THE murders of mother and daughter Lin and Megan Russell by a hammer-wielding killer in a quiet country lane in Kent shocked the nation in 1996.
The only solace was that Megan’s elder sister Josie survived the attack — and after a year-long manhunt, police arrested the man they believed was the culprit, Michael Stone.
But now, 26 years after he was sentenced to life in prison, a new TV documentary casts doubt on the conviction and suggests the real killer could be yet to face justice.
The airing of Sky Documentaries’ Who Killed Lin And Megan? is timely, as Stone is this week seeking a judicial review of his case which he hopes could see him freed.
Adding an extra twist is the fact that in 2017, serial killer Levi Bellfield reportedly confessed to the murders to a fellow prisoner.
In the programme, forensic scientist Jim Fraser recalls: “There were so many possibilities and not much evidence.
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“I was involved in the case from start to end, so I’d have been made aware of any further forensic cases that opened up.
“But no murder weapon was ever found.”
Jim, who has more than 40 years of forensic experience, was one of the first on the scene after the murders on July 9, 1996, when Lin and her girls had been walking home from a swimming gala.
He was confronted with a deeply disturbing scene, with pools of blood, torn-up towels and roughed-up earth.
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Lin, 45, and her daughter Megan, six, were dead.
They, along with nine-year-old Josie, had been tied to trees and beaten with a hammer.
Josie, who survived, had already been rushed to hospital with life-threatening injuries.
Jim said: “There were multiple pools of blood — more pools than bodies, and they (the investigating team) wanted me to tell them what I could tell about the crime scene from what was left there.
“They had been tied to the trees, there was a ligature left behind, they had been moved, and the investigating team wanted to know the exact sequence of the events that led to this scene.
“I was able to tell them some things through my investigation, but not everything, simply because the forensic evidence was slim.”
But Stone came to detectives’ attention after a psychiatrist and two nursing staff called the police following a Crimewatch episode.
Heroin addict Stone, who had been a suspect in a 1976 knife murder and had been involved in the accidental killing of his partner with a heroin overdose, matched the description put out by police.
The psychiatrist reported that during their sessions Stone had told how he had threatened to kill his sister and her child, had smashed up her car, and told of dreams about torturing people in the woods.
In the Russell case Stone had no alibi, and though receipts showed he was 40 miles away hours before the murders, police said there was plenty of time for him to have travelled to commit the killings.
He was a known thief, stealing lawnmowers and selling them on for cash — and when a mower was reported missing from the area of the killings, there were further alarm bells when Stone was reported to have sold a mower to a member of his own family shortly after the murders.
The evidence against him grew when friends noticed his bloodstained clothes, and most crucially, recalled the fact that he kept a hammer in his car.
Elsewhere, Damian Daley, a criminal who met Stone behind bars, said that Stone had confessed through a pipe connecting their cells.
But at the crime scene, fingerprints, hairs and most importantly DNA on a bloodstained bootlace tourniquet did not match Stone’s profile, or anyone on the police’s database.
Jim says: “There was nothing at the crime scene that forensically connected Stone to it.
“But then, nothing at the crime scene could connect anybody with it.
“Items have since been re-examined as recently as 2017, and DNA is incredibly discriminating and sensitive now.
“The only DNA found was a very common type, and it didn’t directly match Stone.
“It’s puzzling, because you would expect to find a lot more forensic evidence at this kind of crime scene, and I can assure there were no risks taken here, everything was considered.
“But the only evidence against Stone was a fairly weak circumstantial case that revolves around his personal characteristics — his past, and the police description.”
Stone pleaded not guilty in 1997, but despite no forensic evidence, he was convicted by a jury in 15 hours with a 10-2 majority verdict thanks to Daley’s testimony.
The lack of forensic evidence formed the basis of Stone’s appeal in 2001 after two out of the three prisoners who had given evidence against him were discredited, and the Court of Appeal ordered a retrial, but it resulted in a second conviction.
In 2005, despite the unreliable nature of Daley’s testimony, a second appeal was rejected, with the judge deciding Stone would spend the maximum 25 years in prison before being considered for parole.
Stone’s later requests for an appeal have been denied, but his legal defence team are still working to try to free him.
In July, the latest criminal case review said there was no real possibility of the conviction being quashed, despite Stone continuing to protest his innocence.
This week, his lawyers hit back again against the Criminal Case Review Commission for another appeal – to which they responded there was “no real prospect” of re-investigation.
Defence lawyer Mark McDonald told The Sun: “I do a lot of murder trials and most of them have DNA, CCTV, mobile phone tracking – there are so many forensic elements, but this has nothing.
“Stone was convicted on the word of Daley, and of course prisoners were coming forward making up lies – it was all later proven to be false.
“Damian Daley went on to serve life in prison.
“We’ve asked for exhibits to get an independent expert to look at them and to the DNA and forensic testing, but the CCRC have refused again.
“It’s just, of course if Michael Stone was proven to be not guilty, there would be lots of questions for the police to answer – there’s a lot riding on this conviction, for both sides.”
It’s on this lack of DNA evidence that Mark, Stone and the rest of his legal team continue to push for his release – despite two jury convictions.
But for Jim, the verdict is still not enough to give him complete security the case is closed.
He says: “I don’t doubt that Stone has the capability to kill someone based on his history, but I do think that we simply can’t convict someone on this kind of evidence.
“I personally believe it’s worryingly thin.
“Yes, he has been convicted twice, but I would have no objections to anyone further investigating that case because of that moral argument of needing to close it and find proof of the right person.”
Despite the two jury convictions for Stone, the case was turned upside down when, in 2017, it was first reported that serial killer Levi Bellfield had confessed to the murders to a fellow prisoner.
Bellfield is already behind bars for life for the murder of Marsha McDonelle, Amelie Delagrange and Milly Dowler, and the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy.
Despite giving details that could “only have been known by the killer”, and handing in a confession to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, an appeal was again rejected.
Bellfield’s DNA is yet to be compared to that on the bootlace ligature found at the scene, which was re-recovered by Kent police in 2021 after being lost in the early 00s.
But with the advancement of DNA testing for forensic purposes, it could unlock the mystery.
Mark says: “If Michael is not the person who did it, that means the murderer is out there and they got the wrong person, and if that right person is Bellfield, then he went on to murder more people.
“But Michael spends every day trying to show he is not the person who did this, and that’s highly unusual for him to push for forensic testing in the hope it will flag DNA evidence.
“Why would a guilty man ask for forensics?
“I’m a criminal barrister, I have been for over two decades, and this is the only case where I have known this.”
Mark adds he’s fearful that the killer – should it not be Stone or Bellfield – could still be out there.
Michael concludes: “There’s always a possibility that there’s someone else out there who did it, but the probability for me is that Bellfield is right and his confessions are true.”
For Jim, 27 years on from the murders, he just wants to see the case confidently closed.
He continues: “I’d like to be confident the man behind bars is the man, that he is in there on the basis of sound evidence but the evidence for either case at the moment is extraordinarily weak.
“The only evidence that will turn this case around is proven forensic evidence, or Stone turning round and giving up and saying, ‘It was me’.
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“Either way, I just hope that one day, the case is going to be unlocked.”
- The Russell Murders: Who Killed Lin And Megan? is on Sky Documentaries and NOW on September 17 at 9pm.