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