In the good old days there were many things I miss. I was 23 years old when Deborah Linsley was murdered. I do believe that more about society made sense back then. I also recognise things that have been improved immensely in the time since. In some areas.
One of those things was a design of train that was being phased out in 1988. The carriages could come with individual compartments. You gained access to large bench seats and had two doors, one on either side of the train. Once the train was on the move you had no way of escaping your fellow passengers other than jumping onto the tracks.
It was Ms Linsley’s misfortune to meet her attacker while travelling in such a carriage.
This 26 year old woman was from Bromley in Kent but worked in Edinburgh. She had been home for a few days. There was a wedding being planned for a family member and it would have been good to have been home to take part in the preparations.
On 23rd March 1988 Ms Linsley had an appointment in London. Her brother dropped her off at Petts Wood railway station so she could catch the train at 2.18 pm. This service only took about half an hour but had many stops. No-one saw her from the time she was dropped off until the train pulled up on a London Victoria platform.
A guard was checking the carriages for left luggage when he found her body. She had been stabbed multiple times, several of these were wounds were around her heart.
In piecing together the events the cops identified 40 passengers who got off the train at Victoria. The reason it was important to trace those people was because of a fellow passenger. After the murder was publicised a French woman came forward to say she had heard screams as the train left Brixton station. Brixton was the last station before London.
Of the 40 passengers that walked into London only 26 people were traced.
Three men were seen that became of interest to the police. Two of them were seen with injuries to the face.
As it was believed that Ms Linsley had fought for her life they seemed a certainty for further enquiry. What complicated it was there was a football match nearby and there had been some violence between fans.
The third, uninjured man, had alighted out of a compartment close to the one Ms Linsley had occupied. Here I am going off the Crimewatch UK reconstruction. This man was described as 40 years old with red hair and a moustache.
In addition, there were men seen to alight from the train and hurry off at other stations and a man who had got out of one compartment and then jumped into another one at Penge East.
The issue here is those railway lines into London are busy and a bit chaotic. I have never travelled that route but I was a regular on the services using those carriages in the early 1980s. I have gotten out of one carriage and climbed into another. The cause was a passenger with bad body odour. It was the sort of thing you did back then.
Later a DNA profile was produced that the cops believe is that of the offender. It has never matched any in the growing database. Sadly, as you will know from reading this website and other sources, it happens a lot. Even the invention of tracing DNA through relatives who are recorded on the database often draws a blank.
The lead detective made the observation that the offender had likely been violent before. This was a savage and sustained attack and he managed to get away with it. It is even more surprising that his DNA has not been matched.
This was not the first fatal attack on these trains. In the Victorian era they had murders too. The design has long gone as far as I know and good riddance.
I wonder if the French lady was right about the screams and when they happened. At the inquest she was criticised for not pulling the communication cord. This would have brought the train to an emergency stop. In the wording of one account I read she felt frozen in fear despite believing she was hearing a rape take place.
I won’t criticise her. I was not there and did not feel what she felt. If she is right it means that a person covered in blood would have alighted onto the never quiet Victoria platform. No such person was seen.
She may have been right about the noise coming from the compartment after it pulled out of Brixton. The journey time between those points is ten minutes. That is a short period of time to pick in order to attack a woman and expect to walk away. Even in the 80s cops and railway staff were all over the place. So did this coward intend to assault Ms Linsley by use of threat and then it went wrong? Did he jump off the train as it slowed ready to pull up?
I recall the final minutes of a journey into that station. At times it was at a crawl pace. Often the train would stop for a minute or two. I am not saying this happened, I am just exploring possibilities given what she said.
I wonder as well about what the officer said. He suggests that an attack of this severity would have been committed by someone who had offended before.
I don’t see it that way. For example the offender may have planned a threat with a knife in order to assault Ms Linsley. She, to her credit, fought him. The injuries he inflicted on her ( assuming it was a man) were from rage at her refusal to comply.
I was only watching a case recently on YouTube that illustrates this point. A woman was murdered in Wisconsin. When the offender was identified it turned out he had attacked a woman a short time before. This assault involved a knife. Apart from the venue being a park, as opposed to a train, the circumstances were similar. The intended victim valiantly turned the tables on the attacker and got control of the knife. A serious assault for sure. It was the first time the young man had done anything like that. The murder he went on to commit did not involve a knife and the victim was a girl he knew.
DNA evidence is marvellous but like fingerprints it is no use unless matched. It is amazing how many offenders never appear on any database. It is possibly a whole area of research in itself. So in the case of Ms Linsley it will always be a case of hope and waiting.
God bless the family of Ms Linsley. I wish that they get a match one day. This was a terrible crime for no reason. A huge number of our society remain part of these murders either as killers or family that cover for them. Let it not be minimised. If you cover for a creature like Ms Linsley’s attacker you are not better than them.
Anyone with information please call 020 7230 4294 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.