Body in the Suitcase: The Murder Of Deborah Chong will explore the remarkable circumstances surrounding the disturbing case of Deborah Chong, who was murdered and decapitated. The show premieres Monday, 11th September on Crime + Investigation.
On Friday, 11th June 2021, 67-year-old Mee Kuen Chong, who was known to many as Deborah, was reported missing by her concerned lodger. She had lived in a semi-detached home on Chaplin Road, Wembley, London, for the past three decades after moving from Malaysia, and was described by her neighbours as very religious, friendly and pleasant.
Police made a public appeal for information on Deborah's whereabouts, but then on Sunday, 27th June, a headless body was discovered in woodland in the holiday town of Salcombe, Devon. It was located on an overgrown pathway and the missing head was discovered around 30 metres away. The body was transported to the medical examiner’s office where it was identified as Deborah Chong.
The pathologist confirmed that she had suffered a skull fracture along with other injuries that indicated a violent assault. Initially, there was some speculation that the decapitation may have been caused by animal predation, but the autopsy confirmed that this was not the case – somebody had decapitated her with a sharp object.
The grisly discovery sent shockwaves throughout the quaint tourist destination, as police began trying to establish Deborah's last known movements. Detective Chief Inspector Jim Eastwood, who was leading the murder investigation, stated: ‘At this stage, we are working on establishing the full circumstances surrounding Mee’s death and in particular her movements.’
Once more, police appealed for information. They asked the community to get in contact if they knew anything about Deborah's movements during the time that she was missing. They were also conducting door-to-door inquiries in Salcombe to try and establish whether anybody had seen or heard anything suspicious in the days leading up to the discovery of her body.
Just nine days later, there was a big breakthrough in the case when Metropolitan Police announced they had arrested 36-year-old Jemma Mitchell, who was one of Deborah's friends. They had first met at a local church group, and over time, they developed a friendship. Mitchell, who was an alternative therapist, even acted as a ‘spiritual healer’ to Deborah.
An investigation into the gruesome murder revealed that Mitchell had been motivated by money. In 2021, her family were undergoing renovations at their £4m home in Brent; the home was in a state of disrepair and was left with no roof due to a previous ill-fated renovation project.
Around the same time, Deborah's mental health had been taking a nosedive. She was referred to the local community mental health team after she kept sending letters to the then-Prince Charles and Boris Johnson. She had believed that she was in a relationship with the then-Prince Charles, and she felt that she could communicate with him via YouTube. Dr. Alyson Callan said: ‘The contents of the letters contained nothing alarming but they were bizarre, suggesting she was having another episode of mental illness.’
In May, Deborah had been prescribed anti-psychotics, and Mitchell was well aware of this. She took advantage of Deborah's deteriorating mental health and asked if she could borrow £200,000 for the home renovations. Deborah agreed. In June, however, she changed her mind and informed Mitchell that she would not be handing over the large sum of money. Mitchell was furious and devised a grim plan to get that money.
On the morning of 11th June 2021, Mitchell appeared at Deborah's home in Wembley and was welcomed inside. Mitchell then repeatedly struck her over the head with a heavy object and proceeded to decapitate her. CCTV from outside Deborah's home captured Mitchell leaving around five hours after she arrived. She was dragging a bulky blue suitcase that contained Deborah's decapitated body and head. She was also carrying a smaller bag that contained Deborah's financial details. Mitchell struggled as she hauled the suitcase around London for two hours before catching a taxi which dropped her outside her home.
Later that night, Mitchell went to St. Thomas’s Hospital in Central London where she was treated for a broken finger. Back at home, she forged a copy of Deborah's will which meant that 95% of her £700,000 plus estate would be left to her. Investigators believed that Mitchell then kept the decapitated body in her home for around two weeks.
On 26th June, Mitchell drove to Salcombe with Deborah's body in the boot. On the way, she blew a tyre and drove to a nearby service station. The employee who changed her wheel said that she appeared to be ‘confused’ and noticed that there was a strange bag inside the vehicle.
Once Deborah's body was discovered, Mitchell quickly emerged as a suspect. After Deborah was reported missing by her lodger, Mitchell had gotten in contact with him and claimed that Deborah had left London to go and spend some time with her family. She said that Deborah wanted to clear her head and be ‘somewhere close to the ocean’. Then after the body was discovered, Mitchell contacted a missing person charity and claimed she had spoken to her friend, and that she was safe with family by the sea.
In the wake of her arrest, investigators searched her home and uncovered the phony will. They also discovered documents that belonged to a neighbour of Mitchell’s who had passed away in May 2021. Further investigation showed that Mitchell had used this person’s identity as a witness to Deborah's forged will. The genuine will was discovered in her Wembley home, and it left her home to her church and the remainder of her estate to her family and charity.
Mitchell stood trial for murder in October 2022. During the trial, Prosecutor Deanna Heer told the jury that Mitchell had studied human sciences at King’s College in London and graduated in 2004 with a first-class degree. She stated: ‘During her degree course, she completed a module called the “structural basis of human function”, in which she was taught how to dissect the entire human body, with the exception of the head and neck.’
On 27th October 2022, Jemma Mitchell was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 34 years in prison. Outside of court, Senior Crown Prosecutor Kristen Katsouris stated: ‘At no time has Mitchell shown any remorse for what she has done. I hope that Mitchell’s sentence today provides a measure of comfort to Deborah’s family, who have shown enormous dignity during the court events, despite the dreadful nature of Mitchell’s actions.’