Social media and instant access to information should have been a great thing. As far as I am concerned the jury is still out. On the one hand it gives us ‘facts’ quickly and we have access to unbelievable knowledge. On the other hand a lot of that knowledge is flawed and increasingly disingenuous.  This is particularly a problem when it comes to crime reporting. Once written details are regarded as fact they are simply regurgitated. In this series I try to look at cases with the perils of misinformation in mind. Here is the almost forgotten, unsolved murder, of ex nurse Janet Brown in 1995.

The Scene

The Oxfordshire/ Buckinghamshire border. This is a case of a home invasion style burglary that occurred on the evening of Monday 10th April 1995. The house in question was Hall Farm, Sprigs Holly Lane, Radnage.

attractive middle aged lady blonde hair smiling into the camera
Janet Brown

The house has been renovated and extended a great deal since the murder. At the time it was a substantial home set in 11 acres of land. It had no near neighbours and was about 30 ft ( 10 metres) from a country lane.

As you can see in the above crime scene footage this was a house many of us would dream of owning. Originally it had been a very humble dwelling years ago. By the time of the murder it was a four bedroom home that had recently been agreed for sale at a price of £345,000.

The nearest occupied building is about 200 yards away. There is no sidewalk along the lane. Despite this foot traffic would have been a factor on a sunny day or during the early evening.

By all accounts even a loud internal siren would not be heard unless the house itself was approached. The surroundings are best described as a quiet, quaint, rural setting.

Timeline

Janet Brown, 51, arrives home late afternoon/ early evening. She owned the darker of the two cars in the video. The smaller red car was her youngest daughter’s. This would be a good time to point out that the car displayed L plates. This would mean that Roxanne, 17, could not drive it alone until she had passed her test.

press conference with husband next to son next to youngest daughter
The family assembled for a press conference Grahaem, Benedict and Roxanne

Roxanne phoned her mother and told her that she was staying overnight at a friend’s in Beaconsfield about 30 minutes drive away. The friend  had just passed her driving test and Roxanne wanted to celebrate. Roxanne attended school in High Wycombe but according to UK timings I suggest she was on Easter break so able to stay out overnight.

In one account it says this call came to Janet while she was still in work, in others the suggestion is that it was as late as early evening. This is important as this meant Janet was alone in the house overnight and that would have been known to fewer people the less notice there was of the evening’s plans.

At 8.10 pm a friend of Roxanne’s called. This being before wide mobile phone ownership parents were often a central telephone exchange for teenagers. Janet informed the friend of her daughter’s plans and after that no-one who has been identified talked to her.

In the footage you can see a brick built garage as the filming starts, this was a former stable. Also present are signs that work had commenced. This was on behalf of the soon-to-be owner. The builder responsible for fixing the roof, Nick Marshall, telephoned at 8.30 pm. There was no reply.

At 9 pm Janet’s husband, 53 year old, Grahaem called and got no reply. He was away on business in Switzerland at the time. This was the norm. He is a doctor and worked for pharmaceutical companies after leaving the army. At this time he was in Basle and I may as well say here nothing suggests that he had anything to do with what happened to his wife. His whereabouts were established almost immediately.  He was out of the country until the evening after Janet’s murder and only returned then because of what had happened.

The house was fitted with an alarm which had two sirens. The internal one would sound until the code was put in or the power was cut. The external siren would sound for 20 minutes before resetting. This is a requirement nationally for environmental reasons.

At 10.20 pm a motorist noted the external siren was sounding as they drove by. A short time later when they were on their return journey the external siren was silent. Just in case you are in a country that takes alarms sounding very seriously in the UK we don’t tend to. Alarm systems activate mainly because a cat has triggered them or a storm or some such none crime reason. It is a pity but over the years it has become the practise to only check on a home with an alarm sounding if you have good reason to. This normally happens when neighbours are alerted or even annoyed by the sound. As we have established there were no near neighbours.

The police concentrated their attention between the time after the last call that was picked up at 8.10 pm and the likely time the alarm was activated.

At 8 am on the morning of 11th April Nick Marshall attends the house with his 15 year old son Ben. As I said I believe this was during the Easter break and the boy was helping his father. They park up, note the cars and because of their proximity to the main house they hear the internal siren. The lights were on downstairs and the curtains were pulled back. It was poor Ben who looked into the living room and saw Janet Brown.

She was laid head downwards at the bottom of a set of stairs. Even from that distance the boy could see she had been violently assaulted.

Between 8.10 pm and 8 am

All manner of ideas and theories could stretch the crucial time but from what we know someone, probably one individual, gained access to the house via the patio doors. These existed to allow people to go into the courtyard and then into the garden.

courtyard, white walls, three pane glass patio doors centre one shattered
Ariel view of scene of crime staff working on the courtyard that was used to access the house. Daily Mail photograph. Click image for their article.

The offender  made their way through the house and subdued Janet Brown, with no obvious signs of a fight, while she was in her bedroom. Handcuffs were used to restrain her and she ended her life beaten to death at the foot of the stairs. The killer then cleaned themselves up, left diluted blood on light switches upstairs and left.

Method

This is where things get vague. All the accounts at the time said that this person(s) used a really strange and amateurish way to break into the house.

The courtyard had a door that led from the land at the back of the house to three double glazed patio door panels. The offender used a wheel glass cutter to score a man sized hole in the outer pane of glass, covered it with all weather Sellotape, took out a big chunk of it and placed it on the ground.

Reports suggested that at this point Janet might have appeared and the intruder then broke through the other pane of glass. Given various factors it is more likely this clown realised just how much effort their chosen way of getting in would take. They abandoned the ‘ Mission Impossible’ entry method and crashed in.

Once inside they made their way upstairs to the front of house master bedroom. Janet had told Roxanne she was tired and would be going to bed early. Her clothes were neatly folded and evidence suggests she was in her room either in bed or about to go there.

A scrap of tape similar to the packing tape found wrapped around Janet’s nose and mouth was found in the bedroom. She was secured with handcuffs of a generic type that were not traced despite much effort.

At some stage she ended up beaten to death at the foot of the stairs. By that time her airways were so obstructed by the tape a pathologist said that alone would have killed her. A heavy ‘ iron bar’ type weapon had done massive damage to the back of her head.

Blood consistent with being flung off this weapon was on the walls, ceiling and living room furniture. The killer(s) then cleaned up. Police found diluted blood, presumed to be Janet’s, on upstairs light switches. The offender then left.

 

Issues and Anomalies with the Method of Janet Brown’s Murder

Primarily the amateurish way of getting in takes the fore. I am not saying no-one has ever employed this method, I am saying it is highly unusual.

If you want to use a glass cutter it makes sense to cut a small hole adjacent to a window or door catch. Imagine trying to control a person sized chunk of double glazing?

Yeah exactly. Heist movies and TV shows might show that. Anyone,and I mean anyone, who has even basic DIY skills would see the problems with it.

There were wooden framed sash windows at the rear. Remaining strictly factual though no-where have I seen that they were not alarmed or painted shut so I will avoid pointing at them as definitely preferable.

All that said there are ways into a home that are more logical. Paul Britton, who assisted on the case, says in his book that he has a theory that the entry point was staged.

Britton is now retired but he had a long career as the UK’s first ‘profiler.’ He was interviewed by Roger Wilkes who is one of the few journalists to have looked at the case in depth. The interview took place some time ago and at that point Britton was more guarded about specifics.

In the latest edition of his book, Picking Up The Pieces, he gives great detail about both the crime scene and his profile of the killer. Worth a read really, suffice to say the crime scene photos indicated to him that there was more glass outside the house at that point than in. Frustrating is the fact that he does not propose how the killer gained entry if he did not do so via the glazed panel.

The lower floor was secure and there was no damage to any other opening. The external doors were found to be chained on the inside when police gained entry the following day. I say frustrated with a smile on my face. There are probably operational reasons he does not elaborate, I could speculate but I won’t.

Next is the kit that the killer is believed to have had with them. Two types of tape, something heavy, a glass cutter, gloves, and even a change of clothes. The gloves and clothes are an assumption.  Many sets of prints were lifted by scene of crime officers but all were eliminated.

At one point, according to Roger Wilkes, a hand print on a wall was thought to have been left by the offender. Obviously that would have been a breakthrough moment. It actually belong to an innocent heating engineer and was placed long before the murder.

Was the attack on the house a professional job? Then we look at the glass cutter fiasco. Staged or not it was a mess. The home was potentially affluent enough looking to tempt an invasion style burglary. They would have probably knocked on a pretext and crashed in. A stealth burglar would not normally attempt entry with lights on, two cars outside and at that time of night.

Another curious thing from Britton’s book. He mentions, almost in passing, that Grahaem Brown later recalled handcuffs had been in the house but he thought they had been thrown out. In addition, Britton states that the origin of them was not explained. I suspect operational, cards to the police chest again. What is made clear is the handcuffs were so common that no origin was established. Makes a statement about us Brits maybe, but sadly the cuffs shed no light on things.

While on the subject of the cuffs the keys for them were found under Janet Brown’s body. It appears that almost everything the killer brought with them they took away. The exceptions were the scrap of tape in the bedroom,  the tape on the glass panel, the tape wrapped around Janet’s head  and the handcuffs.

A theory goes that the reason the cuffs were left was because Janet had managed to palm the keys and tried to flee downstairs. This led to the killer being unaware of their location. The tape on the glass yielded nothing. The generic packing tape scrap was notable because it indicated that the attack took place in the bedroom. It was also not a match for either end of the tape wrapped around the victims head.

There were marks around Janet’s ankles. It is likely that the attacker had bound her legs and then released them. .

The Alarm

The glass cutting is either an idiot fantasist or part of some diabolical plan that is shrouded in mystery. I tend to go for the former.

The kit is inspired even if the inspiration was drawn from the TV. The murder was cowardly and brutal. People who can call themselves people protect smaller and weaker individuals. Janet was 5’4″ in good shape but no threat. This was a coward with sub human issues, not special, just lucky.

The kit worked out though and if Paul Britton is right the offender was so careful cleaning themselves they left hardly a trace of their movements. I agree with him, this was not a deranged individual, they were not chaotic even if they were nothing special.

Who tripped the alarm though? They established that the system had been triggered by either the panic button in the bedroom or the one by the front door. A half turned key was out of place on the front door unit but that is the only thing that distinguishes one button from the other.

If Janet had hit the alarm as the intruder came in, all of the assault and cleaning up took place with a 100 plus decibel siren going. In addition, for the first 20 minutes so was the external siren. However sure you are the sirens would rattle your nerves. The lights were found on downstairs in the morning. So this offender wandered around a house with the alarm sounding and even if briefly they did this in the glare of the lights? What about a dog walker going by or a patrol car?

When I read the Wilkes and Britton accounts they wondered if this killer hit the alarm themselves. I must confess that had occurred to me early on. I have been in houses (legitimately) with those sirens going. All I wanted to do was get out. The sound disorientates, panics you at an almost primal level. Finally, I make this point. Even if you don’t have the alarm code or in this case frighten someone into giving it you one option remains. Simply take that iron bar and smash it. This offender didn’t, why?

Opportunity

The Brown’s domestic circumstances and routine would have been known to many people not just those in the area. They had been in the house for a decade and in that time three children had been going to school, inviting friends over and making arrangements. In addition, there is the usual chit chat we all have with work colleagues and friends.

All the press coverage and even Roger Wilke’s piece indicate that the Browns were a close couple only separated by  work demands and the travel that their particular careers required.

According to Paul Britton they were not so close. Solid as a family unit maybe, but not close as a couple. The only reason I mention it is that Dr Brown is said to have only come home once or twice per month and then for only a couple of days.

When I first began to read about the case and look at opportunity I presumed the good Doctor was away on a business trip. Britton’s comments indicate that being away was the norm and spontaneous returns home and constant phone calls was less likely.

Google map shot of the house in the centre showing surrounding open fields

Outside the house were two cars, a mid sized Volvo and a small hatchback with learner plates. A passer by with evil intent could well have thought a man and women were there. An intruder without intimate knowledge would have been aware that ‘anyone’ could come home from the pub. This offender seemed to know way more than that.

Effectively Roxanne lived with her mother. Zara, the older daughter, was living in London, Benedict was studying in Exeter. That night of course at the last moment a friend passed her test and Roxanne was not to come home.

From the outset I wondered if the  killer’s kit was made for two or just Janet Brown. Who knew that Roxanne was out?

According to sources four or five people. I trust the cops on that though I will allow myself to say that four or five is the number they knew of. Spiralling out from any two people changing their plans and deciding on a celebration are many others. There are other parents if more kids are to stay out, friends of friends in the high street, extended family told of the successful driving test. Any could have passed extra information innocently.

On the flip side Roxanne being out could have actually upset the killer’s plans rather than assisted them. It all depends on his or her intention.

The opportunity to commit the crime against any of the family was narrowing too. The news reports did not mention the house had been on the market for a year. The police checked out that angle and without  evidence that points to a fake house hunter the relevance is lacking. Plenty of local people knew the family routine far better than visitors with a view to buy.

The crucial point is that it had been sold. Within weeks the layout would not be the same, the people would not be the same and if the target was a member of the family they would be elsewhere. That elsewhere is suggested to have been a long way away in one account.

Unless we are ever brought into the know the killer broke in rather than knocked on the door and forced their way in. Unless we are told different the killer was not known to Janet Brown and allowed inside.

Yet…they spent time in the house, spent time alone with Janet prior to her death and  likely knew that no-one was going to call by in the mid to late evening or return home.

Motive

As I said the official accounts and those online did not have all the information that Paul Britton had. In his book he states he had access to the file, the photos and had a guided tour of the house. His involvement was several weeks later but it was at the invitation of the officer in charge and they discussed the case freely.

He is, as far as I am concerned, the best source of information. I won’t steal all his thunder. Instead I will summarise his thunder.

I didn’t know that Janet Brown was found wearing too much jewellery for her to have slept comfortably in her bed that night. All sources suggested she was known to have gone to bed early and have been in the habit of sleeping naked.

Britton, knowing more of the family routine, questions how anyone knew that for sure.

Only one blind was drawn, the one of her bedroom and family did confirm that was unusual. In a rural setting many people get into what I think is the bad habit of leaving their windows uncovered at night.

I didn’t know that there were marks on her ankles that suggest that her feet were bound. I had heard that there were marks on her back to suggest she had been laid on her cuffed wrists but had not been given any context.

In short Paul Britton believes the killer probably had Janet put on the jewellery, at some point had her cuffed and laying on the bed. He thinks even though there were no obvious signs of sexual assault it was a sexually motivated attack. His logic is that the attack was carried out to satisfy the offenders peculiar tastes.

There was nothing stolen that anyone knows about. The cops are quoted as saying that there was very little searching. The TV was unplugged, that was said to be unusual but neither it or the VCR was removed ready to be stolen.

A few cupboards were ajar, a hamper that stored some scuba gear had been interfered with and there was the diluted blood on the switches that indicated a look in upper floor bedrooms. Otherwise where is the indication that theft was a motive?

The family ties and her personal ties (as in friends) were straight as an arrow so there is no indication this was a’hit’. Besides if it was then why not just kill at first contact? If the plan was to stage something then why was nothing actually staged?

Posing the question another way. What sort of person takes or acquires handcuffs, has two types of tape almost certainly a bag, a change of clothes, a crowbar and the only crime they commit is against a naked woman?

I am well aware that one intended crime can turn into another. That is why I tell all my loved ones that if they find themselves being threatened and controlled by a criminal don’t believe any words of mercy. If they see a window to fight or flight take it. Burglars will get into a place to steal then find they are in control. Certain ones then get ideas in their pea sized little cowardly heads.

It is wobbly speculation for us to overlook the planning and execution, ignore the detail that nothing was stolen and come to the conclusion this was a straight burglary gone wrong. All the evidence points to the family or at least members of the family being the target. Paul Britton believes the offender is a sexual deviant, one that really doesn’t want to get caught, is aware of forensics and one dancing to the pathetic beat of their internal drum.

The motive could have been a combination of things but Britton’s conclusions ( which I have only noted a small amount of) make sense of what is otherwise a crazy scenario.

He thinks, and I agree with him, that this offender sought confrontation with the occupiers. There were two cars out front, the front bedroom would have been active and finally the timing was such that anyone would expect people to be in and awake.

As I look at the alternatives I don’t discount any possibilities. What I do struggle with is that anyone other than a person with intimate knowledge committed this crime.

The detectives assigned to the case over the years seem to agree. They make reference to local knowledge on several occasions and yet 22 years later there has been nothing in the way of significant progress.

DNA

In 2015 the family joined the review team in making an appeal on the 20th anniversary. This was at the same time it was announced that DNA had now been recovered from the house. If you are a deviant type you must hate science. Years ago if you got away with a crime then short of fingerprint evidence you were in the clear.

Back in 1995 the database had just started and the technology limited the quality of DNA that could be gathered. Every year that changes.

Book cover of mammoth book of unsolved crime
Roger Wilkes edits one of the few in depth studies of this awful crime.

Yet this person has not been arrested in that time in the UK. Whether the team sent samples to common emigration destinations is not know to me. I hope so because even a relative, when arrested could give you up by the similarity of their DNA to yours. Still nothing.

This allows for three possibilities. The offender is dead, the offender is in some corner of the globe out of forensic sight or this killer is controlled and from a reasonably law abiding family.

The DNA is still sitting there at least, waiting.

I Can’t Hold it in Anymore: My Take on the Case.

I’ll make this brief even if it goes against my nature as the above adequately illustrates. I have no conclusions. Anyone who reaches a conclusion to the point they call people in forums names is an idiot. No, this is my favoured speculation.

I think that the offender was young, early, 20s or even late teens. I also think he is maybe in some far flung corner of the world now and has been for years. if pushed I say he is dead.

The kit was fantasy drawn from TV or books. It had some advantages though in that it kind of worked out lucky for this scumbag. He was gloved, had a change of clothes and had given some thought to escape. The clean up was probably drawn from the same show.

There was a lack of confidence otherwise he would have knocked and blitz attacked, crashed in etc. This offender tried to sneak. Crucial to me when deciding on a young killer is no-one with any real idea of ANY amount of DIY tasks would try that lunacy with the cut glass. As you get older you either develop skill, in which case you would not attempt it, or you avoid that sort of thing in which case you would likely not even consider it.

Last is the alarm. I believe the offender triggered the alarm. I think this fool struck Janet Brown down as she made some move that panicked him. I don’t think this moron even realised she could not breath at all because of the tape. I think the violence was horrible, sudden, then further fear drove him to hit that alarm as he fled.

Never underestimate peoples stupidity and even more so young criminal wannabes. Unless you have seen it for real TV gives a false idea of every aspect of violence from gagging and its dangers to hitting people.

I think he also checked the rooms again as panic set in, had someone been hiding?

He couldn’t make the emergency call from home, he didn’t want to be under the light in a phone booth so ? He hit the alarm, that would sooth this moron’s conscience as well.

Last the aftermath. What if he wasn’t gloating and arrogant as the press coverage rolled out? What if he was out of his depth and frightened? How would that wear on the nerves? By virtue of chance not all killers go on to kill again, believe me burglars can do things that they regret. Not many, not mostly but some. Could that be true for a young fantasist who failed and the consequences loomed at every turn.

No trace of this guy or his offspring 22 years later. The DNA sits on the shelf. That could happen if the offender was the child of a reasonably straight family, an only child or one of two.

Here I apologise to Paul Britton, nod my respect for his expertise and mutter an excuse that I am a burnout ex copper who couldn’t resist an opinion. This opinion by the way never got more than 75% certainty in my head.

Paul Britton disagrees with me, not on every aspect I hasten to say. He is the man with the book and a lot more experience. I will leave it there.

 Links, Rumours and Dead Ends

 

Murder of Michael ‘Spike’ Meenaghan

I was surprised when I read that in the Thames Valley force area there are 42 outstanding murders that occurred since 1974. I am not criticising, I was jolted out of some complacency I guess.  It is a big force area with a population of over 2 million people. The police numbers seem low in comparison to some forces too.  It means there are a lot of people walking around that should have at least seen the inside of a cell for their crimes.

There are two of these murders that could be linked to Janet Brown’s killing at first glance.

In December 1994 Michael ‘Spike’ Meenaghan was shot dead through the window of his kitchen. Michael lived on Oxford’s Blackbird Ley estate. No-one has ever been charged or even credibly identified as being responsible for the shooting. For the most part the circumstances are very different to the murder in Hall Farm.

handsme dark haired man black and white photo
Passport shot of Spike who was shot dead through his kitchen window.

Michael was  20 years younger than Janet, the method was different, there was no entry into his home and there is a suggestion it could have been a case of mistaken identity. Unlike family orientated Janet, this young man had a different life style. He mixed in a sporting social circle, drank in Oxford pubs and followed his Scottish roots in supporting Celtic Rangers. The thing is, he too worked at Oxford University in a medical department.

Michael was a lecturer at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology. We know Janet’s role and I will say from the outset that if they ever met it was not a significant meeting. In addition, the two buildings are some distance apart. A coincidence though and one that the police went over without any result.

Oxford University is vast, internationally attended and employs an army of people, however, to lose two staff to murder in less than 6 months is striking. He was  also engaged in research, though it should be clear it was in an unrelated subject to that pursued by Janet Brown. Micheal was a biochemist looking at protein and cell adhesion.

Further to the novel or screenwriters satisfaction could be the job that Grahaem Brown had of course. He was a medical scientist who at the time of his wife’s death was employed by Ciba Geigy a  Swiss multinational pharmaceutical company based in Basel. Conclusion? The cops went all over it and found nothing, no solution has leapt forward for Michael’s family either, his murder remains unsolved.

Murder of Carolyn Anne Jackson

In looking at the area and crime at the time I came across another killing that would at first seem even more of a connection to the case we are discussing. Two years later almost to the day, a 50 year old antique dealer and jeweller called Carolyn Anne Jackson was found murdered in her Wooburn Green cottage.

This village is only 19 miles from Hall Farm. The date they believe she was bundled into her home was 11 th April, her body was found on Sunday 13th. This lady had recently returned from a trip. She was a church goer, well liked, self contained and according to one of the very few articles I found she was bound before being asphyxiated and beaten to death.

If I could point out how little is now online about Janet Brown, the Jackson murder is buried by comparison. Apart from one national article and several small mentions in the local press it is forgotten. No-one was charged with this killing either. In 2007 her name featured in an article when the ‘cold case’ squad was formed but otherwise nothing. I trust the cops when they say there was a financial motive in this case and that they are not apparently connected. Still, I hope to develop that story a little more for the same reasons that I write about Janet Brown.  Someone did it and someone is out there.

Another slender link between Janet and Carolyn is that Carolyn had complained of being followed. Sadly that is a constant threat to high value dealers. Curiously in the weeks leading up to Janet’s murder two local women had complained of a ‘none physical’ yet threatening man that followed them. I stress there was no sign that this inadequate bothered Janet Brown but it is a small fact that I bear in mind.

 References

This article is motivated by what I didn’t see when I looked online. I presume news sources are culling articles to save digital storage costs as there is really very little online about Janet Brown’s murder.  What is there is largely from follow up pieces prompted by the anniversary police press releases. Well there is a killer out there even if they have since passed on. I write this in the spirit of every little helps and Janet Brown should not be forgotten.

I draw many of the details in this article from one written by Roger Wilkes. The other information comes in bits and 200 word snippets, a myriad of clipped articles mostly based on the same releases.  To be honest there are only two reasons I write this in such detail. Wilke’s and Britton’s articles were a while ago and they were not placed online as they were part of books. I have referenced the samples that I read online but they do not come up in searches on the murder if you use the obvious wording.

Please note the images are not mine. I use them because some are official police photos given to the press and others are from the family and were widely circulated/duplicated. If you have rights you wish to assert contact me and I will gladly remove them.

Goodreads sample of Picking up the Pieces 

Overdrive Sample of Roger Wilkes Article

Article Outlines Number of Unsolved Murders in Thames Valley

One of the few Articles About the Murder of Carolyn Anne Jackson 11th-13th April 1997

20 Year Anniversary Appeal Michael Meenaghan, this Young Man was Murdered Oxford Dec 10th 1994.  Remains Unsolved.

Daily Mail Article About Murder of Janet Brown. Most Online Material is from Local Press. Bucksfree and Oxford Mail. 

 

 

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