David Fuller murders: who is Tunbridge Wells killer who abused corpses in Kent morgue - what is his sentence?
David Fuller murdered Wendy Knell and Caroline Pierce in 1987 and then sexually assaulted them. He went on to abuse dozens of corpses in mortuaries
David Fuller, who murder two women and sexually assaulted more than 100 bodies in mortuaries will die in jail.
The hospital electrician who murdered and then sexually assaulted Wendy Knell and Caroline Pierce in 1987 decades before abusing corpses in mortuaries was finally brought to justice after a review of old DNA evidence.
David Fuller, 67, pleaded guilty to murdering Wendy Knell, 25, and Caroline Pierce, 20, in two separate attacks in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, in 1987.
He admitted to the shocking crimes, four days into his trial at Maidstone Crown Court which heard he had sexually assaulted the two women after killing them.
Fuller, who was sentenced on Wednesday was given a while life order.
Who is David Fuller and what did he do?
David Fuller worked in electrical maintenance in hospitals since 1989, when he was arrested for the murders of Wendy Knell and Caroline Pierce he was living in Heathfield, East Sussex. He has been described as “highly dangerous”.
Ms Knell was discovered by her boyfriend dead in her bedsit, in Guildford Road, Tunbridge Wells on Tuesday 23 June 1987. She had been sexually assaulted, beaten, and strangled.
On 24 November that same year Ms Pierce was murdered after she was abducted from outside her bedsit in Grosvenor Park, Tunbridge Wells. Her body was discovered by a farm worker on 15 December, in a remote location near Romney Marsh, more than 40 miles away.
She had also been sexually assaulted, beaten, and strangled.
Neighbours described hearing screams from Ms Pierce’s flat on the night in question before she was then reported missing, and there was no sign of her in her flat.
Fuller also kept evidence of himself visiting the Buster Browns restaurant where Ms Pierce worked and photos in SupaSnaps sleeves – the company Ms Knell was employed at when she was killed.
There were reports of “prowler activity” in the lead-up to both women’s deaths, with locals reporting a voyeur looking through their windows.
Ahead of his trial, Fuller pleaded guilty to 51 other offences, including 44 charges relating to 78 identified victims in mortuaries at firstly the now-closed Kent and Sussex Hospital, and then the Tunbridge Wells, where he was working as an electrician.
The victims included three children under the age of 18 and others older than 85 between 2008 and November 2020.
Fuller filmed himself carrying out the attacks at mortuaries.
Images of dead women at the two hospital mortuaries being abused by Fuller were found at his home, where officers also discovered four hard drives with five terabytes of data storage in total attached to the back of a cupboard.
“When these hard drives were examined, they were found to contain a library of unimaginable sexual depravity”, prosecutor Duncan Atkinson QC told the court.”
The CPS said police searches of Fuller’s home in Sussex to gather evidence in the murder investigation uncovered four million images of sexual abuse.
While most of these were downloaded from the internet, they revealed Fuller had also recorded himself abusing bodies over the course of his employment at the hospitals.
In a police interview, Fuller also admitted to using Facebook to search for photos of the people he abused in the mortuary.
How was he caught and when was he arrested?
Having evaded justice for 33 years, he was arrested for murder on 3 December 2020 following new analysis of decades-old DNA evidence, which linked him to the killings.
Forensic clues were recovered from both crime scenes; however, DNA profiling was in its infancy and despite forensic samples being taken from multiple men in the local area, no matches were found.
The murders remained undetected for more than three decades, but throughout this period cold case teams were confident that one day there would be a breakthrough. In 1999, advances in forensic science meant detectives were able to gain a full DNA profile of the suspect for Ms Knell’s murder.
This was added to the National DNA Database, but again no matches were made.
Detectives from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate continued to explore possible leads and in 2019 examinations were carried out on evidence relating to Ms Knell. Scientists were able to recover DNA that for the first time linked both murders forensically.
It led to a review of the National DNA database looking at profiles which could have familial links to the suspect.
A list of 1,000 names was compiled of those most closely linked genetically. Of these, police then identified around 90 individuals.
The breakthrough came after voluntary samples had been taken from the first 20 on the list. One of these had been provided from a person who during previous Kent Police reviews had not been on the National DNA database.
Through this person, a relative was identified - David Fuller.
Samples Fuller left on Ms Knell’s duvet made Fuller one billion times more likely to be the killer.
During the original investigation, work was also done around a shoe print found on a blouse in Ms Knell’s home.
It was found, at the time in 1987, that the print most likely matched a Clarks Sportstrek trainer. Following Fuller’s arrest, a number of photos were found in his home which appeared to have been taken in the 1980s and showed him wearing the same style of distinctive trainers.
Cells on Ms Pierce’s tights made Fuller 160,000 times closer a match for her killer than any other person.
What has been said about his sentence?
In a statement on Twitter following David Fuller’s whole life sentence, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Nothing can undo the pain caused by David Fuller’s unimaginable crimes, but I hope some comfort can be taken from the fact he will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
“My thoughts are with the family and friends of his victims, who have shown incredible bravery in court today.”
Kent Police Detective Chief Superintendent Paul Fotheringham said: “David Fuller is responsible for a level of offending of unimaginable horror and depravity.
“He has targeted and brutally murdered two young women in the prime of their lives, seemingly for no other reason than to satisfy his own warped desires, and forced the families and friends of Wendy and Caroline to endure more than three decades of incomprehensible suffering.
“His abhorrent offending has also caused suffering and inconceivable trauma to the lives of hundreds of other people, many of whom were still grieving the loss of loved ones.”
He added: “Throughout our investigation, Fuller has only demonstrated a capacity for self-pity and not shown a single shred of remorse for his many victims and appalling crimes.
“I sincerely hope that today’s sentencing will provide some form of closure or comfort to all those who have been affected by his heinous actions, knowing at least that Fuller will spend the rest of his life in prison.”
What will the inquiry into the case look at?
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has announced a probe into the case will be conducted by former NHS trust chief executive Sir Jonathan Michael while Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust said it is working on a compensation scheme.
Nevres Kemal’s daughter Azra Kemal was 24 when she died after falling from a motorway bridge as she fled from a car that had burst into flames.
She was one of at least 102 women and girls who were sexually assaulted by Fuller, 67, at now-closed Kent and Sussex Hospital and the Tunbridge Wells Hospital, in Pembury, where he worked as an electrician since 1989.
In a statement after Fuller was jailed for the rest of his life on Wednesday, Ms Kemal said: “Our loved ones were violated while we were saying our goodbyes and trying to grieve – it’s just horrendous and there needs to be some accountability for what happened.
“I’m very concerned that the inquiry will just be a closed shop and we won’t have any input, especially as we haven’t even been contacted yet.
“We just need answers as to how Fuller was able to get away with so much for so long.”
Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust chief executive Miles Scott apologised “for the hurt that has been caused to families as a result of these appalling crimes”.
“We have been in contact with the families affected in recent weeks and our priority continues to be to provide them with any help or assistance they may need for as long as they may need it,” he said.
“As requested by the Secretary of State, we will work with the families and NHS Resolution to agree a compensation scheme without the pain and delay that may be caused by individual claim action.
“We remain committed to complete openness and transparency around the criminal activities committed by Fuller, as we support Sir Jonathan Michael’s investigation.
“We will make any further improvements recommended from the independent inquiry and we have undertaken a risk assessment of our mortuary including assuring ourselves against existing Human Tissue Authority guidance.”
Mr Javid added: “I would like to reiterate my apologies to the friends and families of all the victims for what took place. We are taking action to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.
“First, NHS England and Improvement have received assurance from all NHS trusts that they have undertaken risk assessments on their mortuary and body storage facilities, and checked their practices are in line with existing Human Tissue Authority guidance.
“Second, we have made good progress in establishing the independent inquiry. The chair, Sir Jonathan Michael, has developed draft terms of reference and will engage with families on them in the new year before they are published.
“Third, ministers have received initial advice from the Human Tissue Authority on the current regulatory framework, which I will be reviewing carefully.
“Finally, families have quite understandably approached the trust seeking compensation. I have asked NHS Resolution to work with the trust and engage with families.”
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