Connecting the dots
Connecting the dots
On 4 April 1970, four days after Susan and Gary disappear, police arrest Ronald Jebson.
But the arrest is for the indecent assault of a boy in Nottingham.
The police twice interview Jebson about Susan and Gary. Jebson lives locally to them, and has just been released for sexually assaulting a six-year-old girl.
But he was in no way a prime suspect:
“What you also have to bear in mind; this was one person out of possibly hundreds that were suspects at the time. There was no technology that you have now, to put things into a computer, to what I would say, to join up the dots. What you were working on was...a card system...you would have cards with, ‘there’s a vehicle seen there’...’There’s a witness who’s been interviewed there.’... There’s something we must follow up’, and this is on another card.”
Detective Chief Inspector Declan Donnelly
In much the same way that the Yorkshire Ripper investigation was overwhelmed with information, the hunt for Jebson was hindered, not helped by the sheer volume of paperwork.
And Jebson denies any involvement. His alibi is that he was down the job centre and then back with the Papper family. The police move on.
On 17 June, the bodies of Susan and Gary are found in woodland. The exact spot where they’re found had been searched two months before on the 9 April by three officers and their dogs. This was just ten days after they’d disappeared. Vital forensic evidence has been lost in the intervening period. The bodies have since been attacked by animals and insects. It’s now impossible to determine if they’ve been sexually assaulted.
nspector Read is furious - these mistakes will in time lead to a fundamental change in training methods for police dogs - that is of no use to Read.
The autopsies confirm that the extent of decomposition means they must have died soon after going missing. This fits with the explanation of them dying from exposure on their first night.
Inspector Read believes that a criminal act has been perpetrated. But he has precious few facts to support his theory.
The inquest in September ends with an open verdict. Forensic science isn’t advanced enough to determine whether the children died naturally or at the hands of another. The coroner states that though some of Susan’s underclothes (her bra, pants and tights) were missing, they could have been taken by an animal in the woods.
Her mother Muriel knows different:
“The only animal that could remove Susan’s bra, pants, and tights is a human animal.”
The parents of both children believe their children were murdered. After her disappearance, Susan’s dog Blackie constantly claws the floor. Her mother believes something doesn’t fit with the exposure explanation:
“I just knew they didn’t go up there and die. What two children would go up and lay in a copse for days on end, hungry, starving, frightened of the dark. You knew damn well it wasn’t right.”
But the police aren’t so sure. Double abductions are extremely rare.
The one policeman who is certain it was murder is Read. He also believes it unlikely that two children would ignore the electric lights of home clearly visible from the hide where they were found and instead huddle together in the cold and dark. The idea that wild animals would take Susan’s underclothes, but not her overcoat seemed unlikely. So he conducts experiments using 12 pairs of trousers similar to Susan’s to see if an animal could have damaged them in the way they were left. He concludes they were ripped by a rapist fighting a resistant child. But other Scotland Yard detectives ridicule Read and his notions of a double child killer. Some believe he’s got too close to the family. Some say he’s lost perspective.
And in a 40 year career, the ‘Babes’ case was the only murder that the Chief Superintendent failed to solve.
Nowadays his suspicions would look better founded. The pre-meditated building of a hide would potentially indicate ‘a killing ground’ had been prepared. The embrace of the children could be considered as ‘posing’ by a predator and the missing underwear indicative of trophies taken.
But back in 1970, Read has never even heard the word ‘paedophile’. He just knows they didn’t die from the cold. Defiantly, in his final report, Read concludes the cause of death as murder.
But he also adds that he doesn’t believe it would be possible to prove it.
The date on which the children had gone missing, 31 March was Read’s birthday. For the next thirty years, his every birthday is a grim reminder of his one outstanding case.
And worse, because the ‘Babes’ case is never classed as a murder inquiry, none of the physical evidence is protected.
So, short of a confession from the killer, it looks unlikely that Read or the victim’s families will ever find answers.