On 4 August 2002, two 10-year-old girls went missing around 6 pm in the evening in the village of Soham, Cambridgeshire. Their story and that of the man who took their lives has left a dark cloud over Soham, placing this little picturesque village in the memories of a nation for all the wrong reasons.
Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman had been at a family barbecue and headed off together to buy some sweets from the local shop still wearing their matching bright red Manchester United football shirts they had been photographed in just hours earlier. After leaving the shop the two young girls disappeared.
After two weeks of desperate searching it was discovered the girls had been invited into the house of school caretaker Ian Huntley on their way home that night. He was a man they knew and trusted and he abused this trust and that of their families by killing the two girls, concealing their bodies and lying to both police, the media and the girl’s parents for weeks after their deaths. The decomposed bodies of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were found on 17 August 2002 in a ditch seven miles away from Soham.
Ian Huntley and his girlfriend Maxine Carr had been a couple for three years prior to the murders, moving to Soham after he secured a caretaker post at Soham Village College secondary school and Carr a post as a teaching assistant. Both lived in a cottage in the village on college grounds that came with Huntley’s job and Maxine Carr knew the two girls from her teaching post in their class.
In the weeks after the girls went missing, the media descended on Soham with every household in Britain watching the search and praying the two young girls would both be found safe and well. Huntley announced he had spoken with the girls as they passed his house on that evening, regularly participating in interviews with reporters as the last person to see Holly and Jessica before they disappeared.
In a video of Huntley talking to the press on LiveLeak.com, he tells Sky news reporter Jeremy Thompson, “They just came across and asked how Miss Carr was…and off they walked in the direction of the library over there.” Words we now know to be lies and fabrications designed to hide his own murderous actions. Criminologist Mark Williams Thomas has said:
“Here’s a man who is very accomplished at lying, had been interviewed numerous times by police in the past so knew exactly the procedures.”
It would be expected that someone who had committed murder, much less the murder of two young girls, would stay as far away from the police and the investigation into their disappearance as possible. However, it appears Ian Huntley is not alone in his desire for the spotlight after such horrific actions.
FBI profiler Roy Hazelwood talked of killers who insert themselves in the investigation into their crimes in his book Dark Dreams. He writes, “This is most often true of narcissistic offenders. It’s thrilling for them to close to the action. They can see that their crime has provoked attention.” He also refers to Ted Bundy, Edmund Kemper , and Atlanta child killer Wayne Williams as well-known killers who couldn’t resist getting involved and close with the police investigation into their horrific series of murders.
Both Huntley and Carr were first questioned by police on 16 August 2002, with Huntley sticking to his story. He was washing his dog at the front door of his home on 4 August, he said, when Holly and Jessica passed his house. They stopped and talked with him briefly asking after Carr before they carried on walking he told police. The same tale he had repeatedly told the media. Maxine Carr told police she was at home with Huntley on that night in the bath appearing to confirm his story.
Held separately in different police stations, their home and the college where Huntley worked were searched. Police recovered the two football shirts Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were wearing on the night they disappeared half burnt inside a bin. Further evidence uncovered placed Jessica’s mobile phone signal at Huntley’s house.
Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr were arrested the following day and that afternoon the bodies of the two girls were found. The identities of the girls had to be confirmed through DNA testing due to the decomposition of their bodies, a fact that also made their cause of death almost impossible to establish.
On 20 August 2002, Ian Huntley was charged with two counts of murder and at the same time was sectioned under the Mental Health Act. His behaviour had raised concerns over his mental state and his fitness to stand trial. It was quickly concluded Ian Huntley did not suffer from any mental illness with the consultant psychiatrist who assessed him suggesting his behaviour had been fabricated, commenting:
“Although Mr Huntley made clear attempts to appear insane, I have no doubt that the man currently, and at the time of the murders, was both physically and mentally sound.”
For his girlfriend Maxine Carr who told police she was at home with Huntley at the time of the murders, she was in fact in Grimsby visiting family. She was charged with perverting the course of justice on 21 August 2002 with two further charges of assisting an offender added in January 2003. Carr pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice but not guilty to assisting an offender, insisting she knew nothing of Huntley’s involvement in the murders. When it came to court it was decided that Carr didn’t know he had killed the girls and that she had provided him with the alibi because she thought he was innocent. =She was sentenced to three and a half years in prison and was released on probation in May 2004 under a new identity such was the public backlash against her, many of whom believed she knew exactly what Huntley had done yet protected him anyway.
Ian Huntley went on trial at the Old Bailey in London on 5 November 2003 charged with the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. He admitted both girls had died inside his home but claimed both their deaths were accidental. He said Holly had suffered a nose bleed and while he was helping her in the bathroom he accidentally knocked her into the bath where she drowned. Jessica had witnessed the incident he claimed and he had accidentally choked her while he was trying to stop her screaming. A ridiculous set of claims based on fiction to cover his tracks. The senior pathologist who examined both bodies concluded the notion of their deaths being in any way accidental was “implausible, unlikely and contrary to common sense,” according to a report in the Telegraph.
After the murders, Ian Huntley had removed the girl’s bodies from his home and dumped them in a ditch seven miles away. He had then returned to the site in the period before they were found and tried to set the bodies alight, in the hope police believe, to destroy any forensic evidence which may link him to their deaths. The jury unsurprisingly did not believe Huntley’s claims of two accidental killings and found him guilty on both counts of murder. He was sentenced to life in prison to serve a minimum of 40 years, one of the longest minimum terms ever set in the UK.
Ian Huntley, it was revealed after the trial, was a sexual predator with a string of allegations behind him of sex with underage girls and rape. Huntley had been investigated five times for allegations of underage sex and three times on suspicion of rape of adult women. However, no convictions ensured this history did not lie on his police file and allowed him to continue through life unmonitored and secure a post inside a secondary school.
It was his own behaviour which aroused the suspicion against him in the weeks after Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman went missing. His behaviour towards journalists who had descended on the village to cover the story, his comments to reporters and his insistent repeating of the last sighting of the girls led to reporters raising concerns directly with investigating officers over his involvement in the girls disappearance. Huntley’s eagerness to appear on camera also led to his downfall, putting his face on television screens across the UK leading to people from his past who knew his history to contact the police and highlight the allegations made against him, which shockingly the police were not already aware of.
In the years since the Soham child murders new regulations and procedures have been put in place with regards to vetting applicants who apply for jobs working with children and for police recording of allegations of crimes regardless of convictions. Both of which if in place earlier may have prevented Ian Huntley from arriving in Soham, working within the secondary school and having the opportunity to carry out the horrific crimes that he did.
The scale of this case and the media coverage meant that once Huntley arrived in prison, few of his fellow inmates didn’t know who he was or what he had been convicted of. Child killers do not do well in prison and Huntley has been attacked numerous times since his conviction, with the most recent being a serious attempt on his life by another inmate who cut his throat. Huntley will remain in prison until he is at a least 68-years-old in 2042 when he will be eligible to apply for parole with the possibility of release. There is little doubt that the many remaining years behind bars will not be comfortable ones for Ian Huntley.