vi­o­lentl y as­saulted

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