HOPE IN SCHOOL­GIRL MUR­DER CASE – 35 YEARS ON

The un­solved mur­der of Lisa Hes­sion in Leigh in 1984 is still re­mem­bered by a lot of lo­cal peo­ple who still care. 35 years to the day since her death, po­lice are ap­peal­ing for help to find her killer

Manchester Evening News - - FRONT PAGE - By NEAL KEELING

IT’S a mur­der that has re­mained un­solved for decades.

But with the 35th an­niver­sary of the killing of Lisa Hes­sion, 14, fall­ing to­day, the M.E.N. can re­veal what it will take to catch him.

A name. Quite sim­ply - po­lice al­ready have DNA.

And they be­lieve the killer had links to Leigh, where Lisa lived and died. All they need is a name that matches the sam­ple.

The peo­ple of Leigh have shown a de­ter­mi­na­tion to lift the shadow of the un­solved case, ring­ing po­lice, af­ter each new ap­peal, with tip-offs.

But the right per­son hasn’t yet been iden­ti­fied.

And, in­cred­i­bly, who­ever killed Lisa ap­pears not to have of­fended in the decades since.

DNA tech­nol­ogy has ad­vanced to the point where they could iden­tify the cul­prit even if a blood relative of theirs was ar­rested.

But that hasn’t hap­pened ei­ther.

And un­til it does po­lice are de­pen­dent on the con­tin­ued ef­forts of the peo­ple of Leigh in com­ing for­ward with in­for­ma­tion.

While they wait, Martin Bot­tom­ley, Head of the Cold Case Unit, has given the M.E.N. a new in­sight into what his team know.

The M.E.N. also looks at how other cases, which might have seemed like lost hopes, have been cracked by his team us­ing DNA.

We meet the vol­un­teers in Lisa’s home­town who have made it their mis­sion to get jus­tice for the mur­dered school­girl.

And we re­trace Lisa’s last steps - be­cause it may just trig­ger a mem­ory that proves essen­tial.

The school­girl was walk­ing back from a party in Leigh when she was at­tacked.

Her mum, Chris­tine, had al­lowed her to go as long as she was back home by 10.30pm.

She kissed her boyfriend, then 16, good­bye at the gate at 10.15pm. She walked two miles through the town cen­tre and onto St He­lens Road, be­fore she was seen turn­ing into Buck Street.

At that point she was a minute walk, just a hun­dred yards, from the front door of her home on Bon­ny­well Road.

A man walk­ing his dog with his 13-year-old son found Lisa’s body in a gin­nel be­hind Rugby Road, at five min­utes be­fore mid­night on Satur­day De­cem­ber 8, 1984.

In a sex­u­ally mo­ti­vated at­tack, the killer gripped her striped T-shirt around her neck with one hand and clamped his other over her mouth.

An asth­matic, Lisa died from as­phyxia.

The school disco which Lisa had pre­pared for, with a glam­orous new look of gold and blonde high­lights in her hair, was can­celled out of re­spect for her family.

Po­lice have ar­rested only one per­son on sus­pi­cion of the killing. He died in 2005, hav­ing been ruled out.

In Jan­uary 2017 Lisa’s mother Chris­tine died, aged 69, af­ter a short bat­tle with can­cer, with­out see­ing jus­tice for her daugh­ter.

And so a £50,000 re­ward for in­for­ma­tion re­mains un­claimed.

The key to the case

GMP’s Cold Case Unit has the key to iden­ti­fy­ing the killer in their pos­ses­sion.

A foren­sic sam­ple was re­cov­ered from Lisa’s body - and that would go on to yield a par­tial DNA sam­ple, years later, when the tech­nol­ogy had devel­oped.

Martin Bot­tom­ley, Head of the Cold Case Unit, this week told the M.E.N: “It would be good enough for di­rect com­par­i­son, once we have a name.

“I think the me­chan­ics of the in­ci­dent tend to sug­gest the man who did this would have good lo­cal knowl­edge.

“We have made many ap­peals over the years re­gard­ing Lisa’s mur­der and we al­ways get a good re­sponse.

“We have fol­lowed up nu­mer­ous lines of in­quiry af­ter the pub­lic have sug­gested names.

“The case is still re­mem­bered by a lot of lo­cal peo­ple who still care.

“This case will never be closed and we are de­ter­mined to get jus­tice for Lisa’s family even though her mother has now died.”

In the four months be­fore Lisa’s death a man at­tacked three other girls in the same area of Leigh. In each case sex was the mo­tive.

And, five months af­ter Lisa’s mur­der, a woman was at­tacked close to the gin­nel where Lisa’s body was found.

An E-fit of a ‘baby-faced’ man of 20, be­lieved to be re­spon­si­ble for the three at­tacks be­fore Lisa was killed, was is­sued by po­lice in Jan­uary 1985.

He has never been iden­ti­fied. The po­ten­tial value of the foren­sic sam­ple re­cov­ered from Lisa’s body be­came ap­par­ent two years af­ter she was killed - af­ter a crime, with chill­ing echoes of her mur­der, over 100 miles away.

In the sum­mer of 1986 a 15-yearold girl, Dawn Ash­worth, left a friend’s house in the Le­ices­ter­shire vil­lage of Nar­bor­ough.

She lived in the nearby vil­lage of En­derby, a few min­utes walk away. Dawn took a short cut along a foot­path - and then van­ished.

Two days later her body was found in a nearby field cov­ered in branches. She had been raped and stran­gled.

The case paral­ysed the lo­cal com­mu­nity with fear.

Po­lice sus­pected a lo­cal lad with learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, and af­ter the 17-year-old was ar­rested he con­fessed.

Two and a half years ear­lier an­other 15-year-old, Lynda Mann, had been mur­dered a few hun­dred yards from the scene of Dawn’s mur­der.

Po­lice sus­pected the teenager of both - un­til DNA fin­ger­print­ing, then a sci­ence in its in­fancy, pointed in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion.

Af­ter see­ing an ar­ti­cle in the Le­ices­ter Mer­cury a de­tec­tive con­tacted ge­neti­cist Alec Jef­freys at Le­ices­ter Univer­sity, think­ing it

This case will never be closed and we are de­ter­mined to get jus­tice for Lisa’s family even though her mother has now died Martin Bot­tom­ley

could help him prove the boy had done both mur­ders.

Jef­freys was able to prove the same per­son was re­spon­si­ble... but it wasn’t the teenager. The youth was set free and po­lice then de­cided to try and use the new tech­nol­ogy to their ad­van­tage.

They de­cided to screen ev­ery man who lived in the area.

Af­ter eight months 5,500 men had given blood sam­ples - but there was no match.

Then a con­ver­sa­tion in a lo­cal pub was over­heard.

A man was hav­ing a pint with friends in Le­ices­ter and con­fessed that he had im­per­son­ated Colin Pitch­fork in or­der to take the blood test on his be­half.

Pitch­fork, a mar­ried man with two chil­dren, ad­mit­ted killing and rap­ing both girls and was jailed for life in 1988.

It was the first time DNA fin­ger­print­ing was used in a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion - and Pitch­fork be­came the first per­son in the world to be con­victed of mur­der on the ba­sis of DNA.

How jus­tice has caught up with the guilty af­ter decades

The cir­cum­stances of Lisa’s mur­der point to­wards the killer hav­ing lo­cal knowl­edge.

When he ghosted be­hind her, he knew that at the end of Buck Street was the al­ley­way where he would bun­dle her - out of sight and earshot of neigh­bours.

A keen cross coun­try run­ner, who had run for Leigh Har­ri­ers, Lisa was wear­ing a three-quar­ter length navy coat, white skirt, T-shirt, red jumper and white can­vas boots.

De­tec­tive Rita Kraft would later wear sim­i­lar cloth­ing and fol­low the route of Lisa’s last walk in a bid to find new wit­nesses.

In 2011, us­ing the par­tial DNA sam­ple, GMP car­ried out a mass swab­bing of men in Leigh and Wi­gan - just as had been done in the Pitch­fork case.

But as it didn’t iden­tify Lisa’s killer, a rea­son­able as­sump­tion is that he is ei­ther dead, or now lives else­where and has never been in trou­ble since.

But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a clue to his iden­tity out there that could be matched with the DNA sam­ple.

In­deed, if he is alive - he may still be caught due to the DNA of his rel­a­tives and ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy.

In 2013 a dad who had raped a woman 24 years ear­lier was jailed, fol­low­ing a GMP Cold Case in­ves­ti­ga­tion, af­ter he was found to be re­lated to some­one on the sys­tem.

Barry How­ell was sep­a­rated from his first wife and ‘an­gry at women’ when he raped the 25-year-old woman and threat­ened to stab and kill her at Red Bank, near Vic­to­ria Sta­tion, back in Novem­ber 1989.

The vic­tim was un­able to iden­tify him be­cause he pounced from be­hind, but po­lice were able to re­cover a foren­sic sam­ple from her.

How­ell evaded jus­tice for over two decades be­cause he com­mit­ted no other of­fences be­fore or af­ter, and tech­nol­ogy hadn’t ad­vanced far enough to iden­tify the sam­ple.

But his se­cret fi­nally caught up with him when Cold Case de­tec­tives ran the sam­ple through the na­tional DNA data­base and iden­ti­fied him by es­tab­lish­ing that he was re­lated to some­one whose DNA was on the sys­tem.

How­ell was jailed for nine years. Then, in 2016, an­other rapist, who had got away with his crime for more than 30 years, was brought to jus­tice af­ter a DNA break­through.

In 1984, Henry Dren­nan broke into the Manch­ester home of a young mum whose hus­band had just left for work.

He clamped his hand over her mouth and raped her, hold­ing a pair of scis­sors to her face, as her young child slept in the next room.

At the time Dren­nan was a pro­lific prowler and sex crim­i­nal liv­ing in Old­ham.

But he was not linked to the at­tack in north Manch­ester un­til po­lice launched a cold case re­view in 2015 and used the lat­est DNA tech­nol­ogy to de­code an old sam­ple.

He had been liv­ing over 200 miles away, in North La­nark­shire, just out­side Glas­gow, at the time. He was jailed for ten years.

The folk who won’t let Lisa be for­got­ten

An­drea Ashcroft Al­dred, who knew Lisa, and Ryan Daly have set up the so­cial me­dia group Let’s get jus­tice for Lisa Jane Hes­sion and her mum Chris­tine.

An­drea said: “Lisa is al­ways on my mind at this time of year, as I start to think about Christ­mas, my family, my daugh­ters and grand­chil­dren.

“It makes me think of Chris­tine and her heartache, her never be­com­ing a nana or see­ing Lisa marry or be­com­ing a mother and then I think of Lisa and how much life she had snatched away.

“It re­ally isn’t fair that (the killer) has walked and lived life for 35 years, prob­a­bly got chil­dren, may have been mar­ried pos­si­bly his mother hav­ing what Chris­tine didn’t.”

Ryan added “With it be­ing 35 years since this hor­rific case hap­pened, I re­ally hope this per­son who is re­spon­si­ble is caught.

“Whether he is alive or dead, it would be some so­lace for Lisa’s family and friends if this case could fi­nally be solved.

“I hope it is. When I started the cam­paign in Oc­to­ber 2016, it was to raise aware­ness, as I thought it was tragic that Lisa’s Mum passed away, with­out ever get­ting clo­sure.

“So An­drea and I de­cided to raise aware­ness about the case, and es­pe­cially be­cause it hap­pened in our home­town, and Lisa was also An­drea’s friend.

“An­other rea­son we con­tin­ued the cam­paign on so­cial me­dia, was when The BBC axed Crime­watch, in Oc­to­ber 2017.

“I re­ally hope even af­ter these years, there is a break­through.

“We’re shocked that no one has been named by now es­pe­cially af­ter the £50,000 re­ward was of­fered in De­cem­ber 2017.

“How­ever, in my opin­ion if peo­ple think they know some­thing, no mat­ter how small, they should not have to be of­fered money to speak up.”

In 2014, three years be­fore she died, Lisa’s mum, Chris­tine, said: “It’s al­ways there at the back of your mind, know­ing that no­body has paid for what they have done to your child.

“They may be mar­ried or have chil­dren of their own, liv­ing a good life. I don’t know, but they have not paid for what they have done and if no one comes for­ward they never will.”

Cold case of­fi­cers hope, that even if no one comes for­ward, one day, thanks to sci­ence, they will knock on the killer’s door.

● Any­one with in­for­ma­tion can call GMP’s Cold Case Unit on 0161 856 5978 or Crimestop­pers on 0800 555 111.

Lisa Hes­sion

Colin Pitch­fork

Head of GMP’s Cold Case Re­view Unit, Martin Bot­tom­ley

Lisa’s mother Chris­tine died in 2017 with­out see­ing jus­tice for her daugh­ter

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