As many as 1 in 3 of the women that are murdered each year is by the hands of a current or former lover. At a glance, the murder of Kelly Anne Bates may seem to be just another sad statistic. A young girl was charmed by her much older partner, hid the abuse from her friends and family until one day things were taken too far and her abuser took her life. At the surface, her story is all too common, yet what sets this case apart from others is the manner in which she was killed and what has earned this case the title of “The Most Horrific Murder in England’s History.”
Described as a bubbly girl with an old soul, 14-year-old Kelly Anne Bates was known to hang around a much older crowd. Naturally, it came to no surprise to the teen’s parents that she had begun to date a much older man. At 16, when Kelly decided to introduce them her boyfriend, “Dave Smith”, claiming he was 32-years-old, Kelly’s mom says that the hairs on her neck began to stand up the moment she met him and in hindsight regrets not killing him right then and there.
Kelly’s mom had no idea that the man her teenage daughter was dating was not “Dave Smith”, nor was he 32-years-old. Smith’s real name was James Patterson Smith and he was much older than Kelly’s mom had suspected. Smith was actually 48-years-old, making him over 30 years Kelly’s senior. It would seem odd that the man that claimed to love this girl would go out of his way to disguise his identity, however, Smith’s checkered past may be one explanation.
Smith had a number of relationships before meeting Kelly, and at least three of them depict Smith as a misogynist that enjoyed tormenting the women he was involved with. The first documented case of Smith’s violence involved his 10-year marriage, which was absolved in 1980 after his former wife claimed that she was subjected to his violent outbursts. He then began dating 20-year-old Tina Watson. Watson testified that during their two-year relationship Smith essentially “used her as a punch-bag”. She said that Smith would regularly beat her, even when she fell pregnant with his child. Fortunately for Watson, she was able to flee the relationship after Smith attempted to drown her in the bathtub. Another teenager, 15-year-old Wendy Mottershead, was also victimized by Smith and claimed that he had also attempted to drown her by holding her head into a kitchen sink. It wouldn’t be until 1993 that Smith would gain the attention of the bubbly school girl, Kelly Anne Bates, and Smith’s legacy of violence against women would go on to make national headlines.
In spite of her mother’s attempts to keep Kelly away from Smith, shortly after introducing him to her parents Kelly began spending more and more time at Smith’s home. Although still worried about her daughter’s relationship with this much older man, it seemed to Kelly’s mother that Smith did have Kelly’s best interest at heart and would often phone her parents to discuss concerns he had about her. It wouldn’t be long before that impression was shattered and the cycle of possessiveness and violence with in the couple’s relationship began.
Kelly’s mom eventually discovered the truth about “Dave’s” identity. Preferring to be called “Jimmy”, Smith claimed he only lied about his age because he felt that if she had known how old he really was she wouldn’t approve of the relationship. Kelly would come home to check in every few days. Her mother noticed that Kelly’s appearances had drastically changed during this time. When Kelly visited her parents’ home they reported that she looked as if she hadn’t bathed, she had begun to lose weight rapidly, and was often seen with bruises and what appeared to be bite marks.
There were several arguments between the couple and Kelly would return home for short periods, but would always return back to Smith. Never admitting to the abuse, Kelly spent less and less time with her family, until eventually, she cut all contact with them. Kelly’s parents did receive some cards from her, but they noticed that the cards were not written in Kelly’s handwriting. Her mother felt something was terribly wrong but was unable to do anything about the situation.
Her mother’s instinct was unfortunately correct. On April 16, 1996, Smith reported to a local police station that his girlfriend had accidentally drown in his bathtub. Police arriving to the scene at Smith’s home found blood in virtually every room of the house, indicating that there was much more to Kelly’s death than an accidental drowning.
Weeks before her death, Smith gouged Kelly’s eyes out and tied to a radiator by her hair. For at least three weeks she was refused food and water, scalped in places, and her inner thigh was burned with a hot iron. Her arms, legs, hands, and knee caps had been completely crushed. Medical examiners found 150 separate stab wounds on her body, including the inside of her mouth and her empty eye sockets. She was mutilated to her face, mouth, nose, and genital areas. Finally, in what probably seemed like an act of mercy to Kelly, Smith knocked her unconscious with a shower head and drown her.
Smith denied having anything to do with Kelly’s murder and stuck to his story that her death was a result of accidental drowning, but he did admit to abusing Kelly. He said that she would often inflict injuries upon herself, making the abuse appear worst than it was, and would purposely “wind him up” by taunting him. Smith’s excuse for beating, stabbing, and gouging her eyes out was only because she had “dared him” to do it, and claimed that Kelly was the one that provoked him into torturing her.
It only took an hour for the jury to find Smith guilty and he was sentenced to life in prison. It is perhaps one of the few cases where jurors were offered professional counseling services in order to deal with being subjected to the horrific police photographs of Kelly’s badly mutilated body and the crime scene.