Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Britain's Bizarre 'Hair-in-Hand' Murder Case

The Crime Scene

The bathroom where Heather's body lay was a harrowing sight. It appeared to the detectives and their team that she had been struck over the head with a "hammer-like object," and she had been stabbed several times. Her breasts had been removed, likely with a scalpel or similar sharp instrument, and had been placed next to her body. There was a lock of hair — roughly 3 inches in length, in her right hand. It might initially have been assumed to have come from her killer, possibly pulled out as she struggled for her life, but investigators could see that it did not appear to have been tightly clinched in her hand. Rather, it looked like it had been placed in her hand after her death.

Similar sneaker tread
Similar sneaker tread

The investigators also noted the presence of a trail of bloody footprints that led into the middle of the front room but then abruptly stopped. The footprints appeared to have been made by running shoes, and investigators speculated that the killer may have changed clothes at that location, perhaps to avoid leaving a trail of blood into the street.

Knowing that the mysterious lock of hair found in Heather's hand would likely shed considerable light on the murder probe, James and Cooper wasted no time initiating its examination by forensic experts.

"We are very keen to speak to the person that this cut hair belongs to because they could be a significant witness," Cooper said later, when news of the clue had become public. The importance accorded this hair would lead some in the media to refer to the case as the "hair-in-hand murder.

DNA examination of the lock of hair soon confirmed the investigators' initial belief that it did not belong to Heather. Police also seriously doubted that the lock of hair belonged to Heather's killer. A number of women in the Bournemouth area would later report that their hair had been cut under suspicious circumstances, including while traveling on buses.

Heather was described as having been "feisty" and "independent" by a relative, a hardworking woman "who would do anything for anyone that needed help." Everyone who knew her had difficulty believing that she had met such a violent end.


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