Rachel's killer caught by new DNA techniques

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The Independent Online

Robert Napper is a convicted killer and sex attacker who has evaded justice for 16 years.

He set out to rape and murder women and seemed to take particular satisfaction from attacking them in front of their young children.

Napper was in his mid-20s when he came across Rachel Nickell and her son on Wimbledon Common in July 1992.

After a vicious knife attack on the helpless mother, he walked away before the body was found.

Napper had been responsible earlier that year for a series of violent sex attacks on women in the Green Chain Walk area of south east London.

He pounced on women as they were out walking, beating them up and threatening them.

He raped a woman who had been pushing her two-year-daughter in a buggy.

Napper moved on to Wimbledon Common on the other side of south London to escape detection after 84 women complained of various degrees of sexual assault.

He was looking for someone to rape when he found Miss Nickell in July.

He might have picked her out because having a child with her made her more vulnerable, according to police.

After the Nickell attack, he was questioned about the rapes when an e-fit picture was issued in August, but was wrongly eliminated by October because he was thought to be the wrong height.

Napper's mother tipped off police in October 1989 that her son had confessed to raping a woman on Plumstead Common.

She rang the local police station about the August rape and was kept waiting while checks were made. The crime was not matched up with the rape of a woman in a house in the area.

Napper was not interviewed and he was not pursued for samples which could have been checked against those recovered from the sex attacks.

He had committed at least four attacks on women in 1992 before the Nickell killing.

He was twice asked to give samples of blood but did not turn up.

Just days after being eliminated for being too tall, Napper was arrested and later jailed for having a gun.

Napper's fingerprints were on a tin box dug up on Winns Common, south east London, which contained a gun.

Soon after Colin Stagg was charged with the Nickell murder, Napper killed Samantha Bissett, 27, and her four-year-old daughter, Jazmine.

They lived near his home in Plumstead, south east London, and Napper had been stalking them before the killing.

He was suspected of spying on Miss Bissett with her boyfriend before climbing into the basement flat.

He assaulted Miss Bissett and stabbed her eight times in the neck in the hallway, before sexually assaulting and suffocating Jazmine in her bed.

Napper, who was over 6ft tall, then dragged Miss Bissett's body into the living room, where he mutilated her.

Such was the brutality of Napper's attack that the police photographer who recorded the scene was off sick for two years.

The schizophrenic, who also suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, was said to be an obsessive Peeping Tom who kept notes on the women he stalked and fantasised over.

Although he left his bloody fingerprints in the flat, it was not until May 1994 that they were traced to him.

By then he had been arrested and discharged for shoplifting sweets.

Shortly before Napper's case was dealt with at the Old Bailey, Miss Bissett's mother Maggie Morrison, 53, of Crawton, Aberdeen, died from what was said to be "a broken heart".

Today, Miss Bissett's stepfather Jack Morrison declined to comment after hearing her life could have been spared if police had linked Napper to Miss Nickell's murder earlier on.

He and his late wife previously told reporters they suspected Napper had also attacked Miss Nickell.

But Mr Morrison, a retired councillor who lives in Inverbervie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, said he would feel "no bitterness at all" if Napper was convicted.

The former Stonehaven county councillor told the Aberdeen Press & Journal: "Just because they didn't catch that killer doesn't make me blame the police for Samantha and Jazmine's deaths.

"They worked so hard. They protected us, looked after us after they died and I do not believe that they failed Samantha or Jazmine by not catching somebody else's killer."

Napper was questioned by detectives in Broadmoor two months after his October 1995 court appearance but there was no evidence to link him to the Nickell killing.

Napper later changed his name to Poole in an apparent attempt to put his past behind him.

But the strength of feeling of revulsion at the Rachel Nickell killing was enough to ensure it never went away - and eventually that past caught up with him.