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Chillenden murders of 1996: The shocking killings of Lin and Megan Russell and remarkable survival of Josie Russell

The brutal murder of PCSO Julia James as she walked her dog across picture-postcard countryside this week has seen parallels drawn with a shocking crime committed just three miles away 25 years ago.

The deaths of Lin and Megan Russell - along with their pet dog - attacked by a hammer-wielding maniac as they walked along a rural path on a summer's afternoon, was one of Kent's most notorious crimes, one which stunned the nation and shattered the tranquility of the area.

Lin and Megan Russell - both were killed in the attack in 1996
Lin and Megan Russell - both were killed in the attack in 1996

But the horrific events of this week in nearby Snowdown have brought those dreadful memories back for many.

When asked about any link at a press conference today assistant chief constable Tom 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."

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In 1996 Megan was just six-years-old. Her mother, Lin, 45.

Remarkably, Megan's sister, Josie, then aged nine, survived the savage attack. Left for dead with horrific head injuries, she was found barely alive when police stumbled across their bodies after the alarm had been raised.

The family had been walking home across fields at Chillenden - between Canterbury and Dover - on July 9, 1996.

Academic Lin had collected Megan and Josie from Goodnestone Primary School after the girls had returned from a swimming gala in Canterbury. She had taken their pet dog Lucy along for the walk.

As they crossed the picturesque fields back towards their home in Nonington, they walked along Cherry Garden Lane. Two of them would never make it home.

The family were walking home after Lin collected Josie and Megan at Goodnestone Primary School, after they had attended a swimming gala in Canterbury
The family were walking home after Lin collected Josie and Megan at Goodnestone Primary School, after they had attended a swimming gala in Canterbury

A car drove past them with a man driving.

It stopped and blocked their path. The man approached the family demanding money.

Lin said she had none but could get some from home but he refused. She urged Josie to run to get help from a nearby house, but she was caught by the man who hit her with a hammer, before dragging her back to the terrified group.

He then ripped up the towels used by the girls for swimming and tied and blindfolded the family to trees in a small copse just off the lane, claiming he was going to leave them there before driving off.

But in an act of unspeakable violence, he started savagely attacking Lin Russell with a hammer - Josie hearing her mother being attacked and crying out for him to stop before being attacked herself. Even the dog was slaughtered.

The photo-fit image, distributed at the time by police, of the man wanted over the attack on the Russell family
The photo-fit image, distributed at the time by police, of the man wanted over the attack on the Russell family

Back at their home, university lecturer Dr Shaun Russell was growing anxious for his family after he had returned home from work later that evening to an empty house.

He feared the dog had gone missing and the family were searching for it, but as night began to fall he became increasingly frantic, calling on friends to help look for them.

The police were called and a search of the area was carried out resulting in the grisly discovery of the three bodies.

Josie, incredibly, had survived.

She needed extensive surgery on her head injuries and, still to this day, struggles sometimes with speaking and concentration.

Dr Shaun Russell lost his daughter and wife in the terrible attack
Dr Shaun Russell lost his daughter and wife in the terrible attack

Shortly after the killings, she would tell police she thought the attacker was a man with blond spiky hair in his 20s.

What followed was a manhunt - based on images of a man believed to have been driving the car - while the nation's attention was captured by the horrific events.

A year later, Gillingham heroin addict Michael Stone, 37, who had a long criminal record, was arrested and subsequently charged with the murders of Lin and Megan and attempted murder of Josie.

The trial revealed there was no forensic evidence linking Stone to the scene, but that he was familiar with the area.

A key piece of evidence was an alleged confession he made to a fellow in-mate at Canterbury Prison, Damien Daley - a confession hotly disputed.

Josie Russell was the sole survivor of the horrific attack
Josie Russell was the sole survivor of the horrific attack

Despite pleading his innocence, Stone was sentenced to three life sentences at Maidstone Crown Court in 1998.

But in 2001, the Court of Appeal ruled a retrial should take place.

He once again stood before a jury and was again convicted of all charges.

In 2004 he won the right to another appeal - but this was rejected by the Court of Appeal.

Now in his early 60s, Stone continues to serve time for the crimes. He continues to protest his innocence.

Michael Stone was found guilty of the crimes - and is serving three life sentences. He has always insisted he is innocent
Michael Stone was found guilty of the crimes - and is serving three life sentences. He has always insisted he is innocent

Potentially able to be freed later this year, it was reported last year he would refuse such a move until his conviction was quashed and his name cleared.

He also claimed he believed notorious serial killer and sex offender Levi Bellfield - who killed 13-year-old Surrey schoolgirl Milly Dowler in 2002 - was the killer; a claim Bellfield has dismissed.

Following the tragedy, Shaun and Josie Russell returned to North Wales, where they had lived before moving to Kent.

Josie has gone on to become a successful textiles artist. Dr Russell is a leading horticultural expert at the University of Bangor.

To get the latest updates in ongoing cases, police appeals and criminals put behind bars, click here

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