When Colette Aram went missing on the short walk to her boyfriend’s house her mother Jacqui Kirkby knew instinctively that something was wrong.
The following morning the 16-year-old’s body was found in deserted farmland. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled. In a twist of fate her brother Mark, who was scouring the area looking for his sister, stumbled upon her body. What he saw that day would haunt him for the rest of his life. Colette’s murder sparked one the biggest and longest manhunts in police history.
Colette’s murder was the first ever appeal on BBC’s Crimewatch programme, yet it was an investigation which would last 26 years. A remarkable breakthrough in DNA techniques finally helped nail her killer – a Ripper style letter boasting how he would never be caught brought about his downfall. At last, Jacqui had some kind of closure but at what price to herself and her family?
This book explores a mother’s deep loss and grief for her child – how Jacqui never gave up despite the breakdown of her family unit, the loss of her marriage and at times, her own sanity. It is also a book of hope – hope that one day her killer would be found and Jacqui would get Justice For Colette.
My haze of grief continued as I went into denial that Colette had gone. I would sit by the window or on the chair in the hall waiting for her to come home. Every day I searched for her outline, at times I thought I saw her but it was always someone else’s daughter. I willed her to walk up the driveway towards and into home. I pictured her usual smile and cheery ’hiya mum’, as she strolled in through the front door, hanging her red jacket up on the usual peg. But there was no outline, no smile, no Colette. Instead, strangers knocked with more condolence cards and more bunches of sodding flowers. The police came to see us; someone had to identify Colette’s body. They wouldn’t let me go as they didn’t think that I’d be able to cope with the sight that awaited me at the mortuary. Also, for my own sanity I needed to remember Colette for the beautiful girl she had always been. I didn’t want horror visions to seep in and tarnish the happy memories that I held dear in my heart. I didn’t want to see my daughter dead and lying alone and lifeless on a mortuary slab. Instead, Tony and my dad Arthur went to identify her battered body. She was black and blue all over - an alien and broken version of herself. My father was not a well man. He suffered with angina and other health issues and he never got over what he saw that day. But somehow he held the hurt and buried it deep down inside. Arthur was a proud man, a strong hard business man but the shock of seeing his granddaughter in this state haunted him. He died broken-hearted less than six months later. He was just 65 years-old. Colette's murder had now claimed two lives. I had saved myself from this horrific vision but the shock had killed my dad, I wondered then how were we supposed to cope in the forthcoming months? For days, I just drifted in and out of oblivion. I didn’t know what day of the week it was, or anything else for that matter - nothing seemed important anymore. My baby had gone. If I did manage to get past the front door, I became too terrified to go back in fearing that her killer was waiting for me. The question of mistaken identity was raised by the police investigation team – that I might have been the intended target – so I became a virtual recluse in the sanctuary of my own home and suffered constant panic attacks. Before this nightmare, I'd been a happy, outgoing person. But now I was a shell of my former self – I was shattered, my confidence fragmented into thousands of pieces like a broken mirror, hopeless and waiting to be repaired. All the joy in my life had drained from me the night that Colette died. For the first six months we were unable to bury my little girl in case her killer was caught. Instead, her body was placed on ice waiting for an arrest which didn't come. Every night, I'd climb into bed thinking of my daughter lying in the mortuary. The image haunted me. Although I’d refused to go, I couldn’t help myself, before my father had died I’d needed to ask him what this monster had done to my little girl. He’d told me that Colette had been peppered with cuts and bruises and was black and blue all over. In my minds eye this was all I could now see, my baby girl lying in a huge fridge covered in bruises, tinged blue from the cold, I wanted to lie beside her, to die with her. I just wanted to wrap her in my arms and keep her warm. I didn’t want her to be alone or feel frightened. I tried hard to visualise Colette as I’d wanted to remember her, laughing and joking, lighting up the room with her innocent sweet smile. But try as I might, I just couldn’t shake this horrific new vision from my mind. I tortured myself daily with it until it was all I could think of. I’d now forgotten how to function. My world had become so grim that I allowed the blackness of it to wash over me. I just couldn’t get this image of her out of my mind. Why Colette? Why not me? Was it our fault she was dead? Should we have insisted again and again until she finally agreed to allow one of us take her to Russell’s house in the car? So many questions but no answers and only a mountain of grief.