Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The UK Hammer Murders

Marsha

Marsha McDonnell
Marsha McDonnell
Marsha Louise McDonnell, 19, was a beautiful and dynamic young woman with a passion for art and music. She was also a successful student who had accomplished the advanced level (A-level) educational requirements necessary for her to gain entry into a university. Marsha had the promise of a good life ahead of her. Then, one cold winters evening, that promise was savagely taken from her.On February 3, 2003, Marsha and two of her friends went to see the movie Catch Me If You Can and afterwards headed towards the bus depot to catch different buses home. Marsha caught the number 111 bus from Kingston and traveled the 10-mile route towards Hampton in southwest London. Shortly before midnight, she got off the bus at Percy Road and walked toward her house located several streets away on Priory Road. However, just yards from her doorstep, she was brutally assaulted.
Shortly after 12 a.m., a neighbor was awoken by loud noises and ventured outside to see where they came from, according to BBC News. The woman found Marsha sprawled on the pavement in a pool of blood, slipping into unconsciousness from severe head injuries. She was immediately taken to the hospital for treatment.
Marshas two heartbroken sisters and parents surrounded her as she lay in her hospital bed fighting for her life. However, there was little chance of her ever recovering from her life-threatening injuries. Her family made the sad decision to turn off the life support machine. On February 5, Marsha passed away.
According to the report, Marshas grief-stricken parents had to explain to their 5-year-old son Jack what had happened to his big sister. The nightmare was incomprehensible not only to the little boy, but also to everyone who knew Marsha. What kind of person would do such a horrible thing?
Nathalie McDonnell
Nathalie McDonnell
An autopsy later determined that Marsha died from head wounds possibly inflicted by a hammer or a similar type of blunt instrument. That there was no evidence of sexual molestation was also established. Approximately a week later, Marshas sister Nathalie, 21, made a public appeal for anyone with information concerning her sisters murder to come forward. Her pleas were met with a surprising response.

Attacks

One month earlier, on January 8, a 17-year-old woman from the Strawberry Hill area of southwest London was on her way back from the local shops, listening to a Walkman when she appeared to have fallen on the ice, according to the BBC. The womans father found her barely conscious and she was promptly treated at a nearby hospital. It later emerged that the woman hadnt fallen, but had � actually been attacked with a blunt hammer-like instrument.
The assaulted woman had been repeatedly bludgeoned about the head and face, resulting in deep cuts to her scalp, a fractured cheek, a ruptured eye socket and a concussion. The head trauma was so severe that the woman was unable to remember the event. Authorities believed that the person who attacked her was likely the same person who killed Marsha.
Several weeks after Marshas murder and less than a mile from where her body was found, there was yet another attack. This time the victim was an 18-year-old man, who claimed that an unidentified hooded man tried to strike him with a heavy tool resembling a hammer or wrench. The 18-year-old escaped unharmed, but was unable to provide police with a detailed description of the assailant. Investigators grew increasingly concerned because there were few leads to work with, despite the increasing frequency of the attacks.
However, approximately one week later, a witness came forth with critical evidence, which police hoped would help them identify the attacker. The witness helped to construct an e-fit sketch of a man that was seen leaning over a young womans battered body late one evening in Walpole Gardens, Strawberry Hill. The victim the witness encountered turned out to be the 17-year-old woman who barely escaped death after being viciously bludgeoned on January 8.

Links

Suspect in the McDonnell case
Suspect in the McDonnell case
The composite sketch was the first big lead in the investigation. It depicted a man in his mid-to-late 40s with short dark hair, a prominent nose and dark eyes framed with bushy eyebrows. The suspect was described as being approximately 59 with a heavy build, and was believed to have been wearing a thigh-length Barbour-style jacket, Nick Hopkins reported in a March article in The Guardian. The composite was publicly released in the hopes that someone would come forward with new information about his identity and whereabouts. In response, the police received hundreds of tips, some of which were useful in the ongoing investigation. None, however, led directly to the assailant.In the meantime, the investigation took an unlikely turn when the only known male victim of the hammer attacker was arrested for wasting police time. The police treated the 18-year-old mans story with skepticism after repeated questioning, likely because of inconsistencies concerning the alleged assault. Consequently, the young mans case was no longer linked with the other two attacks, which bore marked similarities to one another.
The 18-year-old man was not the only one to be arrested in connection with the hammer attacks. In fact, several men and a 16-year-old boy were also detained and questioned by police. All of the suspects, with the exception of the 16-year-old, were released on bail. There was simply not enough concrete evidence linking any of them to Marshas murder or the attack on the 17-year-old girl in Strawberry Hill.
Although the teenager was never charged with the attacks, police decided to keep him in custody under the Mental Health Act. Despite an exhaustive investigation and search for the serial offender, police were unable to identify any suspect in relation to the cases. They were concerned that if they didnt find the suspect soon, hed strike again. It didnt take long for their fears to become a reality.

More Attacks

On November 5, 2003, accounts clerk Dawn Brunton, 36, left a bus station and was walking down a footpath to the Hatton Cross tube station in Feltham, London, when an unknown assailant attacked her from behind with what authorities believe was a sledgehammer. Dawn suffered severe injuries, including a fractured skull, cheekbone and eye socket, several stab wounds to the back of her head, [and] severe bruising to her stomach area, possibly from kicking, the Hounslow Guardian�reported in November 2003. Investigators believed that whoever attacked her was likely the same person who murdered Marsha and attacked the 17-year old girl the previous January.��
Then on April 18, 2004, yet another young woman was assaulted. While walking on Trafalgar Road near Twickenham Green in west London after an evening out with friends, Edel Harbison, 34, was bludgeoned with a hammer-like instrument from behind. Even though she suffered severe injures, she was lucky enough to survive the horrific experience.
Like the previous victims, Edel was not sexually assaulted or robbed and had little or no memory of the attack or the attacker. Detectives working on the case believe that the offender may have a particular dislike of women with light-colored hair because all of the victims had either blond or light-brown hair, The Mirror reported in August 2004. His hate would result in yet another murder on August 20, 2004.
Amelie Delagrange
Amelie Delagrange
After an evening out with a friend at the Cristalz Winebar, French national Amelie Delagrange, 22, said her goodbyes and left for home. Shortly before 10 p.m., she got on the bus alone and traveled towards Hampton, but accidentally missed her stop.� Justin Davenport of The Evening Standard suggested in an article that she continued until the bus terminated at Fulwell (Bus) Garage before realizing that she had gone too far. Slightly anxious, she asked the bus driver for directions and then began the long walk back home. On her way, she passed through Twickenham Green, where she was attacked and killed.
Amelie Delagrange, getting on the bus
Amelie Delagrange, getting on the bus
Half an hour later, a passerby found Amelies battered body by the cricket pitch and flagged down police. She was immediately taken to a nearby hospital, but her injuries were beyond treatment. Amelie died shortly after midnight from head wounds believed to have been caused by a hammer-like tool or crowbar.
Amelies family was devastated by the news. Amelie was excited about living and working in England, and she had been living there for only a few months before her life ended so abruptly. As arrangements were being made for her funeral, investigators clamped down and began a more intensive search for the Hammer Murderer who was terrorizing the southwest of London.
Amelie's parents at her funeral
Amelie's parents at her funeral

The Investigation

Investigators working on Amelies case quickly realized that her murder was likely committed by the same person who had killed Marsha and committed the other three attacks. Amelies physical description closely resembled the other victims, and all of the attacks occurred at night within a five-mile radius of one another. Moreover, the weapon used in the attack left marks that were similar to the ones left on the other victims, indicating that the murderer probably used the same or similar instrument in all the attacks.
Although Amelies murder bore marked similarities to the other attacks, there was an important difference: This time, the killer stole some of his victims personal belongings. Missing from the crime scene were Amelies Sony Ericsson T300 mobile phone, her purse, house keys and CD Sony Walkman. Burglary is not expected to have been a motive for the killing; the killer had probably taken the items as trophies.
Amelie's purse, police sketch
Amelie's purse, police sketch
Just days after the murder, there was a significant breakthrough in the case when some of Amelies missing belongings were recovered, including her mustard-colored purse, Walkman and house keys. The items were found by police divers in the River Thames close to a bridge in Walton Surrey, five miles from where she was attacked, according to the BBC. The police tracked her mobile phone signal to the location, which enabled them to find the objects. However, although they were able to pick up the phone signal, they could not find the mobile itself.
In the meantime, detectives released CCTV photos of Amelie in the hopes that they might trigger someones memory. The images depicted Amelie on the bus approximately 20 minutes before she was brutally murdered. Investigators believe that the killer might have spotted Amelie after she got off the bus and waited for her between two cricket sight-screens on Twickenham Green. Jonathan Brown reported in The Independent that the screens were dismantled and removed by police for forensic examination.
Not long after the release of the CCTV footage, reports were released suggesting that minutes before Amelie was murdered, a young blond schoolgirl was stalked as she crossed Twickenham Green after getting off a bus. Justin Davenport of The Evening Standard stated in his article that a short man in his thirties with a side parting followed Emily Dillon, 16, as she tried to catch up with her sister and two friends walking further ahead of her. In the report, Emily was quoted as saying, Its very scary to think what might have happened. It is likely that she, instead of Amelie, could have been the killers next victim. The fact that she was not completely alone might have deterred the murderer and saved her life.

Seeking Out Clues

A hammer-wielding maniac attacked yet another blond woman, just days after Amelie was viciously murdered. Sarah Bell reported in The Richmond and Twickenham Times that the 28-year-old victim was hit from behind on the head with a blunt instrument on Hounslow Road in Feltham sometime between 10:15 pm and 10:45 pm on August 23, 2004. Bell further claimed that the woman had no memory of the event, but after regaining consciousness she went home. Two days later, she sought treatment at the hospital for her wounds.
Map with numbered murder locations
Map with numbered murder locations
Days later, not far from the most recent attack, a suspicious hammer was found at a recreation ground on Bear Road in Hounslow, Andrew Raine reported in The Richmond and Twickenham Times. Forensic experts examined the tool for fingerprints and any other evidence that might link it to the latest victim, Amelies death or any of the other attacks. Experts didnt know for sure whether � the actual instrument used in the attacks was indeed a hammer, but if it was, it would likely be a flat hammer weighing up to four pounds. The weapon could also have been a bat, crowbar, pipe or some other kind of blunt tool.
Police search the area
Police search the area
In late August 2004, police were seeking out other leads in connection with Amelies murder, which included a three-bedroom bungalow called St. Moritz located in Walton-on-Thames. The search was prompted after someone called into the police tip-line with new information. Ben Taylor and Duncan Gardham reported in The Daily Mail that 60 officers spent three days searching the bungalow, believing that the suspect might have been hiding out in the unused property by sleeping rough.

Coming up Empty

Forensic experts helped search the property, which had been recently broken into. They looked for fingerprints, dredged the drains and used dogs to sniff out any evidence possibly related to the murder, the report said. It remains unclear whether anything important was found.
In another development, police arrested a 22-year old man in east London s famous Whitechapel district in connection with Amelies murder. A September 2004 article in The Independent claimed that the man was released on bail pending further inquiries, before being detained under the Mental Health Act. It is not known whether the man is directly linked to the murder.� He is, however, the last to be suspected in her death.
Police squad works to catch the killer
Police squad works to catch the killer
In the months following Amelies murder, four more men were arrested. Three were released on bail and another was detained under the Mental Health Act. None of the suspects have been charged in any of the attacks. After the arrest of the fifth suspect, the police asked the public for assistance in tracing a white Ford Courier with the registration number P610 XCN, which was seen circling Twickenham Green area on the night Amelie was killed, The Richmond and Twickenham Times reported in a November 23 article.The van was believed to be a critical link in the case that could lead police to the identity of the murderer. Serial killers like the Hammer Murderer don't stop until they are apprehended, so the list of victims was expected to grow.
White Ford Courier van
White Ford Courier van

A Suspect


Amelie Delagrange
Amelie Delagrange
In March 2006, after an intensive police investigation, a man was charged with the murder of French student Amelie Delagrange. Police identified the man as Levi Bellfield, 37, a father of three who worked as a bouncer and wheel-clamper in West London, the BBC News reported. Bellfield also faced a series of other charges ranging from kidnap to attempted murder.

Levi Bellfield
Levi Bellfield
On October 15, 2001, Anna-Maria Rennie, 17, was standing at a bus stop in Twickenham when a dark car resembling a Ford Mondeo with two men in it raced up beside her. Justin Davenport of the London Evening Standard reported that one of the men "grabbed her and tried to drag her into the car but she managed to escape." Bellfield was implicated in the attempted kidnap of Rennie, although the second man allegedly involved has not been charged. It is unclear if investigators have identified the man or if he has been retained in police custody.Bellfield was also indicted for the attempted murder and grievous bodily harm of hairdresser Irma Dragoshi, 33. Dragoshi was viciously attacked at Longford Village, west London on December 16, 2003 after being struck on the head with a blunt instrument. She eventually recovered from her life-threatening physical injuries, although the psychological scars remain.
 

More Charges Against Levi Bellfield


Kate Sheedy
Kate Sheedy
On the evening of May 28, 2004, Gumley House Convent School student Kate Sheedy, 18, stepped off a bus in Isleworth and began walking towards her home when her attention was drawn to a suspicious white car, resembling a Toyota Previa, with its lights turned off and revving engine. The BBC reported that Sheedy tried to avoid the vehicle with blackened windows by crossing the street because she felt uncomfortable. It was then that driver of the car turned on the lights and began to drive down Worton Road before making a U-turn and driving towards her, Sheedy stated in the article. Suddenly, the car ran over her, crushing her torso before reversing and running over her a second time and speeding off.

White Toyota Previa, impounded
White Toyota Previa, impounded
Even though Sheedy suffered severe injuries including a ruptured liver, collapsed lung, broken ribs and collar bone, she managed to contact her mother on her cell phone, who then contacted emergency services. Sheedy amazingly survived the harrowing experience and was able to provide investigators with important information about the car. The police probing the incident believed that Sheedy's attempted murder was related to the murder of Amelie Delagrange that occurred three months later "due to the similarities between the victims and location," the BBC reported. Both women had similar hair color and were attacked in the same general area in Twickenham.
Investigators managed to obtain CCTV footage of the white vehicle believed to have been involved in the hit-and-run. The video depicted two people in the car at the time of the incident. One of them is believed to be Bellfield who has since been charged with the attempted murder of Sheedy. It would not be his last charge.

Marsha McDonnell
Marsha McDonnell
In May, 2006, Bellfield was also indicted for the murder of Marsha McDonnell who was killed by a blow to the head by a blunt instrument in Hampton shortly after stepping off a bus on February 4, 2003. However, it is unclear precisely how he is linked to the case. Evidence will undoubtedly be revealed during his trial connecting him to McDonnell's murder.
***
Bellfield, was incarcerated at Woodhall Prison prior to standing trial for the series of charges against him. On February 25, 2008, he was found guilty of the murders of Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange and the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy. The jury was unable to reach verdicts on the attempted murder of Irma Dragoshi and the kidnapping and false imprisonment of Anna-Maria Rennie. Bellfield is sentenced to life in prison with the recommendation that he never be released.
The conviction and consequent lifting of reporting restrictions on the case now allow police to reveal that Bellfield has been linked to at least 20 similar attacks upon young women in south-west London, including the murder of Surrey schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

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