Woman's murder was 'tragic and brutal', say police who found body in burning car


The murder of a young woman discovered in a burning car was “tragic and brutal”, detectives said today.

A major police inquiry was launched after 23-year-old Catherine Wells-Burr was found in a red Ford Focus car by firefighters yesterday.

Fire crews were called to reports of a car on fire in a lane in Ashill off the A358 near Ilminster shortly before 6.30am.

Police said they are treating the woman's death as suspicious and a murder inquiry was launched last night.

Detective Chief Inspector Simon Crisp, of Avon and Somerset Police, said: "This is a tragic and brutal incident in which a young woman has needlessly lost her life.

"We are working to establish what happened in the early hours of yesterday morning that led to this car being set ablaze.

"I would like to appeal to anyone with any information about this incident to get in touch with us no matter how small you think that piece of information may be.

"In particular I'd like to speak to any motorists who were in the area around the time who may have seen anyone acting suspiciously or anyone crossing the A358.

"It is also very important that we speak to all of Catherine's friends and associates who she may have socialised with, as well as anyone else who may have any knowledge about her social and private life.

"Your information may be crucial so please contact us by calling 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

"Finally I would like to thank local residents for their co-operation as we carry out this investigation and also those motorists who have been inconvenienced because of the road closures."

Speaking at a press conference at Taunton police station, Mr Crisp said detectives were keeping an open mind on the motive for Miss Wells-Burr's death.

"One of the theories is that she knew her killer," he said.

"Anything is possible and you dismiss things at your peril."

Maurice Hicks, head teacher of Holyrood Academy in Chard where Miss Wells-Burr was a former pupil, spoke of his shock at the news.

"Everyone at Holyrood Academy is deeply saddened and shocked to hear the news about Catherine," he said.

"She is warmly remembered as a very friendly young person, gregarious and with a great sense of humour.

"Catherine always had a smile and a positive outlook. She was very popular with the other students and had lots of friends.

"Our sincere condolences go to her family and friends at this difficult time."

Mr Crisp told reporters: "I am making a double appeal today. Firstly, for those people that may have witnessed Catherine and her red Ford Focus arriving at the scene which is alongside the A358 near Ilminster.

"Did anybody see that car arrive? Did anybody see suspicious people arrive or leave the scene at about 6am to 6.30am on a busy road? We need you to call us.

"The second part of the appeal is to help us understand Catherine's private and social life.

"Did she know her killer is the question that we're asking ourselves. Did she arrange to meet somebody at the location where she met her death? These are the things we are seriously considering.

"Please don't leave it to others to tell us, call us immediately."

Mr Crisp said a post mortem examination has not yet taken place and he was unable to say whether she died in the fire or beforehand.

"I believe we are still searching for the offenders," he said.

"At this moment there is not a specific person we are looking for.

"We are working on the theory that she possibly knew the attacker. We do not think this is a random attack but we are not ruling it out."