Leah Croucher: convicted sex offender Neil Maxwell who killed himself named as prime suspect in murder case
Thames Valley Police have named Neil Maxwell, who killed himself in 2019, as the prime suspect
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Police said Mr Maxwell, 49, who killed himself in April 2019 - two months after Ms Croucher, 19, vanished - was the only person who had keys to the house where human remains were found on Wednesday while the owners were away.
A rucksack and personal items belonging to the 19-year-old were also discovered at the property in Loxbeare Drive, Furzton, Milton Keynes. A post-mortem examination was expected to be done on Friday, Thames Valley Police said.
Mr Maxwell had been employed by the homeowner to carry out some property maintenance at the house. He had previous convictions for sexual offences against women and was wanted in connection with a sexual assault in Newport Pagnell in November 2018.
In July 2009, he pleaded guilty to raping a female her late teens at an address in the Datchet area of Slough on New Years Day that year and was jailed four years and 10 months.
At the time the officer who led the investigation said: “The victim in this case has been exceptionally brave. Despite the trauma of the incident, she was willing to attend court to ensure that the perpetrator was brought to justice. I am pleased that she has been spared the anguish and ordeal of reliving the event before a jury.”
Mr Maxwell’s body was found in Campbell Park two months after Ms Croucher disappeared and the verdict of an inquest held into his death was that he took his own life. The 49-year-old was wanted by police at the time for a sexual assault on a woman in November 2018, when he had assaulted the victim and then fled the scene.
The assault came the same month that Mr Maxwell collected the keys of number 2 Loxbearne in Furzton and was recruited by the overseas owner to maintain the property. He already had convictions for sex attacks, including one for rape in 2009, but he managed to evade arrest 18 times between November 2018 and his death four months later by travelling across the UK and using false alibis.
It is not known whether Mr Maxwell used the Loxbearne house as a hide-out at times during this spell on the run, or whether anybody else was with him.
Detective Chief Superintendent Ian Hunter said in a statement: “I cannot even begin to imagine what it is like for Leah’s parents and family, for three years and eight months not knowing what has happened to their daughter and loved one.
“All of the investigation team who are working on this case are dedicated to finding the truth for Leah’s family.”
He added: “Today, I am able to confirm that we have nominated a suspect in this case. His name is Neil Maxwell. However, Maxwell was found dead on 20 April 2019 having taken his own life.”
In a statement via Thames Valley Police, the family of Leah Croucher thanked the force for its efforts to find the 19-year-old in the past three years and eight months.
Detective Chief Superintendent Ian Hunter said: “They (the family) have specifically asked me to pass on the following message. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Thames Valley Police for all their efforts over the past three years and eight months.
“We believe that they could not have done anything differently, they have always approached every conversation with dignity and compassion. As a family, we ask that everyone respects our privacy as well as our immediate family, at what is one of the most difficult times of our lives.”
What happened to Leah Croucher?
Ms Croucher went missing in February 2019 after vanishing while she was walking to work. She was last seen on CCTV in Buzzacott Lane, Furzton, just after 8.15am on 15 February that year, heading in the direction of Loxbeare Drive and Chaffron Way. Her phone left the network, consistent with it being destroyed, at 8.34am in the area of Furzton Lake.
A large-scale missing person investigation has been ongoing for more than three years to find her, with police carrying out extensive searches and door-to-door enquiries.
On Wednesday Thames Valley Police found human remains at a property in Loxbeare Drive, Milton Keynes, after a tip-off from a member of the public on Monday.
The focus of the search is now on the house located less than half a mile from where she was last seen, with police saying investigators would be there “for some time”.
Police officers launched a murder inquiry when they found a rucksack and other personal belongings of Leah’s at the property.
The force said in a statement: “During our forensic examinations at the scene in Loxbeare Drive, Milton Keynes, we have identified human remains. The forensic examination continues and will do for some time.
“It is likely to take some time to formally identify the deceased. Leah’s family continue to be kept informed and updated.”
Hundreds of officers and staff have worked on the search for Leah over the past three-and-a-half years, scouring 1,200 hours of CCTV and carrying out 4,000 house-to-house inquiries.
Detective Chief Superintendent Ian Hunter described the scene at the house where Leah’s possessions have been found as “difficult and challenging”, adding that “thorough and respectful” searches may take some time.