On 22 January 1993, the body of 76-year-old Arthur Brumhill was found inside the Denton Pet and Garden Centre he managed in Wellington Street, Northampton, England. He was found with severe head injuries and almost 26 different wounds after being viciously attacked with a heavy blunt object and a bag of straw from the shop emptied out over his body. Discovered by a horrified shop assistant when they arrived for work, police believed Arthur had been murdered the previous evening when he often worked late and either let his killer in or the killer had keys as no forced entry could be seen the following morning. The missing cash float suggested the motive was robbery.
With few leads to go on, detectives struggled to find evidence to link any individual with the crime despite as many as 14 arrests being made. As a result, the case lay cold on the Northamptonshire Police files for 22 years. The killer of a kind, hard-working family man has remained free while Arthur’s life was violently ended and his family have been left with no answers.
“Unfortunately not every murder is immediately solvable, but out commitment to bringing the offender to justice remains as strong as it did 20 years ago.”
Twenty years on, in 2013, the case was reopened by Northamptonshire Police recognising that forensics science techniques and methodology had advanced considerably. It was hoped that by re-examining items of evidence recovered in 1993, forensics may be able to point police to the individual responsible. On 20 May 2015, it looked like their hope had been correct when fingerprints found on the bag of straw that was ripped open and emptied out on top of Arthur Brumhill came back with a match.
That match was to 39-year-old Stuart Jenkins, a man originally from Northampton but now living in West Yorkshire. Jenkins was 17-years-old at the time of the murder and had worked at the pet shop for a few weeks in the months before Arthur Brumhill was killed. Stuart Jenkins had been arrested at the time of the murder after police received reports he had ‘confessed’ to the murder to a friend, however, he was released after no evidence could be found to link him to the crime.
Forensics science has progressed rapidly over the last two decades, from detailed scientific techniques for DNA and fingerprints to the equipment available to preserve and record crime scene information. Once reserved for high-profile very serious crimes, forensics has increasingly being used across the board to solve crimes. Research shows us that DNA evidence is retrieved in England and Wales in 10% of all crimes. Furthermore, in seven out of 10 crimes, cold searching using fingerprint and DNA computer databases has revealed the suspect in the crime.
At the time of Arthur Brumhill’s murder, the forensics science available was generally used to support evidence against a known suspect rather than identify a new suspect or provide a first link to a possible suspect. Despite a number of arrests being made in 1993, police were unable to identify a prime suspect for the murder, rendering analysis techniques at the time of little use. As years have passed and databases, techniques, and methods have advanced, the rate of new identifications due to forensic evidence has increased dramatically.
One of the most significant developments in recent years is the development of the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). This is a huge database capable of storing thousands upon thousands of fingerprints. When fingerprints or latent print evidence is found, these can now be quickly and efficiently entered into AFIS and the system will automatically search for a match. Previously, all such matching had to be done manually, a time-consuming and highly skilled task much more open to error and question than a developed computer program which relies solely on algorithms guaranteed to be consistent and complete each and every time.
The 1997 case of Shirley Mckie, a Scottish police detective whose fingerprint was allegedly found on a doorframe inside a murder scene in Kilmarnock, is a case example. She was suspended and then sacked from her job, arrested and the tried for perjury; all based on the identification of a fingerprint which she claimed could not be hers but fingerprint analysts claimed must be hers. After a long fight, it was determined that the fingerprint in question did not belong to her and she was acquitted of all charges. This case highlighted for the first time that fingerprint analysis was not fool-proof and mistakes can be made. Furthermore, such mistakes can come at great personal cost to those implicated and lead to devastating miscarriages of justice.
The case of Arthur Brumhill is an example of how powerful such developments in forensics science can be. However, while the ability to examine evidence in more detail can provide more information for police investigators to work with, it does not solve crimes on its own and it cannot always provide conclusive proof of what happened at a crime scene and at whose hand.
Stuart Jenkins went on trial for the murder of Arthur Brumhill in February 2017. Now 41-years-old, Jenkins had a decorated career as an Army Sergeant and has always maintained his innocence in this brutal murder. He had worked in the pet shop for around six weeks on a youth training scheme and claimed he got on well with Arthur, enjoying his time working there. During his trial, the prosecution laid out their case against him. The key evidence was the discovery after new forensic testing of his fingerprints on the polythene bag left at the crime scene which had been ripped open and its straw contents were thrown over Arthur’s body.
Four fingerprints belonging to Stuart Jenkin’s were found on the bag at the points where fingers would be positioned if a person were to be ripping the bag open, claimed the prosecution. “Despite what the defence suggests, evidence has existed all along to suggest the killer did open the bag,” they told the court. Furthermore, they highlighted the cash float for the shop was stored in the shop’s rear toilet, an usual place, but as this was taken on the night of the murder it was assumed that the killer knew where to find it. They also suggested that Jenkins had a set of keys to the shop cut for himself during the time he worked there enabling him to gain entry on the night of the murder.
The defence team in the case called the evidence against Stuart Jenkin’s ‘flimsy’, rebutting all of the evidence put forward by the prosecution. They reminded the jury that Jenkin’s did work at the shop for a number of weeks meaning his fingerprints could have been left on the bag during the time he worked there. They highlighted no other bags were tested for the presence of his fingerprints and several other unidentified fingerprints were found on the bag in question. Introducing further possible suspects into the case, defending barrister William Harbidge QC told the court of another robbery that took place on the night of Arthur Brumhill’s murder just yards away with witnesses reporting two young boys running away from the scene and an older man in a high visibility jacket also being seen in the area, any of whom could have been the real killer of Arthur Brumhill.
“Could it have been one of those people? If it could, then you cannot be sure Stuart Jenkins did this.”
On 7 March 2017, after 14-days of evidence the jury returned a verdict of not guilty, clearing Stuart Jenkins of any involvement in the murder. Detective Chief Inspector Louise Hemingway said after the verdict, “We accept the decision reached by the jury. I am disappointed for Mr Brumhill’s family who have come this far after waiting 24 years. We will continue to explore any opportunity to bring the offender or offenders to justice for this horrific crime.”
After the conclusion of this trial, the murder of Arthur Brumhill remains unsolved and the truth about what happened on that night in 1993 a mystery. While police will continue to work on his case and it is hoped one day they will be able to solve his murder, his family now have to return to the endless waiting and frustration of not knowing what happened and why and whether they will ever receive justice.