Home   Canterbury   News   Article

Julia James trial: How technology helped catch murderer Callum Wheeler


More news, no ads

LEARN MORE

When a beloved PCSO was found brutally murdered on a remote footpath, there were no witnesses or CCTV cameras in sight.

Julia James was discovered a quarter-of-a-mile from the nearest property or road on a dirt track running along the edge of a field, on a quiet Tuesday afternoon last April.

A mammoth police investigation followed, in which officers went door-to-door, speaking to 5,000 local residents.

But on the day Julia was killed, not a single person had seen her between the time she left home and her death.

Yet this week, technology has helped bring her killer - 22-year-old Callum Wheeler - to justice.

Despite the secluded location of the senseless murder, a smart watch, CCTV footage, and a smartphone carried by a quick-thinking farmer helped track down Julia's murderer.

Featuring a heart rate sensor and GPS tracker, an Apple Watch Julia wore the afternoon she died proved invaluable in cracking the case.

The photo taken by Gavin Tucker the day after Julia's murder shows Wheeler in countryside between Aylesham and Snowdown, carrying the murder weapon. Picture: Kent Police
The photo taken by Gavin Tucker the day after Julia's murder shows Wheeler in countryside between Aylesham and Snowdown, carrying the murder weapon. Picture: Kent Police
Julia James. Picture: Kent Police
Julia James. Picture: Kent Police

Police were able to pull vital data, revealing her exact movements between leaving her house in Snowdown at 2.12pm, and her death approximately half-an-hour later.

They mapped her route through her back garden gate, around a field behind her home, along a bridleway, and into nearby Ackholt Wood.

The data showed her stop for a while at a point she and her husband knew as the "butterfly place" - presumably admiring the butterflies - before turning back and heading home.

But moments later, her heart rate soared from 97bpm to 145bpm in a matter of 19 seconds.

Harrowingly, the data also shows her pace “radically changed”, as prosecutor Alison Morgan QC said Julia “must have seen her attacker waiting in the woods”, armed, before she ran to escape him.

The watch then showed her heartbeat drop below 60bpm, as Wheeler subjected her to a brutal, sustained attack with a heavy pole.

Det Sup Gavin Moss, who led the investigation, said the Apple Watch "really helped".

"We didn't identify any witnesses who saw her walking the route she took to take her dog for a walk," he said.

"All we knew was where Julia had been found.

"That smart watch was able to give me and the team [her] exact route, which we ordinarily wouldn't have found.

A CCTV image showing Wheeler in Roger's Close, carrying the murder weapon, the day after Julia was killed. Picture: Kent Police
A CCTV image showing Wheeler in Roger's Close, carrying the murder weapon, the day after Julia was killed. Picture: Kent Police

Prosecutor Martin Yale, junior counsel in trial, added: "I've never used smart watch data in a case before. It was very important.

"It's enabled us to know what she was doing, where she was, and place the other evidence - the CCTV, the sightings - in the context of those movements."

Another breakthrough for the case came when Gavin Tucker - a farmer whose land includes Ackholt Wood - captured a photo of Callum Wheeler the day after Julia's murder.

He had been driving in Pond Lane, when he spotted Wheeler at the road's junction with Adisham Road, less than a mile from the crime scene.

He was carrying a long item wrapped in plastic bags which later turned out to be the murder weapon.

Police officers searching in Aylesham as part of the Julia James murder investigation. Picture: UKNiP
Police officers searching in Aylesham as part of the Julia James murder investigation. Picture: UKNiP

Mr Tucker challenged Wheeler but found him to be "suspicious".

Praising the farmer's next actions, Det Sup Moss said: "This witness had the presence of mind to take a photograph of him on his mobile phone, which is what was circulated to the public via the media.

"Ultimately, that's how we were able to identify Callum Wheeler."

Det Sup Moss described the photo as "very significant" for the case.

But he says he has "every confidence" Wheeler would have eventually been found using forensics, had the image not been shared.

However, as Wheeler had no history with the police, there is no telling how long it would have taken to match his DNA to that found on Julia.

"I'm confident in the future we would have found Callum Wheeler," said Det Sup Moss.

"But that would have amounted to a considerable amount of work, a considerable amount of time, and may not have been realised until some time after."

Video footage also played a key part in the investigation.

More than 6,700 hours of footage from doorbell cameras, dashcam videos, CCTV and drones were viewed by police.

Among it was clear CCTV footage from Aylesham and District Social Club, which plainly showed Wheeler walking past at 1.08pm that day.

Also found was grainy CCTV footage captured from across a field - at a distance of about half-a-mile - that shows a small figure identified as Julia as she made her way to Ackholt Wood.

Together, the technology helped establish what happened on that remote track on that fateful day.

It helped the prosecution build a compelling case, that has now led to Wheeler's conviction.

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More