The crime horrified the nation 20 years ago (Pictures: PA)
A journalist who covered the murders of schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham 20 years ago is still haunted by the memory of killer Ian Huntley keeping a missing poster in his window.
It was a terrible crime which horrified the nation and left an indelible mark on all those involved.
Debbie Davies, 62, was the deputy editor of the Ely Standard back in 2002 and recalls being out distributing posters four days after the girls vanished from a family barbecue in August 4.
They featured the photo of the friends wearing Manchester United shirts, taken on the day they disappeared, and text urging people to contact Cambridgeshire Police if they had any information.
Ms Davies said she knocked at the house shared by Huntley and Carr and described feeling ‘sick’ when she later realised they had already been murdered inside by the time the teaching assistant stuck the poster in their window.
She said: ‘Of course at the time I was just “Oh, great, she’s put the poster up”.
‘It’s only obviously since then that I’ve thought about the horrors of what went on in that house and the poster was there and the Manchester United T-shirts, I believe, were already in their bin outside – that’s where they were found later.
‘A horrible moment that was only revealed in the course of time.’
Ian Huntley sitting in his car outside his house with the poster visible in his window (Picture: PA)
Holly and Jessica in their Manchester United shirts (Picture: PA)
Ms Davies says she was ‘surprised’ Huntley never took the poster down.
‘Every time he came out of the house then went back into the house the poster would have been staring at him,’ she said.
‘It’s not just it’s a poster – it’s that image of the girls in their T-shirts that he would have seen that Sunday evening as they walked along the road, they came towards him… We assume he was outside the house or he came outside of the house.
‘That’s the image he would have seen, the image of the girls in the T-shirts, smiling and happy, is the image he would have seen as they walked towards him that night and it’s that juxtaposition of what happened.
‘Of the T-shirts already being burnt in a bin.
‘The fact the girls were laying in a shallow grave, and he knew that, and every time he saw that poster he knew what had happened.
Ian Huntley is serving a life sentence for the murders (Picture: PA)
‘That still now is difficult for me to wrestle with, and I can never understand what was going on in his head.
‘I’m just surprised he never did go and take the poster down.’
She continued: ‘Maybe it was all part of their kind of cover-up and them still wanting to present themselves as upstanding members of the community and wanting to be helpful and maybe Maxine thought that was a way of doing that and presenting themselves in that way.’
Huntley, 48, is serving a life sentence for the murderof the girls, whose bodies were found near an airbase at Mildenhall in Suffolk after a two-week hunt.
Carr was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison in 2003 after being found guilty of conspiring to pervert the course of justice for giving him a false alibi.
Ms Davies believes she may have decided to knock on their door because their home was beside a walkway and ‘an ideal place to have a poster’.
The reporter said Carr answered the door but ‘shut (her) down pretty quickly’ when she asked to chat.
Maxine Carr was jailed for three-and-a-half years for perverting the course of justice (Picture: PA)
‘She said “No, no, we’re fed up with all of this, we don’t want to talk to any more journalist”’, Ms Davies said.
‘I said “OK. Well, I’ve got some posters here. Would you put up a poster for me? I just thought this was probably quite a good place to have a poster”.
‘She said she would, and then she took the poster from me.
‘Because she had been a bit off and a bit dismissive I thought maybe she won’t even put the poster up.
‘As I walked back down her path I turned round and I looked and she had gone from the front door to the living room and she had put the poster up immediately.
‘She put it up in the living room window.
‘It’s one of those moments in my life that’s like an indelible image, if you like, of her standing there with that poster and the poster staring out at me.’
Ms Davies said she still has the image of ‘standing at the end of that path of that house and looking back and feeling really pleased that Maxine had put that poster in the window, then afterwards just that sick feeling’.
Reward posters for Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman (Picture: Getty)
She went on: ‘There was still hope at that time, that’s why we made the poster.
‘Four days in we still hoped they might be shut in somewhere, there might be an explanation.
‘Hope was fading but we still hoped they might have been found.
‘Obviously they knew there was no hope and that’s horrific to think about that.’
Ms Davies said she now has two granddaughters who are around the same age as Holly and Jessica were when they were murdered by Huntley.
‘I think my natural fear sometimes drifts into something else, that I make somebody extremely fearful and frightened that that’s how easy it can happen,’ she said.
‘I try not to make them frightened but I think it’s had more of an impact maybe now I have something much more relatable, that I have two little girls of the same age that are kind of happy and innocent and at that age where they just want that little bit of freedom.’
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