Time fails to fade memories of Marie: The discovery of little Rosie Palmer's body stirs sad and bitter recollections of another killing. Hester Lacey reports
Sunday 10 July 1994
Like Rosie Palmer, the three-year-old who disappeared when she went to buy an ice- cream and whose body was found in a flat in Hartlepool last Sunday, Marie Payne was, briefly, headline news in the course of her short life. First when she disappeared from the park outside her parents' house in Dagenham, and again, 14 months later, when her body was finally discovered in Epping Forest.
Marie vanished on Friday, 11 March 1983, while her unemployed father, John, was at the Jobcentre and Brenda was visiting the hairdresser.
There was a prolonged search. Police helicopters and frogmen checked marshlands and creeks in the area, and bulldozers shifted tons of rubble at a nearby building site.
Six months after her disappearance, Marie's blood-spattered clothes were found in a hollow tree in Epping Forest. Then, more than a year after Marie vanished, a lorry driver, Colin Evans, attempted to snatch two other children in the area. Photos of Marie were found in his flat. He confessed to her murder, and led police to the spot in Epping Forest where he had dumped the body.
Marie's remains were uncovered on Friday, 11 May, 1984. She was finally buried in a pink- and-white coffin amid a welter of soft toys and floral poodles and clowns. Ten thousand people turned out for her funeral.
Colin Evans, born and brought up locally, had previous convictions for molesting children. He was jailed for life.
And what happened afterwards? Can a community and a family that have experienced such a trauma, pick up the pieces again?
John and Brenda Payne asked to be transferred from their council home because of its 'painful memories'. They were moved to a house a few streets away, where Brenda still lives. They had another daughter, Charlene. But 11 years on, the couple have been separated for six years. Brenda thinks John is working 'in a snack bar in Tottenham'.
After Marie 'things went from bad to worse. All that business was most of it. Things didn't seem the same after that. We stopped getting along.'
Their son, Colin, left home last week; Brenda doesn't know where he is. She still has Ben, Marie's dog; he is 15 now and ailing. 'He used to look for Marie for a while, but now he's old, blind, deaf.'
Brenda often thinks of Marie. 'I go and put flowers on her grave. I keep her photos on the wall, and I've got one of her near my bed. I chat to her, say goodnight to her, wonder what she's doing now, where she is.' She is not in good health herself. 'I'm under the doctor again,' she says resignedly. She looks pale, tired, drawn.
Charlene goes to school just round the corner, but Brenda still goes to get her every day. 'I try not to smother her, try to give her a bit of independence. I let her go to the shops just over the road - but I'm always watching from the window. She's curious about Marie, she asks a lot of questions.'
Charlene, bubbly and pigtailed, bounces along in front of her mother. 'She's a cocky little thing,' Brenda says fondly. Charlene skips over to investigate a hole that some workmen are digging. 'One day,' she says loudly, 'I'm going to be living down there, down a hole.' 'Never say that]' says Brenda sharply. The house is neat and tidy; there are piles of ironing waiting on the table. Two cockatiels chirrup in a corner; the television is on with the sound turned down. 'I do sometimes get depressed, in on my own in the evenings,' Brenda says, 'but I've got my friends here, my mum lives just over there, my family are around.
'We don't talk about Marie a great deal. It's the past now - something we want to put to rest. I have thought about it because of that other little girl. But I don't think people remember that much about it.'
In fact, people do remember. The swings where Marie disappeared have gone, the nearby wasteland which was searched for her body has been cleared, the pub that raised money for her family has closed, but her name still stirs up vivid memories.
'Of course people remember,' said Julie Russell, a reporter on the Barking & Dagenham Post at the time. 'They were horrified and shocked. The worst thing was the mystery. It's a solid working-class area, a very tight-knit community, and people really felt it.'
'Everyone was very angry,' added one of her colleagues. 'It was the usual 'string-'em-up' kind of talk. If you mention her round here now, everyone will know who you mean.'
Goresbrook Road where the Paynes lived is part of a huge council estate built in the late Twenties to house families from the East End of London. It is a pleasant street. Many of the terrace houses have sprouted new closed-in porches, smart front doors, satellite dishes. Gardens and hanging baskets are well-kept and colourful. Cars are parked two deep.
Janet Hawes, walking down the road, had been to fetch her daughter, Gemma. 'Of course I remember Marie. Every time I take my little girl to Castle Park I think of her. Is it really over 10 years ago? It seems like yesterday. You didn't trust anyone - it could have been anyone who took her. I don't think we'll ever forget. It's the fact that it happened here. . . . I'd like to see the word 'paedophile' tattooed on their foreheads when they get them so people can see what they are. Gemma never goes out without me - and she doesn't want to, do you?' Gemma shook her head emphatically.
Ten years ago Raus Patel and his wife had just bought the grocery shop at the end of the road. 'The ITN bloke came - he was doing the six o'clock news and he used my phone to call in to the studio. Even now, you notice that people round here still don't leave their kids alone. Mothers bring their prams into the shops and don't leave them outside.'
Tina Williams, who lives in the flats overlooking the park, went to the court during Evans's trial. 'When the police were searching, they broke into my brother-in-law's flat - he was on holiday and they wanted to get in everywhere. I knew that little girl, she had blond hair, blue eyes, she was really pretty, so polite. I don't let my little girl out on her own even now, when she's 12.'
There is still a distinct undercurrent of anger that such a thing could have been allowed to happen. 'We knew she was always over the park on her own,' said one woman. 'The police came round and searched our house here. Of course we didn't mind. But what was that little girl doing out? We were all asking that at the time.' Her grown-up daughter cut in: 'Six months after that little girl went missing I came back late one night - it was 12.30 or one - and there were still little tots about so-high wandering about on the pavements. People don't think it will happen to them.'
The Rev Geoffrey Nunn, vicar of St Martin's Church in Goresbrook Road since 1958, met the Paynes after his wife wrote to them in sympathy. He held a brief service in Epping Forest near where Marie's body was found, and her parents asked him to officiate at the funeral.
Colin Evans attempted to contact the Paynes via his prison chaplain and Mr Nunn. 'John thought it was obscene. He wasn't keen himself and he knew his wife would be terribly upset about it.'
Few in Dagenham are regular churchgoers. Mr Nunn believes this leads to a lack of contact and sympathy. 'It's very difficult to assess what something like this murder does to a community. I don't know whether you can speak in terms of a community healing itself. I don't think communities are communities in the same sense any more. It's different in villages or small towns, but here there isn't that kind of spirit.'
He never lets his own grandchildren out of his sight. 'I'm sorry that the law is not stricter about this kind of offence. I'm not speaking about vengeance, but I do think such people have to be kept away from the community.'
Vengeance, however, is on the minds of some. In the window of a local newsagent there is a handwritten notice. 'Wanted. Support For A Petition For Capital Punishment For Child Killers. We Have To Protect Our Children. See Your Local Paper. Thank You.'
The picture opposite, a smudgy photocopy of a newspaper cutting, is not of Marie but of Rosie Palmer.
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