'We always have hope' - parents of murdered mum Michelle Bettles reveal new clue
PUBLISHED: 08:41 01 April 2019 | UPDATED: 08:51 08 April 2019
Murdered mum Michelle Bettles should be celebrating her 40th birthday this year. On the anniversary of her death her parents speak of their never-ending quest for justice - and reveal how the discovery of a notebook has given them fresh hope.
On April 1 2002, John Bettles was digging a pond when two police officers approached.
“I’ve got some friends who are quite clever at doing pranks and straight away I thought, yeh ok,” he remembers. “Then they showed me their warrant cards.”
They had brought the worst news a parent could ever hear.
John’s daughter Michelle had been found strangled to death in woodland near Dereham.
Then there was a second shock.
Drug addiction had forced his 22-year-old daughter into a life of vice.
The mother-of-three had last been seen soliciting at around 11.30pm on March 28 by a fellow prostitute on City Road in Lakenham.
Three days later on the morning of March 31, a dog walker found her fully-clothed body by a little-used track off the A47 near Scarning.
“I was thinking, no they’ve got this wrong, this can’t happen,” John says.
“That day, that minute you remember for the rest of your life,” her mum Denise recalls.
Police would go on to speak to hundreds of people and make two arrests but could never provide her family with answers - Who did it? Why? How, if at all, did it fit with the murders of other prostitutes at that time?
John and Denise have had moments where they hoped in vain for a breakthrough.
The conviction of Steve Wright for killing five prostitutes in Ipswich in similar circumstances in 2006 led them to believe he could be behind Michelle’s murder. But that was ruled out by police.
Their latest hope is a notebook belonging to the father of Michelle’s three children.
The father, Chris, who has died, had an on-off relationship with Michelle from when she was 15.
Her parents described him as a drug dealer and said he was reluctant to tell police any information at the time.
But John has now found an address book belonging to Chris and will give it to police in case it contains any names of interest.
“We always have hope,” John says. “There isn’t a day that goes by where we talk about something without thinking of Michelle.
“What would she look like now? What would she have made of herself? She was intelligent and she was just taken from everybody.
“Her youngest children don’t even know who she is, that is heartbreaking for us.
“It is her 40th birthday this year and you think, we should all now been getting together.”
One legacy of Michelle is her three children. The youngest was just two when his mum was killed.
“I don’t know how they achieved what they did in later life,” John said. “Two of them are now in university.
“Her daughter looks so like her, it is unbelievable.”
John and Denise were separated for almost all of Michelle’s life but got back together 10 years ago when they bumped into each other at their daughter’s grave in Earlham Cemetery on what would have been Michelle’s 30th birthday.
Denise has never given an interview about her daughter. Today she reveals how what was a strong relationship with Michelle changed when the Earlham High School pupil hit her teenage years.
“She was really happy little girl,” Denise remembers. “She was really intelligent, She loved her languages, German and French, and she was top of the class at both of them. I think she would have ended up at university.
“But when she turned 14, overnight it was like a click and she went out at night. She was skimming down drain pipes.
“That was when me and her started to fall-out big time because I was so angry with her. I thought she was just wasting all her life.”
When she was 15 Michelle met the father of her children and had what John described as a “yo-yo relationship” with him.
It was through him, her parents believe her life spiralled into drug addiction.
She moved out of her childhood home on Peverell Road, Bowthorpe at 16.
“She rebelled and she didn’t want to be in the house anymore. She was going mad. Social services moved her into a little self-contained flat.”
Her mum knew she had an eating disorder but had no idea she had developed a drug addiction which would lead to her selling her body on the streets.
“Michelle was so shy. I didn’t believe it. Still to this day it’s hard to believe.”
During those teenage years John came back into his daughter’s life.
“She was always bright, happy and cheerful,” he says. “To me she was a well dressed young girl that you were proud to walk out with and say, yeh I’m her dad.”
But he did sense she was holding back when he asked her questions about her life.
“It was like there was this brick wall she had put up,” he says.
“Her favourite saying was ‘everything is cushty’. Looking back now I could have picked up on it, but at the time you just thing it’s alright.”
•What happened to Michelle?
•Thursday, March 28, 2002
8.30pm: Michelle was captured on CCTV walking along St Benedict’s street from her flat on Dereham Road
9pm: She was meant to see a client in the city but never showed up
11.30pm: Michelle seen by fellow prostitute Tracy Kennett on City Road, Lakenham. There is another possible sighting of her on Carrow Hill after midnight
•Easter Sunday, March 31
Michelle’s body is found by a dog walker in woodland near Podmore Lane, Scarning, at 10.15am.
Police believed she was killed somewhere else and dumped on either Saturday night or Sunday morning.
A 4x4 is seen by people working on a house in Rushmeadow Road at 9.30pm on Saturday and they heard its “engine racing”. The driver has never been traced.
A black leather jacket she was wearing has never been found.
Michelle was the third Norwich prostitute to be killed in two years.
In June 2000 Kellie Pratt, 29, disappeared from the red light district. Her body has never been found, but she is presumed dead.
She was last seen arguing on her phone in the city centre.
The body of Hayley Curtis from Thetford was discovered buried near Petersfield, Hampshire in January 2002.
The 23-year old vanished from Mile Cross in October 2001.
A man called Philip Stanley was later convicted of her murder.
During his trial Norwich Crown Court heard tests showed Miss Curtis suffered serious damage to her spine and ribs - injuries consistent with being jumped on while lying down.
Eight years earlier, another Norwich prostitute Natalie Pearman, 16, was found strangled to death and dumped in a lay-by at Ringland Hills outside Norwich. Her killer has never been found.
•This newspaper’s Unfinished podcast will be exploring the Michelle Bettles case in more depth later this month. Search for Unfinished in your podcast provider to find out more.
•Anyone with information should contact Norfolk Police’s cold case team on 01953 423819 or contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.