Date: 18 Jun 1988
Marie Wilkes was murdered on the M50 whilst making an emergency call to the police after her Morris Marina Coupe car overheated and broke down on Saturday 18 June 1988.
Her jaw had been broken and she had been stabbed in the right side of the neck, severing her carotid artery. Her body was found three miles further along the road from where her car had broken down.
She had been dressed in a pink and white maternity dress at the time with white shoes.
A 32-year-old man was initially convicted of her murder on 10 October 1988 but his conviction was later overturned at a court of appeal five years later in May 1994. His conviction was found to have been unsafe after it was heard that evidence had been kept from his trial. He had maintained his innocence throughout. The 32-year-old man had previously been in the Welsh Guards.
He had been sentenced to a minimum of 25-years in prison.
Following his acquittal, he was awarded damages which were said to have been more than £600,000. The man later died in May 2018.
Marie Wilkes had been 7 and a half months pregnant at the time. She had broken down on the M50 and had gone off to use an emergency telephone leaving her 13-month-old son and 11-year-old sister in her car.
She had been driving to her parents’ home in Worcester at the time after visiting her husband at an army cadet camp in Symonds Yat in the Wye Valley where he was an instructor and had been instructing 43 cadets in the Hereford and Worcester Army Cadet Force.
Marie Wilkes had only just passed her driving test two months earlier and it was said that the journey was her first big trip and that she had had no intention of using the motorways and had stuck to the country roads, but it was thought that she had become lost on the way home and had no alternative but to use the M50.
She had left Symonds Yat at 7pm and broke down on the M50 sometime between then and 7.37pm when she made a call from the emergency telephone box which was about 700 yards away from where she had broken down. The emergency phone was number 2076B.
After breaking down on the motorway she walked a short distance to the emergency phone box where she called the West Mercia police at 7.37pm to whom she explained her situation. It was heard that the police had put Marie Wilkes on hold while they contacted her family. However, Marie Wilkes's family told the police at 7.40pm that the only other car they had was being used by Marie Wilkes's father who had gone off on a fishing trip and who could not be contacted. After finding out that Marie Wilkes's family were not able to drive out to assist Marie Wilkes the police attempted to re-open the line with Marie Wilkes at 7.41pm but she was not there and they could only hear the sound of cars driving by along the M50.
The police tried to call the emergency phone at 7.44pm again but got no reply.
Shortly after the second call, a police car that had been driving along the motorway from Strenchsham Service Station at 7.49pm saw Marie Wilkes's 11-year-old sister walking along the hard shoulder of the M50 carrying Marie Wilkes's baby and looking for her.
At about the same time the police contacted a breakdown service and asked them to attend Marie Wilkes's car as soon as possible.
It was thought that during the time that Marie Wilkes's sister had been walking along the hard shoulder that about 200 cars would have passed them, but none of them stopped to help. However, it was said that an unknown man had spoken to Marie Wilkes's 11-year-old sister as she was sitting in the car waiting for Marie Wilkes and it was thought possible that the man had been Marie Wilkes's murderer.
After the police in the patrol car found Marie Wilkes's 11-year-old sister and her daughter at 7.59pm, they put out a radio message stating that Marie Wilkes was missing.
Marie Wilkes's mother then gave the police a description of Marie Wilkes at 8.01pm and four police squad cars were dispatched to the scene.
When the police made further checks, all they found was Marie Wilkes's Morris Marina car abandoned and the emergency phone dangling from its cord.
A police helicopter was sent soon after at 8.10pm, to search the surrounding area with thermal imaging cameras. However, it was noted that because the weather had been hot that day, they found nothing.
The police spoke to Marie Wilkes's mother again at 8.20pm and determined that Marie Wilkes had still not contacted her, and the police then searched the area on foot using 50 policemen and tracker dogs but again found nothing.
At about dawn on the following day 19 June 1988 the police then found blood on and around the emergency telephone that Marie Wilkes had used.
Marie Wilkes's body was found the following day on Monday 20 June 1988 on the side of the motorway about three miles on from where her car had broken down near Strenchsham, partially covered by undergrowth down the side of a steep embankment. The police found evidence to indicate that a car had recently reversed behind the crash barrier nearby which it was thought had be done by her murderer in an effort to hide himself from other traffic as he disposed of her body. The police also found a 20-foot tyre mark on the road above that point.
Her jaw had been broken and it was thought that she had been kicked in the side of her head and she had been stabbed in the neck.
Following the murder the police made an appeal to the public and a person came forward to say that they had seen a man near the scene of the crime on the Saturday evening and the police then released an artist’s impression of the man the person had seen.
The man was described as, 'white, with thin, sharp features, a pronounced chin and a long nose, in his 20s, of a youngish appearance. His hair was cut in the modern style, blonde, short and spiky, with possible yellow or orange highlights. He was of smart casual appearance, as if on his way to a night out. He was wearing a blue/white striped shirt, dark or royal blue trousers'.
Following the release of the artists impression, the 32-year-old man was arrested at 7pm on Saturday 25 June 1988 after a work colleague said that the artist's impression was him. The 32-year-old man was a doorman and had been working at a social club in Pentre in South Wales. It was noted that the man had also based his belief that the artist's impression was that of the 32-year-old man as he knew him as a violent man with a criminal history and that he knew he owned a butterfly-knife which he thought might have been the murder weapon.
He was charged with Marie Wilkes's murder on Wednesday 29 June 1988.
It was said that the man had received a £25,000 reward for his information following the 32-year-old man's conviction, although he denied that. However, it was also said that in September 1999, after the 32-year-old man had been released, that he attacked the 32-year-old man at his home with an iron bar, claiming that he had confessed to him.
When the police looked into the 32-year-old man they found that he had had an argument with his pregnant wife at their home in Cwmparc in the Rhondda Valley on the evening of Saturday 18 June 1988 at 6.40pm and that shortly after he had driven to Scotland, which would have taken him along the M50 at about the time that Marie Wilkes was murdered as he headed towards the M6 for the north. However, when the 32-year-old man was charged with Marie Wilkes's murder, he denied it and said that he had taken a different route to the M6 north, taking the Severn Bridge and then taking the M5. However, it was claimed that the route he said he had taken was not the natural choice as it would have added 30 miles to his journey and that he was lying.
Further, the police said that it was not possible for the 32-year-old man to have taken the route that he said he took as they checked the CCTV footage at the Severn Bridge for the evening of the murder and found no evidence that he had crossed.
When the police examined the 32-year-old man's car they found that one of his tyres had a bold patch which the police said raised their suspicions because of the marks they had found at the scene of the murder.
It was noted that whilst there were traces of blood on the call box that Marie Wilkes had used, there was no blood found in the man's car. It was submitted that if he had attacked her first at the call box, resulting in the blood being found there, and had then driven her to where she was later found that blood would have been found in his car. It was said that at his trial that it had been accepted that the 32-year-old man had stabbed Marie Wilkes at the emergency phone kiosk and had then driven her three miles along the motorway where he had then dumped her body.
However, the 32-year-old man was convicted at Shrewsbury Crown Court on 10 October 1988.
The 32-year-old man appealed his conviction in May 1991, but his appeal was refused after the video footage of the Severn Bridge crossings was considered which did not show him having crossed it.
However, it was noted that in 1992 another video tape was released detailing a police officer who had seen a car on the hard shoulder undergoing hypnosis which resulted in an investigation by the Police Complaints Commission and the case being reopened.
It was heard that before the 32-year-old man was arrested that the police officer had said that he had seen a silvery-grey Renault car pull up onto the east-bound hard shoulder of the M50 on the evening of the murder, Saturday 18 June 1988 but had not mentioned anything about seeing the letter C in the registration. However, it was noted that his memory of the event went no further than that and so it was decided to put him under hypnosis in the hope that he would recall more and the hypnosis was video-taped. The hypnosis took place four days before the 32-year-old man was arrested. During the hypnosis the policeman gave additional details of the car, stating that he had seen a silvery-grey, non-metallic, non-hatch-back Renault car with chrome bumpers and the registration number C856 HFK. However, it was noted that the 32-year-old man's car had been a hatch-back Renault with plastic bumpers and had had the registration number C754 VAD. As such, it was stated that there were therefore some damaging inconsistencies in the evidence, which combined with the fact that the video-tape had not been made available to the defence meant that if the jury had seen the evidence that they might have returned a different verdict.
It was noted that the policeman also changed his evidence at the trial and described the number plate that he recollected as being similar to that of the 32-year-old man's car.
It was also noted that the police had failed to make another witness statement available to the court in which the witness said that they had also seen the car pulled over on the M50 but had made no reference to the C-registration. However, before the trial, the same witness made another statement in which they said that they had seen the letter 'C' in the registration, which it was later claimed had been encouraged by the police to help secure the conviction.
It was also later heard in October 1992 that a forensic scientist that had carried out analysis of the 32-year-old man's car had concluded that it was unlikely that Marie Wilkes had ever been in his car. He said that considering the nature of her neck wound that he would have imagined Marie Wilkes to have bled significantly and that even with a thorough sponging, he would not have imagined that no trace would be found on the car’s interior fabric when chemical tests were applied if there had been blood there as it was reasonable to suspect. He said, 'Fabric car seats, even if thoroughly sponged, I would expect them to still give only a weak, but a chemical reaction, indicating the presence of blood'.
The investigation into the 32-year-old man's conviction also showed that the police had failed to act on nearly 3000 messages that the original murder inquiry team had received.
It was claimed that the two items of evidence, the hypnosis and first witness statement had been deliberately kept from the trial by the police. Again, it was stated that if the jury had seen the previous statement and been made aware of the inconsistency in describing the car has have a C in the registration, along with the video tape of the policeman that had undergone hypnosis, that they might have returned a different verdict and so that 32-year-old man's conviction was found to be unsafe and was quashed.
When the 32-year-old man was released he described the police as a 'bunch of bastards' and said that they had known four days before his arrest that he was not the murderer.
After the 32-year-old man was released, disciplinary action was taken against the police superintended responsible for the investigation for neglect of duty.
In September 1999 the man that was said to have brought the 32-year-old man to the attention of the police attacked the 32-year-old man at his home in Rhondda with an iron bar. It was said that during the attack he had said to the 32-year-old man, 'You admitted to me the night before you were taken in that you murdered that girl'. The attack was witnessed by the 32-year-old man's wife. However, the man said that he had been acting in self-defence and was not convicted for the assault. It was also reported that the man had said that the 32-year-old man had told him that he had wanted to set fire to the car that he had been driving shortly after the murder.
When the police described her murder, they said, 'It appears to be a totally opportunistic incident'.
Marie Wilkes had been a nurse and was married with a child.