The bound body of 16-year-old Leanne Tiernan was discovered in a secluded copse so dark that her killer would have needed local knowledge to find his way out even in daylight. The same kind of gloom has enveloped detectives since the Leeds schoolgirl vanished without trace 10 months ago.
The initial search for Leanne the biggest missing person investigation in West Yorkshire Police's history included a trawl of 32 drain shafts and a vast area of moorland near her home before a man walking his dog spotted her beneath a thick canopy of trees 17 miles away at Lindley Wood, North Yorkshire, three weeks ago.
The hunt for the killer acquired an air of similar desperation yesterday as officers, bereft of any witness to the disposal of the victim, produced a computer-generated image of a muddied, floral-printed duvet cover in which she was found, and three cable ties used to strangle and bind her.
Examination of the double-sized cover, used to carry Leanne, has yielded no known manufacturer. To the frustration of detectives, all potential clues on the cover's instructions label have been wiped away by washing. All they know is that it may be 20 years old.
The clue does not seem much of a return for a nine-month missing-person hunt carried out at colossal cost to the force, but it does offer hope.
The senior investigating officer, Det Supt Chris Gregg, revealed yesterday that DNA samples were taken from 200 people, including family, friends and dozens of sex offenders, from the council estate in Bramley, Leeds, to which Leanne failed to return after a Christmas shopping trip on Sunday, 16 November.
Officers are now waiting to compare the swabs with DNA analysis of the duvet cover, bin bags used to wrap her in and more than 400 items, including magazines andcans, recovered during a 10-day search of the wood. "That initial forensic part of the case could be critical," said Det Supt Gregg.
The initial inquiry was exhaustive because detectives were convinced that Leanne must have been abducted, since her disappearance was beyond explanation.
She and her mother, Sharon, were laughing as they took leave of each other on the day of her disappearance. After shopping in Leeds, Leanne left Sarah Whitehouse, a 15-year-old friend, having agreed to meet her again that evening.
The investigating team of 50 believes that the killer is a highly organised individual who may have known Leanne (she didn't struggle) and probably stored her body at a cool temperature for nine months before wrapping herin nine bin liners and moving her to the woods.
Motive remains a mystery. Leanne was found in the clothes she was wearing when she went missing, her hair tied in a ponytail with the same hairclips, with no sign of a sexual motive. Why she was moved to the woods is another puzzle. Det Supt Gregg mused over the possibility of a "change of circumstances" which "caused the murderer some urgency".
A hole near the place where the victim was found suggests the killer may have been disturbed while digging to dispose of her. "The care that the killer took to keep Leanne's body for nine months indicates he didn't intend to just leave her," Det Supt Gregg said.
The duvet cover is decorated with individual flowers in rows surrounded by a floral border and four bows in a pattern called "eternity bows". Officers also displayed copies of the yellow, black and white cable ties, in the hope that the colours may trigger recollections.
But it is the DNA evidence that may open up the case. "We can't rush the scientists but we are in daily contact with them," Det Supt Gregg said.
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