The attack on Kate Bushell as she walked a dog near her home on a country path was planned, police said yesterday. Her killer cut the girl's throat, almost certainly with a knife, and used great control and ferocity. She did not appear to have been raped, but detectives carried out tests to establish whether her attacker tried to assault her sexually.
The teenager's fully clothed body was found by her father on Saturday evening in a field 300 yards from her family's home on a housing estate at Exwick, on the outskirts of Exeter, after she failed to return from a walk. Detective Superintendent Mike Stephens said that Kate's throat was cut with a sharp instrument which has yet to be recovered.
"It was obviously a mindless, ruthless attack which ripped the girl's throat. It was a premeditated attack by a killer who had control of themselves and the victim," he said. The killer could strike again, he added.
Samples of blood had been sent for analysis and police have contacted a criminal psychologist to help draw up a profile of the likely suspect. Kate, described as a caring, bright, music-loving youngster, was attacked while taking her neighbour's dog, a Jack Russell called Gemma, for a short walk along a path near Exwick Lane.
When she failed to return by 6.45pm, her father, Jeremy, and mother Susan, began a search by car, then called the police when there was no sign of her.
Kate was found at 7.35pm by her father in the corner of a field which she had reached by climbing over a stile from Exwick Lane. The body was lying near a country path and was not concealed. Detectives believe Kate was murdered at the scene.
Some of her clothing was disturbed, indicating a possible sexual motive. Police estimate that about 100 people use the walkway each day.
Yesterday more than 100 officers continued the murder hunt and carried out house inquires. The police appealed to householders to check their dustbins to see if anything had been thrown into them and asked them to look out for knives or bloodstained clothing. The dog involved has been examined forensically to see whether there were any DNA samples from the killer, but results are not expected for a few days.
There have been a number of reports about individuals spotted in the area at the time of the murder, but there are no positive leads.
Pupils at Kate's school have suggested establishing a memorial to her.