Who was Rachel Nickell and how did she die? – The SunSeptember 7, 2021
RACHEL Nickell was brutally murdered and and sexually assaulted in front of her toddler son in 1992.
A horrified passer-by later found two-year-old Alexander clinging to his mum's blood-soaked body repeatedly crying "wake up, mummy". Here's the background to the tragedy.
Who was Rachel Nickell?
Rachel, 23, had been living near Wimbledon Common with her boyfriend André Hanscombe, their two-year-old son Alexander and dog Molly.
Rachel was a former model who had settled into becoming a full-time mum.
She was brutally murdered by a complete stranger in front of her son.
What happened to Rachel Nickell?
On July 15, 1992, Rachel was walking with Alexander on Wimbledon Common when serial sex offender Robert Napper lurched from bushes and attacked her.
The killer stabbed Rachel 49 times in the frenzy and sexually assaulted her in front of her son before fleeing.
Little Alexander was found pleading for his mum to get up.
Rachel's throat had been slit, with cuts on her hands showing she had put up a fight.
Many of her other injuries were inflicted after she was dead.
Little Alex had stuck a piece of paper on his tragic mum like a plaster "to make mummy better".
No one in the surrounding area had heard her scream for help.
What happened during the police investigation?
Less than a month after Rachel's death police arrested 14 men in connection with her murder but all of them were released.
The police continued to appeal for information.
On September 21, 1992, police quickly targeted Colin Stagg.
The 29-year-old newspaper delivery man was fined £200 after he pleaded guilty to indecent exposure on Wimbledon Common.
No forensic evidence linked Stagg to the scene but cops asked criminal psychologist Paul Britton to create an offender profile of the killer and decided he was their prime suspect.
At the time, Stagg's solicitor said the offence had nothing to do with Rachel's murder.
A year later in August 1993, Stagg was charged with Rachel's murder at Wimbledon magistrates court and he remained in custody.
In total, more than 500 suspects had been interviewed by police with 32 arrested and subsequently released.
In February 1994, Stagg stood trial at the Old Bailey accused of murdering Rachel.
Stagg refused to eat for six days during this time.
Months later in September, the trial collapsed after the judge, Mr Justice Ognall, condemned a police undercover operation in which a female officer exchanged a series of letters with Stagg.
Operation Ezdell – later branded a "honey trap" by Justice Ognall – gave a female undercover officer the pseudonym Lizzie James.
Lizzie contacted Stagg and over five months wrote more than 40 letters, each more explicit than the last.
By the end, Lizzie was virtually demanding Stagg confess to Rachel's murder in return for sadomasochistic sex.
She told him she wanted to be "completely in your power, defenceless and humiliated", and sent him a tape in which she fantasised about a man holding a knife to her skin while having sex with her.
Referring to Rachel, Lizzie said: "It would not matter to me if you had murdered her…in certain ways I wish you had. It would make things easier for me."
She later told Stagg: "It would have been great if you had done it. I wish you had done it … it's a turn-on, to think about the man that did it."
But even faced with the opportunity to confess to the murder in return for the sex he so desperately craved, Stagg insisted he had nothing to do with Rachel dying.
He said: "I could have lied to you and said to you I did do it just to be with you."
But Justice Ognall said police had shown "excessive zeal" and had tried to incriminate a suspect by "deceptive conduct of the grossest kind" so he excluded the evidence.
The prosecution withdrew its case and Stagg was formally acquitted in September 1994.
In April 1995, Stagg was granted legal aid to sue the Met Police for malicious prosecution and wrongful arrest.
Two years later, Scotland Yard said the hunt for Rachel's murder was being wound down.
It was not until 2008, 16 years after the attack, that Robert Napper, then 41, admitted stabbing Rachel.
Napper had been a patient at Broadmoor Hospital for more than ten years suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and Asperger's.
He had been convicted of killing Samantha Bisset and her four-year-old daughter Jazmine in November 1993 – 16 months after Rachel was slain.
Advances in DNA profiling meant police were able to link Napper to the murder in 2004.
He was duly convicted of her manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
Police had missed a series of chances to arrest Napper before his six-year spree of sex and rape attacks was brought to a close.
Justice Griffiths Williams said he would be held indefinitely at Broadmoor Hospital because he was "a very dangerous man".
The police then issued a public apology to Colin Stagg.
What happened to Rachel Nickell's son Alex Hanscombe and where is he now?
After her death, Alex and his father Andre, 54, moved to Barcelona where he now works as a yoga teacher.
Single Alex, who is looking at writing a self-help book, has returned to the scene of the murder and described it as a "magical experience".
He's also forgiven his mum's killer, admitting: “I don’t feel resentment.”
Alex remembers desperately trying to revive his mother after she was brutally killed and described the memory as like a silent movie.
He told The Sun on Sunday in 2018: “I looked down at my mother lying on the ground. She looked so peaceful, as if asleep and ready to wake up at any moment.
“I shouted, ‘Get up Mummy!’ with all my strength. In less than a second, life seemed to come to a standstill. She was gone. My heart was completely broken.”
Alex says he also has vivid memories on the day of the killing, before they left for the park, including having cooked breakfast and a play fight with his dad.
The pair then headed to Wimbledon Common walking hand in hand.
He said: "There was beautiful sunshine and I remember the sound of people having picnics in the grass and our dog Molly circling around us.
“We saw a stranger who was lurching towards us and he had a black bag over his shoulder.
“Then I was grabbed and thrown to the ground, my face dragged across the mud. A few seconds later my mother collapsed beside me. I picked myself up as fast as I could.
“I was slightly dizzy and disorientated and I spotted the stranger walking to the stream. Everything was fast.
“He started to wash the blood off his hands. He just disappeared off into the distance like a ghost.
“As quickly as I could, I got up and walked towards my mother. I noticed a piece of paper next to her — it was a receipt from a cash machine, I found out years later.
“I held it in front of her and said, ‘Get up, Mummy’.
“I said again, ‘Get up, Mummy’ and she didn’t respond. Then for the last time, with all my strength I said, ‘Get up, Mummy.’
“She didn’t. At that moment, reality came crashing down.
“I was very young but I knew at that moment she had gone and she was never coming back.
“I reached down and placed the piece of paper delicately upon her forehead so it would be with her, wherever she was."
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