On a warm and sunny July day in 1992, the life of Rachel Nickell was violently extinguished by a psychotic and brutal murderer. The young mother-of-one had been out walking with her two-year-old son Alex on Wimbledon Common when she was attacked in broad daylight.
Just yards away from other people walking and enjoying the popular beauty spot, Rachel found herself on the ground being stabbed. Her son Alex had been shoved away by the attacker who ferociously stabbed the 23-year-old mother up to 49 times, one slash nearly decapitating the helpless young woman. After sexually assaulting her, the killer strolled off leaving the toddler to comfort his now-dead mother.
‘Wake up, Mummy’, Alex repeatedly said before being discovered a short while later by walkers passing by. Although the gruesome murder had taken place at around 10:20 AM, no witnesses had seen the killing. News of Rachel’s death shocked the nation and pressure was piled on the police to swiftly bring the culprit to justice.
By their later admission, the police bungled the investigation and became obsessed with the apparent guilt of a local man named Colin Stagg. Stagg lived in nearby Roehampton and often walked his dog on the common. Although no forensic evidence linked Stagg to the crime scene, the police were convinced they had their man and set up a 'honey-trap' under the name Operation Edzell.
The operation saw an undercover officer called ‘Lizzie James’ befriend Stagg in the hope of getting an admission of guilt out of him. Stagg was a loner and a virgin who was suckered in by the officer’s advances. Soon the officer turned to talk of violent sexual fantasies that Stagg later admitted to going along with as he wanted to sleep with the undercover officer.
When the officer said that she’d only sleep with him if he were the killer of Rachel Nickell, Stagg replied, ‘I'm terribly sorry, but I haven't’. Unbelievably, the police proceeded to arrest Stagg but the case against him was thrown out in late 1994 after the judge refused to allow the entrapment evidence in court, citing the whole sting as ‘deceptive conduct of the grossest kind.’ In 2007, Stagg received a compensation payout of £706,000 by the Home Office for wrongful prosecution.
It would take until 2008, some sixteen years after Rachel’s murder, for her real killer to finally be charged. Advancements in DNA linked serial rapist and murderer Robert Napper to the killing. Napper was serving time for the 1993 murder of Samantha Bissett and her four-year-old daughter Jazmine, both had been raped before being killed. He had also been linked to over 70 rapes around Plumstead and leafy walkways in South East London known as the Green Chain Walk, dating back to 1989.
During the initial police investigation into Rachel’s murder, Napper had been considered but discounted. Sexually abused as a child, Napper was later diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia as well as Asperger’s Syndrome. He now resides at Broadmoor High Security Hospital for the criminally insane where he will see out the rest of his life.