UNSOLVED: The Murder of Kate Bushell, Exwick, Devon, England, United Kingdom

UNSOLVED: The Murder of Kate Bushell, Exwick, Devon, England, United Kingdom

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Case Summary

UNSOLVED: The Murder of Kate Bushell, Exwick, Devon, England, United Kingdom
Image Credit: Devon and Cornwall Police

 

14-year-old Kate Bushell, a student in Year 9 of St Thomas’ High School, Exeter, Devon, England, took her neighbour’s Jack Russell Terrier, Gemma, a walk at approximately 4:30 pm in Exwick, Devon, England on the 15th November 1997. She was last seen alive at approximately 4:50 pm by eyewitnesses, her poor father found her body at approximately 7:30 pm. Kate’s killer has never been identified.

Case Background

UNSOLVED: The Murder of Kate Bushell, Exwick, Devon, England, United Kingdom
Image Credit: Devon Live

On the 15th November 1997, Kate Bushell left her home in Exwick to take her neighbour’s dog, Gemma, for a walk. Gemma’s owners were out of town and Kate had agreed to help care for the Jack Russell. At approximately 4:30 pm Kate left her home to go take Gemma for her walk. Kate and Gemma walked towards a layby and were seen by eyewitnesses at approximately 4:50 pm which was close to Whitestone Cross which at the end of Exwick Lane, Exwick, Devon. The same eyewitnesses stated they spotted small blue care parked near the stables by the layby. A man was seen standing beside the car. 

Around 5 minutes after this, a young couple was driving by and saw the same blue car which was now unattended, they didn’t see Kate, Gemma or the man and didn’t see anyone else in the lane. At around 5:30 pm, Gemma was spotted running out of a gateway in Exwick Lane which is the base of the field where Gemma’s body had been found. There was no sign of Kate and it wasn’t noted if Gemma still had her lead attached. 

At around 5:10 pm – 5:40 pm further eyewitnesses stated that they saw a man running by a field behind Normans, he was running from the area of the crime scene. The eyewitnesses stated that he seemed to be running erratically, very fast, down a muddy embankment and turned back into the estate. He wasn’t wearing running clothes, and according to police reports, it wouldn’t make sense for him to be running in that area at that time of night as it’s not a place frequented by runners. The police feel there is a local connection and asked people to think back to the night in question and ask if they noticed anyone, whether it was their neighbour, their relative or a friend, returning home looking very dishevelled as if they had been running, without running clothes, muddy and possibly with bloodied clothes. Did they change clothes and shower when they returned? Was this abnormal? 

The man was described to be caucasian, approximately 30 – 40 years old with an average height and build, he was clean shaved and had dark, collar-length hair. There is no description of whether it was wavy or straight. We’ve contacted Devon and Cornwall Police to ask if they can identify this and if they could let us know if a description about what the man was wearing could be released. We’ll update this post once they have responded.

Kate’s parents grew worried when she didn’t return home from her walk with Gemma, they went out searching for her by themselves initially, before calling the Devon and Cornwall Police. At around 7:30 pm, after hearing of reports of a dog, later identified as Gemma, coming out of the gateway near the base of the field, police and Kate’s dad went searching around that area. It was Kate’s dad that found her body at the base of the field. Kate had been viciously stabbed in the neck, and her clothes were askew. Police reports state that the crime scene itself was horrific and left not only Kate’s dad but the attending Police Officer’s extremely distressed. 

Kate’s body was found in a very rural area, it’s isolated and would be commonly used as a cut-through from Exwick to get to Nadderwater and Whitestone, Devon. It’s mostly used by people walking their dogs and wouldn’t necessarily be known to someone that doesn’t live in the surrounding areas. The field where Kate’s body was found is connected to Kinnerton Way which means she would have had to follow a country path and cross two stiles to get to where she was. The police don’t think she went down that path voluntarily given the time of night, the fact it was so isolated, and the fact she was a 14-year-old girl that didn’t usually walk the dog she had with her. The police are adamant that the area is too rural for it to just be stumbled upon by a stranger wandering through, they feel this person is local to the area, he could have worked in the area, lived in the area, been originally from the area and was visiting friends/family/partner. 

 

Case Timeline

  • AM: Kate travelled to Exeter with her mother, Suzanne, to do some research in the library for a school project. Afterwards, they go shopping.
  • PM: Kate finishes off some homework in her bedroom before getting ready to go and walk Gemma.
  • 4:30 pm: Kate leaves her home to collect her neighbour’s dog, Gemma, and take her for a walk whilst her neighbours were away.
  • 4:45 pm: Kate and Gemma are seen by eye-witnesses at the Exwick Lane layby near Whitestone Cross.
  • 4:50 pm: A mother and daughter drive past Kate and Gemma. They also notice a blue hatchback or van in Exwick Lane stables layby with a man by the car. The man was described as a white male, of average build and height, clean-shaven, with dark collar-length hair
  • At approximately 7:30 pm: Kate’s father, searching for his daughter alongside Devon and Cornwall police, finds his little girl’s body at the base of the field near Exwick Lane. She had been fatally stabbed in the neck.

 

Operation Deakin

UNSOLVED: The Murder of Kate Bushell, Exwick, Devon, England, United Kingdom
Image Credit: Devon and Cornwall Police

Operation Deakin was set up by the Devon and Cornwall Police on 15th November 1997 and is said to be one of the biggest murder investigations they have ever done. There were five senior investigating officers, 160 police detectives and staff, over 5,000 DNA samples were taken, 2,000 blue vehicles assessed and dismissed, over 5,000 house-to-house interviews and three suspects released without charge. Yet, the police are still struggling to find the perpetrator. 

Timeline of Events in Investigation

  • On 15th November 1997, the Devon and Cornwall Police launched Operation Deakin after Kate’s body is found by her father. There was no sign of obvious sexual assault even though her clothes had been disturbed, but Kate had been brutally knifed in the throat by the assailant which was confirmed as the cause of death. 
  • By 16th November 1997, Devon and Cornwall Police had search teams doling house-to-house enquiries and searching the nearby area. It was then that an eye witness stated they saw a man running away from the murder scene. Another set of eyewitnesses told police about seeing Kate in the lane, and a man with a blue vehicle pulled over near stables. 
  • On the 18th November 1997, Exeter City fans undertake a moment of silence for the murdered schoolgirl. An award of £7,000 is offered for important pertaining to the capture and conviction of Kate’s killer. The press also distributes 2,000 flyers with information on Kate’s murder, and the reward for the capture of her killer.
  • On the 19th November 1997, police call in a forensic psychologist to advise them on the assailant and to help with the murder investigation.
  • On the 22nd November 1997, police undertake a reenactment to try and retrace Kate’s last steps with the hopes that they would undercover something significant.
  • On the 26th November 1997, a two-minute video is released of the reconstruction in supermarkets and TV shop windows throughout Exeter and the local cities. 
  • On the 1st December 1997, police take DNA from 300 men in Exwick. 
  • On 5th January 1998, police begin to fingerprint the residents of Exwick.
  • On the 27th January 1998, Crimewatch features Kate’s case which includes the reconstruction of Kate’s last movements, an interview with the lead detective and information on the reward being offered.
  • On the 30th January 1998, the police seek help from other law enforcement and specialised agencies that deal with the murder of children in order to assist in the investigation.
  • On the 15th November 2017, the 20th anniversary of Kate’s death, Devon and Cornwall Police released a new appeal for information on Kate’s murder. Senior lead detective, Paul Burgan, released the following statement:

 

This is the murder of a 14-year-old child and she was killed in the most horrific of circumstances. Twenty years have gone by but that has not diminished the hurt and the rawness of what happened to her that night. Her family have suffered in a way you cannot imagine. One piece of critical information may be all we need to solve the case to bring justice for the family, and for Kate.

 

 

Murder Weapon 

UNSOLVED: The Murder of Kate Bushell, Exwick, Devon, England, United Kingdom
Image Credit: Devon and Cornwall Police

 

The police reported that the type of knife used to kill Kate was similar to the one pictured above. The blade was said to be around 6 inches long, not the type of blade you would just casually carry around at any given time. Police are asking for anyone who knows of someone that would carry a knife like this around in 1997 to come forward, even if they don’t think it’s significant, the smallest amount of information may be what they need to crack the case.

 

Further Evidence

UNSOLVED: The Murder of Kate Bushell, Exwick, Devon, England, United Kingdom
Image Credit: Pinterest

It was reported that orange fibres were found at the crime scene. The fibres were not from Kate’s home and the police believe they came from the perpetrator. He may have worn a uniform (pictured above) over his normal clothes, and this could be transfer from that uniform. The fibres found were said to be bright orange azoic dyed material that would be used in non-florescent workwear like the boiler suit pictured. It could also be used on aprons and gloves. The police are still testing the fibres for DNA, but there has been no further information released on the results.

Reward for Information 

The charity Crimestoppers UK has raised £10,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction of the preparator of this crime. For further information on who to contact with information that might help in the case, please see below.

 

Important Contacts 

Crimestoppers: You can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800-555-111. Alternatively, you can email Crimestoppers using their online form which you can find by clicking here.

Devon and Cornwall Police: You can email 101 by clicking here. Or, by phone on 101, quoting Kate Bushell murder enquiry and ask for the information to be passed to HQ Major Incident Room.

 

#Justice4Kate Hashtag

If you decide to share our post on social media, please make sure you use the hashtag #justice4kate to raise awareness for her case.

 

Remember…

ALL and we mean ALL comments are monitored on this site. Be respectful to the families of these missing people and victims. Hearsay isn’t welcome here, and we do our best to monitor comments on other social media where our articles are posted to alleviate hearsay around the cases we cover.

We do this because gossip is gossip, it does nothing but hurt those involved and 90% of the time there is absolutely no weight behind it. Please refrain from gossip or hearsay, but if you do have information, don’t post it on social media. Go straight to the contacts above and let them know what you know, you might just be solving a crime.

 

References 


 

UNSOLVED: The Murder of Kate Bushell, Exwick, Devon, England, United Kingdom

 

 

 

 

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