24 Hours in police custody: Murder in the Woods: What happened to Sam Mechelewski and who was convicted?
Channel 4 will air the first of a two-part documentary tonight (19 July), which follows the police investigation into the murder of a man in Cambridgeshire on 31 January 2018.
Sam Mechelewski’s body was found bloody and beaten in a secluded area of Hinchingbrooke Country Park, in Huntingdon, by a dog walker.
The 24 Hours in Police Custody special will uncover the events which led to his death, how his murderers were identified and reveal police insight into the investigation, trial and conviction of the perpetrators.
So, what really happened to Sam Mechelewski? Here is the true story behind his murder.
What happened to Sam Mechelewski?
Hours before Sam’s death, his murderers had visited a Tesco store near the park and purchased black sweatshirts and jogging bottoms.
At around 8pm, Sam went to a nearby Sainsbury’s and then dropped in to visit an acquaintance before heading off to meet Shepherd and White.
The last known sighting of Sam is on CCTV, it shows three men matching Sam and his murderers’ descriptions, walking in the direction of the park.
Cambridgeshire man Mechelewski was lured to a wooded area of Hinchingbrooke Country Park on the night of his death, by the two men he considered to be friends.
His ‘friends’, drug dealers Jordan Shepherd and Ashley White, beat him with a baseball bat and stabbed him to death.
When he was found dead the next day, at around 1.30pm, he had sustained 20 injuries.
Between 8.50pm and 10.30pm, there was no trace of either murderers’ phones, they are believed to have turned them off as they premeditated the attack.
The area where his body was found, more than 16 hours after he was last seen, was secluded and left little forensic evidence for the Major Crime Unit (MCU) to analyse.
What evidence was used to convict his murderers?
Although the MCU attempted to retrieve evidence by extensively combing the woodland floor and utilising specialist diving teams, the knife used in the stabbing was never uncovered.
Sam’s phone has never been found either, but what did emerge was that Sam had been involved in dealing drugs such as cannabis. His wallet, later identified by his brother, was found empty in the park.
A notebook found at the scene linked him to Shepherd and White’s dealings. Shepherd, 25, and White, 22, became of interest when an examination of Sam’s text messages revealed he was regularly lodging with Shepherd at his Chatteris home.
Police searched the property, but Shepherd had already disposed of the mattress Sam had been sleeping on and returned some of his belongings to his family.
What officers did find was a phone linked to Sam, his birth certificate dumped in a wheelie bin and cannabis, a taser and two baseball bats.
Police then tracked the purchases of baseball bats in the local area, in the months before Sam was killed. They found two had been bought in mid-November from the
Grand Arcade, Cambridge.
Sam’s DNA was found on one of the bats, thought to be his blood.
The two murderers were arrested and later charged with the murder of Sam.
What was the motive behind the killing of Sam Mechelewski?
During the trial, it emerged that Sam had been dealing cannabis and was well known for his success as a dealer. As such, White and Shepherd became jealous.
An associate of Sam who had bought drugs from him on the day of his murder appeared as a witness at Cambridge Crown Court, where they told how he had around £2,000 worth of cash in his wallet when they saw him.
Following his murder, White and Shepherd went on a spending spree - treating themselves to designer clothes and nights out. This included a stay at the Marriott Hotel for Shepherd, where he had sex with a woman he was involved with, the room cost £180 and he ferried her to and from the hotel in taxis totalling £55.
Following their court case, DCI Gallop said: "Jordan Shepherd and Ashley White seemed to consider themselves gangsters, and I wonder if they really appreciated the reality and the seriousness of what they were doing.
"They are dangerous young men, with the proven propensity to commit significant and devastating acts of violence. In the process they have ruined their own lives."
However, Shepherd described Sam as “like a little brother,” and blamed White for the brutal attack, he said he had thousands of pounds and so had no motive.
How did Shepherd and White plea?
Both pleaded not guilty, arguing that the other killed the 20 year old.
Shepherd claimed they only took the baseball bats to the park to break cannabis plants from their roots without damaging them.
However, White said he watched on as Shepherd stabbed Sam in the neck before fleeing. White claimed Shepherd threatened his life when he saw him after the killing.
Despite their fabricated stories, both were convicted to life imprisonment in January 2019.
Before sentencing of White and Shepherd, the judge at Cambridge Crown Court told how Sam was “struck with repeated blows to the head,” and a stab wound to his neck would prove to be the fatal wound.
He said: "The three of you then walked, in the dark, to Hinchingbrooke Country Park in Huntingdon, avoiding as much as possible CCTV cameras. It took over half an hour and was over a distance of 3.5km.
"Once you reached the park, you continued walking until you were well hidden and there you both attacked the deceased. He was struck with repeated blows to the head with baseball bats and stabbed twice in the neck with the knife.
"A deep stab wound to the front of the neck caused his death. Then, at a distance from the deceased’s body, you searched through his backpack, stealing approximately £2,000, being the proceeds of his drug dealing that day.
"A witness had seen him to have that much at about 6.45pm that evening. Also, you stole the cannabis he had for his dealing that night.
"You left him in the park, walking back, but by a route that avoided any CCTV cameras. You disposed of the black clothing and the knife, which have never been recovered."
A jury made up of three men and eight women found both Jordan Shepherd and Ashley White guilty at Cambridge Crown Court after five days of deliberations.
Ashley White will serve a minimum of 29 years and Jordan Shepherd will serve a minimum of 28 years and six months.
When is 24 Hours in Police Custody on TV?
The first episode of the ‘Murder in the Woods’ documentary will air on channel 4 at 10pm on 19 July.
The second episode will air on Monday, 26 July at 10pm.