Happy, pretty and successful – three words that even people who didn’t know Joanna Yeates would use to describe her. After Joanna went missing on December 17th 2010, it wasn’t long before her face was on the cover of nearly every tabloid newspaper across the UK and with that the British public were quick to find out every detail of the 25-year-old’s life.
Joanna wasn’t the type you’d expect to just disappear; she was sensible, she had a good job as a landscape architect and she didn’t drink to excess or do drugs. She had a supportive family and had a steady relationship with her boyfriend, Greg Reardon (27), with whom she had been with for 2 years. They had lived together for over a year and in October 2010, Greg, Joanna and their pet cat moved into a new flat together at 44 Canynge Road in Clifton, a suburb of Bristol. All in all, life was looking good for Joanna.
The Night Everything Changed
December 17th was a Friday, it was nearing Christmas and the atmosphere was festive. Greg was away visiting family in Sheffield for the weekend and that evening Joanna joined her colleagues for after-work drinks. She left the Ram pub at around 8pm to walk home. On her way home surveillance footage showed her going into a Waitrose supermarket and leaving without having bought anything. At 8:30, she called her friend Rebecca to arrange to meet up on Christmas Eve. Joanna was seen on surveillance footage around 8:40 at a Tesco Express, where she bought a pizza. She then went to an off-licence, Bargain Booze, purchasing two bottles of cider.
Joanna Is Missing
Greg returned to the flat where he found the cat which appeared to have not been fed. There was no sign of Joanna. He called her mobile phone, which he heard ring from inside her coat pocket. Greg also discovered Joanna’s purse, glasses and keys. At around 12am on December 18th, he became very concerned and reported Joanna missing to police and her parents.
At the flat, investigators found the receipt for the pizza Joanna had purchased. Oddly, the pizza packaging was not recovered, suggesting she did not eat it, but the pizza itself was nowhere to be found either. The bottles of cider were both recovered, one partly consumed and the other unopened. There were neither signs of forced entry, nor signs of a disturbance having taken place inside the flat.
Investigators also examined Greg’s laptop and mobile phone as part of standard protocol. Nothing incriminating was found.
By December 21st, no further clues as to Joanna’s whereabouts had surfaced. Joanna’s parents, David and Teresa, made an emotional plea during a press conference where they voiced their disbelief at her sudden disappearance. They asked that Joanna please get in touch, expressing their love for her and their concern for her safety. Joanna’s brother, Chris, and Greg were also present.
A Body Is Discovered
By the 23rd, Joanna’s family and Greg were becoming increasingly convinced that the worst had happened. Joanna had been missing for 6 days. Her father expressed his fears that Joanna may have been abducted from her flat after returning home.
On Christmas Day, their worst nightmare was confirmed. A couple out walking their dog that morning along Longwood Lane, Failand (about 4 miles from Joanna’s flat in Clifton) discovered a body on the side of the road which was clothed and covered in snow.
On the 26th, it was confirmed that the body that was found was Joanna’s. The post-mortem examination also began that day, but results were delayed due to the Joanna’s body being frozen. By the 28th, the pathologist determined that the cause of death was strangulation. There was no evidence that Joanna had been sexually assaulted. Joanna was fully clothed, however was not wearing a coat and had one sock missing. The sock was a long, grey ski sock; it was not found in her flat or anywhere near where her body was discovered. The sock became an important part of the investigation, detectives believing that the killer may have kept it as a trophy.
Christopher Jefferies, a 65-year-old retired English teacher at local private school Clifton College, was well known in the community. Jefferies was Joanna and Greg’s landlord and lived in the flat above them. He was active with the local Liberal Democrats, helping out in election campaigns and was also heavily involved in the Neighbourhood Watch scheme in Clifton. Jefferies was an eccentric character, sometimes making bold statements such as dyeing his hair blue. Former students described him as an unconventional but inspiring teacher.
Jefferies became involved in the murder investigation of Joanna Yeates when he was questioned over claims he’d made to neighbours about seeing three people when he drove up outside Joanna’s flat at around 9pm. The neighbours told investigators that Jefferies had said he had seen Joanna, however, Jefferies clarified that he had not specifically seen Joanna, but rather had only seen three people.
From my reading on this case I couldn’t really get my head around what exactly was so incriminating about Jefferies simply seeing Joanna outside her flat that night. However, Jefferies was arrested on suspicion of murder early on the morning of December 30th 2010.
The media had a field day over the arrest of Jefferies. There really was no other reason for this other than the fact that Jefferies was, admittedly, odd-looking and eccentric. Guardian columnist Stephen Moss wrote of, “the unspoken assumption was that no one could look that odd and be innocent.”
There were a range of defamatory headlines splashed across the front pages UK rags (namely The Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Mirror) including "Professor Strange", "The Strange Mr Jefferies", landlord of the murdered Joanna Yeates and a "suspect peeping Tom".
After being questioned by detectives for 2 days, Jefferies was released on bail on January 1st, 2011. Understandably, once he was no longer a suspect in the murder investigation, Jefferies sued eight UK newspapers for libel. His lawyer spoke out on the matter:
“Christopher Jefferies is the latest victim of the regular witch-hunts and character assassinations conducted by the worst elements of the British tabloid media.”
Jefferies received ‘substantial damages’ from the papers as well as a public apology from police.
The Real Killer
Vincent Tabak was a 32-year-old Dutch national who was working in Bristol as an engineer. He lived in the flat next door to Joanna and Greg with his girlfriend, Tanja Morson. Police knocked on Tabak’s around 4am on December 18th after Greg had reported Joanna missing. Tabak was asked if he knew anything of Joanna’s disappearance; he replied that he did not.
On the 23rd, police searched Tabak’s flat. He was cooperative and nothing of interest in the investigation was found during the search. Tabak and Morson travelled to Cambridge to stay with her family on the 24th. The same day, Tabak spoke to a detective on the phone saying that he had been in all evening until he went to pick up his girlfriend in the early morning of the 18th after a night out. He also told them he did not know Joanna.
On the 28th, Tabak and Morson drove to Holland via the Eurotunnel to spend New Years with his family. The two watched a news report while in Holland about the fact Jefferies had been arrested that day on suspicion of murder.
Tabak saw an opportunity to frame Jefferies which also turned out to be his greatest mistake; he called detectives and gave information which indicated Jefferies had gone out a number of times the night Joanna disappeared, saying he saw his car facing in different directions at different points over the course of the evening. DC Karen Thomas flew to Holland the next day and spoke to Tabak for six hours. During the encounter Tabak began to appear suspicious; he changed his version of what he did that night, saying that as well as going to pick up his girlfriend, he also went out to take photos of the snow and went to Asda. He also appeared overly curious about the forensic examinations which were taking place. At DC Thomas’s request, Tabak gave a DNA sample and was fingerprinted.
On their return to the UK on January 2nd 2011, Tabak was sure he was going to be arrested. It wasn’t until the early hours 20th of January, however, that Tabak got the knock on his door and he was arrested for the murder of Joanna Yeates; forensic tests had revealed that Tabak’s DNA was present on the body. Tabak insisted the DNA results were faked by corrupt officials trying to frame him, however, he soon let this go.
On the January 22nd, after days of questioning by detectives, Tabak was charged with the murder of Joanna Yeates. On the February 8th he admitted to a prison chaplain that he had killed her.
May 5th saw Tabak pleading guilty to manslaughter but denying murder. His plea of manslaughter was rejected and it was determined that he would be tried for murder in October 2011.
The trial began on October 10th, 2011 in front of the jury and Mr Justice Field.
Throughout the investigation and into the trial, Tabak maintained that he did not know how Joanna had sustained all the injuries (there were 43 in total) to her neck, torso, head and arms.
The prosecution spoke of Tabak’s intention to kill Joanna when he entered her flat that night; it was not an accident. It was claimed that Tabak applied “sufficient force” in order to strangle her. In other words, he could have stopped, but he did not.
Tabak’s defence was that the killing was not sexually motivated and he had no intention of killing her. He stated that she had made a “flirty comment” to him and invited him over for a drink at her flat. Once we was inside, he tried to kiss her and she screamed. To stop her screaming, he put his hand over her mouth. He removed his hand but she continued to scream so he put his hand back over her mouth and his other hand around her throat and held it there, unintentionally causing her death.
He then bundled her body into the boot of his car and drove to Asda where he bought beer and crisps. He texted his girlfriend to say he was “bored”. He then drove to Longwood Lane and dumped her body, which was discovered on Christmas Day.
The jury deliberated for 3 days and found Tabak guilty of Joanna Yeates’s murder by a 10-2 majority.
Tabak was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 20 years. During his sentencing, Mr Justice Field spoke of a “sexual element” being a part of the killing.
During the trial, the jury did not hear of violent pornography Vincent Tabak watched on his computer leading up to the murder; the details of this came out once the trial was over. After the trial, it was found that Tabak also possessed over 100 pornographic images of children. He was charged and sentenced to a further 10 months in prison.
A memorial garden was planted where Joanna previously worked to celebrate her memory.
Joanna was designing a garden for the new Southmead Hospital when she was murdered. Plans were made to have a memorial to Joanna in the garden.
After Tabak was convicted of Joanna’s murder, her father David expressed that although the killer had been charged, this did not bring his family closure.
"I never realised that Jo had such an impact on other people and that really gives me an enormous amount of pride. She died when she was 25 and it would have been interesting to see what she might have achieved if she had lived another 25 years." - David Yeates