A MURDERED WIFE, AND ‘15 YEARS OF
IN THE spring of 1996 childhood sweethearts Karen and Phillip Skipper were planning the rest of their lives together. Having met as teenagers and married when Karen was just 17, their relationship had later broken down.
Karen had an affair with another man while Phillip – known as Ginger – had become a father after starting a new relationship while they were separated. But on March 9, 1996, the couple had emotionally reunited and tearfully told their housemate they were getting back together.
Just hours later Karen was dead – something her husband only discovered as he watched the grim news filter through on television.
Within weeks Ginger had been charged with murdering the woman he loved by tying her wrists with dog leads and drowning her in a river close to their Cardiff home.
This is the story of how an innocent husband was vilified for the sickening murder of a much-loved young woman – and how her brave family finally got justice more than a decade later. THE HORRIFIC CRIME Karen, 34 at the time of her death, was described by her loving family as “a lovely, caring person”.
She worked for a time as a chambermaid at the Bronte Hotel in Newport Road, Cardiff, and met her husband when she was aged 15 and he was aged 19, bonding over their shared love of motorbikes.
Karen was last seen by her mother Josie Scholz after she visited her home in Cardiff the day before her death.
Mrs Scholz said later: “I watched her walk down the street and when she got to the corner she waved and I waved back. That was the last time I saw her.”
In the early hours of the following day, March 10, 1996, Karen took her beloved dogs – collie Ellie and black labrador Samson – for a walk in Birdies Field, between Ely and Fairwater and next to the River Ely.
At around 7.35am, dog walker Reginald Bean saw a black labrador and a light-coloured collie looking “bedraggled” by the riverbank.
The dogs kept running up the riverbank and over to some abandoned clothes. Mr Bean fed the animals before walking to Fairwater Police Station and alerting the duty officer.
He said: “I could not help feeling there was someone in the river.”
When police searched the surrounding area and the River Ely they make the gruesome discovery of Karen’s semi-naked body floating face-down in five feet of water close to a small jetty.
Police divers retrieved her body from the river. A post-mortem examination came to the conclusion she was still conscious when her body was bundled into the river and she would have been “terrified” in her final moments.
There was nothing to suggest she was raped or sexually assaulted but there were bruises to her face, thighs, and shins, while her nipples “appeared to have been pinched”.
Dr Susan Claydon, who carried out the post-mortem examination, said: “There were no injuries to the head and neck or elsewhere to suggest she had been rendered unconscious prior to being placed in the river.”
Dr Claydon said the brown leather dog leads used to tie Ms Skipper’s hands behind her back were so tightly fastened she had been unable to undo them: “I personally couldn’t remove them and had to ask a police officer to do it.”
Three weeks after Karen’s death the police took an appeal to BBC’s Crimewatch, issuing descriptions of 10 witnesses including men seen walking in the area as Karen took her dogs for a walk.
More than 400 statements were taken and 3,000 people interviewed.
One man who voluntarily came forward was former property maintenance worker Richard David Mead, who told police he had been in the Birdies Lane area on the night of Karen’s death.
Mead was never arrested, treated as a suspect, or questioned under caution over Karen’s death but came forward to let police know he had been in the area.
He said he was taking a late-night shortcut home from visiting a friend when Karen’s dogs barked at him as he cut through the field at about 1.45am. He said he took the unusual route because he wanted to avoid police as there were three outstanding warrants for his arrest on motoring offences.
During one of the subsequent trials into Karen’s murder, where he gave evidence as a witness, Mead said: “I’d never met [Karen Skipper] before. I was nowhere near the body. It was just my luck that I walked past there that particular night.”
Mead was convicted of rape four years after Karen’s killing when a jury found him guilty of three specimen charges of raping a girl aged between seven and 10, which he had denied. GINGER ACCUSED OF MURDER Ginger and Karen had separated after Karen had an affair with another member of their pool team in 1994. But hours before her death they were reconciled and were planning a new life together.
The couple’s former landlord David Michael Davies – who lived with the pair in Mill Road, Ely – said the couple had agreed to make a fresh start following a discussion at 6pm on the day she died.
And he said both had been emotional when they returned from a night out drinking at about 11.30pm the same evening.
Ginger had been “drunk and slobbery” when he got in, while a tearful Karen had told him the couple were going to “try again”.
But a different account was given by Rosalind Stringer who had witnessed the couple drinking in the Locomotive pub in Broadway, Cardiff, on the same day.
She said Mr Skipper was “fuming, furious, almost evil” as he talked about his wife continuing to have a sexual relationship with James Turner, known as Jimmy, for whom she had initially left her husband before they decided to get back together.
After Karen’s body was discovered by police Ginger was arrested and interviewed for 10 hours a day for three days.
He was released but arrested again five weeks later and formally charged with her murder. He spent the following 11 months on remand in Cardiff Prison.
During this period it was alleged Ginger had confided to his cellmate Paul James he was considering pleading guilty to manslaughter.
He said Ginger, who worked as a chromer at Freeline, in Newport Road, said Karen “got what she deserved”, adding: “For f***’s sake don’t tell anyone about what I’ve been saying.”
When he came to stand trial in 1997 Ginger pleaded not guilty and was acquitted by a jury.
One of the key pieces of evidence which proved his innocence were specks of blood found on his late wife’s jeans and clothing at the time of her death which neither belonged to her or her ex-husband.
In an interview with the South Wales Echo shortly after his acquittal, he described the moment he found out about Karen’s death after watching the news on television.
“I noticed the dogs and that’s all I can remember – I was so shocked as I had been with Karen the night before,” he said. “I told my friend to ring the police. “The police took me to the station and made me strip off to see if I had any marks on my body.
“In the weeks since Karen had died I had a feeling that the police might try and do me for it as nothing seemed to be happening.
“I could not believe they were arresting me. Everybody knew I could not hurt her – I loved her too much.”
Speaking about his acquittal, Ginger said: “All my family have been behind me and stuck by me through this.
“I won’t be happy until they find whoever did it because otherwise whoever killed Karen may do it again.”
Ginger died in 2004 of stomach cancer at the age of 48 without knowing who killed Karen. THE CASE REOPENS At around this time South Wales Police began a cold case review into Karen’s murder, with their key line of inquiry focused upon a man seen by three witnesses wearing a distinctive three-quarter length wax coat and carrying a rucksack near the scene.
In 2007 police were able to trace a match to DNA from the specks of blood on knickers and jeans worn by Karen on the night she died.
That DNA belonged to John Randall Pope, then 58, an illiterate labourer and father-of-four from Cherwell Close in Fairwater, Cardiff.
He had given his DNA to police in 2006 following arrest for another offence.
The chances of Pope not being the source of the blood on the jeans were one in a billion while the chances of him not being the source of blood on Karen’s underwear were one in 5.1m.
Pope claimed he met Ms Skipper three weeks before she was murdered when he passed a corner shop near Birdies Lane and saw two dogs – one with a thorn stuck in its paw.
He said he had tried to help the dog but was bitten. He then claimed
Karen and Phillip Skipper pictured on their wedding day
Police search for clues after
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