Vanished after leaving a Swindon nightclub: The murder of Sian O’Callaghan

A photograph showing a taxi parked up by a pavement on a busy street, at night
Christopher Halliwell's taxi was seized by police after being spotted in the area where Sian O’Callaghan disappeared

In March of 2011, police in Swindon, Wiltshire, South West England, launched an investigation into the disappearance of a young woman who had vanished after leaving a local nightclub to walk the short distance home. The local community would come together to try and find the young woman but unfortunately, five days later, her body would be found.

Sian O’Callaghan was a 22-year-old office administrator who lived in the town of Swindon. She was last seen on CCTV leaving the Japanese-themed Suju nightclub in Swindon’s Old Town in the early morning hours of the 19th of March, 2011. It was around 2:50 AM when CCTV footage captured her leaving the nightclub after a night out with her friends. However, she never arrived back at her flat in Westmorland Road.

At around 9:45 AM the following morning, Sian’s boyfriend, Kevin Reape, awoke to find that she had not returned home. The night before, he had been at the races and had returned home and went to bed at around 10:30 PM, assuming Sian would be home much later. After texting Sian and attempting to phone her and receiving no response, he called police to report his girlfriend missing.

More than 60 police officers would be assigned to the case which was being led by Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher. They would appeal to the public for information regarding Sian’s disappearance with Chief Inspector Mike Jones stating: ‘For Sian not to return home after a night out and not make any contact with family or friends is not only unusual, but it is something that she has never done before.’ He said that Sian had no reason in her personal life which indicated that she wanted to run away. She was in a happy, long-term relationship and had a supportive family as well as a job that she enjoyed.

Missing person posters emblazoned with a photograph of Sian and a description were printed and distributed throughout the area. Sian was described as white, standing at around 5 feet 3 inches tall and of medium build with brown, straight hair and green eyes. When she was last seen, she was wearing a grey dress with a black, bolero style jacket, dark tights and flat boots. She had been carrying a dark handbag with a beige flower on the front (Swindon Advertiser, 20 March, 2011 – ‘Concern After Woman Disappears Leaving Nightclub’).

Sian’s boyfriend, Kevin, would also plead for information which would lead them to Sian. He struggled to contain his emotion as he said: ‘I just want to say how very worried we are about Sian. She has been missing now for over two days and it’s not like her to not come home or contact any of us for such a long time.’ He thanked the community for all of their support and even appealed to Sian. He asked that if she was listening and didn’t want to be contacted to at least ring the police and let them know that she was okay. Police would state during a press conference that Kevin was not a suspect in Sian’s disappearance (The Independent, 21 March, 2011 – ‘Boyfriend Appeal for Missing Clubber’).

An examination of Sian’s mobile phone data would reveal that it had pinged to a telephone mast near the 4,500-acre Savernake Forest, near Marlborough, which would lead police to focus their search in that area. Her mobile phone had pinged in that area around 32 minutes after she left the nightclub and it was a journey that only could have been made in a vehicle. Her mobile phone continued to receive text messages and phone calls in that area for around 12 hours before the battery died (The Daily Telegraph, 23 March, 2011 – ‘Missing Woman Traced from Nightclub to Forest’).

Police would ask the public to get in contact if they saw any vehicles or people in the Savernake Forest area between 3:15 AM and 4 AM the night that Sian disappeared. More than 400 concerned locals would offer up their time to assist in the extensive search for Sian in the forest, including Kevin (The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald, 22 March, 2011 – ‘400 Join Search at Savernake for Missing Woman’). Around a year before Sian disappeared, police in Swindon had asked people not to walk home alone following a spate of sex attacks in the town. While many speculated that Sian could have become victim to a similar attack, police would downplay any links between her disappearance and the earlier attacks. As the days slowly passed, concern for Sian’s welfare continued to rise. On day four of the search, an anonymous donor would put forward a £20,000 reward for information which could lead to Sian (Coventry Telegraph, 23 March, 2011 – ‘Reward Offered in Hunt for Missing Sian’).

Just the following day, there was a massive breakthrough in the case when it was announced that police had seized a green taxi which had been sighted between 3 AM and 4 AM as well as 12 PM and 9 PM on the Saturday Sian vanished. It had been seen by several witnesses both in Swindon as well as Savernake Forest. Moreover, CCTV cameras had picked up a green taxi passing Sian on the High Street near the nightclub and then circling back and pulling up alongside her (The Guardian, 27 March, 2011 – ‘Police Hunting Swindon Killer Find Second Body’ ). Just hours after the taxi was seized, police announced that they had arrested a 47-year-old man from Swindon on suspicion of kidnap and murder. According to police, this man had confessed to police that he had killed Sian and provided them with the location of her body (Oxford Mail, 24 March, 2011 – ‘Boyd Found at Uffington in Hunt for Missing Sian O’Callaghan’ ).

Sian’s body would be found in a shallow grave near Uffington in Oxfordshire, around 12 miles east of Swindon. She had died from a combination of two stab wounds to the neck and head as well as compression to the neck. She had not been sexually assaulted but there was evidence of blunt force trauma to the head (ITV, 19 October, 2012 – ‘Sian Died from Stab Wounds and Neck Compression’).

The suspect would be identified as 47-year-old Christopher Halliwell, a local taxi driver. After confessing to the murder of Sian, Halliwell shockingly stated: ‘Do you want another one?’ before admitting that he had murdered a second woman, 20-year-old Becky Godden. He then took police to a shallow grave in Eastleach in Gloucestershire where they unearthed Becky’s body; she had been missing since 2003 (International Business Times, 19 September, 2016 – ‘Christopher Halliwell Convicted of Becky Godden’s Murder’ ).

In 2012, Christopher Halliwell would be convicted of the murder of Sian O’Callaghan. He would be sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 25 years. According to the prosecution, Halliwell had picked Sian up after she left the nightclub, driven her to the Savernake Forest where he stabbed her, bludgeoned her, strangled her and then disposed of her body.

Even though he had confessed to the murder of Becky Godden and even led police to her body, he initially escaped prosecution for this murder since police had breached rules regarding how suspects are interviewed; he had been denied contact with a solicitor during his interview (The Independent, 20 October, 2012 – ‘Taxi Driver Christopher Halliwell is Jailed for 25 Yers’). Four years later, however, Halliwell would be charged with Becky’s murder. He would be found guilty and was handed another life sentence, this time with a whole life order which meant that it is unlikely he will ever be released from prison.

After the conviction of Halliwell, police would state that there was a ‘distinct possibility’ that Halliwell could be a serial killer. Becky had been murdered in 2003 and Sian had been murdered in 2011 and police have stated they think it is unlikely that he didn’t kill anybody else during that long time frame. In fact, according to a retired police intelligence officer, Halliwell could have been involved in up to 27 murders. Today, police continue to investigate Halliwell in an attempt to link him to any unsolved murders and disappearances. ‘We continue to keep an open mind in relation to any further offences that Christopher Halliwell may have committed and will follow the evidence wherever that may take us,’ stated a Wiltshire Police spokesman (Press Association, 19 March, 2021 – ‘Family Remember Sian O’Callaghan 10 Years After her Murder’).