The murders of Lin and Megan Russell and the attempted murder of Josie Russell on 9 July 1996, in Chillenden in Kent, England, was a crime that truly horrified the nation. A family walking home from a swimming gala in a quiet and picturesque area of Kent were brutally set upon by a male offender who attacked them with a hammer causing horrific injuries. Walking along Cherry Garden Lane, a track which runs next to open fields near their home, in the space of most likely just a few minutes this fun-loving everyday family faced terror and violence that no one should ever be subjected to.
Upon discovering his family had not returned home, Shaun Russell frantically searched for them that evening and was given the devastating news that they had all been killed in the early hours of the morning when their bodies were found.
Police initially believed his wife, 45-year-old Lin Russell, and both his daughters, 6-year-old Megan and 9-year-old Josie, had lost their lives along with the family dog who was also killed in the attack. It was only on closer inspection that it was discovered that Josie was still alive, barely, but there was hope. It was this news and the ongoing battle to save her life which took Shaun Russell from thoughts of suicide after losing all will to live, to thoughts of being there to support his daughter and her survival no doubt saved her father too.
After one year, a known heroin addict and a man with a long criminal history including charges of burglary and theft, wounding with intent and grievous bodily harm, 37-year-old Michael Stone, was arrested and charged with the murders of Lin and Megan Russell and the attempted murder of Josie Russell. Michael Stone came to the attention of police in the case when a psychiatrist made contact putting Stone’s name forward as a possible suspect with a likeness to the photo E-Fit developed from a witness who saw a man in the area at the time of the murders. Furthermore, Stone’s behaviour and statements made during a support session just days before the murders caused concern, when he had made chilling threats towards his probation officer and his family.
When investigated, Michael Stone could not be linked forensically to the Russell murders crime scene, with no forensic evidence found that matched his DNA. There were no confirmed sightings of Michael Stone in the area at the time of the murders, but he did bear resemblance to the police sketch police had circulated.
In September 1997, while in Canterbury Prison and awaiting trial, Michael Stone requested to be moved into segregation, worried at the stories other prisoners were talking about in relation to the Russell murders that he was charged with committing. In segregation, heroin addict Damien Daley was in the next cell and it would be his testimony, claiming that Stone had confessed to the Russell murders through a gap “between a heating pipe and their cell wall”, that would convict Michael Stone of double murder at two trials and see him imprisoned on three life sentences in October 2001.
In a recent dramatic two-part documentary aired on BBC in September 2017, a cold case team made up of retired police detectives, current legal barristers, and forensic science experts examined this case in detail starting with the crime scene and moving forward to the arrest and conviction of Michael Stone. They aimed to address the many questions that have surrounded his involvement and the suggestions that his conviction is unsafe.
What they confirmed was that the evidence against Michael Stone is entirely circumstantial and his conviction hung on the untrustworthy testimony of an ex-inmate who is now serving his own prison sentence for murder. The conviction of Michael Stone is resting on very shaky ground and this raises some serious questions regarding a possible miscarriage of justice and just who is really responsible for this shocking crime.
The name Levi Bellfield has been put forward more than once with regards to the Russell murders. Bellfield is a convicted murderer serving multiple life sentences in Wakefield Prison in West Yorkshire, already suspected of numerous further attacks on women and young girls across England. In many of his attacks he used a hammer to beat his victims to death. Furthermore, although his attacks mainly centred in the London area, he may have had links to Kent. Could Levi Bellfield have killed the Russells?
Michael Stone’s defence attorneys certainly seem to think so and Bellfield himself has allegedly made some startling confessions to another prisoner in relation to the case. The Telegraph reported in November 2017 that Stone’s defence team have stated they have new evidence which will prove Michael Stone, who is now 57-years-old and has served 20 years in prison, is innocent and this evidence included a confession to the murders by Levi Bellfield.
“There is now new and compelling evidence which proves that he was not responsible for these awful crimes. The evidence suggests that the person responsible is Levi Bellfield, the convicted murderer of three women including Milly Dowler,” they said. “The confession is detailed and has a number of facts which are not in the public domain,” they continued.
Levi Bellfield has since denied that he made any such confessions to a fellow prisoner, however, Bellfield is known for making admissions and confessions and then retracting them, toying with both the police and the families of his victims. To date, no charges have been brought against Levi Bellfield in relation to the Russell murders. For Michael Stone, his case is now with the Criminal Case Review Commission and it remains to be seen whether it will be referred back to the appeal court.