Michelle Leng moved to Sydney, Australia from her home in China in 2011 to pursue her education with the support of her aunt and uncle who offered her room in their home. Derek Barrett was perceived as a doting uncle who cared for his 25-year-old niece and wanted the best for her. Barrett, however, was hiding a dark obsession with his niece, an obsession which would creep its way to the surface and be the driving force behind his appalling actions which took the life of this young girl.
Derek Barrett waited until his wife was away from the home before abducting Michelle Leng, tying her up and keeping her in a state of terror for hours while he took obscene photographs and sexually abused her. Once he had finished satisfying his fantasies he stabbed Michelle Leng over 30 times before throwing her body into the sea two days later.
The obsession of this uncle towards his niece in Australia in April 2016 is eerily similar to the behaviour displayed by Stuart Campbell in Essex, England 15 years ago in 2001, against his 15-year-old niece Danielle Jones. An uncle, who instead of feeling familial love and care for his niece developed sexual fantasies and a belief of a relationship with the teenager.
In both of these horrifying cases, Derek Barrett and Stuart Campbell followed their nieces, took photographs and filmed them without their knowledge, watched and recorded them while they were sleeping and when their urges got too much, they snatched them, bound them and kept them captive for hours before killing them. In the case of Stuart Campbell, the body of Danielle Jones has never been found and he refuses to tell her family and police where her remains are buried.
According to a report on violence within the home in Mother Jones in 2013, 60% of all violent injuries in the United States were the result of violence by a family member between 2005 and 2010. Furthermore, 64% of women who are killed every year die as a result of murder by a family member. While a large majority of these murders are domestic violence related with a current or ex-partner being responsible for their murders, a hefty percentage of these cases relate to another family member, parents, aunts and uncles and siblings who have carried out the crime.
After Derek Barrett had abducted his niece, he stripped her naked, gagged her and bound her wrists and ankles before he repeatedly took photographs of her, reports Australian news. This terrified young girl was subjected to a degrading and horrifying last few hours by a man she trusted and never imaged would harm her. Two days after she disappeared, Michelle Leng’s body was found floating on the isolated stretch of coastline known as Snapper Point, along the central-coast of New South Wales, a stretch of water with a tragic history.
28-year-old Derek Barrett pleaded guilty to murder and filming Michelle Leng against her will while holding her captive before he took her life. He also pleaded guilty to abduction and indecent assault. A number of disturbing videos were found on Barrett’s mobile phone, all short films of Michelle Leng; in the shower, asleep in her bed and those final hours before he killed her.
At the time of the murder, Michelle Leng’s aunt was working away from the home in Wollongong for two days, an opportunity Barrett took knowing he would not be disturbed. His step-daughter, who also lived in the home, reportedly was in the house for a period having no idea her cousin was tied up and gagged, being held against her will upstairs.
In the case of Stuart Campbell in 2001, Danielle Jones was last seen alive on 18 June 2001 walking to catch the bus to go to school. She had always had a close relationship with her uncle and had spent a lot of time with him in the previous years. The family had no reason to suspect anything sinister about Campbell. Campbell, a 59-year-old builder, was Danielle’s uncle through marriage, being married to her aunt and part of the family for all of her 15 years.
Despite no body being found police were convinced early on in the disappearance of Danielle Jones that foul play was involved and she had been murdered. Starting with those who were close to her it was soon apparent that Stuart Campbell had something to hide. His alibi at the time Danielle went missing was proven to be false, his mobile phone signal was in the same area as Danielle’s mobile phone at the time she went missing, the last sighting of Danielle, arguing with a man in blue transit van matched both Campbell’s work vehicle and his own description. Personal items were found in the loft of Campbell’s home that belonged to Danielle and were known to be in her possession around the time she went missing including a new lip gloss she had bought with a friend the day before. Also in the loft were a pair of blood stained stockings which matched Danielle’s DNA.
It was revealed that Campbell had a history of unhealthy obsessions with young teenage girls. He pretended to be a photographer on numerous occasions bringing teenagers back to his house when his wife was at work and taking inappropriate photographs of them in skimpy clothing and underwear. He had a stash of pornographic material on his computer, all featuring teenage girls which matched Danielle’s description; young with blonde hair. All were activities he kept secret with his wife and Danielle’s parents knowing nothing of this behaviour and the threat he may post to teenage Danielle. Most damning in his case was the detailed diary he kept which noted every meeting, phone call and text message he had with Danielle highlighting his constant communication with her and his deep obsession.
Stuart Campbell was found guilty of abduction and murder in 2002. He was told by the judge he was a man obsessed with teenage girls who was unable to control his ‘fixation with teenagers’ and jailed for life. The murder case of Danielle Jones was reopened this year in the hunt to find the teenager’s remains. A search of a possible disposal site at a block of garages in Essex near to her home was unsuccessful in finding Danielle but police continue to be committed to finding where she is buried.
Homicide statistics tell us that most murders are carried out by people known to the victim. In a report by the US Department of Justice published in June 2005 focused on family violence, the statistics, circumstances and familial relationships involved in these types of crimes provide grim reading. In cases of familial murder such as these, there is an unfathomable betrayal involved where a trusted family member turns on one of their own, taking a life and destroying that family unit in the worst way possible. When we are brought up to be aware of strangers and fear those unknown to us, the murders that take place within a family can be the hardest to understand.