Joanna Yeates and the Christmas Murder

 Tis’ the season for my readers to be morbidly jolly. Although Christmas is a time of giving and family, for some people it’s a time to die and horribly. Apparently evil doesn’t take a holiday. This tale won’t warm the hearth whilst you sip eggnog, but it’s an interesting read all the same. Enjoy.

The Disappearance
Joanna Yeates’ was an attractive, young blonde and a landscape architect. She was well-liked and successful. She was also doomed to die a grisly death during December 2010. yeatesYeates went missing from Bristol, England on December 17 after being out with friends and her body was found on December 25, 2010. The finding of Yeates’ body had been accomplished after weeks of pleads to the public for help, and rewards amounting  to £60,000 (about $120,000 American) for information that led to the arrest of a suspect. The murder inquiry, codenamed Operation Braid, was one of the largest police investigations ever undertaken in the Bristol area. The case dominated news coverage in the United Kingdom around the Christmas period. The Yeates’ family appealed to the public through social networking services and press conferences. Yeates’ father David commented on her disappearance: “I think she was abducted after getting home to her flat … I have no idea of the circumstances of the abduction because of what was left behind … I feel sure she would not have gone out by herself leaving all these things behind and she was taken away somewhere”. Her keys, phone, purse and coat were left behind at her flat.

On 25 December 2010, a fully clothed body was found in the snow by a couple walking their dogs along Longwood Lane near a golf course and next to the entrance of a quarry in Failand, approximately 3 miles from her home. The entire time the search was conducted, Yeates had been a stone’s throw from her apartment.The body was identified by police as that of Yeates. Reardon and the Yeates family visited the site of the discovery on 27 December 2010. David Yeates said that the family “had been told to prepare for the worst” and expressed relief that his daughter’s body had been recovered.

tabak_2039983cA post-mortem examination began on 26 December 2010, though results were delayed due to the frozen condition of the body. Police initially thought it possible that Yeates froze to death because her body showed no visible signs of injury. Investigators announced on 28 December 2010 that the case had become a murder inquiry as the pathologist who performed her autopsy determined that Yeates had died as a result of strangulation. The post-mortem indicated that she had died “… several days before being discovered” on 25 December 2010. The examination also confirmed that Yeates did not eat the pizza she had purchased. Detective Chief Inspector Jones stated that the investigation found “… no evidence to suggest that Joanna was sexually assaulted”.

Joanna_YeatesAfter killing Yeates, the kiler attempted to cast suspicion for the murder onto Jefferies after watching a news broadcast about the case while spending the New Year with relatives in the Netherlands. He contacted Avon and Somerset Police to tell them that Jefferies had been using his car on the night of 17 December, and a CID officer, DC Karen Thomas, was sent to Amsterdam to talk to him. They met at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport on 31 December, where the killer elaborated on his story, but Thomas grew suspicious of his interest in the forensic work being carried out by the police and because what he said did not concur with a previous statement.

Nonetheless, the police initially suspected and arrested Christopher Jefferies, Yeates’ landlord, who lived in an apartment in the same building. He was arrested, held for 96 hours for questioning and eventually released without charge. He won an undisclosed sum in libel damages for defamatory news articles published following his arrest and received an apology from Avon and Somerset Police for any distress caused to him during the investigation. Well, I should say so. Although Jefferies himself wasn’t the killer he unknowingly rented an apartment to Yeates’ killer in his house. In fact the apartment was next door to Yeates.

The Culprit
Vincent Tabak, a 32-year-old Dutch engineer lived with his girlfriend. He was highly intelligent, a computer whiz and enrolled in a PhD program at a local university. Leaving university in 2007, he moved to the United Kingdom after taking a job with an engineering consultancy firm and settled in an apartment in the town. He worked as a “people flow analyst“, a role which required him to examine how people move around public spaces such as schools, airports and sports stadia. Wonderful research for a man who meticulously planned the abduction and murder of his victim.

However, his intellect was overshadowed by a sinister side. In the months leading up to Yeates’ death, Tabak used his computer to research escort agencies during business trips jo-yeates-image-1-634348167in the United Kingdom and United States, and contacted several prostitutes by phone. He also viewed violent internet pornography that depicted women being controlled by men, showing images of them being bound and gagged, held by the neck and choked. After the trial it was disclosed that images of child pornography had been found on Tabak’s laptop. In December 2013, the Crown Prosecution Service announced that he would be prosecuted for possessing the material.

The Arrest
He was arrested on 20 January 2011. Lindsey Lennen, a body fluids and DNA specialist member of the team that analysed DNA samples from Yeates’ body, said that although DNA swabs matched Tabak, they were not of sufficient quality to be evaluated. The team deployed a method known as DNA SenCE, which enhances unusable DNA samples through purification and concentration: “We couldn’t say whether the DNA was from saliva, or semen, or even touch. But we could say that the probability of it not being a match with Tabak was less than one in a billion.”

Tabak initially maintained he was not responsible for Yeates’ death, claiming that DNA evidence linking him to the crime had been fabricated by corrupt officials. On 5 May 2011, Vincent Tabak pled guilty to the manslaughter of Yeates, but denied murdering her. His plea of guilty to manslaughter was rejected by the Crown Prosecution Service. However, on 8 February, he told Peter Brotherton, a prison chaplain, that he had killed her and intended to plead guilty. Later he recanted.

The Trial

©London News Pictures. 10/10/2011. Collect picture of Dutchman Vincent Tabak whose trial is underway at The Old Bailey. Tabak is charged with the murder of landscape architect Jo Yeates, who was found dead on Christmas Day, eight days after going missing from her home in the Clifton area of Bristol. Pictured here taking part in a 10km race in June 2010. Photo credit should read: London News Pictures

©London News Pictures. 10/10/2011. Collect picture of Dutchman Vincent Tabak whose trial is underway at The Old Bailey. Tabak is charged with the murder of landscape architect Jo Yeates, who was found dead on Christmas Day, eight days after going missing from her home in the Clifton area of Bristol. Pictured here taking part in a 10km race in June 2010. Photo credit should read: London News Pictures

The prosecutors stated that Tabak – around a foot (30 cm) taller than Yeates – had used his height and build to overpower her, pinning her to the floor by the wrists, and that she had suffered 43 separate injuries to her head, neck, torso and arms during the struggle. The injuries included cuts, bruises, and a fractured nose. The court learned that hher death would have been slow and painful. However, there was no  explanation for the reasoning behind Tabak’s initial attack on Yeates.

In his defence, Tabak claimed that the killing had not been sexually motivated, and told the court that he had killed Yeates while trying to silence her after she screamed when he tried to kiss her. He claimed that Yeates had made a “flirty comment” and invited him to drink with her. He said that after she screamed he held his hands over her mouth and around her neck to silence her He denied suggestions of a struggle, claiming to have held Yeates by the neck with only minimal force, and “… for about 20 seconds“. He told the court that after dumping the body he was “… in a state of panic.”

The Verdict
The jury was sent out to deliberate on 26 October, and returned with a verdict two days later. On 28 October 2011, Tabak was found guilty of Joanna Yeates’ murder by a 10 to 2 majority verdict. He was jailed for life with a minimum term of 20 years. Mr Justice Field referred to a “sexual element” to the killing. Other that than there was no comprehensive reason why Tabak brutally killed the innocent, young woman. For the Yeates family Christmas will never be the same.


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