Who was “The Grantham Strangler”?

“The motive was not one of burglary or theft. The only motive was to go to the house and sexually assault and kill Julie,” –  Det Chief Insp Graham White (Lincolnshire Police, leading the hunt in 1994)

Grantham is a large market town to the west of the A1 in the English county of Lincolnshire. Intensely populated, it is a town of note. It is famed as the birthplace of many historical figures that will be familiar to the reader, for example the first female UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Sir Isaac Newton, serial killer Beverley Allitt, and former Worlds Strongest man Geoff Capes. It is also famed for being the first place outside of the city of London to recruit and train women police officers, and the site where the Mallard broke the world speed record for steam locomotives on 03rd July 1938. But Grantham does have a dark cloud in its history, for in 1994 it was the site of one of the most perplexing murders in British criminal history, a crime that remains unsolved to this day.

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Julie Pacey

Monday 26th September 1994 should have been an ordinary day in the lives of the Pacey family from Grantham. The Pacey family consisted of 39 year old self employed plumber Andrew, his 38 year old wife Julie, and their two children Helen, 14; and Matthew, 11. The family lived in a respectable four bedroom house on Grantham’s Longcliffe Road, a built up, well populated affluent area, with well kept houses and gardens. The Pacey’s were by all accounts a happy family, popular and outgoing, and well liked with lots of friends. Both Andrew and Julie were from the Grantham area born and bred, and still had the majority of their families living close by. They had been childhood sweethearts and had been married for 18 years. The summer holidays had not long ended, and even by 26th September 1994 it was still warm and sunny. Andrew had left home early that morning to undertake a plumbing job at a housing development on the other side of Grantham, and the Pacey children had both left to go to the local secondary school where they were pupils. Julie did not have a full time job, as she had been a homemaker whilst her children were young. However, now they were growing she had elected to work part time in a job that could fit around the children being in school. She worked part time as a helper at the day nursery located in the St Peter and Paul nursery on Trent Road, meaning that she could always be home in time for her children getting back from school. Most days, Julie minded the daughter of a neighbour after school also because the girls’ mother had to work. Every day in fact, except a Monday.

At 4:15pm that Monday, Helen Pacey arrived home and after walking through the door, called out to her mother as was her usual custom. No answer. Helen called again to no answer, and after ascertaining that her mother’s car was in the driveway and that she was not downstairs or in the back garden, went upstairs to look. Trying to push open the bathroom door, Helen was met with resistance. It took considerable force, but the young girl finally managed to prise the door open and discovered her mother laid out behind the door. Thinking her mother had taken ill and collapsed, Helen tried frantically to wake her and revive her, and when this failed dialled 999. Paramedics arrived and fought in vain to revive Julie, but to no use. It was only when the polo neck of the black sweater that Julie was wearing moved down did paramedics see an ugly looking ligature mark around her neck, and they realised that she had been strangled.

This had now become a murder enquiry.

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Police guard Julie Pacey’s home as investigators move in

“There were no signs of a break-in so we have to assume that the killer either walked in or Julie let him in. Probably Julie was surprised in the bathroom, yet nothing in the bathroom or the bedroom was disturbed. There were no bruises on her body and no other marks except where the ligature had been. This man probably opened the front door, walked up the stairs, strangled his victim and left.” – DCI Graham White

The scene was preserved as best as possible, and police were contacted immediately. Upon their arrival, the context of the scene could be taken in fully – a scene that may have been misinterpreted by Helen. Julie was lying face down on her bathroom floor, with her tights and underwear around her knees. She had been viciously sexually assaulted. However, there were no signs of a struggle and barring the ligature mark around her throat, Julie showed no signs of being beaten or having been involved in a struggle. Her upper clothing was undisturbed and her long, well manicured fingernails were undamaged.  Scene of crime officers could find no evidence of any break in to the property – the windows were all closed and the back door was locked from the inside. The front door was open, but Helen could not remember for sure if she had opened the door with her own key, or it was already unlocked. There was no signs of any ransacking to the house, indeed, it was as spotlessly tidy as it usually was. Julie’s handbag and purse lay untouched on her bed, and the only things seemingly out of place were a half drunk cup of coffee on the bedside table, and an empty chocolate bar wrapper which was found on the floor beside the bed. What was missing, however, was a very distinct watch that Julie wore that had been bought from a Paris holiday just two months before. It was an expensive Luc Desroches watch, of which there was not another one like it in the UK.

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An identical watch to the one taken from Julie

The murder hunt, led by Detective Chief Inspector Graham White, began with house to house enquiries in Longcliffe Road and the surrounding estates, and a fingertip search of the house, gardens and surrounding areas was undertaken for a possible disposed murder weapon. Whilst this was ongoing, other officers began looking into Julies life and background. In the majority of murder hunts, investigating officers tend to begin with by examining the victims background and life working outwards, attempting to find anything that can point to a possible motive for murder. Usually something will be found that will provide a tangible lead to the killer. But an examination of Julie’s background revealed nothing – she was a devoted wife and mother, loved by her family and massively liked by her friends and neighbours. Enquiries revealed nothing to suggest that Julie was involved in an extra marital affair, or had anyone wishing her harm. Andrew Pacey was ruled out as a suspect in his wife’s murder almost immediately – it is common for a close family member to be considered a suspect in a murder investigation, but Andrew had a solid, corroborated alibi for the time Julie was murdered. Neighbours reported seeing or hearing nothing out of the ordinary. The Pacey home was situated next to a patch of undeveloped scrubland popular with dog walkers at the time, but no one was found who had seen or heard any disturbance, screams or sounds of a struggle.

“You would have thought someone would have seen him arrive or leave or just hanging about – but no one saw anything” – DCI Graham White

Retracing Julie’s steps on that fateful Monday, detectives found that she had gone to the nursery to assist as usual that day at 10:00am, and had left there at around 2:00pm. Julie’s parents, Keith and Joy Wilkinson lived just a scant two miles away and Julie had decided to drive and visit them briefly, which they confirmed. She did not however stay long, because witnesses were found who knew Julie and saw her window shopping in Grantham town centre at about 2:30pm that day. She was also seen by neighbours parking her Audi in the driveway of the Pacey home at about 2:45pm. But there was suggestion that Julie may have made another short trip out after this –  a witness who knew Julie came forward to say they were adamant that they had seen her driving back towards her home at 3:10pm that Monday. Had Julie made a further trip out that day? Where she went on this final journey has never been ascertained. She then returned home, and this must have been shortly before she was murdered – there is a window of just over an hour from Julie last being seen alive to her body being discovered. There was evidence to suggest that Julie had come in from work as usual – her turquoise nursery overall was found hanging in its usual place on the back of the bedroom door. She had made a cup of coffee and eaten a chocolate bar – the evidence of this was found in the bedroom and the wrapper matched other bars found in the kitchen cupboard. Julie then either began retouching her make up or removing it – make up items including nail polish remover were found on the bed alongside her handbag. It must have been just then that Julie either let in her killer, or he let himself in and attacked her, most likely in the bathroom. She was then savagely raped and strangled with a ligature – believed to be something like an electrical cable or a flex that the killer took away from the scene with him. The murder weapon has never been found.

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Who was “Overalls Man”?

Enquiries did lead detectives to a man they wished to eliminate, a man who has never been traced and who remains the chief suspect in Julie’s murder. A woman named Mrs Mair Thomas was getting into a taxi just a short distance from Julie’s house up Longcliffe Road at 3:10pm that Monday afternoon. A man stepped out into the road directly behind the taxi, causing a passing car to brake sharply. The driver of this passing car was Julie, and Mrs Thomas saw her wave in apology to the man and then continue driving, before indicating into her driveway just a hundred yards further down. The man had been walking away from the direction of Julie’s house, but following the near miss then turned and retraced his steps. He was described as being stockily built, mid forties and wearing blue overalls and a checked shirt, with very prominent, extremely red cheeks in what would be described as “ruddy faced, with an outdoor complexion”. Who was this man?

Police sat up and listened when Julie’s children recounted a tale of an encounter that their mother had told them that she had had on the Friday before she was murdered which tallied with this sighting. Around 3:30pm that Friday afternoon, Julie had been alone in her house and was vacuuming upstairs when the doorbell rang. Expecting that it was the neighbours daughter that she minded after school, Julie shouted down for her to enter. Instead, she found a scruffy man standing in the hallway. He asked her for directions to another road on the estate and then left, passing the neighbours daughter as he was leaving. This man matched the description of “Overalls Man” exactly, even down to the vivid red cheeks – which was corroborated by the neighbours daughter also.

The estate bordering Longcliffe Road was having lots of building and renovation work done at the time, and detectives believed at first that this man was one of the many builders and workmen on the estate. Enquiries were made, but soon drew a blank. He had not called at any other houses in the area, nor was he part of any of the workmen working on the estate. But he was seen around Grantham, however. What was likely the same man was also seen in a park in Grantham town over the weekend before Julie’s murder, and he was also seen in a shop in the town centre the day after Julie’s murder. In the shop, he stood out by having an aggressive attitude and standing too close to the shop assistant.

This man has never been traced.

The crime was reconstructed and appealed on Crimewatch UK, compromising what was known about Julie’s movements on the day she was murdered, and including the encounter with “Overalls Man” on the previous Friday. Although several calls were received with people offering different information, it never led to the identity of “Overalls Man” being discovered, or any information that could point detectives closer to identifying Julie’s killer. Although never closed, the investigation remained at a standstill for many years, albeit with regular reviews. But by mid 2015, DNA Technology had advanced to such a point that detectives were now able to obtain a full DNA profile of the killer from samples removed from the bathroom in 1994. Unfortunately, this profile did not match any samples held on record on the National DNA database. But undeterred, armed with this police decided to issue a fresh appeal, again using Crimewatch. The original reconstruction was shown as part of a re-appeal on the programme in July 2015, and several people rang in giving the name of a 53 year old man called Steve Watson as matching the description of “Overalls Man”. Police visited Steve Watson and questioned him, and took a DNA sample from him.

Steve Watson was the actor who had played “Overalls Man” in the original 1994 Crimewatch UK reconstruction. His DNA sample did not match, and he was released without any charge.

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Steve Watson – Left in 1994 as he appeared in the Crimewatch UK reconstruction; and right, as he was in 2015

What then, can be said about Julie’s killer? It seems very likely that Julie was a deliberate target – she was a very attractive slim blonde woman, and would have turned heads. It is also likely that this was a focused sexually motivated killing rather than an opportunistic rape on top of a robbery. Sex for the sake of sex could have been obtained with any victim – for example a dog walker or a schoolgirl walking home. This was a sex killing in a suburban home in the middle of the afternoon – it is a high risk locale and time of offence – and to go to such risk suggests that there is a very specific target. TTCE believes it was Julie. It was a very premeditated crime and showed signs of organisation – the killer managed to commit murder in a suburban home in the middle of the day without being seen or heard. He brought and removed the ligature used to strangle Julie, he managed to assault and restrain her unheard, and was able to access and egress the scene without any witnesses. Yet he left a DNA sample at the scene – it is not reported as to the source of the DNA (blood, saliva, semen), and took massive risks to attack and murder Julie in her own home. TTCE believes that this man has somehow been missed in the initial investigation, there is a link here somewhere, however small.

TTCE believes it possible that the person who murdered Julie had possibly stalked her, or in the very least watched the house over a period of days to learn her movements. It is unlikely to be weeks because this would likely have been noted in such a closely knit neighbourhood. This theory is strengthened by the fact that at any other day except a Monday, Julie’s neighbours daughter would have been at the house at any time after 3:15pm. Coincidence? Or forward planning? TTCE also thinks that the Friday visitor is the killer and this was either a trial run to see if he could gain access under a ruse, or he was planning to rape and kill Julie there and then and his nerve went. If this scenario is likely then this person would have spent the weekend mentally preparing for his next opportunity, which would have been Monday. It is also possible that the overalls were a form of disguise to blend in and camouflage himself amongst the other workmen and builders working nearby.

It is very likely that “Overalls Man” is the killer of Julie Pacey. He is certainly the prime suspect, and it stretches credulity that anyone who innocently went to ask for directions would not have come forward to eliminate themselves. Nor is it likely that the person could not have seen any publicity about the crime and failed to come forward because of this. And would someone really stop and ask for directions at a house, rather than stop someone on the street? Or why not call at a shop to ask? No, it is likely that Julie was the definite target. It is also likely that Julie’s watch was taken as a trophy by the killer. It was expensive and unique, yet has never shown up anywhere since her murder. No other jewellery was taken, nor any signs of ransacking or anything of value stolen, supporting the theory of the watch being a memento. It is unlikely that this is the only crime ever committed by this man – it showed a certain level of organisation and was executed well enough to suggest that this person has offended before. Indeed, this man likely has a history of sexual offending, possibly voyeurism, rape or indecent assault.

Because of the passage of time, any physical description of this man will now be largely rendered moot. He will have aged, his appearance may have changed drastically – he may even be dead. Yet, as shown with police being led to the door of Steve Watson – that description still triggers people’s memories even after so many years. It is unlikely that this man has never offended again after Julie’s murder – perhaps he has become more polished and refined, he just has never yet been caught. He certainly hasn’t been arrested for any offences from 1995 onwards. And unless he commits another crime and is caught, or a match with the DNA sample police have of Julie’s killer is made through a familial DNA match, he will likely remain free. Police are not giving up though, nor are Julie’s family – a husband who has had to grieve for more than two decades, and a son and daughter who have grown into adulthood themselves now without having their mum there.

Anyone having any information concerning the murder of Julie Pacey should contact Lincolnshire Police using the 101 number, or alternatively Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

The True Crime Enthusiast

8 thoughts on “Who was “The Grantham Strangler”?

  1. Overall man reminded me of a guy who used to visit and fix the gluteraldehyde scope cleaners at London bridge hospital, the description was right. His cheeks were red because of the gluteraldehyde and he used to cough up black stuff, which was down to the poison and not wearing a mask for works, same ruddy cheeks same blue overalls, short and stocky, dark hair. He would be visiting a few hospitals I guess. I recall the case and thought straight away it looked like him. That would be same year I guess.
    He was a bit weird but that wasn’t enough to convict him!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. John Taylor looks a possibility to this as well as other cases.

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    1. They have his DNA on record so should have already run it past the samples from this case. Both will be on the database.

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  3. There’s a strong possible link to the also unsolved Sharon Harper murder with this one: Sharon was found strangled in Grantham on 3rd July 1994.

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      1. Did the police ever consider that there was a connection and that they are the same murderers? If so did they ever find anything.

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  4. I think she was having an affair, on the crimewatch appeal there was a bmw along side the audi seen parked outside the house on numerous occasions which she was also seen driving that the family didn’t know nothing about.

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    1. The person who claimed there was a BMW later admitted that they were lying. There is no reason to believe that she was having an affair.

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