Who killed Billie-Jo?: The new troubling clues… Her murder, exactly 25 years ago, saw her foster father jailed and then set free after two retrials. Now her best friend – and a new TV documentary – shed fresh light on this enduring mystery
- Billie-Jo Jenkins would be 38 years old if she were alive today – but instead she is forever 13 after being being bludgeoned to death as a teenager in February 1997
- A new Channel 5 documentary sheds new light on the mystery 25 years later
- The 90-minute programme Who Killed Billie-Jo? refocuses the spotlight on the 158 blood spots found on the clothes worn by Billie-Jo’s foster father
Billie-Jo Jenkins would be 38 years old if she were alive today. Who knows what she might have made of her life, whom she might have married, how many children she might have had?
Instead, having become the victim of one of the most shocking unsolved murders in living memory, she is forever 13; a pretty, happy-go-lucky teenager smiling out of the official school photo police released after her horrific murder in February 1997.
A quarter of a century on and whoever was responsible for bludgeoning her to death with an 18in iron tent peg as she painted the patio doors at her foster family’s home in Hastings, East Sussex, is still at large; the keeper of one of the most despicable secrets imaginable.
For her best friend, Holly Liles, the 25th anniversary of Billie-Jo’s death this week is a painful one. She is still haunted by memories of the terrible day she was told her friend was dead.
Treasured memory: The photo of Billie-Jo which holds pride of place in the home of best friend Holly
‘I was in total shock. I was in counselling for ages,’ says Holly, now 39 with five children. ‘It was such a dreadful thing to happen. She was my best friend. We did everything together — we were inseparable.’
Billie-Jo who, aged nine, had been placed in foster care with Sion and Lois Jenkins after her biological father was imprisoned and her mother was unable to cope on her own, flourished with Holly’s friendship.
The pair were best pals for the four years they knew each other. Outside of Helenswood School in Hastings, where they were both pupils, they hung out in each other’s bedrooms, singing along to their favourite pop group East 17, dreaming of a future. ‘I wish I could have seen Billie-Jo get married and have kids. She missed out on all that. It’s so, so sad,’ says Holly.
A framed photo of Billie-Jo takes pride of place in Holly’s home in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex.
Taken just a few months before she was murdered and given to Holly by Billie-Jo’s foster mother after her death, along with some of her jewellery, it shows her with much-loved Staffordshire terrier Buster. She has taken off her glasses and playfully put them on her pet’s face.
Billie-Jo (pictured) had been placed in foster care aged nine with Sion and Lois Jenkins after her biological father was imprisoned and her mother was unable to cope on her own, flourished with Holly’s friendship
On the day she died, she had walked Buster in the park opposite the Jenkins’s family home. Talking about that fateful Saturday for the first time, Holly says she had offered to help Billie-Jo with her painting.
‘I told her foster father that I would help Billie-Jo paint the patio doors at the weekend but he said: “No, Billie-Jo sees her [biological] father at the weekend so you can’t come round.” That was the last I ever saw of her. It still upsets me to this day thinking about it. I’d give anything to see her killer brought to justice.’
It’s a sentiment shared by the police officers involved in the original investigation. For Sussex Police have been quietly reviewing the case to see if scientific advances might provide them with new lines of inquiry.
Kevin Moore, a detective inspector at the time who rose to head Sussex’s CID, told the Mail this week: ‘We owe it to Billie-Jo to keep the case in the public’s mind and not to give up.’ Former Assistant Chief Constable Jeremy Paine, who was the senior officer in charge, added: ‘Billie had her whole life in front of her and it was snatched away. This was a tragic and brutal act of violence which took an innocent young life.’
Quashed conviction: Sion Jenkins, The 90-minute programme — Who Killed Billie-Jo? — refocuses the spotlight on the 158 blood spots found on the clothes worn by Billie-Jo’s foster father Jenkins (pictured)
A new Channel 5 documentary has also raised the possibility that the ‘new and compelling’ evidence, required to see the case officially reopened, is already at hand.
The 90-minute programme — Who Killed Billie-Jo? — refocuses the spotlight on the 158 blood spots found on the clothes worn by Billie-Jo’s foster father, deputy headmaster Sion Jenkins, amid conflicting claims by scientists that they were either ‘impact spatter’ from the attack itself or were caused by a fine spray of blood exhaled by Billie-Jo after he discovered her lifeless body.
The father of four was convicted of the teenager’s murder in 1998 but, after six years in prison, saw his conviction quashed as unsafe. Two subsequent retrials in 2005 resulted in a hung jury, unable to decide on Mr Jenkins’s innocence or guilt and, at the beginning of 2006, he walked free.
Now it has emerged that a fresh scientific study revealing the presence of metal, bone and paint chemicals in the blood spots was never presented to the jury at the second retrial after a judge ruled that the evidence had been submitted too late.
Mr Jenkins has always maintained his innocence. A recent statement on the Justice For Sion Jenkins website praises Sussex Police for reviewing the case but criticises them for failing to launch a full reinvestigation
The same matter was found in blood on the front of Billie-Jo’s leggings and, given that she was found lying face down, it is argued, could not have landed there after she died.
‘These findings were never put before a jury because at the third trial the judge would not accept a further delay for the defence to respond,’ Jeremy Paine told the Mail. ‘I believed at the time and still believe now that the jury should have had all available evidence put before them.’
Mr Jenkins has always maintained his innocence. A recent statement on the Justice For Sion Jenkins website praises Sussex Police for reviewing the case but criticises them for failing to launch a full reinvestigation.
‘Only now, at the 25th anniversary of the murder, has there been any acknowledgement that this sad story still has no ending,’ reads the statement. ‘Most significant is the need to re-open the investigation and ensure that there can be closure for those whose lives changed forever in February 1997, and who continue to suffer because the murderer remains undetected.’
Indeed, the lives of those involved have changed almost beyond recognition. After Mr Jenkins’s arrest, his wife Lois, a senior social worker, claimed that he had been violent towards her and their four daughters:Annie, Lottie, Esther and Maya.
Two subsequent retrials in 2005 resulted in a hung jury, unable to decide on Mr Jenkins’s (pictured) innocence or guilt and, at the beginning of 2006, he walked free
The Channel 5 documentary comes at the 25th anniversary of the murder, but there only now ‘has been acknowledgement that this sad story still has no ending’
While he was in prison, Lois divorced him and she and their daughters moved to Tasmania where she married martial arts expert Vince Ives, with whom she has a son.
She recently turned 60 and her four daughters are now in their 30s, all with children of their own.
We can reveal that Sion Jenkins, now 63, goes by the name of Charles Jenkins and is believed to live in York with his second wife, Tina, 71, a millionaire divorcee and former Miss Southsea beauty queen.
Mr Jenkins began corresponding with Tina while in prison and married her in April 2005 before his retrials. For a time they lived on the south coast in Portsmouth where Jenkins studied criminology at the university.
The father of four (pictured) was convicted of the teenager’s murder in 1998 but, after six years in prison, saw his conviction quashed as unsafe
A quarter of a century on and whoever was responsible for bludgeoning her to death with an 18in iron tent peg as she painted the patio doors at her foster family’s home in Hastings, East Sussex, pictured, is still at large; the keeper of one of the most despicable secrets imaginable
‘There was a moment,’ he wrote in his 2009 book, The Murder Of Billie-Jo, ‘when I was living a normal existence, surrounded by all that I knew and was comfortable with; then in the next moment, just as long as it takes to walk through a door, I had entered a world of nightmares.’
He added: ‘All these years I have grieved for my daughters, who have lost so much. They lived in a tranquil and happy family setting that was turned completely upside down.’
That moment came in the middle of a sunny Saturday afternoon at the end of the February half-term week. Billie-Jo was painting the patio doors at the back of the family’s Victorian home when she was hit at least five times over the head in a frenzied attack.
The documentary speaks to first detective on the crime scene, Anne Capon, pictured left, as well as Jeremy Paind, a retired officer also on the case, pictured right
When she was found, she was still clutching a paintbrush. A post-mortem later revealed that her skull had been split.
The police surgeon who visited the scene said it was ‘the most brutal murder’ he’d attended during his 26-year career.
That day had been a busy one in the Jenkins household. While Lois had taken the youngest two girls out, Mr Jenkins had been at home with 12-year-old Annie, who was helping to wash his car at the front of the house and Billie-Jo, who was painting at the back.
He went out to collect his ten-year-old daughter Lottie from her clarinet lesson, returning to the house briefly before setting off again in the car with Annie and Lottie to buy white spirit from a DIY store. They returned empty-handed, just 20 minutes later, after he forgot his wallet.
The prosecution later claimed that Mr Jenkins killed Billie-Jo in a fit of temper and that the aborted shopping trip was made to create an alibi, their case hinging on the possibility that he had killed his foster daughter in the three-minute window between the two outings. When he returned home for the second time, he called 999, telling the operator: ‘My daughter’s fallen or she’s got head injuries. There’s blood everywhere.’
Writing in his book about the crime, he recalled: ‘When I found Billie, the scene was brutal, the air took on a particular stillness.
‘It left me feeling disconnected from what I was seeing in my own home. The scene resembled a bloodbath in which poor Billie’s body was lying on the patio in a place where we as a family had spent many happy times.’
He added: ‘I sense in that moment that an evil had descended on our home. There was even a different smell. The room we entered had changed, not simply because Billie’s crushed body was there.’
In maintaining his innocence, Mr Jenkins insists that the blood spots must have got onto his clothing while he tended to the young girl after discovering her body.
Retired detective Kevin Moore told the Mail: ‘In this particular case, it is about whether any more can be done with the tiny spots of blood found on the clothes worn by Sion Jenkins.
Undated file photo of a two lb tent stake used to kill 13-year-old Billie-Jo Jenkins. Deputy headmaster Sion Jenkins was found guilty at Lewes Crown Court of the murder of his 13-year-old foster daughter before walking free in 2006
‘This actually could have been looked at by the last jury to hear the case in 2005 but the judge ruled that this new prosecution evidence was out of time and he was not prepared to delay the trial to give the defence time to respond.’
Ray Fysh, a former specialist adviser at the Forensic Science Service, has told the Mail that one of the spots on Sion Jenkins’s trousers contained titanium, a component in white paint, and another, titanium plus iron and chromium, which could have come from the tent peg.
He added: ‘The overall distribution of blood spatter found on the trousers and jacket of Sion Jenkins is consistent with what would be expected to be found on the clothing of Billie-Jo’s attacker. This is fact and not disputed.
‘The alternative explanation for these tiny blood spots on Sion Jenkins’s clothing is that they were caused as a result of Billie-Jo exhaling a fine spray of blood following the transient release of an upper airway obstruction — this is a hypothesis and is disputed.’
But the Mail has also spoken to Robert Schroter, an Emeritus Professor at Imperial College London, who was another key witness at Jenkins’s retrial.
The expert on blood spatter patterns questions the significance of the ‘white inclusions’, or microscopic traces of matter, saying he and another defence expert had provided an ‘initial response’ to the evidence before the start of the third trial of which the judge was aware. He made the decision not to allow the prosecution to present it, meaning that the evidence was never put before a jury.
‘Whatever blood came out of Billie-Jo’s mouth would have been contaminated,’ said Professor Schroter, ‘so to find microscopic traces of paint or bone or metal does not change anything. The paint and metal could have come in blood running down her head into her mouth.’
He added: ‘The truth is that the scientific evidence is minimal and the idea that Mr Jenkins could have done what was alleged in the time he had and then gone straight out with his daughters in the car is hard to believe.’
Mr Jenkins later claimed he knew who killed his foster daughter, saying that a smartly dressed man he mistook for a police officer whom he saw in the hallway of his home in the first hour after he discovered her body must have been the killer. ‘I have stood face to face with him. I have spoken with him. I know what he looks like and remember his mannerisms,’ he wrote in his book.
‘The man was standing in the hall. I turned around and looked at him. He said: “She’s going to be OK.” He then left me staring at the door to the dining room. I honestly believe this man is responsible for my daughter’s murder.
The documentary goes through the evidence in Billie-Jo’s case with a fine-tooth comb, as pictured on this shoe
‘I believe he killed her in cold blood for reasons that I can only speculate and surmise.’ After his conviction was quashed, Mr Jenkins sought up to £500,000 in damages for his wrongful arrest and imprisonment.
But he was denied compensation. A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said that ‘the right test to adopt in deciding whether someone is entitled to compensation is whether they have been shown to be innocent’.
A statement posted on the Justice For Sion Jenkins website said the remark was ‘insidious’ and described it as ‘disturbing’. ‘In which universe does not guilty mean not innocent?’
Sussex Police said this week: ‘We are carrying out a review of material to establish whether or not scientific advances can provide new lines of inquiry.’
But as yet they are not reopening an investigation which has already cost £10 million and is regarded as the most scientifically complex and expensive murder case in English legal history.
Any future breakthrough in the case will come too late for Billie-Jo’s biological parents.
Her father Bill died of cancer in 2006 while her mother Deborah passed away in 2018.
Next month marks what should have been their daughter’s 39th birthday. Instead she is in a grave in the children’s corner of the City of London cemetery, where she will forever remain a child.
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