After a pool party at a local school on July 9, 1996, Dr. Lin Russell, 45; her two daughters, Josie, 9; and Megan, 6; and the family dog, Lucy, headed back home along a country lane in the normally quiet village of Chillenden. A man with a hammer interrupted the family’s stroll.
The attacker forced the Russells into a wooded area, where he blindfolded them with their towels and, one by one, beat their skulls in with the hammer. He even killed the dog. Lin and Megan bled out and died on the spot.
Josie just barely survived, sustaining severe injuries that would require a multitude of surgeries. The little girl would even have to learn how to talk again.
A frustrating manhunt lasted more than a year until, finally, on July 17, 1997, Kent Police picked up Michael Stone, 37, a heroin addict with a history of violence and a number of convicted felonies. During one of his three prior prison stints, psychiatrists had also officially diagnosed Stone as a psychopath.
When asked where he was on the day of the murders, Stone replied:
“I can’t remember for two reasons. One, I was badly on drugs, and two, it was so long ago.”
Despite his lack of a distinct memory, Stone stated outright that he was innocent of all accusations. Nevertheless, in 1998, a jury convicted Stone on two counts of murder and related charges, based almost entirely on witness testimony.
Three of Stone’s fellow inmates—Barry Thompson, Damien Daley, and Mark Jennings—stated that he had confessed to them about killing the Russells. A lifelong acquaintance told the jury that Stone’s father used to beat his son with a hammer. A local couple, Sheree Batt and Lawrence Calder, testified that Stone showed up at their home the day after the slaughter wearing blood-splattered clothing.
The court handed Stone a triple life sentence. The very next day, however, Barry Thompson, one of the testifying convicts, told the press he had lied. Stone’s conviction was promptly overturned on appeal, necessitating a second trial, which took place in 2001. The second trial, again, ended with Stone being ordered to serve three life sentences.
However, considerable doubts have since arisen about Stone's conviction.
The Chillenden Murders, a 2017 BBC documentary, asked forensic scientists, law enforcement officers, and legal scholars to look deeper into the case. Some of those interviewed for the project suggested that a more likely culprit may be Levi Bellfield, a sadistic slayer who brutally raped and murdered two girls and attempted to murder another 13-year-old girl in the 2000s. Bellfield is currently serving a life sentence for three murders and one attempted murder.
In addition to his own criminal convictions, Bellfield seemed to uncannily match the man Josie Russell described as her assailant. She said he stood taller than her six-foot dad. Bellfield is six-foot-one; Michael Stone is five-foot-seven. Josie also said the attacker had a round face with chubby cheeks. Bellfield fits that bill as well while Stone does not.
Witnesses in Chillenden on the day of the murders mentioned seeing an unfamiliar beige Ford vehicle. Joanna Collings, Bellfield’s girlfriend at the time, owned a beige Ford. She said she lent it to her boyfriend that very day. Shortly thereafter, the car was stolen and ultimately turned up torched and abandoned miles away.
On top of all that, police have unofficially connected Bellfield to a long list of unsolved crimes, dating back to the 1980 strangling of a 14-year-old school friend, Patsy Morris.
Nonetheless, Scotland Yard issued an official statement on the newly raised issues, proclaiming:
“It has taken a considerable amount of time and police resources to conduct the investigation. All lines of enquiry have now been exhausted and the decision has been taken to close this investigation as there is no evidence to link the individual to any case for which he has not already been convicted.”
For the time being, then, the case of the Chillenden Murders is closed.
This Story Was First Published on Crime Feed.
Featured photo of Dr. Lin Russell and her daughter, Josie via: Crime Feed / Kent Police