Joanna Yeates

Crime Files

Never before had a missing pizza, grey sock and 293 tonnes of domestic rubbish played such an important part in a murder investigation. But this was all the police had to go on when 25-year-old landscape architect Joanna Yeates went missing on 17 December 2010.

Joanna Yeates was born in 1985 in Ampfield, Hampshire. The perfect daughter, she had just moved with her boyfriend Greg Reardon into a beautiful ground floor flat in the upmarket area of Clifton in Bristol. Having recently graduated with a postgraduate diploma in landscape architecture, she had an amazing future ahead of her. Christmas co-incidentally happened to be her favourite time of the year.

Living above Joanna and Greg was their landlord Chris Jefferies. Described “as an eccentric pillar of society” he was a retired 65-year-old English teacher. Also a member of the local neighbourhood watch group, it was alleged that Jefferies had seen three people, including Joanna, leave her flat the night she disappeared. He would go on to play a key part in the hunt for the killer.

Joanna and Greg’s next door neighbour was Vincent Tabak, a 33-year-old Dutch national. Described as an “introverted loner” as a child, he had grown up in Uden, Holland. After gaining his masters degree and later a PhD in engineering he moved to the UK. He worked in nearby Bath and lived with his girlfriend, Tanja Morson. The events on the night of 17 December would change his life forever.

Timeline

Terrible Timeline

17 December 2010At 8pm 25-year-old landscape architect Joanna Yeates, leaves the Bristol Ram pub in Park Street, Bristol and walks the 20 minutes to her home in Canynge Road.19 DecemberBoyfriend Greg Reardon returns home from a weekend away. He discovers Joanna is missing and calls the police.21 DecemberPolice search the area around Avon Gorge. Joanna’s parents make an emotional appeal for her safe return.23 DecemberPolice believe a missing pizza may hold a vital clue to her disappearance.25 DecemberAt 9am a local couple walking their dog discover a woman’s body lying in a roadside verge off Longwood Lane, Failand.26 DecemberPolice believe the woman to be Joanna Yeates. However due to her frozen body the post-mortem examination will take longer to complete.27 DecemberJoanna Yeates’ family visit the location where her body was found.28 DecemberPolice reveal that Joanna Yeates was strangled. A murder investigation is launched called Operation Braid.30 DecemberPolice arrest Chris Jefferies at his flat on suspicion of murdering Joanna Yeates. His silver Chrysler car is removed by police from the road outside the property.31 DecemberDetectives are granted more time to question Mr Jefferies.1 January 2011Joanna Yeates' family and her boyfriend issue a statement paying tribute to their “beautiful and talented daughter”, who was “stolen from us”. They remain convinced that the police will catch her killer.4 JanuaryPolice launch a Facebook campaign to find Joanna Yeates' killer.5 JanuaryDetectives issue a statement revealing that Joanna Yeates’ body was missing one grey ski sock when her body was discovered.18 JanuaryThe final steps of Joanna Yeates are reconstructed for the BBC's Crimewatch programme.20 JanuaryA 32-year-old man is arrested on suspicion of murder.21 JanuaryPolice are granted extra time to question the 32-year-old man.22 JanuaryPolice charge 32-year-old Dutch national Vincent Tabak with Joanna Yeates' murder.28 JanuaryJoanna Yeates’ body is released to her family.31 JanuaryTabak appears at Bristol Crown Court via a video link from HMP Long Lartin in Worcestershire. He is remanded in custody until 4 May.11 FebruaryThe funeral of Joanna Yeates takes place in St Mark's Church, Ampfield, Hampshire.4 MarchMr Jefferies is released from police bail without charge.5 MayAt the Old Bailey Tabak admits the manslaughter of Joanna Yeates but denies murder.4 OctoberThe trial of Vincent Tabak gets underway.28 OctoberTabak is finally convicted of murder. He is sentenced to life in prison with a minimum term of 20 years.

The Crime

Pizza, Socks and Rubbish

Never before had a missing pizza, grey sock and 293 tonnes of domestic rubbish played such an important part in a murder investigation. But this was all the police had to go on when 25-year-old landscape architect Joanna Yeates went missing on 17 December 2010.

Joanna Yeates was born in 1985 in Ampfield, Hampshire. The perfect daughter, she had just moved with her boyfriend Greg Reardon into a beautiful ground floor flat in the upmarket area of Clifton in Bristol. Having recently graduated with a postgraduate diploma in landscape architecture, she had an amazing future ahead of her. Christmas co-incidentally happened to be her favourite time of the year.

Living above Joanna and Greg was their landlord Chris Jefferies. Described “as an eccentric pillar of society” he was a retired 65-year-old English teacher. Also a member of the local neighbourhood watch group, it was alleged that Jefferies had seen three people, including Joanna, leave her flat the night she disappeared. He would go on to play a key part in the hunt for the killer.

Joanna and Greg’s next door neighbour was Vincent Tabak, a 33-year-old Dutch national. Described as an “introverted loner” as a child, he had grown up in Uden, Holland. After gaining his masters degree and later a PhD in engineering he moved to the UK. He worked in nearby Bath and lived with his girlfriend, Tanja Morson. The events on the night of 17 December would change his life forever.

The Trial

Trial

The trial began on 4 October at Bristol Crown Court. It was led by judge Mr Justice Field with Nigel Lickley QC as prosecutor and William Clegg QC defending. It would finish just over three weeks later.During the trial details emerged of the moment just after Joanna’s disappearance when the police had knocked on Tabak’s door. According to one officer he had appeared calm, unlike his girlfriend, who had showed extreme concern. Having initially been ruled out as a suspect Tabak had been allowed to spend the New Year celebrations in Holland. During that time his girlfriend Miss Morson had contacted police with information about Jefferies. The police had flown out to Holland to get statements from the couple, but there were inconsistencies with Tabak’s version of events.As the case continued Joanna’s parents were finally getting answers to what had happened to their daughter on the night of 17 December. Tabak told the jury that he had walked past Joanna’s kitchen window and she had invited him in. As the pair chatted Tabak claimed he misread the situation, due to a flirty comment that Joanna had made. He found her attractive that night and had gone to kiss her on the lips. Joanna screamed, and in a bid to silence her Tabak placed his hands around her neck. Within seconds she was dead.

The pathologist, Dr Delaney, revealed that Joanna suffered 43 injuries during the struggle that ended her life. He showed photographs to the jury of red bruise marks on her neck and chin, and blood underneath her nose. He made the jury aware that these injuries were sustained during life, while the heart was beating. He went on to say that Tabak would have seen her struggling to breathe. Mr Lickley, prosecuting, pointed out that Tabak was a foot taller than Joanna and could have removed his hand to save her. He chose not to which meant she endured a slow and painful death.According to his defence, Mr Clegg QC told the jury that Tabak panicked and instead of calling the police he calmly turned the oven off and took out the pizza. He carried Joanna’s body to his flat next door and stored it in a bicycle cover. He then placed the body in the boot of his car and took a trip to his local Asda in Bedminster. Fibres discovered on Joanna’s body indicated she had come into contact with Tabak's black coat and his silver Renault Megane. The jury (consisting of six men and six women) were horrified to hear that after the killing he’d texted his girlfriend to say “miss you loads. It’s boring here without you”.After the killing the jury were told that whenever Tabak was alone he would go online, frantically following the developments of the murder case. He researched refuse collection times, the location of the body and body decomposition time.

Forensic scientist Tanya Nickson explained that the presence of blood on the top of the wall near where the body had been found, in Longwood Lane, indicated Tabak had tried to lift Joanna’s body over it. Failing to do so, he had instead placed her body in a foetal-type position on the snow and covered it with leaves.Returning home Tabak told the jury he disposed of the missing pizza and sock in an industrial wheelie bin. The police would never find what they first believed to be their vital clues.He also divulged that he’d used his landlord as a scapegoat and tried to frame him for the murder. He fed the police a string of lies to hide his own guilt.In court Tabak used the opportunity to apologise for putting Joanna’s family through a week of hell. The jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict and instead came to a majority decision of 10-2. Mr Justice Field commented "in my view you are very dangerous. In my opinion you are thoroughly deceitful, dishonest and manipulative." He then sentenced Tabak to life in prison, with a minimum of 20 years in jail.

The Arrest

DNA doesnt lie

Two days after the Crimewatch appeal was filmed, the police got their breakthrough. They had become increasingly suspicious as to why Vincent Tabak had fed them misleading information about Jefferies. Tabak had told police that on the night of Joanna’s disappearance Jefferies car had been moved. This was a lie, but the information had prompted Jefferies arrest. On 20 January, 32-year-old Tabak, was himself arrested.During his arrest he refused to cooperate with the police and largely answered questions with “no comment”. However the evidence against him was mounting. He couldn’t argue with DNA proof that linked him to Joanna’s death. Three days later he was charged with her murder.

While on remand at HMP Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire Tabak spoke to the chaplain, Peter Brotherton. Believing the chat to be confidential Tabak made the mistake of revealing that he had killed Joanna.Tabak entered a plea of manslaughter at the Old Bailey on 5 May, but denied murder. The prosecution team rejected this and had the murder trial set for 4 October.

The Investigation

The hunt is on

A Christmas murder hunt captured the imagination of the British press who were eager to help find her killer. The police needed their help. They were baffled because important items such as her coat, boots, keys, purse and mobile had all been found within the flat. Forensics had also revealed there was no sign of a struggle or forced entry. This led the police to believe that the killer could be known to Joanna. They again appealed for anyone with information to come forward.Joanna’s landlord Chris Jefferies was reported to have told police he saw three people, including Joanna, leave her flat on the night she vanished. On 30 December he was the first man to be arrested on suspicion of murder. The British press believed he was the killer and began a campaign to vilify him. His silver Chrysler car was taken by the police as part of their investigation. This appeared to verify his guilt. On New Years Eve the police were given more time to question him. But on New Years Day, he was released on bail. It took the police until 4 March to finally release Jefferies from police bail without charge.

Searching for clues, or any leads, the police noticed similarities between Joanna’s murder and the murder of Glenis Carruthers in 1974. She was strangled after leaving a party in Clifton. But they found nothing to link the cases together.Finally on 5 January the police released news that they were trying to locate a grey sock missing from Joanna’s body. They still believed that the sock and pizza could hold vital clues in solving the case.Already reaching out to the public via the internet using Facebook and YouTube, the police turned to BBC’s Crimewatch on 18 January to help solve the case. A month since her death, Joanna’s final footsteps were being retraced by an actress. Events of the previous day had seen Joanna’s parents make an emotional appeal for “armchair detectives” to come forward with any information.