Working to bring their killers to justice at last

The Major Crime Investigations Review team’s principal investigator Pete Beirne

The Major Crime Investigations Review team’s principal investigator Pete Beirne

First published in News
Last updated

THE DEATHS of 10 people in Oxfordshire are still classified as unsolved murders by police.

Crime reporter Ben Wilkinson looks at the work of Thames Valley Police’s cold case team and the killers it hopes to one day bring to justice

THE Major Crime Investigations Review Team, which consists of a small team of experienced detectives, was set up in 2007 as a branch of the Major Crime Unit.

Part of the remit of the team is to reinvestigate unresolved murders and serious sexual assaults.

In the last four years, four historic murders have been solved within the Thames Valley.

They were the murders of Vikki Thompson (Ascott-under-Wychwood 1995), Yolanda Waddington (Benham, Newbury in 1966), Rachel Manning (Milton Keynes 2000) and Claire Woolterton (Windsor 1981).

In addition, 13 men have been convicted of rape or attempted rape for offences that date from 1980 to 1989. A further man is due to appear at Reading Crown Court next month.

The team’s principal investigator Pete Beirne said: “All unresolved homicides and rapes are the subject of review. It is very important that the public know that these incidents are not forgotten and that police will take every opportunity to use either new evidence, changes in legislation or advances in forensic science to try to bring those responsible before the courts.”

WARREN E ELIZABETH WHEELER - 1973

Oxford Mail:

Warren Wheeler, pictured when he worked at Salters Steamers in Oxford

THE MURDERS of elderly Boars Hill couple Warren and Elizabeth Wheeler has remained unsolved for 41 years now.

Warren, 83, and Elizabeth, 79, were found battered to death in the living room of their tumbledown Yatscombe Cottage home at Boars Hill in October 1973.

Both had been beaten with a weapon but police were never able to find it.

Det Chief Supt Cyril Jones, head of Thames Valley CID, said at the time: “I have never seen a more savage attack.

“It was the worst I have come across in 27 years in the force. There were many blows.” Detectives used tracker dogs, staged a 14-hour road block to question drivers, issued photofit images of suspects, and even took fingerprints from 10,000 men but the trial went cold.

A man did confess to the crimes and was put on trial at Oxford Crown Court in July 1974 but the case against 34-year-old chef Kenneth Nairn was thrown out after six days when the judge, Mr Justice Michael Davies, described him as “an habitual liar, an habitual romancer and false confessor”.

EILA KARJALAINEN - 1983

Oxford Mail:

Eila Karjalainen

FINNISH hitchhiker Eila Karjalainen’s decomposing body was found dumped in a wood on the Blenheim estate in November 1983.

The 23-year-old had been strangled and her body lay undiscovered for three months in Kings Wood in Woodstock.

Her rucksack and belongings including her passport were found in a layby on the A40 near Barnard Gate, near Witney, three weeks after her remains were found.

Her murder case was re-opened in 1987 by detectives searching for the killer of 17-year-old Rachel Partridge, who was murdered after trying to hitch a lift to her home at Shaw’s Field Farm, Chinnor Hill, but no clear links were proven.

LEONARD GOMM - 1990

Oxford Mail:

Leonard Gomm

TAXI driver Leonard Gomm was found stabbed to death in a country lane four hours after he set out to pick up a customer.

A lorry driver found the 75-year-old on a grass verge in Hampton Gay Lane near Bletchingdon on a June morning in 1990. He had a stab wound to his heart. The dad-of-three, from Forest Hill, had radioed his employers, ABC Taxis in Oxford, at 6.35am to say he was taking a fare to Bicester.

And his blue Ford Granada – registration A592 ARD – was five yards from his body.

Oxford Mail:

Supt Barry Halliday with an Oxford Mail poster produced to help in the hunt for the killer of taxi driver Leonard Gomm

In 2010, the Major Crime Review team made an appeal for more information two decades after the murder.

At the briefing Det Supt Barry Halliday said: “The motive is still unclear.

“Robbery has not been completely ruled out, but there could be other reasons.”

SAIED AHMED - 1994

SOMALI refugee Saied Ahmed died in a house fire in Oxford in 1994.

The 68-year-old was badly burned in the blaze at a house in Regent Street in April 1994 and died several days later at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital specialist burns unit near Aylesbury.

Police were unable to uncover a reason for the attack, ruling out personal or racial motives.

A man was questioned in connection with the fire, but never charged.

MICHAEL MEENAGHAN - 1994

Oxford Mail:

Dr Michael Meenaghan

SCIENTIST Dr Michael “Spike” Meenaghan was shot dead through the kitchen window of his Blackbird Leys home 20 years ago. The 33-year-old academic was blasted to death by a shotgun in his Monks Close house in December 1994.

Police had struggled to establish an obvious motive for the killing with detectives looking at the 33-year-old’s love life and even suggesting the murderer got the wrong man.

The case was once linked to the killing of Oxford nurse Janet Brown, 51, who was found dead, naked and handcuffed, at her home in Radnage, near Thame, on April 11, 1995.

Both victims were working on medical research projects for Oxford University at the time of their deaths but no definite link was ever made.

NASREEN AKHTAR - 1995

Oxford Mail:

Nasreen Akhtar

OXFORD mother-of-four Nasreen Akhtar was strangled at her home in Cobden Crescent, South Oxford, on March 30, 1995.

A £10,000 reward was put up six years after her death but the 29-year-old’s murder remains unsolved.

Her taxi-driver husband Hakim Khan was put on trial accused of her murder but acquitted due to a lack of evidence.

No-one else has ever been charged.

BRIAN FRANCIS - 2002

Oxford Mail:

Brian Francis

BRIAN Francis was found beaten to death at his Blackbird Leys flat in 2002.

The 51-year-old had multiple injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene after paramedics were called to his Knights Road home by a mystery caller.

The victim’s ground floor flat was well-known as a haunt of drug users but police investigations have so far proved dfruitless.

A telephone box in Merlin Road, thought to have been used by the person who called 999, was even taken away by police for forensic tests.

KEVIN LAVELLE - 2004

Oxford Mail:

Kevin Lavelle

THE mother of Kevin Lavelle has said the cold case team has given her family hope that one day her son’s killer would be brought to justice.

Father-of-two Kevin Lavelle was killed by a blow to the head at a Banbury pub in June 2004. Police said 10 people were in the Cricketer’s Arms on the Grimsbury estate on the night of the murder and at least one of them knows who killed the 29-year-old.

Thames Valley Police is still offering a £20,000 reward for information leading to a conviction and Crimestoppers has put up £5,000.

Oxford Mail:

Kevin's mother Joan

In 2006, a criminal prosecution against Ceri Noble, of Pontygwaith, South Wales, collapsed after a judge ruled it was impossible to say who struck the fatal blow.

But Mr Lavelle’s mother Joan said the family could not rest until someone was convicted.

She said: “We are just existing. It is not a proper life. Every day we stumble through.

“We are still hoping that one day justice will be done. And if we give up hope we may as well go with Kevin.

“All you can do is keep your hopes up. You cannot give in.”

But the 68-year-old said she doubted the person responsible for her son’s death felt any kind of anxiety about being caught.

She said: “I don’t think they feel. I don’t think they have any feelings.

They are sitting behind their table every Christmas having a lovely time.”

JOSEPH BYRNE - 2006

Oxford Mail:

Joseph Byrne

A KILLER doused 61-year-old Joseph Byrne in a corrosive liquid in Littlemore 12 years ago.

Mr Byrne – a former carpenter from Ireland – suffered severe burns to his head and chest and died three weeks later in hospital after a heart attack brought on by his injuries.

Paramedics found the injured man in a flat in Herschel Crescent and he told them he had been assaulted.

He was treated at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital and transferred to a burns unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital before he died.

Police later criticised hospital staff for not reporting the attack sooner.

DS Kevin McGuire, who led a police appeal for information, told a 2006 inquest: “We could have carried out investigations, taken evidence from the address and carried out forensics.”

Vital evidence from the flat also went missing after landlords carried out renovations.

At an inquest in 2006 a doctor said Mr Byrne’s burns were likely to have been caused by a household cleaning product.

A 42-year-old woman, formerly of Herschel Crescent, was arrested on suspicion of murder shortly after his death but released without charge.

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