Marie Wilks M50 Murder
The passage of twenty years has done nothing to diminish the horror of the murder of Marie Wilks on that June day in 1988
The images from the case are still too strong and too shocking:
the heavily pregnant mother being abducted and stabbed as she made an emergency call from the side of the M50 motorway;
the chilling recording of the Police operative who took that call, forlornly repeating “Mrs Wilks” over and over again, with only the sound of motorway traffic coming in reply, after he’d put Marie on hold to speak to her mother;
the knowledge that the murdered woman’s eleven year old sister, who’d been left in the broken down car, walked up the motorway hard-shoulder, cradling Marie’s year-old baby in her arms, and that none of the estimated 200 cars that passed her stopped to help. She was eventually picked up by a Police car from the nearby Strensham Services.
“A totally opportunistic incident”
The crime remains as random now as it did when Marie’s father, Terry, spoke to the press before his daughter’s body was found: “I can’t imagine what happened.” he told reporters, “It baffles me, the Police and everybody.”
Police reaction to the murder of Marie Wilks >
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Police cars at the M50 murder scene
The same sentiments were expressed two days later, by Detective Chief Superintendent David Cole, who led the investigation, when Marie’s body had been discovered on embankment on the M50: “It appears to be a totally opportunistic incident.”
The question of why someone would abduct and kill a seven and a half month pregnant woman remains unanswered.
The crime could scarcely have happened in a more public place – a busy motorway early on a Saturday evening.
Straightway the Police appealed to the hundreds of motorists who drove past the scene, asking them to get in touch with them.
They must have been very confident that they would be able to piece together an accurate picture of what happened, and uncover vital clues that would help them catch the killer.
Marie’s eleven year old sister had even spoken to a man who had approached the broken down Marina on the hard shoulder.
Marie Wilks’ eleven year old sister >
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As it turned out, there were crucial flaws and contradictions in the evidence they collected from witnesses.
The case also shows how quickly the world we live in changes.
“I can’t imagine what happened. It baffles me, the Police and everybody.”
Terry Gough – Marie’s father
These days we take for granted things like mobile phones and sat navs.
Marie didn’t have a sat nav to tell her which way to turn when she made the trip to Symonds Yat on that hot summer day, and so had got lost on her way home, and strayed onto the motorway.
In 1988 mobile phones were the size of house bricks, and were an expensive luxury, so Marie had to walk more than half a mile to use a roadside emergency phone.
A Police Operator tries to speak to Marie Wilks >
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In the wake of the murder, the emergency services and others began to think about the safety of women who’d broken down on the side of the road.
It was in response to the case that the AA developed its Callsafe service – a low-cost mobile phone (for the time), linked to a control centre, that could summon appropriate help to an emergency.
The system was phased out as more and more people got their own mobile phones.
New technology and old methods
Science has also radically changed the way criminal investigations are conducted.
“A detective following his nose, and the kind of work we have been doing for 150 years, leads us to the person who commits these grave offences.”
Detective Chief Superintendant David Cole
These days we take it for granted that DNA evidence will play a key part in any investigation – back in 1988, what was then called genetic fingerprinting was still in its infancy.
Images from CCTV cameras did play some part in the Marie Wilks murder investigation, but there were nowhere near the number of cameras available back in 1988 as there are now.
New technology (for the time) was used on the case, notably the Holmes computer, developed in the wake of the Yorkshire Ripper killings. But the system, which cost £300,000 in 1988, was described by Detective Chief Superintendent Tony Stanley, the head of Worcester CID, as “not user friendly”.
DCS David Cole, profiled in the Worcester Evening News early in the investigation, put his faith in a more traditional style of policing: “No matter how sophisticated our equipment, a detective following his nose, and the kind of work we have been doing for 150 years, leads us to the person who commits these grave offences.”
Ultimately that was not to be the case with the murder of Marie Wilks.
Twenty four years on, there are still many more questions than answers surrounding her murder, but one thing is still glaringly obvious:
No-one has yet been brought to justice – no-one has yet paid the price for this brutal killing.