Seeking Safety: The Unsolved Murder Of Marie Wilks, UK, 1988
This young lady was driving back from visiting her husband at a military base in Herefordshire, UK. It was about 7.30pm on 18th June 1988. The Morris Marina car she was travelling in broke down on the M50 as she made her way home to Worcester. Being a two lane highway the traffic travels fast. You sometimes have a safe lane called the hard shoulder. She pulled over onto one such spare lane. In the car was her 11 year old sister and her infant son who was just 13 months old.
Mrs Wilks, 22, was between the emergency telephones which are spaced one mile (.6 km) apart. The idea being that wherever you have to stop you are within walking distance of one of them.
The issue of course is it presented her with a dilemma. Walking along the side of that sort of road is dangerous. Especially with such young children in tow. In addition, this lady was seven months pregnant.
She left the children and made it to a phone about 700 yards (640 m) away. She made contact with the operator. Mrs Wilks asked that a phone message be relayed to her father. She asked that he come and get the children as she would have to stay with the car and get it towed. The operator made the call but when they tried to tell Mrs Wilks what had been said she was not there.
The police were alerted and they found her sister walking on the hard shoulder with the infant in her arms. A search was conducted by the police using tracker dogs to add to the usual methods. Two days later Mrs Wilks was found. She was down an embankment at the side of motorway, three miles from where she had left her car. She had been beaten and stabbed. The stab wound was a fatal injury to her neck.
Blood evidence was recovered from the area of the phone. There was little doubt she had been abducted in the slim moments while she was on the phone to the emergency operator. As the operator had been using another phone line to try and call Mrs Wilks’ father the crucial seconds of the attack had been missed. When they had tried to speak to Mrs Wilks all they could hear was passing traffic.
Enquires generated a photofit of a suspect. The hunt for her killer was intense and within a few days an ex soldier called Eddie Brown was arrested and charged with murder. Mr Brown had come to the cops attention because multiple people had made calls naming him as a possible suspect. He had the opportunity to be driving on that stretch of motorway though he denied it. A bald tire on his car possibly matched an impression in the mud at the crime scene. There were some witness sightings that also fit with the type of vehicle he owned. The case against him was presented as largely circumstantial.
A year later he went on trial and was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. An appeal overturned the conviction. One reason was that a witness had been placed under hypnosis in order to get more details about the car. During that session he gave a registered number that was different from Mr Brown’s vehicle. However, the difference had not been passed on to the defence.
It was also reported that there was no real forensic evidence that linked Mrs Wilks to Mr Brown’s car. Blood had been found around the emergency telephone for example. It was felt it was unlikely that there would have been no contamination of the vehicle if Mr Brown had been the killer.
He was compensated over £600,000 for his time in prison. He died in 2018. There have been reviews of the case over the years since, yet there seems to be no progress at the time of writing.
It is striking that this assault took place in the light of mid evening on the side of a busy roadway while an emergency operator may have been listening. Apart from the awful consequences for Mrs Wilks and her family there is the incredible rarity of this aspect of the crime. The fact that such an open attack did not result in a conviction is pretty astounding.
The whole thing is presented as a rage type killing as there is no mention of sexual assault or robbery. That doesn’t mean that the original motive was something else and it turned into a savage senseless attack on a vulnerable woman.
The circumstances are sufficiently unusual that I cannot think of a similar one in the UK. Even in the USA the closest I can think of is the like of Audrey Herron or Jennifer Kesse. Those cases, however, lack several similar factors. Do you know of any unsolved killings that occurred while the victim was on a highway and talking to the authorities?