Was Levi Bellfield responsible for the Chillenden murders

There has long been speculation that serial killer, Levi Bellfield was involved in the slaying
Image by Jill Dimond | Unsplash Images

A team of 30 officers from the Kent police tactical unit attempted to retrace the steps of Lin, Megan and Josie. Routinely, Lin and the girls take the scenic route home through a small wooded area and across cornfields. At around 12:15AM the following morning, police officers came across Megan’s swimming costume in Cherry Garden Lane. They then focused their search on that specific area and around 15 minutes later, a grisly discovery was made along a lonely country lane: the lifeless bodies of Lin, Megan, Josie and Lucy.

Lin had suffered at least 15 severe blows from a blunt object in a sustained and vicious attack to her head, causing at least nine fractures. She had been restrained with a piece of fabric tied from wrist to wrist. Megan had multiple fractures to her skull which had been split in two. She had been restrained with a piece of fabric tied around her neck. Josie had been tied to a tree, blindfolded and bludgeoned across the head with a blunt object. While at first, it appeared as though all three were dead, it soon became apparent that Josie still had a slight pulse. She was rushed to the Kent and Canterbury Hospital in Canterbury before being transferred to intensive care at King’s College Hospital in London.

Josie underwent surgery to repair damaged brain tissue and splintered bones. Astonishingly, Josie had not sustained any severe brain damage from the brutal attack and she was able to give a description of what had happened that afternoon. Just two months after the attack, she began a series of videotapes interviews with police in which she recalled the attack which left her mother and sister dead and herself barely clinging to life. She recollected that as the family were walking along Cherry Garden Lane, a car passed them. They carried on their route and moments later, they noticed that this same car had parked across the track in front of them. A man exited the vehicle, opened a rear door and lifted out a hammer. Josie said that the man demanded money from her mother but she informed him that she had none but would be willing to go back home and get some for him.

When the man rejected Lin’s offer, she urged Josie to run. Josie attempted to flee but the man grabbed her, hit her over the head with the hammer and then brought her back, blindfolded her and tied her to a tree. Josie recollected how she pleaded with the man but her pleas fell onto deaf ears. The man then bound Lin and Megan with strips of fabric torn from the swimming towels that the girls had been carrying. Josie heard her mother say ‘ow’ as she was struck with the hammer. Moments later, Josie too was struck with the hammer. She couldn’t recollect what happened next or what happened to her sister or their dog. She described the attacker as being between 20 and 30-years-old, scruffily dressed with short brown hair.

In July of the following year, it was announced that 37-year-old Michael Stone was arrested and charged with the murders of Lin and Megan and the attempted murder of Josie. His arrest had come after an appeal for information by Crimewatch on the first anniversary of the murders.Stone pleaded not guilty to the murders of Lin and Megan and the attempted murder of Josie. He was ordered to stand trial in October of 1998.

Ann Rafferty, QC, prosecuting, told the court room that Stone had confessed to the murders on two separate occasions while in prison on remand. She stated that he had told inmate Damien Daly that he had tied the Russells up with one of the towels that the girls had been carrying home. According to the prosecution, Stone had committed the attack after demanding money from Lin, much like what Josie had said. ‘One of the girls was disobedient. He called them paupers and he consistently called them slags and whores,’ said Prosecutor Rafferty. She said that while there was no forensic evidence which linked Stone to the murders, she said that the case against him rested on the confessions he had made combined with circumstantial evidence.

The circumstantial evidence included testimony from two of Stone’s friends, Lawrence Calder and Sheree Batt, who reported seeing blood on his clothing and tool box just the day after the murders. Batt had questioned Stone about the blood and he had claimed that he had got into a recent fight but yet she saw no injuries to his face. Batt also stated that Stone appeared to be ‘distanced’ and ‘not himself’ the day after the murders and also noticed that there was more blood on a hooded sweatshirt on the back seat of his car.

Another friend, John Porter, had revealed that Stone knew the remote area where the murders had taken place ‘like the back of his hand.’ A local woman, Nicola Burthell, had followed a beige Ford Escort near where the murder had taken place shortly after. She later helped a forensic artist produce an e-fit of the driver which had looked similar to Stone. A year after the murders, she had failed to identify him as the driver but she did identify him as ‘very similar.’

I didn’t do it, Your Honour. It wasn’t me

During the trial, it would be revealed that blood stains and hair from most of the clothing of the victims had belonged to the victims. However, a hair found on Lin’s trousers and another on Josie’s shoes had come from an unknown source. A fingerprint found on a lunchbox had also come from an unknown source. Forensic experts would also testify that Josie had been bound with a pair of tights and a black boot lace had probably been used to bind Megan.

While Stone denied any involvement in the murders, following his arrest he had said to police that he was so high on drugs that he could not recall what he was doing the day the Russells were attacked. At the time, Stone was addicted to heroin. He had admitted to police that he had burned all of his clothes shortly after the murders and purchased new ones, stating that they were old and dirty.

Michael Stone would be found guilty of the murder of Lin and Megan Russell as well as the attempted murder of Josie Russell. As he stood to be sentenced, he stated: ‘I didn’t do it, Your Honour. It wasn’t me.’ Mr Justice Ian Kennedy handed Stone three life sentences. Over the forthcoming years, Stone would appeal his conviction and in February of 2011, he was retried after two prisoners who claimed to hear Stone confess to the murder admitted that they had lied. Stone went to trial and was convicted of the two murders and attempted murder a second time.

While Stone was convicted of the murders, there has long been speculation that the murders were actually committed by the serial killer,Levi Bellfield, who was known as the bus stop killer for his penchant for targeting young women at bus stops. Bellfield was found guilty in February of 2008 for the murders of Marsha McDonnell and Amélie Delagrange as well as the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. Then in June of 2011, he was found guilty of the murder of Milly Dowler.

As news of the Russell murders broke in the media, many comparisons were made to the murder of Dowler and in 2011, the Telegraph reported that Stone’s solicitor Paul Bacon said that there were many similarities between the Russell murders and the method that Bellfield used to murder two of his victims. Furthermore, according to Bacon, the e-fit produced by Kent police at the time looked more like Bellfield than Stone.

In 2017, the BBC aired a two-part program on the murders titled: ‘The Chillenden Murders.’ In the program, fresh evidence emerged when the BBC obtained DNA evidence from members of Bellfield’s family. They cross-examined it with a towel which was found at the crime scene. Dr. Georgina Meakin ruled that Bellfield conclusively could not be ruled out as a possible DNA match after she found similar DNA profiles between both of the samples.

Towards the end of November 2017, lawyers for Stone announced that they had new evidence of his innocence which allegedly included a confession by Bellfield. During a press conference in London, Stone’s solicitor Paul Bacon claimed that Bellfield had admitted to the murders to a serious sex offender at HMP Frankland in Durham. ‘In the confession, Bellfield describes how he came across Lin Russell and her two children, how he attacked them with a hammer and his motivation for the killing,’ Bacon said. He alleged that the confession had included information about the murders which had not been made public.

Bellfield denied that he committed the murders and denied that he had made the confession. Stone still remains incarcerated for the murders but could be considered for parole as early as July 2022. Maintaining his innocence, he has stated that he will not seek parole until his conviction is quashed. Kent police have said that they are not looking for anybody else in connection with the case.