Darren Bruce is a married father of three and has been a police officer for seventeen years. “I am a Detective Sergeant who has taken on various roles and am soon to undertake a change to run a Serious Sexual Offences Investigation Team. Over the years I have worked on Child Abuse Investigation Units and Major Investigation Teams, dealing with some cases that have drawn national media interest.”
For DCC, Darren wrote this guest post. It shows you the immense toll that police work can take on an officer’s life and by extension, the toll it takes on their families. Cold cases have their unique distinction that they keep talking to you. The sound stays with you, rustling leaves in the back of the mind, never leaving you and never leaving your mind in peace. As a police officer, Darren knew that he had to be ready for anything at any time of the day. This guest post will show you that even with that knowledge, the unexpected happened anyway.
I thank Darren for sharing one of his worst experiences with us. If you want to know what Darren is working on now, follow him on Twitter.
There are monsters that walk among us
All police officers deal with tragic cases in their career. Some of those stay with you and always will, this is one of those. The names of some families contained within this piece have been omitted as some continue to search for their loved ones.
A few years ago I was asked by an ex-boss to go and assist on a cold case enquiry for a couple of weeks as a stop-gap before taking up a new position on the Child Abuse Investigation Team. This short assignment would end up as six months of my life dedicated to a single pursuit to the detriment of my family. I would become so obsessed with this investigation that the end seemed to justify whatever it took from me.
The case itself centred on the disappearance of an 18yr old girl some sixteen years previously. Initially she had been treated as a missing person after she had disappeared on her way back home from a music festival. The girl was last seen accepting a lift from a stranger. Enquiries at the time led nowhere and the girl, who had a loving and supportive family, never contacted any of her relatives again. Her father continued his search for his daughter, never giving up hope over the many years that she would one day walk back in through the front door.
At the time of her disappearance, a Police Officer from another County had contacted the Enquiry Team with the name of a male who had been previously been convicted of the abduction and assault of two young girls. The only reason for this contact was a tenuous connection to the area and so the male was not looked at in depth.
The cold case investigation had been triggered as the male came to light again following his conviction for the murder of a young woman in Scotland and a larger enquiry was put together to look into his past with other Forces being notified of any concerns. These concerns were loose and as I sat in on the first briefing I wondered what lines of enquiry we would be drawing up. This male was, as I have mentioned, being looked at for links to other females who had disappeared in areas where he had lived which spread all across the UK. He had travelled extensively and many missing persons case over the years were being considered for re-investigation. The pictures of those girls possibly involved flashed up in front of us and then a face appeared that stopped me cold. A girl I recognised.
The last time I had seen this girl in person was a day before she went missing. I had known her family for several years and, at that time of her disappearance, I was working with her sister. There had been no reason to account for her disappearance, she had gone for a night out in 1988 and never returned. I knew how her family had searched the UK for her, for any news of her whereabouts, never giving up hope that she had just decided, for whatever reason, to start a new life. They had travelled to different locations where there had been supposed sightings, always to face bitter disappointment. I felt choked and at the end of the briefing went to the boss and told him that I had a personal connection to the enquiry.
Our cold case investigation looked at several lines of enquiry and, for my part, I was asked to liaise with other Forces looking at possible connections with the male mentioned to the Enquiry Team all those years ago. As we looked closer at the male, his movements and his background, he moved from a person of interest to become our main suspect and efforts were concentrated to find any possible links between him and the missing girl. At the time of the re-investigation the male was serving a life sentence for the murder of a young female in Scotland who he had killed and then hidden under the floor in front of a church altar.
Through enquiries it was established that the male had assaulted each of his three wives, been jailed for the assault and abduction of two young girls and now this latest murder in Scotland had opened a whole enquiry into his movements over the years. He was linked to the disappearance of more than a dozen females and was considered to be a highly dangerous predator. As he had moved around the country dates of his occupation of various homes were tied with financial enquires around our missing girl’s bank account. A key piece of information was found linking her to a location where the male had lived for less than a year in the South of England. More work was conducted into his movements and connections around this time and it was found that he would have passed the site at around the same time where the unknown male had been seen picking up our missing girl. The coincidences were mounting up. The male had knowledge of the area where the girl had last been seen, the male had been living close to where financial enquiries placed withdrawals and he had, most crucially, the opportunity. The initial missing person enquiry was reviewed extensively and witnesses were revisited to see what other information they could provide and other factors became apparent. This was enough to lead to a search warrant being obtained for the male’s former home.
I will not ask you to try to appreciate how hard it was for my boss and I to knock on a family’s front door ‘out of the blue’ and tell them that we needed them to move out so that we could search their home and garden for the body of a young girl. For the true horror of the situation belonged to a family who had raised their children and lived happily at the address never knowing or imagining the hideous wrongs that had potentially been committed there. Their shock and the damage to their lives was yet more harm caused by this man to those on the periphery who had never had cause to meet him or even know he existed.
So it was on a cold winter morning that a team of officers and scientists began the search of the grounds of this unassuming terraced house. The neighbours on both sides recalled the quietly spoken polite man who had lived there all those years ago. One even recalled joking to him when he had seen him digging a hole in the garden one day that he was digging to Australia. The house was stripped and the slow methodical search began. At the end of the first day a strange block of concrete was excavated under a few feet of soil. This concrete block was completely out of place and as it was unearthed it slowly emerged to be a shape wrapped in bin bags. A body had been located. The body was taken from the garden to the morgue where a post mortem was to be carried out. I received a call from the boss a few hours later while I was still at the house and to my surprise he said that the height of the body recovered did not match our missing girl. When he described items found on the body to me I knew who she was. The male had been linked to a girl who had gone missing some months before the girl who was the original subject of our search and she too had last been seen near to the place where the male had been living at the time, some five hundred miles north from where I was standing as I took that call. Calls were made to the Force who covered that area and they flew down overnight to join us. The DNA results linked with the clothing and other forensics were positive. It was their missing girl.
It is impossible for me to truly know how the family of that girl felt as they received the news that their child had finally been found. As this news was being passed on I was simultaneously passing the message to a colleague who was with the family of our missing girl. This colleague was responsible for keeping the family advised of developments around the search. He had been asked to tell them that a body had been found and then that the identification had confirmed that it was not their daughter and sister. The heartbreak for both of the families is unimaginable. They had lived in the hope that their loved one was alive somewhere and have their hopes risen again and again over the years all the while in the knowledge that the explanation for their disappearance could be that the one they loved was dead.
For me there was also the family of the girl I knew. I made the call to another Officer who was with them. The family were following the news as the investigation was getting national media coverage. With helicopters and major news channels camped out around us and daily press briefings it would be hard for anyone interested not to know what was happening. I asked for the family to be told that we had not found their daughter but that the search would continue. A message was sent back from her Father thanking all involved and how the family appreciated knowing someone personally was there dealing with it. It’s difficult to remain removed when you don’t know if you are going to find the remains of a person who you remember only as a happy young girl without an apparent care in the world.
The search resumed and a few days later a second body was found. This time it was our girl. I attended the post mortem and helped make the initial identification through clothing and other items found on her. The family were told and they requested that they be allowed to come to the house and see where their daughter and sister had been buried. On a grey afternoon a car drew up and I saw a brave man get out aided by his son. They were taken through and shown where their loved one had been found and given time with their thoughts and memories. We spoke briefly and I passed my personal condolences – how little my words may have seemed within the enormity of the situation. The investigation team were standing on the outside looking in at the movements of the family daring only to imagine the pain they experienced. Yes, there was finality but no happy ending for them, only closure from knowing that she had been found and that they would be able to lay her to rest.
This was not the end of the investigation for me. Arrangements were made to formally arrest the male in prison and so it was a month later that I stood waiting for him to be brought through to me. What walked through the prison doors was a small man, hunched and seemingly unconcerned when I told him he was under arrest on suspicion of murder. He barely acknowledged me and spent the next few days answering every question put to him with the reply of ‘no comment’.
He was duly charged and put before the court. The prosecution case was made out and there was no defence given. The jury was out for less than fifteen minutes before returning with a guilty verdict. The male was given a life sentence with a recommendation from the Judge that life mean life and he should never be a free man.
Throughout my involvement in the investigation and during the course of the two trials and eventual verdict the families of the girls commanded the full and unwavering respect of me and my fellow officers. Their quiet dignity and fortitude in the face of years of uncertainty, the circus that the media created and the full facts of their disappearance and death has been overwhelming and a testament to the true strength of a family’s love.
For the family of the girl I knew the search continues. The male we convicted has never made admissions to any of his crimes and is described by a Senior Police Officer involved in the case as “totally evil with no respect for human life”.
The major enquiry into the male’s movements lasted four years before being wound down only recently with the male suspected of involvement in crimes going back over thirty years.
The name of the man responsible for the murder of these two young girls is Peter Tobin. The papers and media refer to him by a popular sensationalist name: Serial Killer. He does not deserve the ‘celebrity’ accolade that such a title brings. My preference is to see him as a monster who has devastated lives of families with absolutely no remorse. People like him are thankfully a rarity. But they are there, living their lives and all the while destroying others. For me, there is no rehabilitation for a person like him. May he never see the light of day as a free man.