It’s been a while since I featured an English crime. So, this week, we leave murderous doctor Dirk Greineder behind in Massachusetts and travel across the pond to Kent, England. It was there in 1996 that a man wielding a hammer attacked Dr. Lin Russell and her two daughters. Michael Stone was the man convicted of killing Dr. Russell and one of the girls.
Michael Stone, born in Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent didn’t have the easiest childhood. For one thing, his paternity was uncertain. Stone’s birth certificate lists Ivor Goodban as his father. But later, he considered Peter Stone, another of his mother’s partners, to be his true father and took his name. However, neither man acknowledged Michael as their son.
From that shaky start, things got worse. Domestic violence was routine in his family home. But things were no better when he was placed in a care home, as he was abused there. At one point, he suffered beatings with a hammer. He also saw his mother’s former partner attack a man with a meat cleaver. By age nine, Michael started using drugs and committing crimes, and by twelve he had a police record.
Once he left the care system, Stone began using heroin and soon had a £1,500 a week addiction. Like many addicts, he financed his addiction by committing crimes. In the 1980s and 1990s, he served prison sentences for robbery, burglary, and assault. He carried weapons and sometimes attacked victims by squirting ammonia in their faces from a plastic lemon juice bottle. Police considered Stone a suspect in the 1976 murder of former special constable Francis Jegou. Stone was 16 at the time but was already an established and prolific offender.
The Russell Murders
On the summer day of July 9, 1996, Dr. Lin Russell, her two daughters, and their dog walked home from a swim party. Their path took them down a country lane in Chillenden, Kent. When they walked past a parked car, a man jumped out brandishing a claw hammer and demanded money. Told they didn’t have any money with them, the man tied them up and started hitting them with the hammer. Lin urged Josie, then nine, to run home and get help. But the attacker caught the girl, blindfolded her with strips from her swimming towel, and tied her to a tree. He then bludgeoned her until she passed out. After the fifteen-minute attack was over, the man drove off in his car.
Lin Russell, 45, was dead. So were six-year-old Megan and the family dog, Lucy. Miraculously, Josie survived. The damage to her skull required doctors to insert a metal plate, and they had to remove some of her brain tissue. Josie had to learn to speak all over again after the assault.
Michael Stone Arrested and Convicted
In July 1997, police received several tips after the television program Crimewatch aired an episode on the Russell murders. Those tips led to the arrest of Michael Stone, then 37. Stone couldn’t provide an alibi. He said he couldn’t remember where he was because he was taking so many drugs. Besides, he said, it was a long time ago.
Stone went on trial in 1998. Investigators had collected some items of physical evidence from the crime scene. These included bloody towels, a black shoelace, and a hammer. Given the scientific capabilities of the time, police were unable to link any of this evidence to Stone. There were also eyewitnesses who testified to seeing a man in the vicinity of the murders. But it was uncertain that the man the witnesses had seen was the attacker.
The main evidence against Michael Stone came from a man named Damien Daley. Daley was in jail at the same time as Stone. He testified that Stone confessed to the Russell murders during a conversation they had through a heating pipe. Two other prisoners, Mark Jennings and Barry Thompson, testified that Stone suggested his involvement in the murders to them.
The jury deliberated for nearly fifteen hours over two days before returning a guilty verdict. Mr. Justice Poole sentenced Stone to three life sentences with a tariff of 25 years. The tariff meant he would have to spend at least 25 years in prison before he could be considered for release.
The Michael Stone Trial Round Two
In February 2001, the Court of Appeals granted Stone a new trial. Within 24 hours of the first trial’s conclusion, Barry Thompson admitted he’d lied about Stone confessing to him. Later, it emerged that The Sun newspaper had paid Mark Jennings £5,000 and promised him a further £10,000. The court therefore deemed his evidence unreliable.
A second trial didn’t bring a different result, however. In less time than it took the first jury, the jury Stone’s second trial returned a guilty verdict. His sentence was the same: three life sentences with a tariff of 25 years. The judge opined that a whole-life order was appropriate, but 25 years was the maximum tariff he could legally impose.
In 2013, criminologist David Wilson suggested serial killer Levi Bellfield as the possible perpetrator in the Russell murders. But Bellfield’s girlfriend at the time, Johanna Collings maintained that he was with her all day that July 9. Although he harbors doubts about Stone’s conviction, Wilson eventually concluded that Bellfield probably did not kill Lin and Megan Russell.
Michael Stone remains in prison and continues to maintain his innocence. All appeals of his second conviction to date have all failed.
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