Police make arrest in one of Britain's longest unsolved murder cases

Telegraph reporters
·3-min read
Wendy Knell, left, and Caroline Pierce - Kent Police/PA
Wendy Knell, left, and Caroline Pierce - Kent Police/PA

Detectives investigating one of Britain’s longest unsolved double murders have made a dramatic arrest following a cold case review.

It is more than 33-years since Wendy Knell and Caroline Pierce, who were both in their 20s, were sexually assaulted and strangled in two shocking crimes that became known as the Bedsit Murders.

Miss Knell, 25, was found dead in June 1987 in her flat in Tunbridge Wells, Kent five months before 20-year-old Miss Pierce’s naked body was found dead in a remote field on Romney Marsh in Kent.

Despite a huge investigation at the time, their killer has managed to evade justice for more than three decades.

The families of both women had given up hope of ever seeing a potential breakthrough in the case.

But on Thursday there was a glimmer of hope after Kent Police announced they had arrested a 66-year-old man on suspicion of murdering both women.

Wendy Knell's parents make a televised appeal for evidence in 1987 - Kent Police
Wendy Knell's parents make a televised appeal for evidence in 1987 - Kent Police

The man was arrested in Heathfield, East Sussex and was due to be questioned about both killings.

Reacting to the news, Miss Knell’s mother, Pam, 83, said: “This new arrest is such a shock. It has given us hope. I can't even think about it to believe it.

"Wendy was murdered such a long time ago that I came to live with the idea I would die not knowing who did it.

"But I thought the police had a lead once before so I am trying not to get my hopes up too much just yet.

"Wendy would have been 59 this year and not a day goes by where I don't think about her. It's still just as hard 33 and a half years later. The pain just gets more embedded.

"It would be so nice to be able to put it to bed because we have so many unanswered questions. All I want to know is why."

Sadly her husband, Bill, died of liver cancer in 2018.

Police search Woodbury Park Road cemetery near Caroline Pierce's house in Tunbridge Wells in 1987 - Kent Police
Police search Woodbury Park Road cemetery near Caroline Pierce's house in Tunbridge Wells in 1987 - Kent Police

Both young women were living around a mile apart in Tunbridge Wells at the time when they were targeted and murdered.

Miss Knell was found dead in her bedsit on June 23, 1987 after being sexually assaulted, beaten and strangled.

Officers believed her killer broke in through a faulty back window and had been lying in wait as her boyfriend dropped her off following an evening out.

Her diary and her keys with a distinctive Austrian keyring were missing and have never been found.

A footprint from a rare type of Clarks training shoe was also recovered from a blouse found in the flat.

Officers believe Miss Pierce was killed on November 24, 1987 after she was also sexually assaulted, beaten and strangled.

Her naked body was found three weeks later by a farm worker in the dyke of a remote field on the Romney Marsh - some 40 miles away from her home.

She was last seen at about midnight being taken home by a taxi after a night out with friends.

It is believed she was attacked outside her bedsit after neighbours reported hearing screams late at night.

Advances in forensic science allowed detectives to build a full DNA profile of the suspected killer in both cases in 2012 but no match has yet been found for the killer on the national database.

A Kent Police spokesman said: “Cold case detectives have arrested a man on suspicion of murdering two women from Tunbridge Wells more than 30 years ago.

“The suspect, aged 66, from Heathfield, East Sussex was detained on Thursday 3 December 2020, in connection with the deaths of Wendy Knell and Caroline Pierce in 1987 and taken into custody.

“The case has remained unsolved and subject to periodic reviews by cold case detectives from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate. Families of both victims have been informed of the arrest and are being kept updated.”