The Soham Murders

I’ve been wanting to write about this case for a while. What I write about is generally very sad and tragic, but this one is a little more personal to me because it’s the first murder case that I was ever really properly aware of. Before that I didn’t think much about whether or not the world was a safe place, but seeing the media coverage of this case when I was 8 years old led me to the decision that it is not. There are good people out there, but there are also people who are undoubtedly evil. 

Holly Wells (left) and Jessica Chapman (right), both aged 10.

Holly Wells (left) and Jessica Chapman (right), both aged 10.

The case I’m referring to is the murders of 10 year old Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman (also known as the Soham Murders) in 2002. The case was known by the picture, which was taken the day they were murdered, of the two girls with their arms around each other, both wearing red Manchester United football shirts. Holly is blonde and Jessica is brunette. They both look happy.

The Murders

August 4th, 2002. The girls had been at a barbecue with family and friends and as kids do, got bored and wandered off at about 6:15pm. Soham, Cambridgeshire is a small town of around 11,000. I live in a town of nearly 17,000, which I consider to be small. You see the same faces regularly, you smile and make small talk. As Soham is smaller, I imagine it’s much the same in that you see familiar faces every day and you say hello. You trust your neighbours. About 15 minutes later, the girls had disappeared. At 8:30, when the girls’ parents went to check on them, they couldn’t find them anywhere. They were reported missing at 9:45pm. 

In the days that followed, the case became national news. Appeals were made to the public to come forward if they had any information about the missing girls. Search parties scoured the area for any sign of them. Locals of Soham were interviewed by the press, stating their shock at what was going on. One such person, who was interviewed on Sky News and BBC, was 29 year-old Ian Huntley. 

 

Ian Huntley, aged 29.

Ian Huntley, aged 29.

Huntley was the caretaker at the local secondary school, Soham Village College, living in a cottage on the school grounds at the time of the murders. He lived with his girlfriend, Maxine Carr, a teaching assistant at the school the girls attended who therefore knew them both personally. Huntley had managed to get a job working in a school, despite previous allegations towards him of rape and sex with underage girls. 

Maxine was out of town on the 4th of August and Huntley was home alone. When he saw the two girls walking by his house, he invited them in, telling them their teacher Maxine Carr was inside. It is believed that the girls had been in the house for less than 20 minutes when Huntley murdered them. 

On her return, Maxine also spoke to the press. In her statement, she pleaded for the girls to “ just come home”, raising suspicions in the police when she referred to Holly Wells in the past tense, saying “she was just a really lovely girl”.

Huntley’s girlfriend, Maxine Carr, holding a drawing given to her by Holly Wells.

Huntley’s girlfriend, Maxine Carr, holding a drawing given to her by Holly Wells.

Investigations

The police received a number of tips regarding the whereabouts of the girls in the days following their disappearance, however, these showed little promise.

On August 16th, twelve days after the girls went missing, police questioned Huntley and Carr separately. The questioning lasted seven hours, after which Huntley and Carr remained at the police station while their house and the surrounding school grounds were searched. What they discovered strongly implicated Huntley in the girls’ disappearance. Amongst the evidence found was the Manchester United shirts they wore the day they went missing, which had likely been cut from the bodies of the girls, shown by the jagged edges of material. They were discovered burned and disposed of in a bin on the school grounds. This was the first time in the investigation that the police voiced their fear that the girls had been killed.

The next day, the 17th, two bodies were discovered at Lakenheath, Suffolk. They were too badly decomposed to be identified at the scene, so were removed from the site for further forensic tests. On the August 21st, they were officially identified as Holly and Jessica.

Huntley is Charged

Huntley was arrested on August 20th 2002, charged with two counts of murder. During his trial, Huntley told the court the deaths were accidental. He claimed he had asked the girls into his house when he saw Holly had a nosebleed. He had been helping Holly clean up her bloody nose when she accidentally fell into the bath and drowned. When Jessica discovered what was going on, she began to scream and use her phone to call for help. However, before she reached anyone, Huntley panicked and smothered her to death to stop her screaming.

Huntley then moved the bodies to the ditch where they were later found. He admitted he later returned to the bodies and set them on fire to try and destroy the forensic evidence. There was, however, evidence of when the bodies had been put in the ditch shown by analysis of the soil chemistry by forensic ecologist Patricia Wiltshire.

Huntley’s claims that the deaths were accidental were rejected by the jury. Of the twelve jurors, eleven believed he had murdered the girls. On December 17th 2003, Huntley was given two life sentences. He will spend at least 40 years in jail, not being eligible for parole until 2042.

Maxine Carr was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for perverting the course of justice by providing a false alibi for Huntley, claiming she was with him the night of the murders. Carr was released after serving half of her sentence. On her release, Carr was granted an entirely new identity; she is one of four ex-prisoners in the UK to have been granted this.

Today

Sixteen years have gone by since Holly and Jessica were murdered. I’m 23 now and because of my interest in true crime, I actually think about them quite a lot. I don’t even live near where it happened but I got so used to seeing their pictures on the morning news every morning as I was getting ready for school that their faces are permanently branded in my mind. They were so similar in age to me they looked like girls I could have easily been friends with. It still hurts my heart when I think about it. I’m glad I’ve finally written about them and been able to put something out there into the world in their memory. I hope you’re resting in peace, sweet angels. 

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