KENT, ENGLAND — After a pool party at a local school on July 9, 1996, Dr. Lin Russell, 45; her two daughters, Josie, 9; and Megan, 6; and the family dog, Lucy, headed back home along a country lane in the normally low-key village of Chillenden. A man with a hammer interrupted the family’s stroll.The attacker forced the Russells into a wooded area, where he blindfolded them with their towels and, one by one, beat their skulls in with the hammer. He even killed the dog. Lin and Megan bled out and died on the spot.
Josie just barely survived, sustaining severe injuries that would require a multitude of surgeries and the little girl having to learn how to talk again.
A frustrating manhunt lasted more than a year before, finally, on July 17, 1997, Kent Police picked up Michael Stone, 37, a multiply convicted felon and heroin addict with a history of violence. During one of his three prior prison stints, psychiatrists also officially diagnosed Stone as a “psychopath.”
When asked where he was on the day of the murders, Stone replied:
“I can’t remember for two reasons. One, I was badly on drugs, and two, it was so long ago.”
Regardless, Stone stated outright that he was innocent of all accusations. Nevertheless, in 1998, a jury convicted Stone on two counts of murder and related charges, based almost entirely on witness testimony.Three of Stone’s fellow inmates — Barry Thompson, Damien Daley, and Mark Jennings — stated that he had confessed to them about killing the Russells. A lifelong acquaintance told the jury that Stone’s father used to beat his son with a hammer. A local couple, Sheree Batt and Lawrence Calder, testified that Stone showed up at their home the day after the slaughter wearing blood-splattered clothing.
The court handed Stone a triple life sentence. The very next day, however, Barry Thompson, one of the testifying convicts, told the press he had lied. Stone’s conviction was promptly overturned on appeal, necessitating a second trial, which took place in 2001. That process, again, ended with Stone being ordered to serve three life sentences.
Considerable doubts have since arisen, however, in regard to whether Stone is the actual killer of the Russells.
The Chillenden Murders, a 2017 BBC documentary, utilized forensic scientists, law-enforcement officers, and legal scholars to look deeper into the case. Some of those interviewed for the project suggested that the more likely culprit may be Levi Bellfield, a sadistic slayer who brutally raped and murdered two girls and attempted to murder another 13-year-old girl in the 2000s. Bellfield is presently serving his own life sentence.In addition to his own criminal convictions, Bellfield seemed to uncannily match the man Josie Russell described as her assailant. She said he stood taller than her six-foot dad. Bellfield is six-foot-one; Michael Stone is five-foot-seven. Josie also said the attacker had a “round face” with “chubby cheeks.” Bellfield fits that bill as well and, again, Stone does not.
Witnesses in Chillenden on the occasion of the murders talked about seeing an unfamiliar beige Ford vehicle. Joanna Collings, Bellfield’s girlfriend at the time, owned a beige Ford, and she said she lent it to her boyfriend that very day. Shortly thereafter, the car got “stolen,” and ultimately turned up torched and abandoned miles away.
On top of all that, police have unofficially connected Bellfield to a long list of unsolved crimes, dating back to the 1980 strangling of 14-year-old school friend, Patsy Morris.
Nonetheless, Scotland Yard issued an official statement on the newly raised issues, proclaiming:
“It has taken a considerable amount of time and police resources to conduct the investigation. All lines of enquiry have now been exhausted and the decision has been taken to close this investigation as there is no evidence to link the individual to any case for which he has not already been convicted.”
For the time being, then, the case of the Chillenden Murders is closed.
Main photo: Dr. Lin Russell and Josie Russell [Kent Police]