The haunting stories that prove killers should NEVER be freed if they refuse to reveal where they hid the bodies
PRISonS Minister Rory Stewart announced last week that killers who refuse to reveal where they have hidden their victims’ bodies will face extra punishment.
The pledge to tackle the ‘ absolutely disgusting practice’, which compounds the misery of grieving families, follows a lengthy campaign for ‘Helen’s Law’ led by Marie McCourt. Her daughter Helen was murdered 30 years ago. Her killer has constantly refused to reveal where he hid her body.
as well as legal measures to punish those who withhold information, parole board rules are expected to be tightened, preventing early release — a change resulting in a ‘no body, no parole’ policy.
Here Mrs McCourt and five fellow campaigners speak about the life sentences imposed on them by their loved ones’ killers.
WE SEARCHED FOR HER WITH OUR BARE HANDS
hElEn McCoURt, 22, an insurance clerk from Wigan, lancashire, vanished on February 9, 1988. Pub landlord ian Simms, now 63, was convicted of her murder and sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 16 years. her mother, Marie McCourt, 74, says: THe prospect of burying a child would be most parents’ worst nightmare, but it’s all I want. I want to place flowers beneath a headstone that acknowledges Helen’s short life.
I want to know exactly where she is, safe and at peace. The not knowing is torturous, like a tap continually dripping onto our heads from which there’s no escape.
even after 30 years, the first thing I do on waking, every single morning, is switch on the news to see if a body has been found.
Helen went missing on her way home from work, a route which involved walking past the pub where Simms, a married father of two, was landlord.
Forensic searches uncovered one of her earrings in the boot of his car and traces of her blood were found in the pub’s private quarters. Police also noticed Simms had scratch marks on his face
He was charged with murder five days after her disappearance. a month later Helen’s clothes, containing fibres from the pub carpet, and a knotted flex which was traced back to the pub and contained strands of her hair, were found by a riverbank.
But, even once he was convicted of her murder in March 1989, Simms refused to tell us what he’d done with her body.
When the police searches were scaled down we carried on. We pored over ordnance Survey maps, hired digging equipment and sniffer dogs and spent years searching ratinfested drains, crawling through sewers and pipes, draining ponds and even clearing rubble-filled mine shafts with our bare hands.
eventually, in 1992, I wrote to Simms begging him to reveal where my daughter is, but he refused. Time is running out as he’s had escorted visits from prison, paving the way for his release.
We really need to get Helen’s Law in place, not just for my family’s sake, but for all grieving families in the same position.
Killers who refuse to reveal where their victims’ remains are should never be considered for parole until they co-operate.
SHE WAS THROWN AWAY LIKE RUBBISH
JEnnY niCholl, 19, disappeared on thursday, June 30, 2005, after leaving her family home in Richmond, north Yorkshire, for a night out with friends. her mother, ann nicholl, 62, says: THe hardest thing about not knowing what my daughter’s killer did with her body is the thought that the child I gave life to, brought into the world, and loved, has been thrown away like she didn’t matter. Jenny did — and does — matter.
She would be 32 now and is always in our thoughts. We still gather as a family and raise a toast to her on special occasions.
Before she left that evening, she mentioned she might not be home that night, which wasn’t unusual. Like many teenagers she had a busy social life and often stayed over with friends.
However, when she didn’t return home on the Saturday morning, to get ready to go to her job in a supermarket, alarm bells rang. I called all her friends and left messages on her phone before reporting her missing.
Days after Jenny’s disappearance, my husband Brian and two of her friends received texts from her phone saying she had left home to live with a boyfriend.
Cruelly, this gave us false hope that she was still alive, but detectives suspected they weren’t from Jenny at all.
Five months after her disappearance, police said the investigation had turned into a murder inquiry. David Hodgson, a 48- year- old married father of two from Richmond, was the main suspect.
Investigations revealed that the messages had been sent from Cumbria and Scotland, and Hodgson had been in those specific areas on those dates, having hired a car.
Hodgson was convicted of Jenny’s murder in February 2007 and sentenced to life. He was told he must serve a minimum of 18 years before applying for parole.
We only discovered during the trial that Jenny had been in a relationship with him.
The misery he has inflicted on us has been compounded by his refusal to say what he did with our daughter’s body.
Despite police discovering Jenny’s childhood teddy bear and stereo buried in woodland, we are no closer to knowing where she is. There has been no funeral, no chance to say goodbye. The man has no conscience: How could he treat her like she was just a piece of rubbish? Helen’s Law might mean we could at least bury her with the love, respect and dignity she deserves.
NOT KNOWING IS LIKE THE WORST TORTURE
DaniEllE JonES, 15, from East tilbury, Essex, vanished on the morning of Monday, June 18, 2001, after leaving for school. her uncle, Stuart Campbell, is serving a life sentence for her abduction and murder. Mum linda, 57, says: HavIng no idea what happened to my daughter is the worst form of
torture any parent could imagine. We have photos of Danielle everywhere and not a day goes by when I don’t think: ‘What would you be doing now?’
She was in Year 10, studying for GCSEs, with dreams of becoming a nursery nurse, when she vanished. I knew something was very wrong when the school called to say she hadn’t arrived that morning. Danielle wasn’t a rule breaker. Witnesses said she had been seen getting into a blue van — similar to one driven by her uncle, Stuart Campbell.
He was charged with her murder five months later. We had to break the news to our ten and 13-yearold sons that, not only was their sister dead, but their uncle was responsible. It was horrendous.
The murder trial at Chelmsford Crown Court in 2002 heard that Campbell — who was married to my husband Tony’s sister — had developed an ‘irresistible sexual attraction’ to Danielle. Searches at his home had revealed a pair of blood- stained stockings with DNA matching both Campbell and Danielle and a diary which revealed his obsession with teenage girls.
He had also sent a text from her phone to his, pretending to be her.
He was found guilty of her abduction and murder and sentenced to life, with a minimum of 20 years before being eligible for parole.
He has never spoken about why he killed my daughter or what he did with her body.
Her brothers have never wanted to celebrate achievements, such as passing exams or driving tests, conscious that their sister never got to do these things.
We are tormented by the thought of Campbell becoming eligible for parole in four years.
If he continues to refuse to tell us where she is he should stay in jail for ever.
DAD WON’T TELL US WHAT HAPPENED
MuM-of-one Carole Packman, 40, vanished from her home in Bournemouth, Dorset, in June 1985. Her husband, Russell Causley, is serving a life sentence for her murder. Daughter Samantha Gillingham, 49, who was 16 when her mother disappeared, says: MY DAD and I came back from a day out in London to find a note in the kitchen, supposedly from Mum, saying: ‘I’ve had enough. I’ve left and I’m not coming back.’ On top of the note was her wedding ring.
Mum had been unhappy ever since Dad moved a colleague, Patricia, into our home the previous year — he claimed she needed somewhere to live, but it was clear they were having an affair.
I ran upstairs to Mum’s bedroom where the wardrobe doors were open but everything — her clothes, jewellery and passport — were still there. Dad and Patricia insisted Mum was ‘doing her martyrdom act’ and would be back. But I never saw her again.
We reported her disapperance to police, but heard nothing. Shortly afterwards, Dad and Patricia asked me to move out, so I went to live with my boyfriend, Neil, who is now my husband.
Over Christmas dinner in 1987 Dad announced he’d taken Patricia’s surname, Causley, and that Mum had visited a police station, reporting that she was fine but wanted nothing to do with her family. I felt hurt but accepted it. Things must have been awful for her.
Eight years later, a bizarre turn of events meant police began to look more closely into Mum’s disappearance. Dad faked his own death in a life insurance scam, for which he was jailed for fraud.
When police were unable to trace Mum to break the news of dad’s ‘death’ they began investigating. They discovered that she had been to see a solicitor about filing for divorce just before she disappeared.
Dad was convicted of her murder and sentenced to life — twice. The original 1996 conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal, and he was retried in 2004.
After the second conviction, at Exeter Crown Court, the judge said: ‘Not only did you kill your wife and somehow dispose of her body, you left your daughter in a permanent state of ignorance as to her mother’s fate.’
Forensic investigations have found no trace of my mother, and Dad continuing to refuse to reveal where she is adds insult to the terrible injury he has done us all. This week marks the 33rd anniversary of Mum’s murder but the grief is still raw and continuous.
Even my own son, Neil, 28, has been affected. At school, he was so bullied by other children taunting him with ‘your grandad’s a psychopath’ that we had to homeschool him.
I’ve written to my father many times begging for the truth but all my letters are returned.
By withholding the truth, killers like my father are continuing to commit other crimes — preventing a lawful burial, hiding a body and obstructing a coroner.
Surely these offences should be taken into account as well?
A ‘no body, no parole’ law is long overdue.
KILLER TOOK EVIL SECRET TO GRAVE
MiCHelle GunSHon, 38, a security officer and mother-ofthree from london, was working away at an event at Birmingham neC when she went missing in 2004. Her killer died in prison without revealing what he had done with her body. Michelle’s daughter, Tracy Richardson, 34, of Swinton, Greater Manchester, says: WHEN Mum’s boss called me on December 5, 2004, to say she hadn’t turned up for work, I knew immediately that something terrible had happened because she was always so reliable.
The next few days were a blur, but with each minute that passed the dread intensified — I knew she wouldn’t have just walked out on me and my two brothers.
Then, two days later, police found Mum’s car abandoned with her fluorescent work jacket in the boot. There were traces of her blood on it.
Police investigations revealed that Martin Stafford, then 36, a glass collector who lived at the pub where Mum was lodging, had disappeared at around the time she vanished, before fleeing to Ireland three days later.
They eventually traced him in Ireland where he was in custody awaiting trial for rape, a crime committed just three months after Mum’s murder.
He was convicted in February 2007 and sentenced to nine years. It was seven long years since my mother went missing before he was extradited to the UK in December 2011 to stand trial for her murder.
Stafford, then 44, appeared at Birmingham Crown Court in July 2012, charged with murder, rape, false imprisonment, obstructing a coroner and preventing the burial of a body.
The court was told that he had been spotted on CCTV walking beside Mum on the night she disappeared. His semen was also found on the passenger seat of her Ford Escort.
He was convicted of all charges and sentenced to life imprisonment, to serve a minimum of 33 years.
I’d hoped that he would do at least one decent thing and tell us what he’d done with Mum’s body.
However, in the cruellest twist of fate, Stafford died in prison in November 2015, taking his secret with him to the grave.
So, we are left with no grave or special place to remember Mum. The closest thing we have is the last place she was seen, near the bus station in Birmingham.
So, every anniversary, birthday, Mother’s Day and Christmas, for years, I took flowers there and
made a promise to Mum that I would find her. However, after 13 years, and with her killer now dead, the chances are slim.
I WILL NEVER GIVE UP THE HUNT FOR MY BELOVED SON’S BODY
Jonathan Dolton, 20, was killed in 2002 by a colleague, Stewart Martin, who has since died without revealing what he did with the body. Jonathan’s mum, Sheila Dolton, 66, a retired civil servant, says: AFTER leaving school, Jonathan moved to Milton Keynes to work for a computer firm before leaving to set up a business with Stewart Martin, who was then 38.
On February 25, 2002, we received a call from one of Jonathan’s colleagues to say he hadn’t turned up for work and wasn’t answering his phone.
My husband, Alan, 69, drove to his home and called the police. However, because Jonathan was an adult, they waited three days before investigating his disappearance. During that time Martin fled to France, then Australia, making it pretty obvious he had something to do with Jonathan’s disppearance.
After a month I began to accept that something terrible had happened to our son. He would never have put us through such misery.
Stewart was finally captured in Melbourne two years later, charged with Jonathan’s murder and extradited to the UK.
His trial at Reading Crown Court in December 2004 heard that he was very bullying towards Jonathan, and was even seen punching him on one occasion. A friend of Martin’s also testified that he had admitted killing Jonathan during a row about a girlfriend.
However, Martin’s barrister argued that he had acted in self-defence, when Jonathan ran at him with a knife. We were stunned when the judge instructed the jury to find Martin not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter.
How could anyone ‘accidentally’ kill someone, then cruelly hide their body and refuse to reveal where it is?
Desperate to give my son a proper burial, I stepped up my searches which continue to this day.
I pore over maps then, every few weeks, when I’ve saved enough money, I catch a bus to Milton Keynes, book into a cheap hotel, then spend days searching deep into thickets and bramble — anywhere a body could be hidden.
Four years later, in December 2008, at Jonathan’s inquest, we were allowed to address Martin. I implored him to tell us where our son was.
‘We want him back. We have an empty grave and a headstone,’ I told him. But he refused to even look at us, telling the coroner that he ‘didn’t wish to answer’.
In February 2009, just over four years after his conviction, Martin was released on licence and moved to Portsmouth. Had Helen’s Law been in place that would never have been allowed to happen.
The following summer, in June 2010, the police called with the news that Martin had died of a heart attack, aged 47.
His family were able to give him a funeral. We still have no idea where our son is.
to Sign Marie’s petition for helen’s law, visit change.org /helenslaw. to support the campaign, visit the helen’s law page on Facebook.
Danielle: Murdered by her uncle
Jonathan: Killed by a colleague
Carole: Murdered by her husband
Helen: Her campaigning mum Marie is behind Helen’s Law
Michelle: Mum-of-three killed by pub worker
Jenny: Had relationship with her killer