Five years ago today, Sean Axtell was the first reporter to arrive at a taped-off Folkestone pub, just moments after landlord Joe Daniels' body had been discovered.
The 58-year-old had died from a single gunshot wound to the chest - discharged from his own firearm. This month, as police renew their appeal for fresh leads, Sean revisited the pub where the mystery surrounding Mr Daniels' death still looms large for many.....
A police cordon stretched the length of the pub at around midday, near where about 10 emergency vehicles were parked.
Family and friends huddled outside comforting each other, as officers worked to establish the first facts of the case.
By then, only half an hour had passed since Milena Goff had discovered her beloved Joe dead in the historic tavern's living quarters, having suffered a bullet to the chest.
For the police, this was the investigation's 'golden hour,' where forensic evidence was uninterrupted, potential witnesses still in proximity and CCTV footage up-to-date.
Detectives soon disclosed a firearm was found near Mr Daniels body, which would later be identified as his own converted pistol.
That day, neighbours told me Mr Daniels was a “lovely bloke," a “larger than life character,” often “knocking on doors inviting them to parties”.
Since then, throngs of tributes have been paid to the popular Liverpudlian who moved to Kent some decades ago.
A memorial bench overlooks the English Channel from The Leas, paying homage to the former landlord.
Before the tragic events unfolded on November 22, 2017, The Red Cow was an unremarkable pub.
Situated a stone’s throw north-west of central Folkestone, the building - dating back to 1682 - had escaped the well-heeled and moneyed renaissance enjoyed by some of the town's nearby areas.
It supplied cheap beer, music, televised sports and other typical pub fare, with Mr Daniels living above the bar area.
Quick to build rapport with regulars and neighbours, Mr Daniels established himself with aplomb after taking over.
He would soon be known as a successful publican situated within the heart of that small community.
But terror and grief rung out across the district when Mr Daniels’ body was discovered at about 11.30am, igniting a robust emergency services response.
Milena and a close friend found Mr Daniels face down, with a bullet casing and firearm next to his head, the gun’s chamber still housing two live shells.
The pair went to the venue after Mr Daniels failed to meet Milena that morning, having not responded to a number of calls.
In the subsequent investigation officers would review thousands of hours of CCTV and dashcam footage, take more than 350 statements and seize in excess of 1,200 items.
Arrests were made over the coming years but the authorities have been unable to charge a suspect with murder.
Two men connected to Mr Daniels' converted pistol have ended up behinds bars - but this was part of a separate case.
Eli Smith, of Valley Road, Canterbury, and Robin Ling, of Beach Road in Westgate-on-Sea, were cleared of any involvement in the suspected murder of Mr Daniels.
An inquest in 2020 revealed the landlord's own gun killed him - but it is unclear who pulled the trigger.
The coroner’s court heard he showed a family friend two firearms the day before he died, one being the weapon which killed him, containing only his DNA.
A police investigation revealed Mr Daniels' finances were in a critical state, Maidstone's Archbishop's Palace was told.
The former Eurotunnel worker had amassed debt worth £101,451, with more than £37,000 owing to individual friends, each unaware he was borrowing from one person to the next.
His future at the pub looked bleak.
Mr Daniels was ordered to settle a £9,000 VAT bill to HMRC or could have faced losing the venue.
Even so, he was due to meet with the brewery to re-sign the lease two days after the tragedy.
Coroner Katrina Hepburn, giving a narrative verdict in March 2020, ruled it was impossible to say whether Mr Daniels or someone else pulled the trigger, adding: “Another possibility is accidental discharge."
Now, The Red Cow continues to trade.
It was passed back to brewers Ei Publican Partnerships, formerly Enterprise Inns in 2018, and sold to the Craft Union Pub Company.
"Someone out there knows something about what happened that day..."
Craft was fast to overhaul the venue ahead of throwing open the doors for business early summer, weighing heavily on Milena’s broken heart.
Speaking at the time, she told me the wounds of her unhealed grief re-opened with the venue's re-launch.
Pleading for witnesses to come forward, Milena described the Red Cow as an extended family, adding the killing "needs to be kept in peoples’ memories"
"Someone out there knows something about what happened that day," she said.
“I understand the pub needs to make money, it’s a business. But it’s very raw, it feels too early for the pub to reopen, it has added to the grief.”
The front door is now a fire escape so guests must enter through a side entrance.
Inside, a dozen or so well-acquainted regulars, young and old, joked around the bar as electro-pop music played from the speakers.
Lone men slowly drank beer and watched news on many of the venue’s televisions in an adjoining room.
On one side of the pub, old black and white photos of Folkestone hung from the walls in a nod to its past.
On the other, colourful posters advertised new drinks promotions and upcoming events.
For me, it felt like a typical pub bursting with regulars in full-swing.
But for others, visiting after Mr Daniels’ death - whether by suicide or murder - brings too much darkness to bear.
As one guest put it: “Many of us live in the surrounding areas so come here regularly.
“In the past people would speculate about what happened but that was just a rumour mill. None of us can be sure - so that doesn’t happen as much now.
“It does feel weird drinking here because sometimes you’ll look around and remember ‘this is where it happened'."
Previously, a former regular told me Mr Daniels “seemed very quiet” in the days leading to his death.
The man, who wished to remain anonymous, said he stopped visiting the Red Cow the moment he learned of the shooting.
He called the publican a “lovely man” whose warmth and good humour drew punters to the 17th century venue.
He said the pub simply “couldn’t be the same” without Mr Daniels, whose kindness never waned.
“I didn’t go to the pub after his death. In fact, the minute I heard the news I stopped going because Joe was the heart and soul of that place,” he told me.
"The moment we walked in, I remember Joe not being behind the bar just made us feel upset..."
Another explained they tried returning a year later, but the fateful events of the past proved too much to ignore.
“Back then, the moment we walked in, I remember Joe not being behind the bar just made us feel upset.
“We went there to give him a final send-off in our own minds - to see how we felt when we were back inside.
“It looked different in there, which I understand because they want to draw punters in but it also felt different.
“It felt too uncomfortable and it was a struggle [to be there]. I don’t even know if I ever did finish [the beer].”
Kent Police continue to search for new leads.
Today it has re-ignited a fresh appeal in a bid to help solve one of Kent’s most notorious cold cases.
Det Chf Insp Neil Kimber said: “The death of Joe Daniels in Folkestone in 2017 remains unsolved and our thoughts are with his family.
“Two people are serving prison sentences for firearms offences uncovered by officers investigating this fatal shooting.
“The cold case team carries out periodic reviews of unsolved murders, rapes and other serious offences and it is important to remember that no case is ever truly closed.”
All conversations will be treated in the strictest of confidence and anyone with information can call the force’s control room on 01303 289600.
Alternatively you can call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111 or complete the online form at crimestoppers-uk.org.