This case has some very clear aspects that should have made it easy enough to solve and yet it is as complicated as any other. Firstly, the tragic reality is that the unsolved murder of Billie Jo Jenkins robbed a thirteen year old of her entire life. In addition, two families were devastated and a man went through multiple trials before being acquitted.
The Brief Circumstances.
Billie Jo Jenkins was painting patio doors at her home at 48 Lower Park Road, Hastings, East Sussex. This thirteen year old was part of a family comprising of five children. Her foster parents were busy doing other things but were in and out of the house all day. It is worth mentioning that by coincidence Billie Jo and her foster parents had the same surname though they were not related.
At around 3 pm Sion Jenkins called in and saw Billie Jo. He had two of his daughters in the car outside. Later the girls would say they went in and saw Billie Jo. His wife was out walking with another two children.
Sion says Billie Jo was alive and well. When he returned a short time later the school girl had been beaten to death in the rear yard. She had been beaten with a long metal tent peg.
Sion was arrested and tried. He was convicted but legal attempts to overturn the conviction resulted in him facing another two trials. Finally, his conviction was quashed. Currently there is no-one else being actively pursued for this murder.
The Day Billie Jo Died
From what I can gather there was a bit of a clear out at the nice Hastings home on that day. Saturday 15th February 1997 saw Billie Jo tasked with repainting the wooden patio doors. These opened to a small rear garden area.
In the neighbourhood was a strange character who was later taken into the care of mental health services. He had approached locals and was behaving erratically. He was referred to as Mr B in later court procedures.
The family were in and out of the house that day. I am trying to actually get a time line, but although media sources are plentiful it seems that obvious detail was not reported. I have heard the crucial time being described as in the afternoon at around 3pm.
What is not in dispute is that Sion Jenkins entered the house briefly. This was with or without his other children. There was just Billie Jo and himself there for at most between three and five minutes no matter what version is true. In that time Sion Jenkins allegedly beat the girl to death. He then went back out, got in the car and drove to a DIY store. Forensics later determined that over 150 microscopic spots of Billie Jo’s blood were found on a fleece jacket he had worn that day.
Sion Jenkins agrees with all of it apart from having any involvement in the attack. When he returned she was found to have been savagely struck multiple times and was dying. The significant injuries were to her head. He summoned the emergency services. He and his team state that the invisible blood spots came from when he cradled Billie Jo in his arms and she coughed on him.
Serious Issues with the Evidence
Here we are at a point which is so often problematic. If you read one account you cannot help but come to the conclusion this headteacher foster dad killed Billie Jo. Read another and you swing the other way.
The prosecution case is that Sion Jenkins had been rowing with Billie Jo earlier. It is said in the media he was a controlling and sometimes violent man toward his wife, Lois, and his children. He had a deep belief in physical punishment. He was shown to have invented part of his professional qualifications. These allowed him to get his teaching positions. This last bit is certainly true as he addressed his regret about this in court. So one train of media and court thinking is that this is a nasty man more than capable of murder.
His now ex wife moved to Australia with the kids when he was convicted and went to prison in 1998. She is quoted in media reports later as describing Sion as a nasty character. The two children who were with him that day were not called by the defence because it was believed they would be hostile to their dad. Rumours circulated that they had been prevented from entering the house by their father at the time he is said to have killed Billie Jo. Reports also circulated that school friends of Billie Jo had been told by her of abuse she suffered at the hands of Sion. They were even named in the press.
So you have a violent guy painted as more than capable of killing. You have guy who prevented his kids from seeing what he had done in that brief visit to the house. You have a guy whose family seized on the chance to escape his clutches and flew as far away from him as possible. You have a liar who fabricated success thereby proving he was capable of lying about the death of Billie Jo.
I forgot in this summary to point out that he even had Billie Jo’s blood on his clothes. A slam dunk case he killed her right?
Ah. No. In fairness to any of you who were convinced of Sion Jenkins guilt there are a good few issues with the picture of him that was painted. In later interviews the children ( by this time much older) said that they had seen Billie Jo on that crucial visit to the house. They had come out and were very quickly followed by their father. They said that the garden gate had been closed on that visit yet open when they returned to find their foster sister savagely beaten.
Sion had that small amount of blood on him, but he had no other blood consistent with attacking her. Crucially none at all was observed on him during that trip to the DIY store. He had no paint from the scene on him. Most important of all is that Billie Jo had a small piece of plastic bag inserted into her nostril. In one report this item was deeply pushed up into her nose.
Mr B ( the erratic gentlemen) apparently had a thing about pushing bits of plastic into openings. His clothes were checked, but the defence alleged that not all his clothing was checked. Further I have read that he was deemed so ill his psychiatrist objected to further questioning.
For me Mr B is relevant and more relevant is the plastic in the victims nose. Sion had only a short time to commit the murder, a very short time. Even if you stick with the contention that the other kids did not go in the house that piece of plastic is an issue. There is no suggestion anywhere that Sion knew about Mr B and his obsession with inserting plastic. If the whole conviction relies on him losing his temper with Billie Jo because that is just the way Sion is put together, why insert plastic up her nose?
How could you beat a person so hard with a tent peg that you bend it and only get microscopic blood on your fleece jacket? The task was for Billie Jo to paint the patio doors. So how can you do all that damage, in that area, without getting any paint on your clothes.
The Trials and Retrials
In the previous paragraph you might get the idea that I am stating a conclusion that Sion Jenkins was not guilty of killing Billie Jo. You will never get such conclusions in anything I write. I do not have the case file, I did not hear all the evidence. I can say for certain that the press did a great job of stirring up all manner of mud that confuses anyone looking at it.
I will say that when Sion Jenkins was released and the judge said the conviction was unsafe it seemed the right decision. Microscopic blood but no substantial blood from such a savage attack, later contradictions by the Jenkin’s children and a lack of any other evidence at least means there was reasonable doubt here.
So Who Killed Billie Jo Jenkins?
Mr B? The police have described him as a red herring. He is not a serious suspect of theirs. Sure he was hanging around the area. Sure the park opposite the house would be perfect to see Sion Jenkins go out. That could apply to anyone however.
The family had told friends that they were concerned about intruders. It is reported (by named sources) that only a few days before, Sion and Lois had been showing folk the new security arrangements. If you look at the neighbourhood it looks idyllic yet there is talk of vandalised cars and prowlers.
What is notable is that the case is not being actively pursued. I read a few years ago that it had not been reviewed since Sion Jenkins last trial in 2006. Forensic science advances have been huge in the time since Billie Jo died in 1997.
For me the issue of opportunity and motive make it unlikely that Sion Jenkins killed his foster daughter. It wasn’t impossible but unlikely. Also, as was pointed out by his defence, what was the motive? Blind anger, a row that simmered? It was never clearly established such a thing took place.
In the final proceedings the prosecution alleged that Billie Jo had been ‘flirting’ with Sion in order that he would be manipulated by her. Christopher Sallon QC, who represented Sion Jenkins, suggested that the prosecution was trying to introduce the idea that there was some sexual issue that prompted the attack. He very correctly said that there was no evidence of this.
Elsewhere I have seen it said he had an affair with a seventeen year old girl who looked like Billie Jo. I cannot find any reference to this in the trial. I see mention of his former wife’s evidence of cruelty and also that she said he never hit Billie Jo. It is all a mess. What is not a mess is the time he had to kill and somehow clean up before going to the DIY store with his daughters. Three to five minutes. His eldest daughter was one of the kids who said he was not alone with Billie Jo. She was twelve, not two or six but twelve years old. She says Billie Jo was alive and she saw her, then a short time later he dad came out and they went.
What is your line of thinking on this? Could a man commit such a crime and not be covered in more than microscopic blood? Does the explanation that she coughed this blood explain its presence or do you side more with the prosecution that it is sprayed blood from Sion attacking his foster daughter?
For now I will leave it there. Thanks for reading it through.
Below are a few of the links I found most useful. Just click on them.