Norwich Sex Worker Murder — Who Killed Michelle Bettles
This is the first in a series of articles reviewing the unsolved murders of sex workers in Norfolk and Suffolk, England. I will be looking at the mysterious killings and some of the reasons why these young women lost their lives and who may have been responsible
Michelle Bettles was a sex worker plying her trade on the streets of Norwich, England in the early hours of Friday 29th March 2002, when she suddenly disappeared.
She failed to keep a pre-arranged appointment in the Dereham Road area of Norwich with a regular client. This was very unusual for Michelle, who regularly kept to arrangements and met her punters promptly.
On this occasion, it seems that Michelle did not even intend to keep the appointment as she was last seen heading in completely the opposite direction to where she was supposed to meet.
CCTV from the city’s network of cameras shows Michelle at around 8.20pm on Thursday night, 28th March 2002 walking in the direction of the city centre, completely opposite to the route that she would have needed to have taken in order to make her meeting in Dereham Road, why? We may never know the answer, but this was the beginning of Easter weekend, there would have been a lot of people around.
A number of witnesses claimed to have seen Michelle in various areas of the red light district up until around midnight, then she simply disappeared. Whether she was picked up by an unusual punter, not known to her or whether she knew her killer we simply do not know.
From what I have come to understand in regard to the way street prostitutes operate it is my belief that Michelle probably knew her killer and willingly went with him, probably believing that she was just going to earn money as usual.
Sadly Michelle’s body was found by a dog walker early on 31st March 2002. She had been strangled and dumped in a wooded area beside a bridleway called Rush Meadow Road. The deposition site is approximately 20 miles from the red light district in Norwich where the 22-year-old was last seen.
It seems likely that Michelle had been taken away and murdered on the same night that she was last seen, although a police pathologist thinks that her body was held for almost three days before being dumped. Michelle was still fully clothed but her handbag, her long black leather coat that she always wore and some personal jewellery were missing and have never been located.
Sadly Michelle Bettles was, like many of the sex workers that operated then and still do so across the world today a heroin addict and found herself drawn into the world of prostitution in order to feed her habit. Nonetheless, Michelle was a young mum and much loved daughter and did not deserve to be murdered.
Parents of Michelle, John and Denise say that they are angry and disappointed at the way Norfolk police handled the murder of their daughter and two other local prostitutes.
John Bettles said “As the investigation went along, I started to get doubts. The number one nail in the coffin was forensic evidence. There was a fine white powder found on Michelle and the police insisted that it was going to be a major breakthrough because the powder was such fine quality. It was sent off to forensics somewhere in Cambridge and we waited three months”.
John went on to explain that after three months of hearing nothing he made enquiries, he says “I asked what happened to the white powder and there was a long pause, the two officers looked at one another and one said “it was bird muck”.
According to the police and national media Michelle was one of three prostitutes that worked the red light district in Norwich, but in fact there were at least four starting in 1992 with Natalie Pearman who was abducted and murdered on November 20th, then Amanda Duncan who vanished, thought to have been murdered on 3rd July 1993 and Kellie Pratt who disappeared on 11th June 2000 whilst she was working in Norwich’s red light district.
I do recognise that a murder hunt for police is always difficult and in the case of sex workers things are made even tougher as witnesses that would normally be ready and feel safe to give vital information are much more unsure about coming forward in such circumstances.
Working girls fear the wrath of pimps and punters if they tell what they know and punters fear coming forward as they fear being exposed for using the services of prostitutes.
John Benson, a local drug dealer was arrested on suspicion of murder after he told people that Michelle owed him money for heroin but he was released without any charges being made and he passed away in 2005.
Then a year after Michelle was murdered the son of a retired Norfolk police officer was arrested and after spending several hours denying that he knew Michelle finally admitted that he had used her services on Tuesday 26th March 2002. He informed police that he had only ever been with a prostitute once and that was Michelle.
He told police that a taxi collected Michelle from his home and he never saw her again. The cab driver was tracked down and he confirmed the suspects story so again he was released without any charges.
It has been suggested that the serial killer, Steven Wright, also known as the Suffolk strangler could well have been responsible for the murder of Michelle and other prostitutes.
It is perfectly possible and I believe that it should be looked at again with some care as Michelle told her mum that she had got into the car of a client with a man who was dressed as a woman and Steven Wright was a cross dresser.
Other prostitutes that worked in the red light district at the time confirmed that Wright, who lived in Suffolk by then, often used prostitutes in Norwich and met them whilst he was cross-dressed.
Wright had a good knowledge of the red light district in Norwich as he had been the landlord of The Ferry Boat Inn pub in 1987–88 which was right in the heart of the area and frequented by sex workers.
I will be covering a more in-depth review of Steven Wright in the coming days as well as looking in more detail at some of the other murders in the coming days, so more on him then.
As usual if you have any information that you would like to share with me on this case then I am more than happy to hear from you and of course if you have information that could help police to solve these cold cases please contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
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