Read an Excerpt
The True Story of Levi Bellfield, the Man who Murdered Milly Dowler, Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange
By John McShane
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2011 John McShane
All rights reserved.
The day started normally for Milly Dowler and her family, a busy Thursday in the middle of a hectic school week. Milly made sure that her father Bob gave her a breakfast-time kiss. He had innocently neglected to kiss the 13-year-old, his youngest daughter, the previous day because he had left home early so he was happy to make amends. 'It was a bit of a family habit that I gave her a kiss in the morning,' he said.
The Dowler family had two cars, a blue Peugeot 206 and a red VW Golf estate, and Bob Dowler planned to take the estate with him to a business meeting not far from their home in Walton-on-Thames in Surrey.
Normally, IT expert Bob would not return home until between 6.30pm and 7.00pm, but as the meeting was in nearby Basingstoke he said he would probably be back by about 4.00pm.He didn't leave until about 9.45am and, around 3.00-3.10pm, he returned to the comfortable, detached family house that had been their home for nine years, earlier than he originally planned. The Dowlers were having some work carried out on the house and it was the builders' first day on the job but they had left by then.
In the normal course of events, such trivial timings would be inconsequential. Yet, by that evening – and in the years to follow – the hours and minutes of that terrible day, 21 March 2002, would be analysed, examined and argued over in the full glare of national and international spotlights. Exactly who was where and at what time was to become of pivotal importance. But all that was still in the future and, mercifully, none of the Dowler family could foresee the horrors that lay in store.
Bob and his wife Sally had met in October 1981 and married two and a half years later. In January 1986, their elder daughter Gemma was born, and on 25 June 1988 another daughter, Amanda, known to everyone as Milly, was born. Sally taught mathematics at Heathside School in Weybridge, where her two daughters were both pupils, and the normal routine was that their mother would drive them to school. Mother and daughters laughed as they listened to the Chris Tarrant show on the Peugeot's radio as the DJ humorously tried to arrange a blind-date for one of his on-air team.
That morning, Milly had a drama lesson in which, dressed in a dark blue-black tracksuit, she played a restaurant owner. In the course of that lesson, she spoke to her friends of her excitement at being at a Pop Idol concert on the Tuesday night when she had seen her favourite artist, Gareth Gates, perform. Milly had cried with pleasure at seeing him. The home video of Milly the Monday night before the concert, laughing and smiling while she ironed her jeans, the first time she had ever ironed anything, was later to be seen by millions, released in the hope that it might help find her.
It had been a busy week for Milly. At the weekend, she had taken part in a fun run with her uncle, Brian Gilbertson, who had only come into her life a few months earlier. It had only recently been revealed that her grandmother had given birth to him when she was 16. The happy day had ended with Milly playing the saxophone at the party afterwards.
During that Thursday morning break, Milly ate three packets of crisps and a chocolate muffin. Her friend Danielle Sykes, who was in the same Year 9 form as Milly, said to her jokingly that she was a pig for eating such food. Lessons included drama and science in the afternoon.
Milly had some artwork to finish at school and, as her mother had a tutorial after normal school ended in the afternoon at 2.55pm and Gemma was off to do trampoline exercise, the family would then all leave for home together. But Milly came to see her mother and said that she had done her work at lunchtime and did not want to wait around for a lift. She gave her mother her gym kit and told her she would catch the train from Weybridge instead. The girls were given £2.50 a day for lunch and 80p a day for the train by their parents.
This was the first of many accidents of fate that day which were to place Milly in the presence of the man who was to take her life. How could she or her mother know, how could anyone know that a small change in a mundane routine would have such consequences? No one was to blame; no one was at fault.
Milly walked out of school at 3.07pm wearing her school uniform: a short grey skirt, a white blouse and a light blue V-neck sweater. She had on her navy-blue school blazer with an emblem over the breast pocket and on her feet she had a small pair of white trainer socks and black Pod shoes. She was carrying a beige and black JanSport rucksack. In it were her schoolbooks, a pink Barbie pencil case and a red and white purse decorated with heart shapes, her house keys on a bottle-opener key ring and her Nokia 3210 mobile phone with her name. Around the young girl's wrist was a pink, beaded friendship bracelet.
She left school with her friends Danielle, Cara Dawson and Jacqueline Pignolly, and they walked to Weybridge railway station. At 3.23pm, she went on to the platform with Danielle. On the walk to the station, she had removed her sweater and put it in her bag.
The girls caught the 3.26pm scheduled train from Weybridge and, in the normal course of events, Milly would have stayed on board until it reached Hersham, the nearest station to her home. Instead, she decided to get off at the stop before Hersham, Walton, to have some chips with Danielle at the Travellers Cafe on the station platform. It was another one of those 'if only' decisions.
There were images of Milly later seen by millions as she left school and as she reached Weybridge. There was nothing from Walton station, however; a decorator had accidentally disconnected its CCTV during work he was carrying out.
Jacqueline stayed on the train and carried on until Hersham. Although Cara got off at Walton too, she immediately walked straight home on the route that Milly should have taken soon afterwards: down Station Avenue, across a road junction with traffic lights known as The Halfway and along Rydens Road, arriving home some five or ten minutes later.
Inside the cafe where Milly had decided to stay for chips were three boys from school: Christopher Price, Adam Raine and Miles Pink. Danielle had to lend Milly 10p to make sure that she had enough for the bag of chips and Milly used Christopher's mobile to call home, hers being out of credit. The Dowlers had a rule that if one of their daughters was going to be delayed then they should call their parents at home. The 26-second call was made at 3.47pm. Milly told her father that she had stopped for chips and would be home in about 30 minutes. She didn't ask for a lift and Bob didn't offer her one – there seemed to be no need. It was all so ordinary, so uneventful. A young daughter slightly delayed, a busy father reassured by her call.
Danielle Sykes had an elder sister, 17-year-old Natalie, who was studying at Esher College. She called and asked Danielle to wait for her as she was on her way from Esher to Walton station on the train.
When Natalie arrived at the station, she joined the others in the cafe run by brothers Anthony and Robert Stevens. After the chips had been consumed, the girls went their separate ways; the sisters going one way out of the station, Milly leaving as though to go towards Station Avenue.
Alongside the station was the business centre of Walton Tyre and Exhaust – later replaced by a modern Audi showroom – after the exit gate where the Sykes girls last saw Milly. That too was to change in the years that followed, being replaced by a barrier. An old bicycle shelter stood there, again to be updated in the years after Milly disappeared, and a telephone kiosk was nearby, also subsequently removed. However, some vital features of the area remained. The entrances to the station car park on the southern side of Station Avenue were unaltered and, most importantly, the position of a bus stop on the northern side remained the same.
Milly was seen in Station Avenue by Katherine Laynes, 15, also a Heathside pupil, albeit in Year 11 and a friend of Gemma Dowler. She had met Millie as she had recently been to a birthday party for Gemma and she had also seen the younger sister at school. She therefore recognised Milly as she walked on the south side of Station Avenue and the two girls made eye contact. Katherine was at the bus stop on the northern side of the road and she lost sight of Milly as her view was obstructed by an advertising hoarding at one end of the stop. If Milly had stayed on the south side of the road, she would have walked past the striking
Birds Eye building, a three-storey, 1960s office block which had become Grade II listed.
Katherine boarded her bus and once on board looked for Milly but could not see her; she had vanished. Milly had gone, as an Old Bailey jury was to hear years later, 'in the blink of an eye'. She was never seen alive again – except by her killer.
The exact events and timings involved in this last journey of Milly's and her snack with friends will be analysed in detail later on in this book; the where, when and how of her disappearance forming a major part of the trial Levi Bellfield was to face for her murder nine years on. The events in the Dowler house prior to Milly's disappearance will also be examined, as will what took place that terrible afternoon and discoveries that were made in subsequent days and weeks. They were distressing in the details that they revealed and, importantly, even more controversial in the manner they became public.
Bob Dowler, then 50, was still at the family's Walton Park home as that March afternoon gave way to early evening. He had gone into the drawing room at the front of the house that he used as his study and had been on a number of telephone calls he was to later say were 'stressful'. The door to the room was closed.
He had arranged to go out that night at about 7.00pm with a friend to a concert in Guildford and Sally, 42, was to babysit for relatives who were going out to celebrate their anniversary. Sally came into the room and gave him a post-it note reading, 'I'm off to Pete's, where's Milly?'
By the time he had finished his call, there was only Gemma in the house and she told him that Milly was not at home. She had arrived and called out, 'Amanda, Amanda, where are you?' and received no reply.
At 5.21pm, Bob phoned Milly's mobile and left a message to the effect of, 'Where are you? Mum's gone out, I'm going out at 7.00pm. Where are you?' Then he made calls to Danielle Sykes and also to his wife, twice, to let her know what was happening.
Bob Dowler went out in his car to look for his younger daughter. There was no sign of her. He telephoned the local hospitals without success. At 7.07pm, he rang Addlestone police station in Surrey and 'pretty quickly' police were at the house, he said. In fact, they arrived just three minutes later, at 7.10pm. Bob, Sally and Gemma were all at home by now, as were Sally's nephews. The officers were allowed in Milly's room which they described at the time as 'a normal teenager's room. It was messy and untidy and the bed was unmade.'
The police went to Walton station, spoke with Cara Dawson and Danielle Sykes, carried out searches between the station and Milly's home between 9.05pm and 10.10pm, and returned to the Dowler home several times that night.
Then the officers filed a missing person report. The hunt for Milly Dowler had begun.CHAPTER 2
The weekend of 23 March 2002 saw the first appearance of stories in the national media and television about the disappearance of a 13-year-old girl on her way home from school. Milly Dowler was to become synonymous with the fears of parents everywhere for children's wellbeing and safety in a twisted world.
The hope that fraught Saturday and Sunday was that she was all right. It was not, of course, to be the case.
Her uncle Brian Gilbertson had been out the night of her disappearance with homemade posters of his niece and that weekend they were pinned or wrapped around trees and lamp-posts on the route she should have taken home and in the surrounding districts.
The news of Milly's disappearance brought back for some the memories of another case that had ended in tragedy, that of Sarah Payne, the eight-year-old girl abducted and killed during a visit to West Sussex two years earlier who had grown up in Hersham less than a mile from the Dowler family home.
More than a hundred police officers joined the search for Milly, aided by dogs and a fire brigade boat-team. They combed allotments, fields, waterways and bushes for clues. Concerned members of the public joined in and a helicopter with thermal-imaging equipment flew over the area, while divers searched nearby River Mole.
Bob Dowler said, 'We've been absolutely overwhelmed by everybody's help and support. It's my wife's birthday this week – it would be the best present in the world if we got her home safe. Someone, somewhere must know something. Any suggestion, however small, could be vital.'
Referring to the phone call he had received from Milly while she was at Walton station, he said, 'She told me where she was, who she was with, and said she was going to be home in half an hour ... and I said, "That is quite all right, darling." We have lived in the area for a number of years. We have always felt comfortable. If I had been at all concerned, I would have gone to the station and picked her up.'
Sally Dowler appeared with her husband at a press conference at Staines police station that weekend. Looking into the cameras, she said, 'We're devastated. We're just so desperately worried. Please, please give her back to us. The only thing that keeps us going is to think that she's out there and that we're going to get her back. Milly, if you are watching or listening to this, we want you to know that we all love you and miss you very much and can't wait to have you back home with us.' Her daughter was a happy student, she said, and she mentioned Milly playing her saxophone at a charity reception and the Pop Idol concert.
Will Young, winner of Pop Idol, had performed that night too. He added his voice to the appeal: 'Amanda, please go home or contact your family. They are missing you and are very worried. Also, do it for me and all the other Pop Idol fans.'
The headteacher at Heathside School was Glyn Willoughby. He said the entire community was working to find the girl: 'We are assisting the police and Amanda's family as much as we can and our thoughts are with them at this time. We are hoping there will be good news. We are doing everything possible to attain a happy result from this very traumatic and difficult situation for all involved. The entire community is really in limbo at the moment, wanting to know what more they can do.'
By that Monday, 25 March, hundreds of people were either out searching for Milly or distributing and displaying posters on buildings throughout Walton-on-Thames. It was the first day of the school holiday but many of Milly's pals and schoolmates were among those helping. Those children who had been on outings or shopping trips were met by their anxious parents as they left Walton station rather than going home on their own – no one was taking any chances.
Superintendent Alan Sharp, the police officer leading the hunt, admitted that his officers were 'no further forward' in their efforts to trace her. 'We remain extremely concerned for Amanda's safety. It seems astonishing that a young girl could have vanished in broad daylight in an area like this,' said Superintendent Sharp, the operations commander for north Surrey. 'Someone must have seen her and that is our one hope. At the moment we are no further forward.'
He said the investigation was still a missing person inquiry, but admitted that abduction had not been ruled out. 'We want to know if anyone saw her get into a car or stopping to talk to anyone,' said Sharp. 'Her parents, friends and all her family share our great concern now that so much time has passed. But we are not ruling out that Amanda may be watching, listening to or reading this appeal and, if she is, we want her to contact her parents immediately or contact the police and tell us where she is. We have done extensive searches over a wide area but we are no further forward in finding her.'
Excerpted from Predator by John McShane. Copyright © 2011 John McShane. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.