The Unsolved Murder of Valerie Graves
Case File Overview
Late December 2013, 55-year-old Valerie Graves was housesitting with family members at a £1.6 million Smuggler’s Lane mansion by the sea in Bosham, England when she was bludgeoned to death with a hammer.
Valerie, a popular artist, arrived at the home with her mother Eileen just days before Christmas to celebrate the holidays and Valerie’s birthday. Valerie’s sister Jan and her sister’s partner Nigel Akers arrived shortly thereafter. The mansion belonged to the Chamberlains, friends of Nigel’s who were holidaying in Costa Rica with their children.
On December 29, 2013, Valerie excused herself at around 10 pm and headed to her groundfloor bedroom at the rear of the home. The next day, Valerie’s sister came upon a bloody scene when she went downstairs to check on her sister. Valerie had been brutally bludgeoned to death. An autopsy later determined the crime likely occurred around midnight. A patio door that led from Valerie’s bedroom to the backyard was found unlocked.
Forensic teams searched the home and surrounding areas. All of Valerie’s relatives and the neighbours were thoroughly and repeatedly questioned. Three weeks after the murder, flood waters from recent bad weather receded and an old, 30-centimetre long (11.8-inch) claw hammer was found 600 metres (1968 feet) away in Hoe Lane. Although the water had washed away much of the evidence from the murder weapon, both Valerie’s DNA profile and the partial DNA profile of an unknown male remained.
Authorities haven’t found a match to the DNA profile in the National DNA Database. Also, a voluntary DNA screening campaign of men over 17 years of age who lived or worked in the village, or visited the area at the time of murder, has already eliminated nearly 3000 men.
Valerie’s murder remains unsolved.
Case File Theories
Was Valerie murdered by mistake? I suppose it’s possible that one of the Chamberlains was the intended victim. The house is out of the way, situated roughly a mile-and-a-half from the centre of Bosham. The police figured that the killer must have known the area and went to the mansion with a specific purpose in mind; the intent very well could have been to kill one of the Chamberlains. However, if the family was known to the perpetrator, you would think that he would have been aware that the Chamberlains were out of town. Additionally, the killer likely would have realized he was attacking the wrong person and left. These thoughts leave me wondering if the mistaken identity theory is sound.
A Targeted Murder
Was Valerie murdered by someone who knew her? At the beginning of the investigation, the police had “strong suspicions” that this was the case. Given that hammer attacks are extremely up close and personal, it seems probable that Valerie was murdered by someone she knew. Also, Valerie was viciously struck multiple times in the head and face. The violent and chaotic nature of the crime suggests a crime of passion. Could Valerie have been murdered by one of her family members in the house? Or even her ex? Maybe.
At first glance it seems odd that no one in the house heard the intruder enter or leave and didn’t hear the attack. But perhaps, as the media has speculated, the out-of-the-way placement of Valerie’s bedroom played a part in this. Also, as there was no sign of a struggle, Valerie could have been killed in her sleep. As a result, there would have been no loud confrontation between Valerie and her killer for anyone in the house to hear.
It’s important to note that the police have never named any of Valerie’s family members or Valerie’s ex, Roy Wood, as suspects. In fact, they all seem genuinely distraught about her death and actively help the police. Valerie and Roy separated years before her death, and he wasn’t housesitting with her at the time of the murder. Roy explained to the media that he and Valerie had remained friends. He said that her death “has left an enormous hole in our lives.” Although I think this is a more probable scenario than the Chamberlains being the intended target, I’m still not sure. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the DNA evidence on the hammer cleared both Valerie’s family and Roy.
A Robbery Gone Wrong
Did a burglar break into the mansion, accidentally encounter Valerie, and murder her to keep her quiet? This is a probable theory and the one that the police currently seem to favour. And a random robbery best explains why the DNA evidence hasn’t pointed to a suspect, especially if the killer was just passing through the village. But why kill Valerie if she was sleeping? And why has there been no discussion of anything missing from the home? Is the home really located somewhere where a random burglar would happen upon it? The police don’t think so. And not many burglars bludgeon sleeping people to death with a hammer. Although this seems to be a likely theory, there are still problems with it that are hard to overcome given the information available.
Who do you think murdered Valerie?
On January 14, 2014 a 22-year-old local man was arrested for the murder of Valerie. However, he was released on bail and the charges were eventually dropped. Although the impetus behind either his arrest or release are unclear, I assume that a comparison of his DNA to the male DNA on the murder weapon cleared him. I can’t help but wonder how positive we can be that the partial DNA male profile on the hammer is the killer’s DNA. What if the hammer belonged to someone else and the killer stole it and wore gloves during the crime? Is DNA evidence infallible?
Somewhat ironically, picturesque and peaceful Bosham has been the setting of many fictional murder cases over the years, most famously for the TV show Midsomer Murders and an adaptation of an Agatha Christie murder mystery.
As Valerie’s ex Roy points out, however, real life crimes are rarely solved as quickly or as easily as depicted in crime dramas. Roy explained, “We are used to watching police shows on the television where the baddie is caught two hours later. We understand it doesn’t work like this. The police can only do what they can do if there is no trail to follow.”
Valerie and her loved ones deserve justice. The police are offering a reward of £10,000 to anyone providing information that results in a prosecution and conviction.
The Sussex Police are requesting the public’s assistance to solve this case. Their website states:
“We are appealing for any witnesses who have not yet been spoken to and may have been in the area of Smugglers Lane or Hoe Lane between 6pm on 29 December and 10am on 30 December 2013.
• Do you know anyone else who was or could have been there?
• Do you know of anyone who was acting suspiciously around that time or has since mentioned something that has made you suspicious or concerned that they could be involved in this offence? This may be in either a personal or professional capacity.
If you contact police you may be eligible for a £10,000 reward being offered by Surrey and Sussex Police Major Crime Team for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the offender. We need your help to catch Valerie’s killer. Please act now.
If you have information regarding the murder of Valerie Graves or any information which you think will help officers then you can contact us in a number of ways.
• Online quoting reference Op Ensign.
• Telephone: 01273 475432 or 101 and ask for Sussex Police
• Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Contact the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 anonymously. You will not have to give any personal details and you will not have to speak to police or go to court.”
Unsolved: The murder of Valerie Graves – Sussex Police file overview
“Valerie Graves: Murder in Bosham still unsolved four years on” – BBC News article
Interested in unsolved murder cases? Check out the brutal murder of Lisa Leckie and the mysterious slaying of Betsy Aardsma.