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Missing: Louise Kerton's father speaks out on 20th anniversary of disappearance


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Louise Kerton was a caring, creative and chatty 24-year-old with her whole life ahead of her.

If she was here today, she would be 44. Her father believes she would be married, with several children of her own.

Today marks 20 years since Louise disappeared

But in the summer of 2001, she went on holiday to Germany with her fiancé's family and was never seen or heard from again.

Today marks 20 years since the trainee nurse vanished without a trace, while allegedly travelling home alone to Broadstairs.

Her dad Phil Kerton, now 76, had been on holiday with his wife, Kath, and their youngest daughter when Louise went missing.

They landed in Gatwick happy and refreshed after a week in sunny Tenerife.

But what happened next was the beginning of every parent's worst nightmare - the first whispers of a devastating and maddening mystery that remains unsolved to this day.

Phil Kerton with a picture of his daughter, Louise
Phil Kerton with a picture of his daughter, Louise

As Phil's phone connected to the UK mobile network, dozens of panicked voicemail messages began flooding in from his eldest children.

"They were saying 'we've heard Louise has failed to arrive back in England. We think she's missing and we've decided to go to the police'," he recalls.

"We just felt shock, and horror."

A caring person

Louise was born in Sheffield, extremely premature at just 27 weeks.

"She spent the first 10 weeks of her life in an incubator," remembers Phil, who worked in the steel industry. "I'd go to the hospital every evening after work, to stare at her."

Louise as a young girl. Picture: Phil Kerton
Louise as a young girl. Picture: Phil Kerton

The family moved to New Ash Green near Sevenoaks when Louise was young, and she stayed very close to her parents and siblings.

She struggled with suspected dyslexia, but was a talented artist who enjoyed sketching, ceramics, swimming, going to the theatre and cinema, and loved large family gatherings.

At 19, she was at a pool in Gravesend with a friend when she met Peter Simon.

Despite a 14-year age difference that shocked her parents, the pair hit it off and soon began seeing each other.

Louise's parents liked Peter, and he spent Christmas with the family.

"Then out of the blue, Louise decided to up sticks and go to college in Thanet to do art A-levels," said Phil.

"So off she went, much to our concern."

Louise Kerton, pictured in BMX top, with her family. Picture: Phil Kerton
Louise Kerton, pictured in BMX top, with her family. Picture: Phil Kerton

In Broadstairs, Louise rented one of several rooms leased out by Peter's mother, Ramana Simon, who Phil describes as a matriarch with several sons.

Phil says Louise was "a very caring person".

"She was very concerned about people, and quite in a sense naive," he said. "She was very trusting of what people told her."

Louise decided to stop studying the arts, and she and Peter got engaged.

"She worked as a waitress in the odd restaurant, then she saw scholarships were being offered to study nursing," said her dad.

Her caring nature gave her a natural aptitude for nursing, which she studied at Canterbury Christ Church University.

Louise was the second-youngest of five children. Picture: Phil Kerton
Louise was the second-youngest of five children. Picture: Phil Kerton

"She used to ring when she came off shift at the QEQM," said Phil.

"Very often she had to wait an hour for the last bus, so she'd sit at the bus stop talking about what she'd done that day."

Phil chuckles as he remembers his daughter's chattiness.

"It would be 10.30pm and I'd be thinking about going to bed," he said. "Then the phone would ring and a voice would say 'it's Louise' and I'd think to myself 'oh God, I'm not going to get to bed for over an hour now'."

But out of the blue, in 2001, Louise received the devastating news that she was unlikely to pass the course.

"She was very, very upset," said her dad.

Louise, pictured with Peter Simon. Picture: Phil Kerton
Louise, pictured with Peter Simon. Picture: Phil Kerton

A summer holiday

The term ended, and as Louise anxiously awaited her results, her mother-in-law to be invited her to spend summer at a house she had bought in Strassfeld, near Bonn, in Germany.

"We thought it was a good idea," said Phil. "It's out in the countryside, and she could get away from it all."

Phil doesn't remember the last time he saw his daughter.

He recalls her being excited about the trip, and buying a new phone that would allow her to text from abroad.

But Louise never messaged her family, and police later found the phone had only been used for one test call, made the day she bought it.

Louise was a trainee nurse. Picture: Phil Kerton
Louise was a trainee nurse. Picture: Phil Kerton

They received just one letter from Louise, which Phil says was very different to her usual correspondence.

"When Louise wrote a letter there were lots of crossings out and added words," he said. "She'd add extra things all in the margins.

"But this letter was on one side of relatively small paper, and very neatly written out.

"She was just saying 'it's very nice here and quiet, the countryside is green, I'm looking forward to coming back to see you all soon'. Innocuous sorts of things."

In late July, Peter returned to Broadstairs to deal with an issue at the family's house.

Anxious to return home in time for her nursing results, Louise apparently decided to embark upon the 400km journey herself soon after - although Phil says she disliked travelling alone.

Louise had a close relationship with her family. Picture: Phil Kerton
Louise had a close relationship with her family. Picture: Phil Kerton

Mrs Simon is the last person known to have seen her.

She is said to have dropped Louise off at Aachen railway station, on the morning of July 30, 2001.

From there, the 24-year-old was to catch a train to Ostend in Belgium, before getting a ferry to Kent.

But Mrs Simon did not see if Louise boarded the train.

When Louise failed to arrive in the UK, Peter took a taxi to Dover.

He is said to have grown tearful when he saw she was not on the boat from Ostend, begging people to check for her.

Frantic, he rang Louise's family home in New Ash Green, and told her sister she was missing.

Louise was a talented artist, with a particular passion for ceramics. Picture: Phil Kerton
Louise was a talented artist, with a particular passion for ceramics. Picture: Phil Kerton

A desperate search for answers

Louise's siblings contacted the police, and forces across Kent, Belgium and Germany began investigating her disappearance.

But county officers were frustrated by the efforts of the German police, who they say were not initially proactive enough in their search.

A lack of CCTV coverage in Germany also hampered investigations.

"The police took the attitude that she was an adult, therefore perhaps had chosen to go missing and didn't have anything to do with her family," said Phil.

"So they wouldn't actually look for her, so much as keep an eye open for her."

Louise had been at school with Lucie Blackman, who was kidnapped and murdered while working as a bar hostess in Tokyo in 2000.

So Phil refuses to believe Louise - who saw the devastation Lucie's disappearance had brought to her family - simply ran off and cut contact with her loved ones.

Louise as a young girl. Picture: Phil Kerton
Louise as a young girl. Picture: Phil Kerton

He says her disappearance rocked the lives of her parents and four siblings.

Phil tells how one family member suffered with self-harming and anorexia, while another turned to alcohol.

Louise's family made several trips to Aachen along with friends and volunteers, where they put up missing posters and desperately tried to find information.

"We did get some responses," said Phil.

"We came across a nun running a soup kitchen who was sure Louise had been there having a meal or two, but hadn't been back in a while. She was very convincing."

German neighbours reported Louise had looked "very miserable" while staying at the Simons' home.

"The village was small," said Phil. "There's not much to do there. That may have made her miserable.

"It may have led to arguments. It may have led to her running off."

At one point, a man in prison in Mali contacted police claiming Louise was being held in a house on the edge of a town.

"A couple of detectives flew out and took a helicopter to where this chap said there was a young white woman being kept," recalled Phil.

But there was no sign of Louise, and police later found the man's information could have all been found in press coverage.

A photo of Louise handed out by police in August 2001
A photo of Louise handed out by police in August 2001

Case closed

A decade after Louise went missing, German police closed their case, concluding there was nothing suspicious about her disappearance.

No trace of Louise has ever been found, and no arrests have been made in connection with her disappearance.

In the 20 years since, there have been myriad theories about what happened to her.

Immediately after her disappearance, her family speculated she could have been taken in by "a group of seemingly sympathetic people" while travelling alone from Aachen to Kent.

Among other theories was that serial killer Michel Fourniret - known as the Ogre of the Ardennes - could have had been involved.

"He had a hobby of killing young women and then disposing of their remains on the other side of the border somewhere," said Phil.

Fourniret was jailed for life for raping and murdering nine girls in France and Belgium between 1987 and 2001.

He was investigated, but was never charged in connection with Louise’s disappearance.

Today, Louise would be 44.

Phil is now resigned to the likelihood she is no longer alive.

But for two decades, he has kept the same mobile phone number, just in case his daughter should try to get in touch.

"I'm still inclined to think it was death by misadventure," he said.

A photo circulated by police shortly after Louise's disappearance
A photo circulated by police shortly after Louise's disappearance

"Somebody was partly responsible, or just found the body, and they were frightened and did a very good job of hiding away the evidence."

Tragically, Louise's mum, Kath, died 11 years ago without knowing what happened to her daughter.

"That was very sad for all of us," said Phil.

"We'd never heard of the word closure before Louise disappeared. But finding out that she was dead and knowing where her body was, would be closure.

"At the moment you can relive all the stages of grieving over and over again.

"You don't get over it, but you do get used to it.

"I can see Louise's photo on the wall now, and it doesn't worry me too much.

"When I'm on holiday in a foreign city and there are all these horses and traps taking tourists on rides, I think 'oh yeah, Louise always loved those'.

"I don't get upset about it - it's a happy memory."

Phil Kerton still hopes for answers. Picture: Phil Kerton
Phil Kerton still hopes for answers. Picture: Phil Kerton

Do you have the missing piece of the puzzle?

On the 20th anniversary of Louise's disappearance, Phil urges anyone with information to approach the police, or missing persons charity Missing People.

"What might seem like a small detail could be a small bit of the jigsaw that would suddenly make the whole thing hang together, and cause the police to reopen the case," he said.

To those planning on travelling abroad, Phil urges caution.

"You think when you're going out to the jungles of Malaysia, maybe, you'd need to take precautions," he said.

"But even just going to the adjacent country, things don't work the way you imagine they would.

"It's certainly been our practice to write a note to the family whenever we go, saying 'I'm going off on holiday, I have every intention of coming back and no intention of staying away'."

Read here about other people from Kent who have disappeared without a trace.

To read more of our in-depth features click here.

Read more: All the latest news from Thanet

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