Motorists thought corpse was a dummy

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Motorists who passed a layby where the body of a murdered building society manageress was dumped thought the corpse was a mannequin left there as a practical joke, a court was told yesterday.

Malcolm Ward told Oxford Crown Court that he saw a body-shaped object on the grass verge as he drove along the A444 two miles outside Nuneaton at 6.30am on 12 September last year. "I saw it in my headlights. I thought it could be a dummy from a shop or a drunk just sleeping," he said.

Gordon Wardell, 42, of Meriden, Warwickshire, denies murdering his wife Carol, 39, a Woolwich executive at their home and then faking a robbery at the branch where she worked to get away with the killing.

The prosecution alleges that Mr Wardell suffocated his wife at home, dumped her body by the A444 and then used her keys and security code to break into the Woolwich branch where she worked in Nuneaton and take pounds 14,000 to make it look like robbers had killed her.

Police found Mr Wardell bound and gagged in the couple's house. He told them he had returned home on Sunday to find a four-man gang in his house. He said a raider wearing a clown's mask was holding his wife at knifepoint and he was then rendered unconscious.

Another motorist who saw Mrs Wardell's body, Stuart Garrett, told police: "I stopped in the layby and saw what appeared to be a dummy lying there. I could see the legs pointing towards the road and a bare midriff but couldn't see a face. I was thinking it was a dummy and had been put there as a practical joke."

Two hours later, at 8.35am, a third driver, Peter Beard, stopped and realised it was a corpse. "I was driving along and stopped in the layby," he said. "I saw what at first looked like a dummy then realised it was a human body. I thought it was a man because I couldn't see the features of the face."

Police and ambulance crews were alerted. A paramedic, Andrew Golds, said he found no signs of life in Mrs Wardell and rigor mortis had set in.

A police officer at the scene, Inspector Roger Price, noticed a sling- back sandal near Mrs Wardell's left foot. When he was later called to the suspected bank raid at the Woolwich he noticed the matching sandal in the branch and made the connection between the two scenes.

The prosecution claims Mr Wardell planted the sandal after killing his wife and then returned home from the raid and gagged and tied himself.

The court was also told the last time Mrs Wardell was seen alive by a friend was on the doorstep of her home, standing with her arms around her husband.

June O'Connell, a work colleague, said she and her husband last saw Mrs Wardell when they left the Wardells'home after a dinner party on the Saturday night before she was allegedly killed.

She said the foursome had spent an enjoyable evening and there was no obvious friction between the Wardells, who appeared happy and normal. "We left around 11pm. Carol and Gordon stood together at the front door with their arms around one another - waving us goodbye," she said.

It was not until the Monday morning that Mrs Wardell's body was found in the layby.

The trial was adjourned until Monday.