Thirty five years ago today, nine-year-old schoolgirls Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway went out to play and never came back.
Their bodies were found in a woodlands in Brighton after depraved killer Russell Bishop shamelessly joined the search party – before even trying to pin the murder on Nicola’s dad.
In 1987 the paedophile was sensationally acquitted of their killings when DNA evidence and testimonies failed to stand up in court.
Within three years, he had struck again and was jailed for attempted murder after abducting and sexually assaulting a seven-year-old girl – leaving her for dead.
Yet it wasn’t until 2018 – more than three decades after the killings that became known as the ‘Babes in the Wood’ murders – that warped Bishop was finally brought to justice.
This is how the killer desperately tried to cover up his crimes before a one-in-a-billion DNA match finally brought closure for the families of his tragic victims.
Best friends Nicola and Karen grew up on the same street in Moulsecoomb, Brighton.
On October 9, 1986, they went out to play after school, buying chips before heading to Wild Park – about half a mile from their homes.
By bedtime, neither of them had returned home and Karen’s worried mum, Michelle Hadaway, rang 999.
A huge search involving hundreds of townspeople ensued and the following day their bodies were discovered at the park in a makeshift den.
Sickeningly, post mortem results showed both girls had been strangled to death. Their underwear had been tampered with and there was evidence of sexual assault.
The police investigation quickly focused on 20-year-old Bishop, who had ties to the families of his victims.
The roofer played football and cricket with Nicola’s dad, Barrie, but his interest in young girls had previously led both sets of parents to urge their children to stay away from him.
Despite living with his pregnant partner Jennie Johnson, he had a string of girlfriends – including a 16-year-old woman who lived around the corner from Nicola and Karen.
Shameless Bishop joined in the hunt for the girls on October 10, but his actions later aroused suspicion.
Karen was found lying across Nicola with her head in her friend’s lap and their hands close together – an image that would see the murder dubbed the ‘Babes in the Wood’
Bishop ran towards the girls’ bodies when they were found with a police officer, but the constable later said he did not get close enough to see them properly.
The killer later told a neighbour that the sight of them lying together was a vision he would never forget.
Bishop was also spotted near a police box the girls had been seen by before their disappearance, wearing what “appeared to be a light blue top”.
Giving conflicting statements and alibis to cops, Bishop was arrested on October 31 and charged the following December ahead of a trial.
To the torment of the two girls’ families, Bishop was acquitted by the jury in his trial after just two hours of deliberation.
A series of blunders in the prosecution case meant he was able to walk free.
The girls were alleged to have been killed between 6.15pm and 6.30pm, but the temperature of their bodies had not been taken.
This meant an accurate time frame could not be established and Bishop’s alibis on the night of the murder could not be substantially challenged.
Forensics teams also failed to analyse blood traces discovered on Karen’s underwear, while nobody had measured the hand marks around their necks or attempted to take fingerprint evidence.
A blue Pinto-branded sweatshirt similar to the “light blue top” worn by Bishop was found near the railway line at Moulsecoomb station and formed a key part of the prosecution’s case.
However, police had not properly preserved the piece of clothing, allowing the killer’s defence team to argue any forensic evidence drawn from it was unreliable.
Bishop outright denied the sweatshirt belonged to him, although his partner, Jenny Johnson, had told police otherwise.
In the witness box at Lewes Crown Court, however, the prosecution team was left stunned when she said she had never seen it before.
The murderer was free to walk out of the courtroom – and it wouldn’t be long before he struck again.
On February 4, 1990, a seven-year-old schoolgirl was thrown into the boot of a red Ford Cortina as she roller-bladed to the shops in Brighton.
The driver was Bishop, who threatened to kill the young girl if she didn’t stay quiet.
Driving her to Devil’s Dyke in Sussex, he forced her into the back seat before strangling her, stripping her naked and sexually assaulting her.
Convinced the girl was dead, Bishop threw her body into the woods.
This time, though, his victim survived.
Lined up in an identity parade, Bishop was singled out by the girl, who was described by detectives as an “absolutely exceptional witness”.
Bishop lied his way through the subsequent trial but was handed a life sentence for attempted murder, kidnapping and indecent assault the following December.
Under cross-examination in 2018, he later claimed he was not a paedophile but was driven to commit the hideous crime due to the “hate campaign” against him following the Babes in the Wood trial.
“It could have been anyone,” the pervert claimed. “Through the psychological trauma of the hate campaign and what everyone else was saying it came out in that behaviour.”
Despite his conviction, the families of Nicola and Karen waited nearly three whole decades more to bring Bishop to justice.
The repeal of the double-jeopardy laws in 2005 from the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act paved the way for an eventual trial based on “compelling” new evidence.
Horrifying ‘Babes in the Wood’ scene as Paedophile marches with parents of girls he is accused of killing
Eurofins Forensic Services – the same team that helped convict Stephen Lawrence’s killers – discovered a “billion-to-one” DNA match that finally linked Bishop to the blue sweatshirt that had been a cornerstone of the first botched trial.
The convicted paedophile was removed from his cell at Frankland Prison, Durham, and rearrested for the murders of Karen and Nicola in May 2016.
After his 1987 acquittal was quashed, he went on trial at the Old Bailey in October 2018.
Prosecutor Brian Altman explained that their case was not just based on Bishop’s attempted murder in 1990, but also on the new DNA evidence.
“One significant part of the enquiry has been to re-evaluate various areas of scientific work that were performed for the purposes of the 1987 trial but through the lens of modern day techniques, DNA profiling which although available in 1986 and 1987 was then in its infancy,” he explained.
Desperate Bishop tried to change his story once again in court, even accusing Nicola’s father, Barrie, of being the real culprit and suggesting he was covering up sexually abusing his daughter.
Distraught Barrie, who confronted the murderer in court alongside the victims’ families, had to leave the room in tears, as Altman slammed him for “dragging that man’s name through the mud”.
The new evidence was able to establish that the girls had still been alive at 6.30pm and that Bishop had turned back into Wild Park.
This time, the jury again deliberated for just over two hours, but unanimously found him guilty of their murders.
The following day, he was sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommended minimum term of 36 years.
Following the verdict, Karen’s mum Michelle said the families “finally have justice”.
“Time stood still for us in 1986,” she said. “To us the beautiful girls will always be nine-year-olds. They will never grow up.
“We’ve been deprived of a happy life to watch them grow into adults.
“What people like Bishop inflict on the families of their victims is a living death. They take the lives of children but they also take the lives of the families left behind.
“Bishop doesn’t deserve to breathe the same clean air as we do. After all, he decided that day to strangle the life out of our two angels, leaving them no air to breathe.
“What makes a man want to squeeze the life out of two innocent children with his bare hands? Unbelievable when he had a child himself and another on the way.
“He’s a coward, without a conscience. I don’t believe you can rehabilitate evil.
“I think Bishop was just born that way. People talk to me of forgiveness but I can never forgive or forget what the evil monster did to my beautiful Kaz and Nicky.”