Who was Colin Stagg?
The ruthless hunt to find Rachel Nickell’s killer was one which saw Colin Stagg fall victim in a great ordeal and wrongfully accused of her murder.
Colin Stagg, who was once described as a ‘loner’, become the target for one of the biggest manhunts in British history.
At the time of Rachel Nickell’s murder in July 1992, Colin was placed at the scene of the crime following multiple eye witnesses who believed he had fit the description of the attacker.
Killing of Rachel Nickell
Rachel Jane Nickell (23 November 1968 – 15 July 1992) was a British woman who was killed on Wimbledon Common, in south-west London on 15 July 1992. The initial police investigation of the crime resulted in the arrest in controversial circumstances of an innocent man, who was acquitted. Her killer, Robert Napper, was identified by a later police investigation and convicted in 2008.
Nickell was walking with her two-year-old son on Wimbledon Common when she was stabbed to death by a man. A lengthy police investigation to find the perpetrator followed, during which a suspect was wrongfully charged and later acquitted – before the case went cold.
In 2002, with more advanced forensic techniques, the case was reopened and on 18 December 2008 Napper pleaded guilty to Nickell’s manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. Napper, who was already detained at Broadmoor High Security Hospital in Berkshire for a 1993 double murder, was ordered to be detained there indefinitely with the judge adding that it was unlikely he will ever be released.
At the time of her death, Nickell was living near Wimbledon Common with partner André Hanscombe and their two-year-old son, Alexander Louis. Nickell was 23 years old at the time of her death. On the morning of 15 July 1992, she and Alexander were walking their dog on Wimbledon Common. Whilst passing through a secluded area of the common, Nickell was attacked.
An assailant killed her by repeatedly stabbing and slashing her with a knife, then sexually assaulted her. The assailant fled the scene, leaving Alexander physically unharmed in the vicinity. A passer-by found Alexander clinging to his mother’s body repeating the words “Wake up, Mummy”.
Officers of the Metropolitan Police undertook the investigation, under pressure to find the perpetrator from public outrage at the circumstances of the homicide and press coverage. Thirty-two men were questioned in connection with the killing; the investigation quickly targeted Colin Stagg, a man from Roehampton who was known to walk his dog on the Common.
As there was no forensic evidence linking him to the scene, the police asked Paul Britton, a criminal psychologist, to create an offender profile of the killer. They decided that he fitted the profile and asked the psychologist to assist with designing a covert operation, code-named Operation Ezdell, to see whether he would eliminate or implicate himself. This operation was later criticised by the media and the trial judge, as in effect a “honeytrap”.
Killer finally unmasked
Rachel’s murderer was finally named as Robert Napper and in 2008, he pleaded guilty to the killing in court.
Napper was a triple killer and serial rapist suspected of 70 rapes and sexual assaults over a four-year period over the Nineties.
He had been in Broadmoor psychiatric hospital since 1995 after a judge incarcerated him indefinitely for his crimes – which included killing Samantha Bisset, 27, and her four-year-old daughter Jazmine.
He was arrested after a fingerprint linked him to the Bisset killings and 16 years after Rachel Nickell’s murder was finally recognised as the killer.
During his court case at the Old Bailey, Mr Justice Griffiths told Napper: “You are on any view a very dangerous man.”
As for ‘Lizzie James’, there is a lifelong anonymity order that prevents her true identity from being revealed.