Prime suspect's body exhumed over 1979 murder

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The body of a man suspected of murdering a gas board clerk 30 years ago was exhumed at a graveyard in the early hours today, according to police.

The suspect was identified after the case was re-opened into the 1979 murder of Teresa de Simone when DNA evidence proved that the man jailed for 27 years for the crime, Sean Hodgson, was innocent.

Hampshire police have confirmed that the body has been exhumed of the newly-identified prime suspect at Kingston Cemetery, Portsmouth.

Yesterday detectives revealed that the suspect was a young man at the time of the killing and did not come from Southampton where the murder took place.

Work is now taking place to link the DNA from the crime scene to the suspect.

A police spokesman said: "Following the reopening of the investigation into the murder of Teresa De Simone in Southampton in 1979, the investigation team has declared a suspect.

"The suspect is dead and the investigation team has exhumed his body in order to obtain further DNA evidence.

"The exhumation has taken place at Kingston Cemetery in Portsmouth today.

"The development in the case comes following research by the investigation team, coupled with the DNA screening of over 100 people since March and advances in forensic science since the murder.

"The fact that the suspect is deceased clearly poses further significant challenges for the Serious Crime Review Team, who will now undertake a lengthy and detailed process to try and fully establish the link between the suspect and the owner of the new DNA (crime scene) profile developed by the Forensic Science Service (FSS).

"Whilst further work is currently ongoing in order to maximise the DNA evidence with the FSS, the inquiry team are confident that they are on the right track and may solve this 30-year-old murder case.

"This is a highly traumatic and sensitive issue for the families concerned and it is imperative that the investigation team is allowed to complete the necessary enquiries and provide the necessary support to them."

Ms de Simone's elderly mother Mary Sedotti, 77, and step-father Michael have been informed of the developments, he added.

Police have been searching through past case files - some of which are still missing - and taking DNA samples from people involved in the original inquiry to find a match to the DNA found at the crime scene 30 years ago after advances in the technology.

Mr Hodgson, 58, from County Durham, had his conviction quashed at the Court of Appeal in March this year after consistently protesting his innocence.

He confessed to the killing at the time but later denied the charge. He was convicted in 1982 at Winchester Crown Court despite Mr Hodgson's defence team saying he was a pathological liar.

The body of Miss de Simone was found on December 5, 1979, in her car parked at the rear of the Tom Tackle pub in Commercial Road, Southampton. She had been raped and murdered.

She was last seen alive by a friend in the early hours of December 5.

Her half-naked body was then found in her Ford Escort outside the pub. She had been strangled and her jewellery stolen

Mr Hodgson is now believed to be pursuing a claim for substantial compensation for the years wrongly spent behind bars.

The suspect killed himself in 1988 - nine years after the murder of Miss de Simone, 22, police confirmed.

Detectives were put on to the trail in March this year because he confessed to the killing - along with six others - after Mr Hodgson was jailed.

The original confession papers were found and then modern forensic work matched his story and made him the prime suspect.

Officers interviewed all those who confessed at the time but nothing was then done.

The dead man did not know Sean Hodgson and police are looking into the theory it was a stranger killing and then the man killed himself because of his guilt.

Today Miss de Simone's mother Ms Sedotti said she did not know how she felt about the latest developments - if the man was her daughter's killer.

"In a way it's hard knowing that he is not here to answer or explain. But then at the same time I think that what he did shows he must have had a conscience," she told the Southern Daily Echo.

"He must have been very troubled.

"Now we must wait to see if he is the man who killed Teresa and, if he is, we will never know why he did it."

Mr Hodgson's lawyer, Julian Young, said his client had been very ill lately. He was being cared for at a respite home in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, and had not commented on developments.

"I am concerned, obviously, at what has happened," he said.

"I did not know seven people made admissions. It would have been normal now to let the defence team know.

"There is no doubt there is an explanation that will come to light. I would like to ask why Mr Hodgson's legal team or the Court of Appeal was not informed. It would have been highly relevant evidence.

"I am pleased the police could have found the person responsible and this can give closure to the family of Miss De Simone and to Mr Hodgson.

"Mr Hodgson has not been well in recent times and he in a respite home. I have tried to contact him for a comment but he has not replied and I would ask the media not to contact him," Mr Young added.

In a statement to reporters at the scene of the exhumation in Portsmouth, Detective Chief Inspector Phil McTavish said: "Earlier this morning, police exhumed the body of the man who is being investigated as a suspect for the rape and murder of Teresa De Simone in 1979.

"We have very strong scientific and evidential support for this exhumation.

"All possible preliminary tests and evidence gathering was undertaken before considering this exhumation. It is not an action that is undertaken lightly. Authorities have been granted by the Ministry of Justice.

"However, only DNA testing can confirm or refute our suspicions. The proposed DNA testing will be undertaken by the Forensic Science Service, which has worked alongside the investigation from the start.

"Tests will take between five and six weeks and, subject to the outcome of the tests, a file of evidence will be submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service for their consideration.

"Although we will not confirm the suspect's identity, we can tell you he was a young man at the time and he did not come from Southampton.

"He appears to have had no prior link to Teresa. Now he has been linked to the investigation through research and DNA science.

"He did not feature in the original murder investigation of 1979.

"A detailed search of papers in the original inquiry did not yield any new material.

"However, we did find unconnected papers which contained references to a few individuals who made various admissions to Teresa's murder.

"We have established that this suspect was one of seven men who made admissions. He made these admissions while in custody on unrelated matters some 18 months after Robert Hodgson's conviction. The suspect took his own life in 1988.

"Teresa's family have been fully informed of the developments, and we hope that his process may ultimately provide some form of resolution for them.

"Their continuing support and understanding has been of great assistance to the investigation."

It is only the second time a suspect in an historic murder inquiry has been exhumed, according to Hampshire Police.

The first such case was the exhumation of former nightclub doorman Joe Kappen from Goytre Cemetery in Port Talbot, south west Wales, in May 2002.

Police had applied to the Home Office for permission to exhume the body of Mr Kappen, who died aged 49 from lung cancer in 1990, to collect DNA evidence.

He was suspected of the murder of two 16-year-old girls, Geraldine Hughes and Pauline Floyd, whose bodies were found in woodland at Llandarcy, near Neath, in September 1973.

They had been raped and strangled.

Detectives also believed Mr Kappen was connected to the death of Sandra Newton, who was also 16, at nearby Briton Ferry three months earlier.

South Wales Police said the DNA results were conclusive but, because Mr Kappen could not stand trial, it could not be said definitively that he committed the murders.

But the force added that, if he had been alive, Mr Kappen would probably have been charged with the three murders.

Mr McTavish said the family of the suspect had been informed of the investigation and had been supportive of the police action.

He said: "His (the suspect) relatives have been incredibly understanding and supportive.

"Their concerns have been towards Teresa's family and they hope there is resolution for them.

"They are very much victims in this matter. We have dropped this on them and they have rallied behind us."

The detective would not confirm whether DNA samples had been taken from the suspect's family but said a range of forensic evidence had been gathered prior to the exhumation.