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The Tragic Murder of Author Helen Bailey

Helen Bailey went on a walk with her dog one afternoon—and was never seen alive again.

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  • Photo Credit: Find A Grave

In February 2011, Helen Bailey and her husband, John Sinfield, took a much needed vacation to Barbados. It was the perfect time to escape the dreary skies of a London winter. 

Sinfield, the founder of a licensing rights company, and Bailey, a successful author, were sitting beachside in their lounge chairs when Sinfield got up to take a dip in the ocean. Shortly after beginning his swim, however, Sinfield disappeared among the waves. A riptide pulled him down, drowning him. Bailey found herself alone for the first time in decades.

Related: The Child Genius Who Vanished: What Happened to Barbara Newhall Follett? 

A prolific writer, Bailey had long expressed herself on the printed page. She wrote the successful young adult series, Electra Brown, which was beloved by readers for its humorous depictions of teenage life. But her writing took a more serious tone in a website that she created to discuss her grief after Sinfield’s death, called Planet Grief.

Bailey hoped that Planet Grief would serve as a place of comfort and healing for others who had experienced loss. Bailey herself had been feeling more optimistic in the years after her husband's death. She had met someone through a support group on Facebook a few months after John’s passing. She was a widow, and he was a widower. They connected and exchanged letters and emails. She referred to him as the “Gorgeous Gray Haired Widower” (GGHW) on her website. His real name was Ian Stewart. 

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  • Helen Bailey and her partner, Ian Stewart. 

    Photo Credit: Alchetron

The couple became engaged sometime in early 2016. Bailey moved into a sprawling home with Stewart in Royston, the first time she had lived away from London. She had written that she missed London but was looking forward to her future with Stewart. Stewart’s two sons also lived in their home, as did Bailey’s beloved dachshund, Boris. Boris was famous in his own right—an animated version of the dog appeared on the cover of Bailey’s published book about grief and healing, When Bad Things Happen in Good Bikinis: Life after Death and a Dog Called Boris.  

On April 11, 2016, Bailey took Boris for a walk around the Royston neighborhood, as she did nearly every day. The pair were never seen alive again. 

Three days later, Stewart reported her missing, telling police that Bailey failed to return home from her walk with the dog. He also showed police a note, allegedly written by Bailey, which said that she was going to take time away at a family home.

For weeks, the search for Helen Bailey continued. Then, in July of 2016, the police made a grisly discovery in a septic tank beneath the garage of the Royston home: Bailey and Boris’s remains. 

Ian Stewart was arrested and charged with murder. 

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Those close to Bailey have since said that Stewart purposefully preyed on her. The woman, who had enjoyed great success with her young adult novels, had amassed quite a fortune—around four million pounds, in addition to a luxurious home. Stewart used Planet Grief as a way into Bailey’s life and began “love-bombing” her almost immediately to make his target utterly reliant on him. Their similar circumstances allowed Stewart a way in, and he soon used that to convince Bailey to change her will and leave all of her belongings to him.

Once Bailey had changed her will, Stewart began plotting a way to get rid of her. He started slipping Bailey sleeping pills months prior to her murder. Bailey had noticed a change in her demeanor and considered seeking medical help. On the morning of her death, she had Googled, “Why do I keep falling asleep?”. She had also, heartbreakingly, Googled a wedding location that she had been looking into.

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  • The Royston home Helen Bailey shared with Ian Stewart

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

It’s been speculated that Stewart was aware that Bailey was starting to question what was happening to her and that going to a doctor would blow his cover. And so, Stewart decided to act. 

On the day that Bailey was killed, Stewart visited a doctor for a post-op appointment following a minor surgery he had done earlier. Although this appointment was likely meant to give Stewart an alibi for the day of Bailey’s disappearance, the police timeline shows that he killed his wife well before his appointment.

Stewart spoke on Bailey’s behalf at a meeting with a lawyer regarding the selling one of Bailey’s homes that very same day. Stewart told the couple’s lawyer that Bailey was absent because she was “unwell”. Stewart went to his older son’s bowling game that day, and the two ate Chinese in their home afterwards. Bailey’s body, by that point, was already in the tank beneath the home. 

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For nearly three months, Stewart acted the part of a concerned husband-to-be. Bailey had disappeared without explanation. He made flyers with pictures of both Boris and Bailey and confided in police that he thought that someone may have kidnapped his fiancée.

On July 15, three months after Bailey disappeared, police received a search warrant for the grounds of Bailey and Stewart’s home. The tip traced back to comments made by a neighbor, who told police about a septic tank hidden below her neighbors' garage. There, authorities discovered the remains of Bailey and Boris. The next day, Stewart was charged with murder.

Stewart was tried in January of 2017. He was found guilty of killing Helen Bailey on February 22, 2017, almost exactly six years after John Sinfield died. Stewart was sentenced to life in prison. He will not be eligible for parole until he is 90 years old.

Featured photo: Find A Grave; Additional photo: Alchetron