A man who killed and sexually assaulted two women from Tunbridge Wells more than 30 years ago has pleaded guilty to their murders.
David Fuller, aged 67, previously from Heathfield, appeared at Maidstone Crown Court on 4 November 2021 and admitted murdering Wendy Knell and Caroline Pierce in 1987. He will be sentenced at a later date.
Sexually assaulted, beaten, and strangled
Wendy was 25 years old when she 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 1987, Caroline, aged 20, was murdered after she was abducted from outside her bedsit in Grosvenor Park, Tunbridge Wells. Her body was discovered by a farm worker three weeks later, in a remote location near Romney Marsh, more than 40 miles away.
She was naked apart from a pair of tights and had also been sexually assaulted, beaten, and strangled.
Initial investigations found no clear signs of forced entry to Wendy’s bedsit. Detectives concluded Caroline was attacked outside her home, with several neighbours reporting that they heard screams. 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 Wendy’s murder. This was added to the National DNA Database, but again no matches were made, and the offender remained at large.
Over the coming years, the investigations were regularly reviewed in line with enhancements in DNA techniques, however without a forensic match officers were no closer to finding the killer.
Detectives from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate continued to explore any new possible leads and in 2019 specialist examinations were carried out on evidence relating to Caroline, where scientists were able to recover DNA that for the first time evidentially linked both murders forensically.
This led to a further review of the National DNA database, focused around analysing profiles which could have familial links to the suspect. Working closely with the National Crime Agency, a list of 1,000 names was compiled of those most closely linked genetically. Of these, police then identified a priority set of around 90 individuals.
The breakthrough came after voluntary samples had been taken from the first 20 people of this priority set. 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, who at the time was a 66-year-old man living in Heathfield, East Sussex. It was determined that Fuller was the suspect and he was arrested at his home during the early hours of 3 December 2020. The following evening, following the fast tracking of a DNA sample, the Crown Prosecution Service gave authority to charge him with two counts of murder and he was remanded in custody.
A full DNA sample was taken from Fuller and a complex and lengthy process of analysis took place to compare it to the forensic evidence originally obtained from the 1987 crime scenes. Modern forensic extraction techniques led to the recovery of compelling evidence, which would place Fuller at the scenes of both murders.
His DNA was detected on a duvet, a towel, and a pillowcase in Wendy’s home. It was estimated to be in the order of at least a billion times more likely to have originated from Fuller rather than someone else. Tests on DNA from Caroline’s tights also showed it was 160,000 times more likely to have originated from Fuller.
A plastic bag, found on the floor behind the headboard of the bed in Wendy’s bedsit, was re-examined. A fingerprint detected on the bag was not on the fingerprint database and could only be compared when a suspect was arrested. It was matched to Fuller, once he was in custody.
During the original investigation, work was also done around a shoe print found on a blouse in Wendy’s home. It was determined, 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.
During initial police interviews, Fuller claimed he did not know the Tunbridge Wells area that well, or where the victims lived. However, substantial evidence, including paperwork from his Heathfield home, showed that in the early 1980s he had lived in Guildford Road, the same road as Wendy. He sometimes also visited a friend who lived in Grosvenor Park, where Caroline had lived. Fuller worked as an electrician and documents and receipts illustrated, he had carried out jobs at multiple addresses within the town, many close to where both victims lived.
Evidence also showed Fuller was very familiar with the New Romney area, near to where Caroline’s body was discovered. He holidayed there during the 1980s and as a child visited grandparents who lived nearby. Fuller was also a member of a cycle club and one of the routes members took went directly past the location where Caroline was found.
It was further established that Fuller had frequented a restaurant in Tunbridge Wells, where Caroline worked. The restaurant was called Buster Browns and was located in Camden Road. It was a short distance from where Wendy worked in a shop called SupaSnaps, also based in Camden Road. Fuller was a keen amateur photographer and it is believed he may have used this store several times to process camera films. Photos found during searches at his Heathfield home were contained in several SupaSnaps sleeves.
Senior Investigating Officer, Detective Superintendent Ivan Beasley said: ‘Wendy Knell and Caroline Pierce had their whole lives ahead of them before they were both brutally murdered more than 30 years ago. We have always refused to accept that their killer would escape justice and knew it was only a matter of time before enhancements in DNA profiling would provide us with the answers to track down a suspect. The evidence we have now been able to present has proved without a shred of doubt that David Fuller carried out these appalling and depraved crimes.
‘The families of these two young women have endured immeasurable horror, pain and utter despair, caused by a man who has shown little, if any, capacity for remorse or sorrow.
‘I would like to pay tribute to all of Wendy and Caroline’s loved ones and friends who have assisted us over the years with what has always been a particularly harrowing case for everyone involved. I do hope that they are now able to take some comfort after so many years of uncertainty and frustration. It saddens me that we were not able to identify and bring Fuller to justice sooner, particularly for Bill Knell, Wendy’s father who is no longer with us.
‘Finally, I would like to recognise the efforts of every single Kent Police officer and member of staff who has worked on this case, since 1987.’
Fuller remains remanded in custody, pending sentencing.