After 42 years of waiting the parents of former Eastbourne student Jessie Earl have been told their daughter was unlawfully killed by a third party, according to a coroner.
The new inquest, which was held at Eastbourne Town Hall over the last three days (May 10-12), had been ordered back in December after the original hearing into the 22-year-old’s death recorded an open verdict.
Jessie went missing in May 1980 and her remains were found in dense shrubland at Beachy Head nine years later.
East Sussex coroner James Healy-Pratt said, “On the evidence heard at this inquest I do not consider there to be evidence of suicide, accident, misadventure or natural causes.
“I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that there is sufficient evidence to support a conclusion of unlawful killing.
“I am satisfied with the evidence that Jessie was murdered because she was killed unlawfully by a third party person who intended to kill her.”
The coroner said he believes Jessie’s clothes and belongings were removed by a third party, whose motive was unknown, but left a bra as it could not be untied.
Jessie, who originally moved to Eastbourne as an art student in 1978, was planning to visit her parents on May 16 but never arrived at their Eltham home.
A statement from parents Valerie and John Earl read, “We as parents had an excellent relationship with Jessie.”
The inquest heard how Jessie had told her parents about meeting a middle-aged man from Brighton who was separated and had four children while walking on the Downs.
Jessie’s parents said she suggested that the man perhaps wanted more than an innocent friendship.
The inquest also heard how Jessie was hesitant to go home earlier incase ‘he’ knocked on her door.
The Earls said they believed this to be in relation to the man Jessie met on the Downs.
On March 25 Gordon Cross stumbled across human bones, which were later identified as Jessie’s, while on the Downs with his daughter and dog.
He said, “I then saw a skull on the ground and immediately recognised that it was a human skull.”
Police were subsequently called to the area between Beachy Head Road and Dukes Drive.
Pathologist Dr David Rouse said, “The remains were of one individual.
“It is likely they are female in origin.”
Dr Rouse added, “It is my opinion that the individual’s wrists may have been tied together.”
The doctor said the cause of death was ‘unascertainable’.
The inquest heard how there was a ‘good correlation’ in the dental records matching Jessie to the remains.
Retried DS Ann Capon said she had ‘no doubt at all’ that Jessie was murdered.
She added, “I cannot see how Jessie could have got into dense bushes like that and there have been things that make me think she had to be murdered.
“This was away from her normal walking area.”
DS Capon described Jessie as a ‘home-loving girl’.
She said, “She clearly had a very loving family behind her. She regularly contacted her parents and her brother.
“She spent a lot of weekends at home, she spent her holidays at home.
“I think she was a girl who loved life. This is how it comes across in her journal to me.
“She did not strike me as the sort of person who would voluntarily disappear.
“She definitely wasn’t suicidal.”
DS Capon said it was ‘likely’ Jessie was murdered at, or very close to, where her remains and bra were found.
The former Sussex Police officer said Jessie was ‘probably’ restrained with her bra while it is possible she was sexually assaulted.
DS Capon said she thought Jessie was probably tied to a tree.
The location of Jessie’s bra was also a source of frustration for the Earl family.
Despite being kept as evidence in 1989 when it was found, the bra can no longer be located, the coroner heard.
Ahead of his verdict Mr Healy-Pratt said, “In hindsight this disposal of key forensically important evidence was highly unfortunate and disposal of the bra and the decision making by Sussex Police leading up to the disposal was deeply flawed.”
The coroner also spoke about how the family had been ‘let down’ and were the victim of a ‘substantial injustice’.
Mr Healy-Pratt concluded the inquest by offering his condolences to the Earl family following their ‘42 years of waiting’ while praising their ‘resilience’.
Following the inquest Valerie Earl said, “All I can say is we are both elated. We are delighted.
“It is what we have wanted for such a long time. I cannot believe it has actually happened.”
Mrs Earl said she wanted to thank everybody who has helped the family.
She added, “I suppose we will eventually stop thinking about it.
“That is the other thing, I was thinking if we don’t hurry up and do it soon it will be too late for us.”