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Unsolved murders in Kent

By Lowri Stafford

From a strangled baby found in a lake to a grandfather shot dead in his own home, there have been many horrific crimes in Kent over the decades.

But perhaps the most disturbing aspect of cases such as these is that those responsible have never been caught.

Of the hundreds of murders that have taken place in the county since 1960, a total of 54 - almost one for every year - remain unsolved.

A total of 54 murders committed in Kent since 1960 are yet to be solved. Stock image.
A total of 54 murders committed in Kent since 1960 are yet to be solved. Stock image.

That's 54 families who are yet to receive answers about why their loved ones were snatched away.

The violent nature of the deaths - which include stabbings, drownings, strangulations, shootings and an explosion - makes the lack of closure even harder to bear.

In some cases, arrests have been made and suspects charged, but no one has ever been brought to justice.

The grave of Baby April in Ashford Bybrook cemetery
The grave of Baby April in Ashford Bybrook cemetery

Over the years, police and relatives have issued fresh appeals for anyone harbouring information to come forward.

In spite of this - as well as advancements in crime detection technology such as DNA profiling - dozens of killers remain at large.

Among the youngest victims is a baby girl found strangled with a pair of tights, wrapped in plastic and dumped in Singleton Lake in Ashford.

Police exhumed the body of Baby April in 2011 in order to obtain more DNA samples, in the hope of finding her killer. Picture: Martin Apps
Police exhumed the body of Baby April in 2011 in order to obtain more DNA samples, in the hope of finding her killer. Picture: Martin Apps

This year marks 20 years since the unidentified child - named April by police - was discovered in the water.

Despite a murder investigation spanning two decades, which has involved exhuming the body in 2011, neither the killer nor the baby's parents have ever been traced.

The most recent "cold case" is that of Adrian Milner, who died 12 days after being hit in the face in a brutal and unprovoked attack in Murston just after Christmas 2010.

Adrian Milner died from a single punch in Murston
Adrian Milner died from a single punch in Murston

The single blow caused Mr Milner to fall to the floor and hit the back of his head. He died 12 days later in hospital.

Despite emotional pleas from his family and two arrests shortly after the attack, no one was ever charged.

Elsewhere, in Thanet, the anguish felt by the family of murdered businessman David O'Leary is plain to see for anyone who has passed his father's second-hand shop in Northdown Road, Cliftonville.

David O'Leary was shot dead at his home
David O'Leary was shot dead at his home
Dan O'Leary's shop in Cliftonville displays appeal posters following the death of his son David. Picture: Google Street View.
Dan O'Leary's shop in Cliftonville displays appeal posters following the death of his son David. Picture: Google Street View.

The businessman was gunned down at his home in Valley Road, Lydden in February 2008, and his father Dan has displayed large appeal posters ever since.

Speaking in 2009, he said: "I wake up crying in middle of night. It never leaves me, not for a second. I can never ever be happy again. But I will carry on."

Another shocking case was that of father-of-four Danny King, who was shot dead at his home in Ditton while his wife and grandchildren were asleep in the next room.

Danny King was shot dead at his home in Medina Road, Ditton in 2008
Danny King was shot dead at his home in Medina Road, Ditton in 2008

Police described the murder in October 2008 as "brutal and horrific" and renewed their appeal for information a year later - to no avail.

Antoine Denis also met a violent end in his own home.

The 66-year-old's body was discovered at his Chatham flat with a single stab wound in January 2010.

Antoine Denis was murdered in his flat in Chatham
Antoine Denis was murdered in his flat in Chatham

Three people were arrested and one was later charged with murder, but the case was dropped before it went to trial.

Kent Police then launched an internal investigation into how the murder scene was handled by officers in the aftermath.

Most people living in Deal will remember one murderous attack which claimed the lives of no fewer than 11 people.

An aerial view shows the extent of the devastation after the Deal barracks bombing
An aerial view shows the extent of the devastation after the Deal barracks bombing

On a bright September morning in 1989 a massive IRA bomb was detonated in the Coffee Boat rest area at Deal barracks.

A total of 11 Royal Marine musicians were killed and another 11 were injured in the blast, which sent shock waves through the seaside town.

Since the closure of Deal barracks in 1996, the Royal Marines Band from Portsmouth has returned most years to perform on the Walmer Green bandstand, built as a memorial to those who died.

Floral tributes outside Deal barracks after the bombing
Floral tributes outside Deal barracks after the bombing

Last year marked 25 years since the tragedy, for which no one has ever been arrested or convicted.

Mystery still surrounds the death of a woman found in her bath in Whitstable just after Christmas in 1991, eight months after her lover was gunned down on their doorstep.

Police initially thought Brenda Long, 41, had committed suicide, but tests later revealed she had been knocked out with a pad of ether and drowned.

A newspaper clipping after the deaths of Brenda Long and Alan Leppard
A newspaper clipping after the deaths of Brenda Long and Alan Leppard

Her murder followed the shooting of her partner Alan Leppard, who died in her arms after he was shot in the chest in Monkton on the previous Easter Bank Holiday.

A Crimewatch appeal later sparked 950 calls from the public, but those responsible were never traced.

But there is still hope - as the case of Claire Tiltman proves.

Claire Tiltman was stabbed to death in 1993
Claire Tiltman was stabbed to death in 1993

The schoolgirl's name appeared on Kent Police's bleak list of unsolved crimes until earlier this year, when Colin Ash-Smith was jailed for her murder.

The conviction - almost 22 years after the 16-year-old was brutally stabbed to death in a Greenhithe alleyway - was a victory for Kent Police detectives who described it as one of their largest-ever murder investigations.

But sadly, the result came too late for Claire's parents Cliff and Lin, who both died before justice was served against their only daughter's killer.

Colin Ash-Smith at the time of his arrest for the knife attack on a woman in Greenhithe in 1995
Colin Ash-Smith at the time of his arrest for the knife attack on a woman in Greenhithe in 1995

A Kent Police spokesman said: "Kent Police has a dedicated Serious Case Review Team under the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate which regularly reviews unsolved murders and serious sexual assaults.

"In turn, the SCD Cold Case Unit carries out further enquiries on unsolved cases by using a number investigative techniques and developments in forensic science, while new information about crimes can come in many years after they have been committed.

"Officers in the Cold Case Unit are always keen to hear from anyone who has information about past crimes of this type and recognise people may harbour doubts over the years.

"With modern techniques it is often possible to eliminate someone from an investigation quickly and unequivocally.

"In murder cases in particular, there are always family and friends who want answers and officers remain committed to identifying offenders, bringing them to justice and offering closure to those close to the victim no matter how much time has passed since their loved one was murdered."

Anyone with information about any of these unsolved murders can call police on 101 or Kent Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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