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Woman's murder unsolved after 14 years

PUBLISHED: 07:03 03 February 2003 | UPDATED: 16:15 24 February 2010

By David Lennard

IT was on a cold, grey February morning 14 years ago that the grim discovery of a woman's body by two men out shooting rabbits led to one of the region's biggest murder hunts.

By David Lennard

IT was on a cold, grey February morning 14 years ago that the grim discovery of a woman's body by two men out shooting rabbits led to one of the region's biggest murder hunts.

But despite a huge police operation, the killer has never been caught and the murder file on the body found dumped in north Suffolk remains open.

Jeanette Kempton, a 31-year-old divorcee from Brixton, south London, was last seen alive on February 2, 1989, walking close to her home.

More than two weeks later, on February 18, her body was discovered in a ditch about half-a-mile from the A12 at Wangford, near Southwold, on the Earl of Stradbroke's Henham Estate. A post-mortem examination revealed she had been beaten about the head and strangled.

One of the first tasks for detectives was to establish the identity of the body, but that was achieved relatively quickly.

The next link in the chain that would lead to the killer, however, was to prove much more difficult and to this day remains unsolved.

For what connects a 31-year-old Brixton woman with a rural area in north Suffolk?

It was a question that has baffled police officers, but they cannot be criticised in the efforts they made to find the answer.

Not only was an operations room set up in north Suffolk, there was a similar facility opened in Brixton. During the inquiry police officers interviewed more than 3,500 people and took more than 400 statements.

To this day there is a strong suspicion Mrs Kempton did not have any link to Suffolk and had been the victim of a London killing with her body dumped in rural East Anglia.

Mrs Kempton had last been seen alive on the evening of February 2, 1989, walking near her home after spending some hours drinking at her local pub, the Loughborough Hotel. She had been walking along Evendale Road carrying a wreath she had brought earlier.

It was expected Mrs Kempton would attend the funeral of a friend on February 3, but she never turned up.

A neighbour, Trudy Thorne, said she had seen Mrs Kempton outside the Loughborough Hotel.

Barry Coleman, who had a five-year affair with Mrs Kempton, said he had been with her during the evening, but said she had been drunk and had talked of intending to visit another pub in the area – but she never got there.

Mrs Kempton lived at Treherne Court, Eythorne Road, Brixton, with her ex-husband Paul and their two teenage sons Michael and Alex.

The couple had been teenage sweethearts and married in 1973 when Mrs Kempton was aged 16.

She suffered from depression and the pair divorced in 1980.

Mr Kempton had moved back into the family home in 1985, although they did not live together as a couple.

He said his ex-wife saw other men and it had not been unusual for her to vanish on "drinking benders" for several days at a time.

But Mr Kempton did become worried when his ex-wife had not been seen for a week and reported her disappearance to police.

At an inquest, held in Lowestoft on November 30, 1989, coroner George Leguen de Lacroix recorded a verdict Mrs Kempton had been unlawfully killed.

The inquest heard she had been beaten on the head severely enough to cause brain damage and then strangled possibly two days after the first attack.

Pathologists estimated her body had been dumped in the ditch up to two weeks before being discovered.

The inquest also heard Mrs Kempton had drunk enough alcohol to put her almost four times over the drink-drive limit.

It had been hoped a breakthrough might be made in the case when it was featured on the BBC1 Crimewatch UK programme. Despite an audience of millions, only about 40 calls were received and Suffolk police admitted to being "disappointed" with the response.

Meanwhile, four key questions posed by detectives still have to be answered and could hold the key to solving the murder. They are:

n what happened to Mrs Kempton's maroon coat, black high-heeled shoes, gold bracelet, purse and two rings she was wearing?

n what happened to the £22 wreath she was carrying for a friend's funeral?

n where is the dark-blue or green Transit-type van with a high roof seen in the Wangford area on February 5. The van was thought to have the word "rental" or "hire" on the side with a telephone number beginning 01.

n where is the white saloon car, possibly of Japanese make, seen in the Henham area on February 6 with a woman answering Mrs Kempton's description sitting in the passenger seat? Shortly after the car was seen, what sounded like screams drowned by music were heard near the ditch.

At the height of the inquiry more than 50 officers were involved and today it would only take a new lead for police to relaunch the investigation.

A spokesman for Suffolk police said: "As with any major investigation that is still ongoing, any new pieces of evidence will be fully investigated. We would urge anyone who thinks they have any information that can help us to get in touch."

With the passage of time, however, the mystery of who killed the mother-of-two deepens still further.

david.lennard@eadt.co.uk


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