Natural born killer

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Key points

• Young lovers were arguing over rival girlfriend

• Concerns killer's school could have done more

• Mitchell's legal team is expected to appeal

Key quote

"There is a potential Jodi found out about Luke’s planned holiday with Kimberley that Monday. I think he told her at lunchtime." - Detective Chief Superintendent Craig Dobbie

Story in full LUKE Mitchell had already attacked her once. Now, bleeding heavily from a cut to her lip, Jodi Jones must have known she needed to get away. An argument with the boyfriend she adored had gone suddenly, horribly, wrong. The 14-year-old turned towards the safety of home.

Mitchell, however, had no intention of letting her leave. As Jodi moved away he attacked again, hitting her on the head with the branch of a tree. It wouldn’t stop there. Mitchell, only 14, was about to commit one of the most shocking and grotesque murders in recent Scottish history.

Eighteen months have passed since Jodi’s killing. Last week, following a lengthy, high-profile trial, Mitchell, now 16, was finally convicted of her murder and the victim’s family were able to put the trial, at least, behind them. But even as the young murderer faces a life in custody, one crucial question remains unanswered. As Donald Findlay, the eminent QC who defended Mitchell in court, put it during his summing up: "The question that screams into everyone’s mind is ‘why’? In this case there is no ‘why’." What was Mitchell’s motive?

Detective Chief Superintendent Craig Dobbie believes he has the "why". Softly spoken and bespectacled, Dobbie was appointed head of the murder hunt after Jodi’s body was discovered in the woods near Roan’s Dyke, Dalkeith, hours after she met her death. He fought to solve a crime which lacked critical DNA evidence, finding himself up against a teenage suspect who showed immense cunning under the fiercest pressure.

In that time he had to think himself into the mind of Luke Mitchell. Today, in an exclusive interview, the senior investigating officer in the Jodi Jones case reveals his own thoughts on what happened at Roan’s Dyke on 30th June, 2003.

Dobbie’s theory, based on his own close scrutiny of the case and the facts as they emerged during Mitchell’s trial, is that the murderer was a violent fantasist who killed his girlfriend when she became upset after discovering he was two-timing her. He then mutilated her body to emulate the gruesome death of an actress, Elizabeth Short, known as the Black Dahlia. Mitchell’s hero, the controversial American rocker Marilyn Manson, has produced a series of paintings of Short’s body, which was cut in half, her face and breast slashed.

"One potential motive is the fantasy Luke had about what it would be like to kill someone and get away with it," said Dobbie. "He had said he could imagine himself killing someone and he knew how to. That’s verging on fantasy. He is exhibiting knowledge. And one influence could well have been Marilyn Manson’s depiction of the Black Dahlia murder. No-one can escape from the fact that there are glaring similarities between the dead bodies of Jodi Jones and Elizabeth Short as depicted in Marilyn Manson’s watercolours. He then has to have the opportunity, the catalyst."

That catalyst came, Dobbie believes, when Mitchell confessed he was planning a holiday with another girl. This led to the fatal confrontation between the teenage lovers in the woods.

Monday, 30th June, 2003 marked the beginning of the last week of school at St David’s High, Dalkeith, before the summer holidays. For Jones, that summer would have meant spending long days with Mitchell, the boyfriend she had been seeing for three months. They would make trips to Edinburgh’s Cockburn Street, a popular hang-out for Goths, or smoke cannabis at local hideouts in Dalkeith.

Jones, a 14-year-old from a troubled family, whose father had committed suicide when she was nine, was in love. Mitchell was her first boyfriend and she had lost her virginity to him. Like so many other teenage girls, she wrote in her private diary that she thought she would "die" if he finished with her. When she was upset he would hug her and stroke her face. In a troubled adolescence Mitchell met her basic emotional needs of affection and trust.

But for Luke Mitchell life was much darker. Clues were emerging about just how dangerous he might be at a very young age. Born in July 1988, his parents Corinne and Philip split up when he was 11. He grew up under the care of his mother and she allowed him to do exactly as he pleased. He lived in a state of near squalor; keeping his own urine in bottles in his bedroom, rarely washing and wearing the same clothes for days on end.

Left largely to his own devices he became defiant, violent and brooding with an unhealthy fascination with knives, the occult and drugs. He was first brought to the attention of the mental health profession aged just 11, following a fight at King’s Park Primary in Dalkeith. Although the incident was just a minor skirmish with another pupil, Mitchell’s attitude was sufficiently troublesome to warrant a referral to a school psychiatrist. However, there appears to have been little further action taken by the education authorities or his parents to curb his behaviour.

When he was 12 he threatened his then girlfriend with a knife because she refused to have sex with him. The incidents went on. When he moved to St David’s High, a music teacher found him trying to throttle another pupil and he was sent to an educational psychologist. He refused the expert’s help. Instead Mitchell became a rebellious, mysterious teenager who was heavily into cannabis and supplied his Goth friends with the drug.

He also appeared to have an unhealthy interest in the occult. The jotters at his Catholic school were daubed with Satanic slogans, and he wrote a school essay containing references to the devil. Yet teachers appeared to have little control over him and he would simply defy their instructions when it suited him.

Even more worryingly, he also acquired a fascination with knives. His older brother, Shane, had a knife collection and Mitchell gathered his own array. At a party six weeks before killing Jones, he repeatedly jabbed her in the leg with a knife he had been using to cut up cannabis.

Although she was clearly devoted to Mitchell, Jones was not his only girlfriend. He had also been seeing at least two other girls and may even have been grooming them to see which would make the most suitable victim.

One of them was Kara van Nuil, now 17, who met him at army cadets in 2003. He wooed her with romantic text messages but their relationship ended abruptly after he followed her into the cadet hut one night, crept up on her, put his arm around her neck and placed a knife to her throat. Later he tried to laugh it off but van Nuil had been terrified. One month later he killed Jodi Jones.

Another of Mitchell’s girlfriends was 15-year-old Kimberley Thomson, from Kenmore, Perthshire who he had been seeing for about a year before the murder. They had met while he was on holiday and kept in touch. Her resemblance to Jones was uncanny.

Mitchell had arranged to go and stay with Thomson for a fortnight shortly after school broke up. At some point, he was going to have to break this news to Jones.

Dobbie said: "There is a potential Jodi found out about Luke’s planned holiday with Kimberley that Monday. I think he told her at lunchtime."

That conversation may have taken place at one of their favourite hideaways, an alcove off King’s Park, Dalkeith, known locally as the China Gardens. It was a place for teenagers to gather and smoke. They lit up a joint and sat alone until a friend joined them.

Dobbie added: "I am making an informed hypothesis about how Jodi may have known that day. That in itself would certainly have been a cause for her to want to see him that night."

Jones had been grounded in recent weeks by her mother as a punishment for smoking cannabis and skipping school. But that night she was allowed out to see her boyfriend.

"When she got home from school she called him on her mother’s phone and they arranged to meet," said Dobbie. "That’s how they ended up in the woods near Roan’s Dyke, a pathway that links the communities in which they lived. And if she had found out about Kimberley, she would have challenged him."

Using the evidence from the crime scene, Mitchell’s brutal attack on his girlfriend can be pieced together.

"A domestic situation develops and she suffers a blow to her face," Dobbie said. "Her lip is cut. We later found some blood on a tree trunk and the lip bleeds quite a lot when it is cut. I think at this point she turned around and headed eastwards, towards home, towards safety. But then she was struck on the head by something like the limb of a tree. Then she was strangled, her head was pulled up and her throat was cut. At that point she was dead.

"After a ‘normal’ murder, the person who committed the crime is then going to leg it or hide the body. But in this case the body is stripped and cut. Someone has wherewithal and calm. Someone is living out a fantasy at this stage. This is something someone has wanted to do.

"We are now trying to understand the mind of the killer. We know the difference between right and wrong. But this person is outwith that so it is very difficult to understand why. It would be wrong for us to go there but the trial has heard potential influences such as Marilyn Manson’s depiction of the Black Dahlia.

"Jodi’s breast was cut, her abdomen was cut, the gash on the face was identical, there was a hole in the forehead. It’s there and we can’t avoid this simulation. This was not about sex, it was about escalating violence and the opportunity to perform injuries. We are not talking about some poor wee soul that some guy has raped. This is most horrific."

The gruesome discovery shocked not just the local community but the nation. But it did not appear to shock Luke Mitchell. Scotland on Sunday understands that an ambulanceman who arrived at the scene of the murder shortly after the body was found could not believe that he was Jones’ boyfriend, because he was sitting down, calmly texting on his mobile phone as his girlfriend’s body lay lifeless and mutilated nearby.

In Dalkeith fears were raised that a psychopath killer was on the loose and parents were vigilant about their daughters’ whereabouts as the school holidays began. The village of Easthouses, where Jodi had lived, fell silent as children were no longer allowed to play in the street or the park alone. Locals talk of a dark cloud descending over the area as they struggled to come to terms with what had happened.

Police began a detailed search of where Jodi’s body was found and started door-to-door enquiries in the local area. At first Mitchell was merely a witness. But he became a suspect after a series of clues brought the teenager to Dobbie’s attention.

"In 85% of murder cases the attacker knows the victim, the local geography and lives within a five mile radius. I knew I wanted to eliminate all of Jodi’s male family members and associates, all the males who used that path and all local rough sleepers. Luke Mitchell was part of that group," he said.

"A teacher from his school quickly came forward and raised concerns about the alarming writings in his jotter." That teacher had been so disturbed she had referred Mitchell to a guidance teacher.

"That was worthy of further exploration," Dobbie said. "Was he into Satan, or dabbling, looking for an alternative religion or just sticking it up to his teachers? We couldn’t draw huge conclusions, but we were already learning that he carried knives. Then there was the incredulous discovery of the body."

This was to become a central component of the Crown case. Mitchell told police he found the body after his dog became excited at a V-shaped gap in the wall along the Roan’s Dyke pathway. But members of Jodi’s family who were with him testified that Mitchell found the body without his dog alerting him.

Dobbie said: "It is fair to say that by 3 July Luke had started to emerge from the pack with a greater degree of suspicion than the rest. It was not substantial but it was enough for me to think it would be remiss not to apply for a warrant to re-interview him that day as a witness.

"Because of his age I had him cautioned and he volunteered, but all he did was make me more suspicious. In the interview he was confident and very controlling. He displayed a high level of intelligence."

And so began an elaborate game of cat and mouse between the highly intelligent 14-year-old and dozens of interviewing officers, while hundreds of potential suspects were being systematically ruled out.

Despite the fact there was no evidence of a rape the nature of the killing meant the sex offenders register was checked and all potential suspects were ruled out.

Forensic tests did not produce any clear evidence Jodi had been attacked by a stranger. DNA tests did not provide any clues about her attacker.

Further investigations were also made into Mitchell’s background and his behaviour.

Dobbie added: "By 14 August our focus was on Luke. He was interviewed again under caution. He was challenging. He was totally in control of himself and challenged the abilities and authority of the police. It was almost like taunts. He had the mental ability to sit and take control of the interview and that’s incredible from someone who has not previously been part of the criminal process, or not come from a criminal family. He was not fazed or shocked or panicking. I have never seen someone so cool and calm and who needed to control the situation."

Yet there was no proof he was the murderer, no killer fact, just an arrogant teenager who seemed to show no grief over his girlfriend’s death.

Mitchell denied the allegations from the outset, but was soon suspected by the family and banned from her funeral. He angered Jodi’s relatives when, as she was laid to rest, he appeared on television to make a public denial. He also visited her grave accompanied by his mother, stubbed out cigarettes and swore at photographers. His boldness sparked strong suspicions of his guilt in the local community and he found he could not return to normal life.

Mitchell was banned from returning to school after the summer holidays and told he would have to be educated separately - away from his fellow pupils. This led to a heated argument between Mitchell, his 45-year-old mother Corinne and the school’s headteacher, and threats of legal action.

In court Mitchell’s defence was that he was at home cooking dinner at the time of the murder. His alibi was his ever-devoted mother who backed up his story. But investigations showed that there had been an exchange of text messages between Jodi and Luke from 4.35pm to 4.38pm on June 30, in which they arranged to meet up.

A knife pouch with the initials "JJ" - apparently a reference to Jodi Jones - and the numerals "666" written on it was found in his bedroom.

Despite his mother’s claims, the evidence of Mitchell’s own brother - who said he had been at home alone viewing pornography - demonstrated that Mitchell had not been in his family’s Newbattle house at the time of the killing, and another witness testified that someone "very, very like" Mitchell was at the Easthouses end of the path with a young female just before 5pm.

Mitchell’s mother also denied the clothes he had been wearing were destroyed in a log burner in the garden of her home within hours of her murder. And it emerged that just days after his girlfriend was brutally murdered, Mitchell bought a Marilyn Manson DVD about the murder of Elizabeth Short. Would a grieving young man who had accidentally stumbled on the mutilated and naked body of his girlfriend get any comfort from such a film?

On November 21, 2003, police felt they had sufficient evidence to submit a report to the procurator fiscal which named Luke Mitchell as the prime suspect for the murder.

On April 14, last year Mitchell was arrested and charged in connection with Jodi’s murder. When police arrived to arrest the teenager they found him sharing a bedroom with his mother. She said she had been comforting him because he was not sleeping well.

Corinne and Mitchell’s 22-year-old brother, Shane, were also arrested and charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice. But these charges were later dropped.

The circumstances clearly pointed to Mitchell as the killer. But with no DNA or murder weapon the conviction on circumstantial evidence was by no means a certainty. When the jury went out on Thursday and appeared far from reaching its verdict speculation was rife in the local community that Mitchell would walk free with either a not guilty or not proven verdict. That lack of hard evidence drew criticism, but Dobbie staunchly defends his force’s investigation.

He said: "We have been scrutinised by one of the finest defence lawyers in the country but not one point has been inadmissible."

The case was the largest for Lothian and Borders Police in the past 20 years, leading to the longest single-accused murder trial in Scots legal history.

In the process, little of Jodi Jones’s secrets have escaped the glare of publicity. Her naked, mutilated body has been photographed and shown to witnesses, her text messages retrieved, her family life and sex life discussed and excerpts from her private diary opened to the world and used as court evidence by the defence team. This last humiliation would have "mortified" the teenager, according to a statement released by her mother on Friday. "These were private and should have remained so," it added.

These deep feelings over the exposure the 14-year-old has suffered in death has silenced her family. Instead of giving interviews they have chosen to preserve as much of her dignity as they can by keeping their feelings and the last remaining private shreds of her life to themselves, sharing only a few words and a poem she wrote with the public.

Dobbie himself did not know Jodi. "However, we came to know her, and one thing is for sure, we will never forget her," he said.

This weekend, in Polmont Young Offender’s Institution, the boy who killed her was coming to terms with a future behind bars, no doubt going over his last moments with her and the events of the last 18 months. In custody since his arrest he has grown from a fresh-faced boy to a brooding young man.

Meanwhile, the dark cloud that had descended over Dalkeith was lifting. Everywhere, that is, but at the Mitchell home where Corinne was facing the prospect of finally taking down the Christmas decorations she had deliberately left up for her son’s expected homecoming.

The verdict has provided some answers for the Jones family and the fact her killer is being punished will perhaps allows them to move on in the grieving process.

Mitchell, though, remains defiant to the last: it is possible he will never confess, or offer an explanation for his actions. Dobbie, however, believes his time on the case offered him an insight into the killer’s mind.