Wales On Sunday - - NEWS -

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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