Emotional return to murdered Norwich woman's grave on her 42nd birthday

John Bettles returning to Earlham Cemetery to visit his daughter's grave on August 15 on what would have been her birthday.

John Bettles returning to Earlham Cemetery to visit his daughter's grave on Sunday, August 15 on what would have been her 42nd birthday. - Credit: Jessica Coppins, Archant Norfolk.

The parents of a Norwich sex worker murdered almost two decades ago returned to her grave in the city to remember the mother of three, on what would have been her 42nd birthday.

Michelle Bettles, 22, disappeared from the city's red light district in March 2002 with her body being discovered in woodland 200 yards from the A47 at Scarning, near Dereham a few days later.

Michelle Bettles whose body was found near to the A47 at Scarning after she had gone missing in 2002.

Michelle Bettles whose body was found near to the A47 at Scarning after she had gone missing in 2002. - Credit: supplied

And on Sunday (August 15), on what would have been Michelle's 42nd birthday, her father John Bettles, 65, and mother Denise, 62, made an emotional return to Norwich to mark the heart-breaking anniversary.

The couple, who now live in Lincolnshire, laid flowers at Michelle's grave in Earlham Cemetery having spent the previous day clearing up the memorial which they had been unable to get to last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

John Bettles returning to Earlham Cemetery to visit his daughter's grave on August 15 on what would have been her birthday.

John Bettles returning to Earlham Cemetery to visit his daughter's grave on Sunday, August 15 on what would have been her 42nd birthday. - Credit: Jessica Coppins, Archant Norfolk

Mr Bettles said: "We went and remembered her.

"We were going to go out and have a quiet meal afterwards and see some good friends.

"It's always difficult.

"It always gets emotional because we shouldn't be putting flowers on her grave to say happy birthday, we should be standing there hugging and kissing.

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"Really we should've been making arrangements to go out for a nice meal together with her children and friends or whatever.

“You always think it’s going to get easier but it’s not easier - it’s just the hurt gets deeper and deeper.

 “We still talk regularly about Michelle - what might have been, what will be and what she might look like now. 

“We never forget Michelle. 

“I don’t think there’s a day that goes by that we don’t say something about her or that something reminds us of her.”

Michelle Bettles' murder remains unsolved. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary

Michelle Bettles' murder remains unsolved. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary - Credit: Norfolk Constabulary

Michelle was last seen during the early hours of Thursday, March 28 and Friday, March 29, 2002.

On the Sunday morning of that Easter weekend, Michelle's body was found in woodland by the side of a country track in Scarning, near Dereham. She had been strangled.

But exactly what happened to Michelle after she was captured on CCTV walking along St Benedict's Street at about 8.20pm on March 28 and the morning of March 31, 2002 remains a mystery. 

Mr Bettles  said it had been particularly tough this year with Michelle’s mum suffering a stroke in January and them not being able to get to their daughter's grave last year.

But he admitted it was "quite satisfying really, seeing her looked after again". 

Some tributes to Michelle Bettles left by her grave at Earlham Cemetery in Norwich.

Some tributes to Michelle Bettles left by her grave at Earlham Cemetery in Norwich. - Credit: Jessoca Coppins, Archant Norfolk

Three words etched on her gravestone “Partie Trop Tot”, or taken too soon, in French, are a nod to her love of the language.

Mr Bettles said; “She spoke French and did a little German as well.

“She would sometimes start talking French to me and said I was too lazy to learn it.

“She used to speak French just to wind me up a little bit - it’s just the way we were together.”

Mr Bettles said Michelle was "camera shy" which is why there are not many pictures of her.

John Bettles returning to Earlham Cemetery to visit his daughter's grave on August 15 on what would have been her birthday.

John Bettles returning to Earlham Cemetery to visit his daughter's grave on Sunday, August 15 on what would have been her 42nd birthday. - Credit: Jessica Coppins, Archant Norfolk

He, like Michelle, used to "shy away whenever a camera came out" but has had to overcome that to help generate publicity around what happened to his daughter in order to try and help police catch her killer.

He said: "I've always done it because I want to see a final conclusion for Michelle."

Mr Bettles knows that when he returns to the city next year, on what will be the 20th anniversary of Michelle's murder, that it will be the toughest landmark yet.

He said: "I think next year will be the worst with it being 20 years.

"Even now, I can start to feel the emotion coming to the surface, more like it did at the time."

Last week Mr Bettles called for Suffolk strangler Steve Wright to be looked at as a potential suspect in Michelle's murder after it emerged Wright was understood to have been arrested in connection with the 1999 murder of 17-year-old Suffolk girl Victoria Hall.


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