The murder of 13-year-old Billie-Jo Jenkins in 1997 in Hastings, England has been an ongoing case of accusation and speculation. A young girl innocently painting patio doors at her home had her life taken in the most brutal way. Her foster father, Sion Jenkins has been tried three times for her murder, spent six years in prison, and has now been acquitted of all charges.
This leaves a family in a desperate state of the unknown with no resolution or justice for who killed Billie-Jo. Whether this was an opportunist crime where the perpetrator managed to escape the scene undetected or it was, as some still believe, her foster father Sion Jenkins who carried out the fatal attack, are questions still being asked.
Many people think this case saw a terrible miscarriage of justice where an innocent man was imprisoned allowing the real killer to roam free. Others say the arrest and conviction of Sion Jenkins were correct and if the full history and evidence had been heard by the juries in his trials, he would never have been acquitted. At the heart of this speculation and ongoing wheels of the British criminal justice system is the fact that a young girl lost her life when she should have been safe in the back garden of her own home. Twenty years have now passed since her death, and her file remains stamped unsolved.
Billie-Jo Jenkins entered into the foster care system aged nine years old after her father was imprisoned and her mother struggled to cope raising her daughter alone. Placed with the Jenkins family, of the same surname but no relation, she had found a settled and by all appearances loving home and family. Sion and Lois Jenkins had four daughters and opened their home to Billie-Jo in 1992.
They moved to Hastings soon after following a deputy head teacher position for Sion Jenkins at the local school. On 15 February 1997, Billie-Jo was painting the patio doors on the back porch of their home. Lois Jenkins and two of her daughters were out, and Sion Jenkins and their other two daughters were going to the shops to purchase supplies for the ongoing DIY project.
They left the house, and according to his daughters, Annie and Charlotte, Sion realised he did not have any money with him. They returned to the house and waited in the car while Sion ran into the house to collect some money. Three minutes later he returned to the car, and they went on their way again to the shops.
They returned home fifteen minutes later and found Billie-Jo on the ground after clearly suffering a violent attack. She had been hit over the head with a metal tent peg causing terrible head injuries. Despite a call to emergency services and the quick arrival of paramedics, Billie-Jo Jenkins died on that patio aged just 13-years-old.
Three weeks after the murder, Lois Jenkins made a statement to police about domestic abuse in the home and the violent and volatile temper she had witnessed from Sion Jenkins during their marriage. A week later, he was arrested for the murder of Billie-Jo.
A forensic examination of the scene and the clothes of Sion Jenkins revealed over one hundred blood spots on the fleece jacket he was wearing that day. This, according to police, was proof that he was responsible for the murder and was the key piece of evidence which convicted him of murder at his first trial on 2nd July 1998 where he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Lois Jenkins, convinced of her husband’s guilt, divorced Sion Jenkins and moved her family to Tasmania in Australia to try and rebuild their lives after the horrendous events of the previous year.
Bloodstain pattern analysis has proved to be center to this case. According to experts, trained analysts can determine from blood evidence at a crime scene how such blood may have been shed and what the sequence of events may have been.
Projected blood stains are different from transferred or passive blood stains. The size, shape and location of blood can be vital in establishing where the blood came from, in what direction and where the persons involved were positioned at the time, all calculated using the principles of biology, physics and mathematics.
These principles and the droplets found on the clothing of Sion Jenkins were the sources of debate between the prosecution, the defence and the witnesses they called in his subsequent trials for murder.
According to the defence and expert witness Professor David Denison, a leading expert in lung disease, these stains were transferred to Sion as he tended to Billie-Jo after finding her already injured. He testified they were a result of “expiration spatter”, a release of fine blood droplets from blocked airways as Sion moved Billie-Jo when trying to help her. The prosecution, however, argued these stains were “impact spatter” made during the attack on Billie-Jo proving Sion was her killer.
While much of forensic science is an exact science, evidence such as this can only be interpreted according to an expert opinion with possible explanations provided as to how such evidence may arrive there. In a grand jury trial, jurors, with no experience of forensic analysis, are left to decide which is right, or alongside all the other evidence, which explanation is more credible. This is a daunting task for any individual sitting on a jury.
The first appeal for Sion Jenkins failed in 1999. However, his case was taken on by the Criminal Cases Review Commission in 2001. After investigating for two years, they felt there were enough grounds for a retrial, referring the case back to the Courts of Appeal. In 2004, Sion Jenkins won his appeal against his conviction which was deemed ‘unsafe’, and he was released on bail before a new trial.
A second issue very prominent in this case were the time scales involved where Sion Jenkins was alleged to have murdered Billie-Jo. The prosecution stated the three minute period where he returned to the house to collect money was enough time to commit the assault. However, the defence highlighted whoever committed this crime would have been covered in Billie-Jo’s blood. His daughters did not report a change of clothing when he returned to the car nor did the police find any clothing within the house pointing to this theory.
The lack of obvious blood on his clothing and the lack of time for him get changed before returning to the car, they claimed, suggested he was not responsible for this crime. Furthermore, little evidence in terms of a motive for why Sion Jenkins would kill his foster daughter has ever been presented.
Two trials followed. In the first after a deliberation by the jury of thirty-nine hours, a majority verdict could not be reached, and a third trial was ordered. In this third and final trial, once again the jury could not reach a majority verdict based on the evidence they had heard.
In February 2006, the Old Bailey declared Sion Jenkins not guilty of murder, and he was formally acquitted of all charges. One journalist, Bob Woffinden, a British investigative journalist who has focused on miscarriages of justice since the 1980’s, has felt very strongly from the beginning that Sion Jenkins was innocent. He has followed the case as Sion’s original trial and retrials have taken place, always highlighting that while the “catalogue of disasters that characterises the recent history of the British criminal justice system” were taking place, the real killer of Billie-Jo Jenkins remains free. He has written a book with Sion Jenkins entitled ‘The Murder of Billie-Jo’ published in 2008.
If indeed Sion Jenkins is innocent of this crime, he not only lost his foster daughter in 1997 but has faced the public believing he was the monster who killed her, spent years behind bars and has lost the rest of his family as a result.
“There was a moment when I was living a normal existence, surrounded by all that I knew and was comfortable with. Then, in the next moment, just as long as it takes to walk through a door, I had entered a world of nightmares.” – Sion Jenkins
In the 20 years since this murder, the main focus has been on Sion Jenkins and whether or not he is guilty. There has been much speculation with the media following the case and many reports suggesting various pieces of evidence which were not brought into his three trials.
This includes the history of domestic abuse and statements made from his wife who was convinced of his guilt, and that the specks of blood found on his fleece jacket also included bone fragments from Billie-Jo, however, this was disallowed in evidence due to late presentation to the defence team.
Around the time of the murder, the Jenkins reported they were concerned about prowlers and break-ins to the extent they fitted window locks and security lights. There have been reports of a mysterious man who was known to ‘hang around’ the area and has been highlighted as a possible suspect in this murder case.
Known to suffer from mental health problems, reports suggest he was in the area at the time of the murder. However, police have stated his exact whereabouts have been accounted for the time Billie-Jo Jenkins was killed. The link between mental heath, violence and specifically stranger murder is scientifically very weak although public perception tends to believe such incidents are much more common than they actually are.
Billie-Jo had expressed concerns to friends that she was being followed by a man in a leather jacket some months before the murder. Links have been made to known offender Antoni Imiela, the so-called “M25 Rapist” who attacked a number of girls and women in the Kent, Surrey and London area. Imiela was living near Billie-Jo’s home in 1997, and he fits the description of the man Billie-Jo had told friends was following her.
There are also some similarities between the murder of Billie-Jo Jenkins and his victims. A small piece of black bin liner was found in Billie-Jo’s nostrils, evidence that there has been no explanation for. Antoni Imiela often used black bin bags over the heads of his victims during his attacks. He is currently serving a life sentence after being convicted of multiple rapes dating back to 1987 through forensic evidence.
The murder of Billie-Jo Jenkins is a crime which many people are unable to forget. A young girl on the back porch of her home who was brutally attacked and left for dead. In light of the acquittal of Sion Jenkins, a stranger murder is an avenue of investigation; that someone unknown to Billie-Jo entered into the grounds of her house that day and took her life.
At present, it seems this haunting case is not being re-investigated by police, eleven years after Sion Jenkins was acquitted of all involvement in the murder. Sion Jenkins has tried to rebuild his life since his acquittal. He has remarried and studied criminology, however, the scene he says he found that day in February 1997 still haunts him, “I want to find out who murdered Billie” he says, “then I will never talk about it again”.