Detectives investigating the murder of their colleague PCSO Julia James are probing if she was killed in a ‘sexually-motivated’ attack – after it emerged a flasher had made an indecent exposure weeks earlier.
Kent Police this morning confirmed it was ‘an important line of enquiry’ as they revealed Julia, 53, had died of ‘significant head injuries’.
The police worker was found on a path at the edge of a field behind her house at 4pm in neighbouring Snowdown on Tuesday afternoon with her faithful Jack Russell, Toby, by her side.
Police are treating her death as murder and fear she may have been killed by a random stranger. Officers investigating the tragedy have been made aware of another potential incident earlier this month
Tim Smith, deputy chief constable of Kent Police, said: ‘I can confirm that we have launched a murder investigation, we have hundreds of officers working on that investigation.
‘I can’t go into a lot of detail for perhaps very obvious reasons, but it is fair to say there are a number of different lines of inquiry, we are working very hard to identify a motive. It is right to say we have got no clear suspects at this time.
‘We have huge teams of very specialist officers working on this to try to get to the bottom of this.’
Asked if police had been able to rule out if the murder could have been sexually motivated, he replied: ‘That will be an important line of enquiry, I am not able to say either way at this stage. We are keeping a very open mind about the motive.
‘At this time I think we can say as much as Julia died from significant head injuries.’
‘We recognised with such a crime of this nature there will be a lot of speculation, I am not able to say at this stage what we think have motivated this crime. At this stage it would be wrong for me to speculate at this stage.
‘The advice I would give people is to make sure they know what has happened. You have asked the question about stranger attacks, that remains a possibility, so I would want people in that area to know that and make decisions about their everyday lives and how they live it,’ he added to BBC Radion Kent.
The comments came as it emerged there had been a ‘flasher’ in the village but it had not been reported. One woman told The Times: ‘The victim was shocked she didn’t want take much notice. She didn’t take it further.’
And it came the day after it was revealed that a female dog walker was confronted by a prowler in a van one mile away from where the murder happened.
The woman is said to have been accosted by a man in a white transit vehicle as she walked along a quiet path in the village of Nonnington, Kent, two weeks ago. She managed to distract him before fleeing and shouting out for help.
It is also understood PCSOs patrolling the village near Canterbury have warned women out walking their dogs to ‘veer from their normal route’ and avoid the woodland areas after their colleague’s death.
Hundreds of police are scouring the crime scene for clues, with colleagues of the murdered PCSO paying tribute to their fallen comrade, promising her: ‘Your duty is done. We will take it from here’.
The message from the ‘guys in blue’ was among a growing number of flowers, cards and candles left for her, in her home village of Snowdown, where she was attacked on a footpath while walking her dog after finishing her shift 48 hours ago.
As Kent Police investigate the murder of one of their own, it has emerged:
- Detectives piece together Julia James final movements in the hour before she was murdered after leaving her home with her dog. She is believed to have been working from home and just finished for the day. There have been no arrests;
- Officers continue to search woodland for clues as hunt for Julia’s killer continue. Police are also going door-to-door and have visited a traveller site close to crime scene in hunt for witnesses;
- Julia’s married her husband Paul, a hypnotherapist, in 2017. She has two children – a daughter who also works for the police and a 23-year-old son – as well as an infant grandson.
- Her ex-partner Wayne also admits it could be something to do with her work in the domestic violence unit. He added: ‘It immediately reminded me of what happened with Lin and Megan Russell in Chillenden, which is just 2.5miles away’;
Julia James, a serving PCSO for Kent Police for 15 years, starting under her maiden name Ghost, was found dead on a secluded footpath in Snowdown, near Dover, at 4pm on Tuesday with locals fearing that a ‘nutter is on the loose’
Police hunting for her killer also left flowers thanking her for her ‘duty’ and promising they would ‘take it from here’. Another tribute promised her she would ‘never be forgotten’
Mourners, including police officers and PCSOs, have left flowers commemoration wheel for those associated with Snowdown Colliery in the historic village green and at the entrance to a bridleway where Julia took her final journey
Julia had finished her shift and headed out from home with her Jack Russell at around 3pm on Tuesday – her body, with her loyal dog sat next to it, was found at 4pm
These forensics officer were seen taking away items from the scene including what appears to be a blue bag or an item of clothing
Huge numbers of forensics teams and rank-and-file officers are out in the fields around her home looking for evidence and a murder weapon, including a team on the left with a metal detector, suggesting that they could be hunting for a weapon like a hammer or a knife
Julia, pictured with her hypnotherapist husband Paul, worked in the Kent Police domestic violence team and had been commended for bravery after chasing a shoplifter in her 15 year police career. Mrs James’s ex-partner Wayne Davis (right) revealed how their son Patrick broke the news of her death to their family, calling her ‘the love of my life’
PCSO’s murder has chilling echoes of notorious Chillenden killings: Body was found less than three miles from spot where mother and daughter were bludgeoned to death 25 years ago
The body of murdered PSCO Julia James, 53, was found on Tuesday on a path at the edge of Akholt Wood in Snowdown, near Aylesham in Kent.
This is just two and a half miles from Cherry Garden Lane in the neighbouring village of Chillenden, where Lin Russell, 45, was murdered alongside her six-year-old daughter Megan in July 1996.
Ms James was attacked while out walking her dog, with police warning the public to be vigilant over fears she could have been targeted by a random attacker, while Dr Russell and her two daughters were walking home from a swimming competition.
Wayne Davis, who was with Mrs James for 13 years before their split in 2009, drew a comparison between both tragedies.
‘It immediately reminded me of what happened with Lin and Megan Russell in Chillenden, which is just 2.5miles away,’ he said.
Lin Russell, 45, and her daughter Megan, six were murdered in Kent in 1996
Michael Stone was later convicted of murdering Dr Russell and Megan on July 9, 1996.
Stone tied them up before blindfolding them and beating them to death with a hammer. Megan’s sister Josie, then nine, survived the brutal attack, leaving her traumatised and unable to speak for a whole year.
Stone also killed the family dog, Lucy. Meanwhile, mother-of-two Ms James’ Jack Russell terrier stayed with her body until it was found lying on a path
Stone was handed three life sentences for the attack
The random attack shocked the nation and sparked one of the biggest manhunts in British police history, with Stone, then 37, arrested more than a year later and charged.
He was given three life sentences being found guilty at two trials – he also lost an appeal. The basis of his conviction was a confession to a fellow prisoner.
Josie went on to rebuild her life after the tragedy, and in 2009 graduated from Coleg Menai in Bangor with a degree in graphic design. She started a greeting card business before moving on to producing textile landscapes, which now sell for up to £500 each.
Stone has always protested his innocence and insisted Milly Dowler’s killer Levi Bellfield was to blame. He lost his latest bid to have his conviction overturned in 2019.
Julia’s former partner also told MailOnline he fears the ‘love of his life’ may have been killed due to her job helping victims of domestic violence, with dozens of her police colleagues now carrying out fingertip searches on the route she had taken before she died.
Mrs James’ neighbours are said to be ‘scared’ that a dangerous ‘nutter is on the loose’ as it emerged she may have been killed by a random attacker with locals admitting they are now too ‘terrified’ to walk their own dogs after the married mother-of-two died.
Residents of Snowdown, near Dover, have been urged to be vigilant after Mrs James, who had worked as a PCSO for nearly 15 years and had been commended for bravery for chasing down a shoplifter, was found dead.
Kent Police have not revealed if they have found a murder weapon, but with van after van of officers arriving to search paths, hedges and woodland, it suggests not. A specialist dog unit has also been brought in to aid search teams in the trees next to where Julia was found dead and later a team of men with metal detectors arrived, suggesting they are looking for a hidden metallic item like a hammer or knife.
As officers sealed off fields and footpaths in the area, mourners left flowers on the commemoration wheel for Snowdown’s historic colliery and at the entrance to a bridleway where Julia took her final journey.
One from colleagues had a note which read: ‘PCSO Julia James. Your duty is done. Take it easy for now we will take it from here! Thinking of your family at this time. From the guys in blue xx’ Another bouquet was left by a friend Becki with a note calling her ‘the kindest person I’ve ever met’, and thanking her for always making her laugh.
Referring to locals’ claims that a female dog walker was confronted by a prowler in a van, a spokesman for Kent Police said: ‘This is a live investigation and we continue to carry out enquiries to establish the circumstances.
‘We will not be commenting or speculating on any individual lines of enquiry at this time.’
The small hamlet of Snowdown, a former mining community halfway between Canterbury and Dover, are deep in grief and shock today, and many are also fearful.
Charles Woodgate, who represents Aylesham, Eythorne and Shepherdswell on Dover District Council, said: ‘People in the village are scared there was some crazy nutter in the woods who is now on the loose. They fear it was a stranger who killed Julia and hopefully the police catch them quickly.’
Wayne Davis, who was with Julia for 13 years before their split in 2009, said he cannot comprehend how anyone would want to hurt her – but suggested that her work in Kent Police’s domestic violence unit is also being looked at in case she was attacked by someone with a vendetta.
Speaking to MailOnline today, he said: ‘We don’t know if it’s a random attack or whether she was targeted by someone, possibly because of her job. Whoever has done this needs to be arrested as soon as possible because we don’t know if it’ll happen again. A lot of people walk their dogs down that path, many of them alone.’
Family friend Sean Simmonds, who lives opposite Mrs James and her husband Paul, told how he would often talk to her about her job. Mr Simmonds, who was potentially the last person to see her alive as she walked her Jack Russell terrier Toby on Tuesday afternoon, said he too feared she had been targeted through her job.
He said: ‘I used to talk to her about her job quite a bit, she said she was a PCSO who was mainly office and worked with victims of domestic violence. She liked her job very much. I’ve wondered whether she was the victim of an enraged husband whose wife she helped leave the family home due to abuse but she never told me that she’d been threatened by anyone or had any grievances with anyone.’
The case has chilling echoes of one of Britain’s most notorious murder cases, which took place in the neighbouring village of Chillenden, Kent, 25 years ago, when Dr Lin Russell, 45, and her daughter Megan, six, were bludgeoned to death with a hammer as they walked their family dog. Nine-year-old Josie Russell suffered horrific injuries but made a full recovery.
Michael Stone was jailed for life for two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, but still protests his innocence, claiming that serial killer Levi Bellfield did it. Stone’s repeated attempts to have his convictions overturned have all failed.
Julia had found love with hypnotherapist Paul James, 57, and the couple married in 2017. She has a son, 23, and her daughter is also thought to work with Kent Police. It is understood Mrs James’s family are being looked after by police family liaison officers.
She joined the police 15 years ago after working for Kent County Council and in 2010 received a commendation for bravery after chasing down a man suspected of shoplifting in Ashford shopping centre. Her patch was the town of Tenterden, and describing herself to the local paper in 2013 she said: ‘I am a people person and love being in the community’.
Wayne Davis, who was with Mrs James for 13 years before their split in 2009, told MailOnline he had earlier in the day texted their son Patrick a Facebook link about a woman being found dead on a local path.
He asked Patrick if he knew what was going on and his son messaged back that he did not but said there was a ‘load of police’ around the village. However, when Patrick returned to the home he shares with his girlfriend hours later in Dover he was told the awful news and rang Mr Davis in tears to say ‘that woman is mum’.
Mr Davis added: ‘It immediately reminded me of what happened with Lin and Megan Russell in Chillenden, which is just 2.5miles away.’
Search teams are continuing to scour woodland and fields today as they try to find the killer of PCSO James after she was found dead on a remote footpath near her home on Tuesday.
Five marked Kent Police vans arrived at the secluded scene at Ackholt Wood near Aylesham, Kent at around 9am as search efforts in the murder investigation, codenamed Operation Sark, appeared to ramp up.
Eight marked vans and eleven marked and unmarked cars were parked on a 100 metre stretch of the road near to where grandmother of one Julia, 53, was found dead on Tuesday.
Dozens of officers wearing police caps and face masks were seen being briefed while holding rakes to search undergrowth with.
They lined up before entering the public footpath around 9.30am to continue searching the vast remote woodland for clues.
A bunch of flowers has been left at the scene.
A note attached titled ‘Thinking of you’ read: ‘Dearest Julia. R.I.P. You made me laugh. The kindest person I ever met. Love Becki x.’
A police officer speaks to two colleagues from forensics next to the tent where Julia’s body was found on the outskirts of Akholt Wood in Snowdown, Kent
Julia was found on the edge of this woodland with her Jack Russell, who had stayed with her body
Four specialists with metal detectors and scanning equipment arrived in the field where Julia was found dead
Officers were on their hands and knees carrying out fingertip searches of paths, verges and trees near where Julia was murdered
Officers with forks are searching fields for evidence amid fears a random attacker my be responsible and still on the loose
The officers, some of whom are likely to have worked on the Sarah Everard investigation, have been following Julia’s route from home
A police care guards the home of PCSO Julia James in Snowdown, Kent, this morning
Large numbers of police including teams of specialist forensics officers are in the area having sealed off acres of land to find clues about her killer
These flowers were left for Julia near where she died with the note from a friend called Becki calling her the ‘kindest person I’ve ever met’
The body of Mrs James was found just two fields from her home in Snowdown, Kent, on Tuesday afternoon
The case has chilling echoes of one of Britain’s most notorious murder cases, which took place in the neighbouring village of Chillenden, Kent, 25 years ago, when Dr Lin Russell, 45, and her daughter Megan, six, were bludgeoned to death with a hammer as they walked their family dog
Julia’s former partner Wayne Davis said of their son: ‘He’s only 23-years old and he’s lost his mum. He is absolutely devastated. I remember what it was like when I lost my mother and I knew it was going to happen because she’d been ill. I can’t imagine what he’s going through.
‘We don’t know any more about what’s happened other than it looks like Julia was walking the dog at the time. We don’t know if it’s a random attack or whether she was targeted by someone, possibly because of her job.
‘She was a lovely, cheerful person. Always happy and smiling. The last time I saw Julia was in 2017. My mother was ill and was too poorly to pick up her prescription. I’d gone to the local chemist and Julia shouted out my name in the car park and we had a catch-up.
‘She told me that she’d started working at Canterbury police station on domestic violence. I joked to her ‘what? Giving it out?’ and she laughed.
‘I probably wouldn’t have been able to get away with that when we were together but she was a really friendly person who had a big caring side. She always had our son’s best interests at heart.
‘Whoever has done this needs to be arrested as soon as possible because we don’t know if it’ll happen again. A lot of people walk their dogs down that path, many of them alone.’
He later told the Sun: ‘He [Patrick] was devastated. Julia was the love of my life, but we separated, as couples sometimes do.
‘She was a lovely woman. She was walking her dog a lot. What she did as a PCSO was not just a job – it was a way of life.’
‘What I personally find odd, is it’s happened in the middle of nowhere,’ he said. It’s a mystery. The police know more than what they’re saying – they want to catch who has done it.
‘For something like that to happen, in the middle of nowhere – you don’t know whether it’s just random.’
Mr Davis added: ‘It immediately reminded me of what happened with Lin and Megan Russell in Chillenden, which is just 2.5miles away.’
The path where Mrs James body was found is just two and a half miles from Cherry Garden Lane in the neighbouring village of Chillenden, Kent, where Lin Russell was murdered alongside her daughter Megan in July 1996.
Michael Stone, who was later convicted of the double murder, also left Dr Russell’s nine-year-old daughter Josie fighting for life in the attack.
Stone attacked the family as they walked their dogs in the surrounding countryside.
Several police vehicles arrived in Snowdown today and forensics teams were seen working close to the bridal path on which Mrs James’s body was found. No arrests have been made in the case.
Sean Simmonds, who lives opposite the semi-detached, three-bedroom home Mrs James shares with her husband Paul, said he saw her leave the house to walk her dog at 3pm on Tuesday but did not see her return.
She was found dead an hour later on a bridleway on the edge of Ackholt Wood and fields off the Aylesham Road area of Snowdown, a former coal mining town close to Dover.
It is understood Mrs James had been working from home and had taken her dog out for a walk afterwards.
Mr Simmonds, 57, said he was told by police that the small dog ‘stayed with’ Mrs James following her death and was found alongside the grandmother’s body.
He said: ‘I was polishing my car on the driveway and I looked up and saw Julia walking past on the other side of the road with the dog.
‘She was heading towards the woods at the back, I’d occasionally bump into her there when I was out walking my two dogs. I didn’t see her come back. Around 4pm, the police arrived and started cordoning off the area.’
Neighbours said Mrs James regularly exercised her dog along the country footpaths near to her home, which is on a 1930s miners’ housing estate in the hamlet.
A friend of Mrs James’ son Patrick Davis said: ‘Patrick is devastated as you can imagine. His mum was such a lovely person, I cannot imagine who would want to do her any harm.
‘I know she worked as a PCSO and helped victims of domestic violence.
‘Patrick has thanked friends for their support and kind words but he just needs time to himself at the moment.’
Neighbour Mr Simmonds added: ‘I’m a paramedic and I work in the emergency services so I knew by the amount of police it was for something serious. We found out just how serious a while later, it’s such a shock.
‘I used to talk to her about her job quite a bit, she said she was a PCSO who was mainly office and worked with victims of domestic violence. She liked her job very much.
‘She was always quite upbeat and cheerful. When we did stop to chat it tended to be about our work because we both work for the emergency services so there was some common ground. I know she had worked from home mainly over the last year or so because of the pandemic.’
It remains unclear how Mrs James died, but a post mortem is due to be held to establish her cause of death.
Nearby fields remain sealed off today and a police tent can be seen on a path that runs between a field and woodland
More and more vans of officer swept into the crime scene today as the search for clues continues
Teams of police officers search for clues in woodland close to where the PCSO was found dead on Tuesday
Julia James (pictured), a serving PCSO for Kent Police, was found dead near woodland in Kent on Tuesday afternoon after finishing work
The body of Mrs James (pictured left and right with a dog believed to be her Jack Russell), 53, was found near to Akholt Wood in Snowdown, near Aylesham, Kent, shortly after 4pm on Tuesday
Murdered PCSO Julia James with her current husband Paul. Her son broke the news of her death to her family
Home Secretary Priti Patel has offered her condolences to the family of PCSO James. She tweeted: ‘So saddened to hear of the death of @kent-police PCSO Julia James. I offer my sincere condolences to Julia’s friends, family and colleagues at this awful time.’
Assistant Chief Constable Tom Richards said: ‘Officers are carrying out a number of lines of enquiry to establish the circumstances and people in the Snowdown area will see an increased police presence as a result.
‘It saddens me to confirm that the victim was a serving PCSO for Kent Police and whilst there is a full and thorough investigation underway our thoughts also remain with her family, friends and colleagues.’
He added: ‘It is vitally important that anyone who was in the area on Monday and Tuesday who may have seen something suspicious gets in touch with us.
‘We’re particularly keen to speak to those who regularly visit the area who may have seen something out of place and those who drove by who have dash-cam footage.
‘We would advise anyone in the area to remain vigilant until the full circumstances of the death are established.’
National Police Federation chair John Apter said: ‘Police have launched a murder investigation after @kent_police PCSO Julia James was found dead in remote Snowdown woods.
‘My heart goes out to Julia’s family, friend and her colleagues. This is devastating news.’
It is understood Mrs James became a police community support officer in 2007, joining from a Kent County Council learning resource centre.
After becoming a PCSO for Tenterden in 2013, she told a local paper: ‘I am a people person and love being in the community. The people in Tenterden are very friendly.’
She has two children – a daughter who also works for the police and a 23-year-old son – as well as an infant grandson.
Devastated locals say the community, comprised of roughly 54 houses and part of the civil parish of Aylesham, has been left ‘shocked’ and ‘reeling’ following her death.
The woman (above), who had worked as a PCSO for Kent Police since 2007, was pronounced dead at the scene
Pictured: Mrs James with her husband Paul, who married in June 2017 and have lived in Snowdown for around four years
Forensic officers arrive at the entrance to a path near where the body of Ms James was found on Tuesday
Police vehicles are seen near to a travellers site in Snowdown, where officers spoke to residents as they searched for witnesses
Leah Southwell, 18, said: ‘She was so happy. So bubbly, if you were having a bad day she’d be there smiling at you and trying to make you laugh.’
The teenager described how the area was ‘swarmed with police’ after the body was discovered.
She said: ‘Last night about 10pm, I looked out my window and there were sirens, blue lights all down my road.
‘At around 4pm-ish there were two vans, a little van and a squad car, and there was a fire engine as well.
‘Nothing ever happens around here. It’s just shocking to be honest.’
Another neighbour said: ‘I can’t believe it. She was a loving mum and the pillar of the community. This is devastating. She was a lovely woman. A terrific part of the community.’
Paramedic Sean Simmonds, 57, who lives on the same street as Mrs James, said he only saw the mother-of-two walking her Jack Russell a few days ago.
He said: ‘I can’t believe it. She usually walks her dogs in the fields, a little Jack Russell. That hasn’t been seen either.
‘It’s a such a shame.’
Mary Bowden, 71, added Mrs James kept herself to herself but seemed nice.
She said: ‘She was a very quiet, nice lady, very inoffensive. I often used to see her walking her dogs.
‘Nothing happens around here usually. She was just a quiet, lovely lady.’