Suspect in student murder is found dead after hotel room fall

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The Independent Online

The prime suspect for the murder of a Cambridge student has been found dead after apparently setting fire to himself and jumping from a hotel window.

Lance Corporal David Atkinson, 31, who was based near Cambridge, was wanted for questioning about the murder of Sally Geeson, 22, whose naked body was found dumped outside the city on Friday.

The soldier is believed to have committed suicide hours later at a hotel in Glasgow. Police had been preparing to name him as a suspect they wanted to question about the murder when they discovered that he had died.

Ms Geeson, who appears to have been abducted from a street in Cambridge after a New Year's Eve party, was strangled or suffocated. Further tests are being done to establish whether she was sexually assaulted.

Ms Geeson, a final year student in forensic science at Anglia Polytechnic University in Cambridge, was missing for six days before her body was found in a wooded area three miles from the city.

L/Cpl Atkinson, who was with the Royal Engineers based at Waterbeach barracks near Cambridge, died at about 4am on Saturday after apparently jumping from a window at the Corus hotel in Argyle Street, central Glasgow. He appears to have set himself on fire before leaping to his death. Firefighters were called to put out the flames.

It is unclear how the soldier was identified as a murder suspect, but he or his car may have been caught on closed circuit television cameras that cover the streets outside the pub that Ms Geeson left early on New Year's Day. Police are known to have recovered some pictures of the victim shortly before she was abducted and are having them enhanced.

Scientific tests on the remains of the man found dead in Glasgow included DNA - the results of which could link him to the murder of Ms Geeson. Detectives were told several days ago that the soldier had gone absent without leave after a New Year break.

Police are understood to have found his car in Glasgow late last week. The suspect, who came from Glasgow, was a member of 23 Engineers, a unit attached to 16 Air Assault Brigade. A police spokesman said: "Inquiries are ongoing into the death which at this stage appears to be a suicide."

On the night of the abduction, Ms Geeson had spent the evening with friends at the Avery pub celebrating the new year, but she got separated from them and appears to have accepted a lift home at about 1.30am. Shortly afterwards, she sent text messages to friends saying she had got a lift with "someone" and then minutes later sent one saying "help me". The messages were delayed for several hours because the phone system was overloaded.

Her body was found by a man out walking on Friday afternoon near the village of Madingley, close to the American Military Cemetery.

Detective Superintendent Garry Swain, who is leading the murder investigation for Cambridgeshire Police, said yesterday: "The inquiry remains active and we are continuing to assess all the evidence we have gathered."

Meanwhile, family and friends of Ms Geeson have been expressing their sorrow. Her family, who live in Southend, Essex, issued a statement that said: "Our beautiful daughter has been taken from us and words cannot begin to express our heartache at this time. Sally was a wonderful and loving daughter, sister and friend and we are simply devastated."

Ms Geeson's father Laurence, 51, left a bouquet of white daisies yesterday close to the spot where her body was found.


New Year's Day

Sally Geeson, 22, disappears around 1.30am after celebrating the start of 2005 at the Avery pub in central Cambridge. Her flat-mate reports her missing.

Sunday 2 January

Police appeal for help to find her.

Monday 3 January

The Geeson family appeals for help to trace her. Her mother, Sue, said: "Words can't describe what we're feeling."

Tuesday 4 January

Police reveal text messages Ms Geeson sent to friends on the night of her disappearance. One to her flat-mate read: "No one waited for me I've got into a car with someone please call me x." Two minutes later she sent a message to a second friend saying: "Please help me x." Another read: "Hi Em, it's me, I'm lost."

Wednesday 5 January

Steve Penfold, who left the Avery pub with Ms Geeson to buy chips, returns to Cambridge to join the search. Mr Penfold lost contact with her when he intervened to break up a scuffle. A minicab driver claims he picked up Ms Geeson by a club in town and dropped her near her house.

Thursday 6 January

The minicab driver withdraws his statement and is questioned by detectives.

Friday 7 January

Ms Geeson's body is discovered by a man out walking near the Second World War American Military Cemetery at Madingley.

Saturday 8 January

Ms Geeson's father, Laurence, 51, formally identifies his daughter's body. L/Cpl David Atkinson, 31, the prime suspect, apparently commits suicide in Glasgow.