Date: 15 Nov 1997
Kate Bushell was murdered as she walked a neighbour's dog in Exwick.
Her throat had been slit.
The police said that her murder was planned and that her attacker had used great control and ferocity. They noted that she did not appear to have been sexually assaulted although said that some of her clothing had been disturbed.
She was found fully clothed in a field 300 yards from her house. Her body had not been concealed.
The police said that her throat had been cut with a sharp weapon but said that the murder weapon had not been found.
Earlier on the Saturday she was murdered Kate Bushell had been to Exeter to do some shopping with her mother and had bought a CD from a Virgin Megastore and a comic book for her older brother's birthday. When she got back she spent the afternoon doing homework and then later went out at 4.30pm to walk her neighbours Jack Russell dog, Gemma, while the neighbours were away.
When she hadn't returned by 6.45pm her family went out by car looking for her but couldn't find her and then called the police. However, her father then went out and climbed over the stile from Exwick Lane into the field where he found her body at 7.35pm.
She was last seen at 4.50pm near a layby towards the Whitestone Cross end of Exwick Lane
The police said that the walkway that she had been going along was used by about 100 people each day.
She had lived with her family on Burrator Drive in Exwick, Exeter.
During the investigation the police received reports of a blue car or van and two men being seen near the layby when Kate Bushell was last seen at it, and the police said they wanted to trace it and the men. The layby was near some stables. The witnesses said that when they passed five minutes later Kate Bushell was not there and the blue van appeared unattended. The blue car or van was never traced. One of the men that was seen with the blue car/van was described as being aged between 30 and 40 and of average build and height, clean shaven and with dark collar length hair.
Another witness said that they saw a man running along a field behind Normans from the direction of where Kate Bushell was found dead between 5.10pm and 5.40pm. The police reported that, 'He appeared to be running out of control and very fast down the muddy slippery hill before turning back into the estate. He wasn’t wearing normal running kit and was in an area at a time of night that you wouldn’t expect a jogger to be'. They also appealed for someone to come forward and identify him, saying, 'It suggests a local connection, did someone came back home dishevelled, muddied, possibly bloodied, or out-of-breath? Did they dispose of clothing? We need someone to tell us who he is'.
Another report was made of a bloodstained man being seen running from the scene at exactly the same time that her father found her body (Midweek Herald) but it is not clear if it is the same report of the man seen in the field behind Normans.
The newspaper also spent a night with four mediums in November 2009 at the locations where the body was found. They reported smells of alcohol or chloroform as well as the presence of a scruffy and untidy man that was not of sound mind following them who when had been alive had had medical issues. When they later went towards Kate Bushell's house a medium reported sensing a man in a hood come up behind Kate Bushell, saying, 'I don't think she heard him coming. He just came up behind her, grabbed her, and that was it'. The medium described the man as a foot taller than Kate Bushell. Another medium said that they also saw a man with a hood which they described as sky blue in colour and another medium said that they thought that Kate Bushell had been wearing a gym slip at the time. One of the mediums reported sensing a man on a red bike that knew Kate Bushell but was not from the area and when the mediums tried to sense a motive, one said that they could not, whilst another said that the sensed the motive as being, 'Because I could'. All the mediums said that they were not getting strong readings on the night near the field.
Forensic evidence was taken from the scene, however, in 2017 it was reported that some of the evidence might have become contaminated after it was found that purple fibres from a police technician were found on some of the evidence taken from Kate Bushell as well as that from a suspect who was later eliminated from the investigation. However, the police noted that some of the evidence was not affected and said that a possible future prosecution was still possible.
Forensic evidence that was taken included a significant amount of orange clothing fibre, more than 100 pieces, and more of the fibre was found on a nearby stile. The police said that the orange fibres were completely alien to Kate Bushell and her home and that they were almost certainly deposited there by her attacker. The police said that a huge amount of work had been carried out on the fibres over the years and that they were quite unusual. They said that they were made of a bright orange azoic dyed material predominately used in non-florescent workwear such as boiler suits, aprons and gloves and noted that the murderer might not necessarily have been wearing the clothing that they came from at the time of the murder.
Throughout the investigation, three suspects were interviewed, but they were all released without charge.
The police said that they were convinced that her murderer had a local connection based on the location of the murder. They said, 'The significance of Exwick Lane and where Kate was found is critical to this investigation. It is a completely isolated rural spot used as a cut through from Exwick to Nadderwater and Whitestone and used primarily by local dog walkers. It is not really known to anyone outside of the area'. The police noted that the field in which she was found which led into Kinnerton Way would have required her to have down a country path and to have crossed two stiles to get there. They added that, 'The person responsible for Kate’s murder must have had some local connection to the area. It is just too isolated and too unusual for someone to stumble across that by accident. He may not have lived in the area, he may have had friends or family there, worked in the area or been in relationship with someone'.
The police noted that it was unusual for Kate Bushell to walk her neighbour’s dog and said that she was doing it as a favour whilst they were away. They noted that the light would have been starting to fade at the time and said that they would have been surprised if a 14-year-old girl walking a dog by herself would have gone down the footpath voluntarily and said that they suspected that something might have happened in the lane that forced her down the path or that maybe she had been unnerved by something that she had seen'.
A retired policeman later said in 2015 that he thought that Kate Bushell's murder was linked to the murder of Helen Fleet and Lyn Bryant whose murders are also unsolved and who had also been out walking their dogs when they were murdered. He said that he thought that the murderer might have been triggered by the dogs. He also said that the three murder scenes Weston-Super-Mare, Exeter and Truro were all relatively close together.
Kate Bushell was a student at St Thomas High School and had wanted to go to Oxford University.
The operation to find her murderer was called Operation Deakin.