I added a new major cold case to my list in 2021: the 1996 murder in West Cork of Sophie Toscan du Plantier. Most of my articles this year were about that case and you can read them here. But what has happened in the other cases I have been following? Some of these I have been following since the day they happened.
Claudia was roughly my age when she went missing from York, a city near my home town. That was in 2009 and it’s shocking to realise just how long ago that was, with no body yet found. Absolutely nobody thinks she is still alive. Her father died this year, and her mother started to make arrangements to sell Claudia’s house. Hope was rekindled in the summer when police started dredging ponds a few miles north of where Claudia lived, but it was short-lived. One of the most puzzling mysteries of recent years looks like it will never be solved.
This was a new case to me, and I found myself drawn to the heartbreaking story of her daughter, Lauren. Another case with a local connection as the Bells lived in Denham, in Buckinghamshire, making it another case on my own patch. Penny was murdered in a leisure centre car park during daylight hours, so it is unbelievable that nobody was ever charged with her murder. The family continue to offer a reward for information. Incidentally, this is a case where the family and police believe they know the identify of the killer.
Another case that I remember from the time, which is surprising because I was only ten years old when Suzy disappeared. But her mother, mainly, and other family members, have continued to press their story and appeal for information. There seems no prospect now of any conviction.
I feel like this list of victims chose me, not the other way around. They happened nearby, or they happened during my own impressionable years, or there is some other reason that they caught my imagination. They are all white women who were alone at the time of their killing or abduction. All of the cases should have been solved. Numerous witnesses came forward to help the Lamplugh and Bell investigations. Similarly with Claudia Lawrence, no expense was spared, no lead ignored. And yet.
Perhaps the police did make a few mistakes. These were all complex investigations and the police are only human. The Penny Bell case is scarcely believable as it happened in a public place in broad daylight, but Suzy Lamplugh and Claudia Lawrence were never found. It is surely difficult to hide a body for so long, and a certain element of luck seems essential, but an odd loophole in our laws means that without a body, a murder charge is highly unlikely without a confession. And why would a killer confess in such circumstances?
It remains the case that unless a body is found, and unless the killer is known to the victim, the chances of a charge or conviction are slim.