Published: 08:33, 30 April 2021
| Updated: 16:49, 30 April 2021
Police say there are no identified suspects nor a clear motive for the brutal murder of a PCSO found dead with significant head injuries.
Julia James, 53, was discovered lifeless on the edge of woodland in Snowdown on Tuesday having suffered fatal blunt force injuries
Addressing journalists at the Aylesham Community Centre this morning, assistant chief constable Tom Richards confirmed she had been found by more than one person, with her Jack Russell by her side.
A post-mortem investigation carried out yesterday revealed she died from serious head injuries caused by blunt force trauma.
Asked if she could have been killed by a "total stranger", ACC Richards said: "I cannot rule that out. That would be incredibly rare, but I have to concede that is a possibility."
He added: "Kent Police were called shortly after 4pm on Tuesday of this week to the edge of Ackholt Wood, on the outskirts of Snowdown village.
"That is where we found Julia. She was deceased.
"A post-mortem took place on Thursday and I can confirm she died as a result of serious head injuries.
"The Serious Crime Directorate have commenced a murder investigation
"We do not at this stage have any identified suspects. We are keeping all options open to us while we fully investigate the circumstances and try to understand what happened.
"We do not at this stage understand the motive for this attack.
"Julia was not on duty at the time of this incident. She was not in uniform. As with many people in the current climate, she was working from home that day. She was walking her dog.
"Many local and wider members of the community have come forward with incredibly useful, important information which is helping us piece together what happened on Tuesday.
"If anybody else saw anything suspicious or strange we are very, very anxious to speak to them."
Officers have been seen in surrounding woodland carrying out meticulous searches for evidence.
Asked if it is known what, if any, weapon was used in the attack, ACC Richards said: "She has died from blunt trauma to the head. I'm not in a position and it wouldn't be appropriate to speak about precise weapons while we examine the circumstances."
ACC Richards revealed Mrs James had most recently been working with domestic violence victims and was based at Canterbury police station.
He said it was a possibility Mrs James may have been attacked by someone she encountered in her line of work.
"We're considering all possible motivations and all options," he said.
He said similar when asked if there could be a possible sexual motive, but when pressed on a potential robbery or dog-napping "gone wrong", he hinted this was not a strong line of enquiry.
"There's no evidence that any of possessions were missing," he explained. "Her dog was at the scene, unharmed, when police arrived."
The brutal murder on Tuesday has sent shockwaves through the small hamlet, with residents left fearful of walking their dogs and letting their children catch the bus.
But ACC Richards described the events as "isolated and incredibly rare", adding that locals can be reassured by the large police presence, which will continue into the weekend.
"I do understand that residents are concerned," he said. "That's completely natural.
"We would encourage people to be cautious, vigilant and aware of their surroundings, and to report concerns to police, but we are not advising women, or anyone for that matter, to stay at home or to avoid any particular location. People should be cautious and be aware, but people should continue with their lives.
"This was a single, incredibly rare, isolated event."
Parallels have been drawn to the Chillenden murders - just three miles away - which saw Michael Stone bludgeon Lin and Megan Russell to death with a hammer 25 years ago.
ACC Richards said: "That famous case is quite close to here but for clarity that is a case with an individual convicted and serving a prison sentence.
"That conviction has been tested by the Court of Appeal, but as I've said we're keeping our assessment of the motive open at this stage. We're not going to be blinkered in any way."
Asked about links to reports of indecent exposure in Nonington two weeks ago, ACC Richards said it was not appropriate to "provide a running commentary" on information provided.
Earlier today, Deputy chief constable Tim Smith said: "We have launched a murder investigation and have hundreds of officers working to establish what happened, who did this and why.
"We cannot rule out this was a stranger attack. It is very important we are honest with the public. We have asked people to stay vigilant and that advice still stands."
Meanwhile The Times reported a PCSO in the area had told residents to avoid woodland and stick to their usual dog walking routes as the hunt for the killer continues. Police had previously urged people to "stay vigilant" until the "full circumstances" were known.
Meanwhile, there remains a huge police presence at the scene, with Aylesham Road shut off and lined with more than 20 police vehicles.
Mrs James had last been seen leaving her house to take her jack russell, Toby, for a walk, but was discovered lifeless on the bridle way near Ackholt Wood at about 4pm, her beloved dog by her side.
Despite the number of police officers in the quiet hamlet, local residents remain on high alert.
Mary Bosson, a cousin of Mrs James' mum, says everyone is scared to take their dogs for a walk.
"It is worrying," she said. "We all walk our dogs around that area. I have a pregnant granddaughter and she walks her two dogs around there. She was there Monday and Tuesday, on her own. We don't know if it was random or what. We won't be doing it now until we find out."
Mrs James lived in The Crescent, where a field - popular with dog walkers - at the end of the road was taped off by police on Thursday morning.
Dorothy Morgan has lived around the corner in South Avenue for 25 years, and says Mrs James went to St Joseph's Catholic School with her daughter.
"It's so chilling," she said. "She was a really nice girl. I just can't believe it. We seldom walk about, but I've seen more people walking around in twos. Quite a lot of people have dogs here."
Another mum, who also lives in South Avenue, told KentOnline she won't walk her dog along the track where Mrs James was found
"I used to go most days on my own but I just wouldn't do that now," she said.
"I'm also having to take my daughter to school, whereas normally she'd take the bus. I don't want her walking on her own, or waiting for it on her own, and I think most parents will probably be doing the same thing.
"There's obviously quite a big police presence so hopefully everything will be OK, and we have a strong community, which is nice."
Another woman in the street said: 'I've lived here 36 years and I lived here as a child as well.
"This is very very awful news. I only knew her to say hello to. Usually I walk my daughter's dog down there, probably 50 yards from where she was found. But I won't now. I feel fear at the moment. But in a way I feel safe because there's so much police presence."
Our reporter speaks from the scene
Keith Thomas, 70, has lived in Spinney Lane, Aylesham, since 1977.
"The whole village is shocked by the whole event, being a local girl as well," he said.
"My wife goes for walks with the grandchildren there. It will stop people coming out. It is so close to home.
"I have great trust in the police, and I think that they will catch him. People don't keep quiet about things like that in this village. If somebody knows something, they will say it."
Mrs James is understood to have been working from home on Tuesday, before leaving the house in the afternoon.
Neighbour Sean Simmonds believes he may have been the last person to see her alive.
"I was polishing my car on the driveway and I looked up and saw Julia walking on the other side of the road with her dog," he said.
"She was heading towards the woods at the back. I didn't see her come back. Around 4pm the police arrived and started cordoning off the area. I might have been the last person to see her alive."
PCSO James was found just three miles from where Lin Russell, 45, her two daughters, six-year-old Megan and nine-year-old Josie and their dog Lucy, were tied up and savagely beaten with a hammer in July 1996.
Lin, Megan and their dog were killed but Josie survived. Michael Stone was convicted of the murders and remains in prison.
At about 2pm on Wednesday, police began scouring woodland off Holt Road, about 150 yards from Mrs James' house.
In the hours before more than 20 police vehicles descended on Aylesham Road, lining the country road opposite a nearby travellers' site.
On Wednesday morning more officers arrived, with the delivery of 12 portaloos the night before suggesting the force is expecting to remain at the scene for some time.
And yesterday two routes which Mrs James is thought to have taken to get from her home to fields were sealed off.
Mrs James' former partner, Wayne Davis, 62, says he learned of her death from their son, Patrick, 23.
He told The Sun: "The first I heard of it was Tuesday night. I asked my son if he know what was happening in Snowdown.
"He said to begin with he didn't, but there were police everywhere. I said I'd heard a woman had lost her life.
"Then a bit later the phone rang and he said 'Dad, it's mum.' He was devastated.
"What I personally find odd is it's happened in the middle of nowhere. It's a mystery. For something like that to happen - you just don't know whether it's just random."
Mr Davis added: "Julia was the love of my life but we separated, as couples sometimes do. She was a lovely woman.
"What she did as a PCSO was not just a job - it was a way of life."
Mrs James joined Kent Police in 2007 after leaving her job at a Kent County Council learning resource centre.
Home Secretary Priti Patel is among those to offer condolences to her family.
Speaking to Sky yesterday, she said: "First of all my thoughts are with Julia's family and friends. I was debriefed from the chief constables' call last night on this awful, awful murder.
"We've got to let Kent Police have the time and space to get on with their investigation.
"This is also Julia's home force so her colleagues and friends in the force will need much support as well right now too.
"We need to let the police get on and do their investigation. This is tragic beyond words. Across the country and in policing we are all grieving for Julia."
On Tuesday night, the Home Secretary tweeted: "So saddened to hear of the death of @kent_police PCSO Julia James. I offer my sincere condolences to Julia’s friends, family and colleagues at this awful time."
And Kent's assistant chief constable Peter Ayling posted: "Some shattered people today following the loss of one of our own. Support in place and extensive investigation but a tough day for many. Thoughts with all who knew & loved Julia, RIP."
Officers from Kent's serious crime directorate are investigating the "suspicious" death of Mrs James, who worked in the Ashford area.
ACC Richards said: "It is vitally important that anyone who was in the area on Monday and Tuesday who may have seen something suspicious gets in touch.
"We are particularly keen to speak to those who regularly visit the area who may have seen something out of place and those who drove by who have dashcam footage."
They are keen to speak to anyone who was in the area on Monday and Tuesday who may have seen something unusual or suspicious. They are urged to contact Kent Police on 0800 0514526. Anyone with video footage can submit it online by clicking here.