40 years on: flashback to the discovery of heiress’ body on Nomansland Common, and how the Beast of Shepherd’s Bush was eventually linked to the murder
- Credit: Archant
WARNING: this story contains details some readers may find disturbing.
The year was 1977 and the Easter school holidays were coming to an end when two young schoolboys decided to cycle out to Nomansland Common near Wheathampstead.
The stretch of open land was popular with walkers using the footpaths and model aircraft enthusiasts.
It was Monday, April 18, and that afternoon in a wooded area beside the B651 in an area known as Devil’s Dyke, the boys stumbled across a young woman’s body.
They quickly cycled back to their homes in St Albans and, after telling their parents what they’d found, the police were contacted.
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That evening, accompanied by their fathers, the boys showed the police the spot where the body lay.
It didn’t take detectives long to realise the youngsters had found the body of 24-year-old Janie Shepherd, an Australian heiress who had gone missing after being abducted in London 10 weeks earlier on the night of February 4, 1977.
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Until then, the investigation into what had happened to Janie had been undertaken by the Metropolitan Police.
Now, with the discovery of Janie’s body in the wooded area just 25 yards from the B651 that links Wheathampstead to St Albans, it fell to Hertfordshire Police to investigate her murder.
A post mortem revealed she had died from compression of the neck. She had been tied up and bore extensive bruising on her upper arms and chest area and some of her clothes had been changed.
Detectives concluded she had fought for her life and had been the victim of a violent sexual assault before she was murdered.
Janie Shepherd had enjoyed a comfortable and happy upbringing in Melbourne, Australia, although her father had died of a heart attack in his 50s when she was just 11 years old.
By her late teens, she was determined to travel and, in the early 1970s, Janie came to London to live with her relatives, Camilla Sampson and her antique dealer husband, Alistair, at their large detached home in St John’s Wood.
Around this time her mother married Australian businessman John Darling IV. The Darling dynasty had built a business empire founded on grain.
They had bred politicians and even an Australian cricket captain.
By the summer of 1976, blonde Janie had met and fallen in love with Old Etonian solicitor Roddy Kinkead-Weekes, who played second team cricket for Middlesex.
Janie was working at The Caelt Art Gallery in Westbourne Grove and her father’s will provided her with an allowance.
FEBRUARY 4 1977
As usual, Janie arrived home at the Sampson’s house on the evening of Friday, February 4, in her Mini car. She bathed, changed and spent time talking to Camilla and Alistair.
At around 8.40pm she left with the intention of driving to Roddy’s flat in Chelsea, stopping on the way in Queensway to buy food for their supper. She had a change of clothes with her.
By 9pm, when Janie hadn’t arrived at Roddy’s flat, he phoned the Sampsons. They were out, but their maid told him she had already left.
Roddy later contacted hospitals and rang the police to see if Janie had been involved in a car crash.
In the small hours of the morning, he reported her missing. Police feared she could have been kidnapped by terrorists because of her background.
Four days later, Janie’s Mini was found in Elgin Crescent, Notting Hill Gate. The sun roof had been slashed and inside bore all the signs that a frenzied struggle had taken place.
A cossack-style boot she had been wearing was in the footwell. Her bloodstained tampon was discovered and traces of semen were found.
Mud and a chalky substance was spattered everywhere and the passenger seat belt had been cut. Her handbag was present but money was missing. A black hair was also in the car.
Receipts found in the vehicle showed she had gone into Europa Foods, a supermarket in Queensway, to buy food for her and Roddy. Another receipt showed she had visited a petrol station in Bayswater.
THE BEAST OF SHEPHERD’S BUSH
After the discovery of Janie’s car, the Met’s Detective Chief Supt Henry Mooney had been put in charge of investigating her disappearance.
His attention was soon drawn to an attack on a blonde haired young woman the previous year, close to Elgin Crescent where Janie’s Mini had been found..
The 23-year-old single woman pulled up outside her home near Ladbroke Grove. Suddenly a black man forced his way at knife point into the small car and drove a short distance to a quiet cul-de-sac where he twice raped her.
During the attack, the rapist had spoken of his hatred for white women.
He throttled her and then slashed her right wrist, severing an artery and cutting through flesh almost to the bone before fleeing. Only emergency surgery saved her life.
She told police her attacker was a powerfully built black man who wore glasses and had a scar on the left side of his neck just under the jaw line.
A detective initially in charge of that case had remembered a series of attacks on women in West London back in the late 1960s.
The man, West Indian David Lashley. had been dubbed the Beast of Shepherd’s Bush and jailed for 12 years at the Old Bailey in 1970 for a series of rapes, robberies and indecent assaults on women.
In nearly every case Lashley, then 29, had been cruising West London in a car at night, looking for a blonde woman driver to follow and rape.
He had been released from prison in March, 1976, and had a scar following a fight in prison. But after receiving wrong information that the scar was on his right cheek, the police had ruled him out as a suspect.
Detectives investigating Janie’s disappearance looked again at Lashley’s modus operandi of targeting women in small cars and then imprisoning them inside for the purpose of rape, which was was unique at the time.
With all the signs suggesting something terrible had happened to her, Lashey, who was 37 and who was living with an aunt and uncle in Southall, was quizzed about Janie.
Mooney and his team were sure they were on the right track when the scar was found in fact to be not on the right check but on the left just where the woman victim in the 1976 attack had described it.
She was able to pick him out at an identity parade as the man who raped and tried to kill her the previous June.
The police also discovered that on the night Janie vanished, Lashley was out all night.
He was charged with the 1976 rape and attempted murder of the woman driver but denied any involvment with Janie’s disappearance. Frustratingly, Hertfordshire Police didn’t have the evidence to charge him with Janie’s murder.
In November 1977, Lashley went on trial at the Old Bailey for the rape and attempted murder concerning the attack on the woman the year before.
He was found guilty and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment.
THE CASE IS REOPENED
In early 1988, back in Australia, Janie’s mother, Angela Darling was troubled. She had been made aware by detectives a decade earlier that Lashley had been the prime suspect in her daughter’s still unsolved murder. She knew too he was due to be released in less than a year under the parole system.
She wrote to Hertfordshire Police urging them to reopen the investigation into her daughter’s murder and an investigation, headed by Det Chief Supt Ian Whinnett, was launched into the case.
Police visited the jails where Lashley had been held during his sentence and Whinnett got an important breakthrough.
While at Frankland Prison in Durham, Lashley had told another inmate how he killed Janie and was planning a campaign of rape and murder on his release in 1989.
The inmate, Daniel Reece, a former supergrass, was genuinely shocked by what Lashley told him and was eventually persuaded to make a statement to the police.
He gave a detailed account and it was clear he had been told things by Lashley that only the killer could know. He described pushing his huge fist into the windpipe of Janie’s neck, something that only a few detectives were aware of.
In February 1989, as Lashley walked out of Frankland Prison, officers from Herts Police were waiting and arrested him for the murder of Janie 12 years earlier.
A year later, Lashley stood trial at St Albans Crown Court for the murder with Janie’s mother watching the proceedings from the public gallery.
The case against Lashley was that on the night Janie had disappeared, Lashley had spotted her driving through London on her way to meet Roddy.
At some point - probably when she had stopped to buy the food for their supper - he had forced his way into Janie’s car.
Somewhere, probably in London, he had raped and murdered her before driving to Nomansland Common which was an area he knew. There, he hid her body, before driving back to London in her Mini and abandoning it in Elgin Crescent.
At the end of the three week trial, Lashley was found guilty and jailed for life.
David Lashley came to England in 1961 from Barbados. The following year he married a 19-year-old blonde unmarried mum in London.
At first, he was considerate and caring but, within a year, he had changed into a violent wife beater who would demand sex.
The couple had two children but he forced his wife to place her first child in an orphanage in Harpenden - not far from Nomansland Common.
By the late 1960s Lashley, who had also discovered body building and was incredibly strong, with huge muscles, was stopping out late at night.
He had developed a hatred for white people. His 1969 offences included six rapes on blondes who had been driving small cars in West London.
His wife eventually divorced him after he was jailed in 1970, unable to put up with his brutish ways any longer.
During his years in prison, Lashley had spent much of his time in gyms working out and lifting heavy weights. He was regarded as one of the strongest prisoners in the country.
He had huge biceps and shoulders and, with his barrel chest, possessed an awesome strength.
The way Lashley chose his prey meant he was regarded as one of the most dangerous killers in the country and it is unlikely he will ever be released from prison.