Published: 14:55, 30 April 2021
| Updated: 14:16, 06 May 2021
PCSO Julia James left her house in The Crescent, Snowdown, on Tuesday afternoon to walk her Jack Russell.
She had been working from home in the day and was off-duty and not wearing her uniform.
Neighbour Sean Simmonds, who was polishing his car, believes he was the last person to see her alive as she went down a lane into a field behind the road. He did not say what time that was.
Shortly after 4pm members of the public found the 53-year-old mum-of-two's lifeless body beside a bridleway along the edge of Ackholt Wood, on the outskirts of the hamlet. It was just yards from her home.
Her beloved dog, Toby, was found waiting beside her and none of her belongings appeared to have been taken.
Police arrived soon after and cordoned off the scene and vast swathes of the surrounding countryside flanking Aylesham Road, which connects Snowdown with the village of Aylesham.
Police did not reveal any details of more precise timings around when the attack may have happened.
A post-mortem has since revealed Mrs James sustained multiple blows with a blunt instrument, suffering "significant head injuries" – police would not be drawn on whether any weapon has been recovered at a press conference earlier.
Since Tuesday much of the rural location has remained taped off and some other routes have also been sealed, with forensics teams meticulously combing woodland and fields, as well as using a drone as they continued to scour the area.
No arrests have been made nor any suspect identified or motive ascertained – so police are having to keep an open mind as the investigation progresses.
Reports of a flasher in the area and a prowler in nearby Nonnington in the past weeks will form part of their inquiries, said assistant chief constable Tom Richards as he addressed the assembled media outside Aylesham Community Centre.
The community in the former mining villages is tight-knit and Mrs James, who joined Kent Police in 2008 and most recently was working in the domestic violence team, was well-respected.
ACC Richards said they had received some vital information from neighbours.
He added he was unable to rule out a stranger attack, although stressed they were extremely rare, or that the suspect may have met Mrs James – who previously worked in Ashford and Tenterden – through her job.
Neither could he comment on a sexual motive other than to say detectives are remaining "open minded", as is the case with investigations where so many questions remain unanswered.
The rural nature of the offence has hampered the investigation somewhat, with very little CCTV in the area and only two homes and a traveller site in the immediate vicinity.
ACC Richards did say the murder is not currently being linked to any past offences.
Parallels have been drawn with infamous killings of Lin and Megan Russell, which happened 25 years ago in countryside just three miles away near the village of Chillenden.
Michael Stone remains in jail for the hammer attack and continues to protest his innocence.
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."
There have been reports of PCSOs telling people in the area to avoid woodland and not veer from their usual routes but all ACC Richards would say was: "People should be cautious and aware of their surroundings, circumstances and situation."
He did not advise people to avoid going out at night and reiterated the police's previous advise for the public to "remain vigilant".
In a statement issued by police, Mrs James' family paid tribute to a "fiercely loyal" mum who "loved with her whole heart".
They said: "She had a beautiful smile and was always quick to laugh, she was so naturally funny with a brilliant sense of humour.
"Her loss will be felt by us every moment of every day. She will be so sorely missed. As a family we are trying to understand how we will navigate our lives without her, it seems an impossible task."
They thanked everybody who had messaged and left flowers, adding: "The outpouring of love and support from friends, the local community and our policing family has been enormous."
Their statement finished with an appeal for anyone with information about what happened to come forward. "You could be helping us get justice for Julia," they said.
Police 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.