On Sunday 4 August, 2002, two 10-year-old girls vanished without trace from their homes in Soham, Cambridgeshire. The best friends, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, were in the same class at St Andrew's primary school in Soham and were last seen by the parents of Holly at about 5.30pm. Jessica had just come back from holiday and had gone straight round to Holly's house to give her friend a holiday souvenir.
Holly's parents, who were holding a barbecue, took a photo of the two girls in their matching Manchester United football shirts. That picture became world-renowned as it was used on the 'missing' posters and broadcast by TV and the press while the search for the girls was undertaken. The girls' disappearance triggered one of Britain's biggest manhunts, involving more than 400 officers from 21 police forces.
During police enquiries, school caretaker Ian Huntley, 28, was interviewed and he said he saw the girls when he was washing his car. He said they walked off after they enquired about his partner, Maxine Carr, 25, who was a teaching assistant in their class, and chatted for a few moments after he said Miss Carr was in the bath. The girls then walked off in a direction which led out of the village.
Maxine Carr was also interviewed and she stated that she was with Huntley at the time of the girls' disappearance, and went into great detail describing the Sunday dinner she had cooked for them. She had in fact been with her mother in Grimsby at the time. She gave him the alibi even though when she arrived home, their washing machine was full of wet bedding, and the entire house smelt of lemon cleaning product, and she knew Huntley never did housework. Carr gave an interview to the BBC and referred to the girls in the past tense before their bodies had been found.
Grimsby-born Huntley had left the town behind and also a dubious reputation. He had come to the attention of the police several times, with offences including burglary, serious sexual assault on a minor (age 12), indecent assault on a 10-year-old, four accusations of rape, and other offences of underage sex. The cases were dropped due to lack of evidence, or after an alibi was provided (in the case of one of the alleged rapes) by Maxine Carr. The records of his arrests were subsequently destroyed in error by Humberside Police, so nothing untoward showed up on his police check when he applied for the school caretaker job at Soham.
When Huntley went to collect Carr from her mother's home in Grimsby, a neighbour saw Carr crying as she was looking into the open boot of Huntley's car. The neighbour, Marion Westerman, was subsequently threatened by Carr's mother, Shirley Capp, 61, to keep quiet, if she knew what was good for her. Capp was subsequently tried and sent to prison for contempt of court, intimidating a witness and attempting to pervert the course of justice.
The bodies of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were found almost two weeks after they went missing. Their badly decomposed naked bodies had been set alight after they had been dumped in a ditch near the RAF Lakenheath airbase in Suffolk, close to Huntley's father's home. Their clothes were found after a second search of the school premises. On the same day, Ian Huntley and his girlfriend Maxine Carr were arrested in connection with the girls' deaths.