The Heather Barnett inquiry was the most extensive, complex and sustained investigation ever carried out by Dorset Police. It lasted nine and a half years and cost millions of pounds. During this time police collected over 700 statements, 6,200 exhibits and 7,300 documents.
At first, the investigation into Heather’s brutal death focussed on her ex-partner, David Marsh, but routine enquiries in the local area began to reveal some suspicious behaviour of Danilo Restivo.
Police had footprint evidence from the crime scene. They asked to see Restivo’s shoes: he had bleached them. Concerns were further raised when it was discovered after at an earlier visit Restivo made to Heather’s home her house keys had mysteriously disappeared.
In 2004, without any solid leads to go on, the Bournemouth investigators decided to visit Restivo’s home town in Italy to find out more about the Elisa Claps case, which he was questioned about over 20 years before. It seems opportunities to stop Restivo may have been missed at the time. Italian detectives went to his house for the clothes he was wearing on the day Elisa disappeared but were told by his father to return with a warrant. This, it transpires, never happened. And assumptions were made that Elisa had left the church alive so it was never thoroughly searched.
On their return, the Dorset Police made an appeal for women to come forward that had their hair cut off while travelling by bus in the Bournemouth area. Several responded to the appeal: it seems Restivo’s hair fetish had created many victims in both England and Italy.
In May 2004, police watched Restivo at secluded locations observing or following women. On one occasion, he was stopped by officers who found weapons and disguises in his belongings.
In 2008, scientists finally made a link between DNA material found on a green towel recovered from Heather Barnett's house and Restivo. Still it was not judged strong enough to charge him.
Body found in Italy
The breakthrough the UK police desperately sought came in March 2010. A worker investigating a leak discovered the mummified body of Elisa Claps in the church in Potenza were she had met Restivo. Her remains had been hidden in the loft beneath a pile of old tiles. Another piece of the puzzle had finally fallen into place.
Elisa had been stabbed and, most significantly, strands of her own hair cut from her head shortly after her death had been placed in each hand and locks of hair had been placed near her body. Further tests find DNA evidence which linked Restivo to Elisa.