The unsolved murder of Hebden Bridge schoolgirl Lindsay Jo Rimer could be connected to the killing of another teenager, according to a retired detective who has come forward with new information.
Former detective sergeant John Matthews, of Cleveland Police, believes there is compelling evidence that a man he interviewed as part of an investigation into another murder was also involved in Lindsay’s death.
Lindsay, 13, went missing from Hebden Bridge on November 7, 1994, after visiting the Trades Club on Holme Street and buying Corn Flakes from the former Spar shop on Crown Street.
Her body was found five months later in the Rochdale Canal.
During his enquiries into two murders in Billingham, Teesside, 18-year-old Tina Bell and 22-year-old mother Julie Hogg, Mr Matthews interviewed a man in Hebden Bridge who had moved down from Teesside.
He later came to understand the man, who has since died, had connections to Tina and the Bell family, to the Rimer family, to both towns, to the man who was later convicted of Julie Hogg’s murder and was reported to be one of the last two people to see Tina alive.
He believes the evidence that linked the Hebden man to both murders was compelling to the point that he should have been considered the prime suspect in the investigation into Lindsay’s death.
He said: “I thought it was ridiculous to have the same circumstances 100 miles apart. How unlikely would it be if that person was innocent? In that line of work you don’t believe in coincidences.”
West Yorkshire Police has said the suspect was interviewed at the time of Lindsay’s disappearance and investigated since his death but would not comment further on the reasons why he was ruled out as a suspect.
Tina Bell went missing from Billingham in 1989 and her remains were found the following April.
Julie Hogg’s body was found behind a bath panel in her Billingham home 80 days after she was reported missing, also in 1989.
Billy Dunlop was eventually convicted of the murder in 2006 after Julie’s mother campaigned for the double jeopardy law – which prevented a defendant being retried for the same crime – to be scrapped after two trials collapsed in the early 1990s.
Mr Matthews interviewed the Hebden man twice during in the 1990s during investigations into Julie and Tina’s deaths, first at Stockton Police Station and later at the Trades Club.
The man was interviewed as a witness in those investigations rather than as a suspect and insisted on meeting at the club the second time.
Mr Matthews understood the Hebden man to be one of the two last people to see Tina alive, in a communal kitchen at a flat on Mill Lane in Billingham, according to statement from a witness referred to as Tommy the Hoss.
The other man was Dunlop, a “drinking buddy” of the Hebden man, who is understood to have moved to Hebden Bridge from Billingham before Lindsay went missing.
Cleveland Police confirmed to the Courier that officers took a statement from Tommy the Hoss. He has since died.
At the time Cleveland detectives could not advance their enquiries further in Hebden Bridge.
But when Mr Matthews watched a Crimewatch reconstruction of Lindsay’s disappearance shortly after her body was found he said his “blood ran cold” when the Trades Club was mentioned.
He realised the similarities with Tina’s murder and contacted West Yorkshire Police with information.
He looked into links between the cases and believes the man he interviewed was the only person to have known both the Rimer and Bell families, to have connections to Hebden Bridge and Billingham, and to be so closely connected to two similar murders.
Mr Matthews said: “My feelings are that [the Hebden man], being so close to two totally unconnected families in such similar but tragic circumstances is more than just a coincidence.
“For him to have direct links to both victims and girls of a similar age, murdered and their bodies concealed for months, is almost unheard of.
“For West Yorkshire Police to dismiss [the Hebden man] as not being a strong suspect is quite incredible and I would have to ask what other ‘suspects’ come anywhere near his links to either one or both cases?
“Unless he had a perfect alibi to cover his movements the night Lindsay went missing he would have to be a strong suspect and remain so unless or until evidence came to light to remove all suspicion.”
“With the connections they could have been looking at a serial killer and should have been looking at every moment throughout his adult life.”
Mr Matthews made contact with West Yorkshire Police “four or five” times but said he only received a response the most recent time, around the 20th anniversary of Lindsay’s disappearance.
The current senior investigation officer into Lindsay’s murder, Detective Superintendent Simon Atkinson, said the suspect was interviewed by officers during initial inquiries in the 1990s and investigated again since his death but had been ruled out.
He said: “You could an make argument for him being involved and not being involved.
“We have put him through a process and he is not someone we are seeing as a suspect.
He said although he “couldn’t categorically rule anything out” he was satisfied the suspect was not someone his detectives should pursue.
Mr Matthews said after Tina’s mother Catherine died he decided to come forward publicly with because he did not want the same thing to happen to the Rimer family.
He said: “I saw that she had gone to her grave not knowing and I thought of the Rimer family. I thought what a way to go not having any closure or not being any nearer to closure.”
“The evidence is circumstantial but look at what a coincidence it is to happen 100 miles apart.”
Cleveland Police confirmed both of Tina’s parents have died.
Det Supt Atkinson said: “The investigation in to Lindsay’s murder is still very much a priority for the force.
“We take all reports seriously and thoroughly investigate information provided to see if it can bring us any closer to Lindsay’s killer.
“Over the years, a number of people have come forward with names and details that had previously not been known about or considered.
“No piece of information is treated lightly and every new detail is meticulously examined to determine its place within investigation. We are as equally able to eliminate possible suspects from our enquiries.
“The team have in re-visited information that was part of the original enquiry in 1995 and have re-examined details as recently as 2015. Unfortunately, and in spite of everyone who has come forward with information in the past, the case continues to be unsolved.
“No case is ever closed. We have a dedicated team still working on this, and other unsolved cases each and every day to bring answers to the families who do not know the full circumstances of what happened to their loved ones.
“Keeping Lindsay’s murder at the forefront of people’s minds is essential. We know that people move in and out of areas with education, work and changes in relationships. Allegiances also change, and its possible someone had suspicions back then that they didn’t feel they could or should act on back then, but now feel differently. That person, could hold the key to unlocking the answers we and the Rimer family are so desperate for.
“Lindsay was 13 when she went missing. For over two decades her family have had the pain and hurt of not knowing what happened to their daughter. A daughter who’s absence has been felt each and every day and continues to be felt across the wider community in Hebden Bridge.
“We are determined to bring justice for Lindsay and the Rimer family. Its twenty one years since Lindsay went missing and we are still looking for that one vital piece of information to help crack the case. We continue to appeal to anyone who has any information about the night when Lindsey went missing in Hebden Bridge on November 7 1994, or about what happened to her - no matter how small it may seem in isolation - to come forward. What may be considered a minor thing, could actually be the vital piece of the jigsaw in helping us solve Lindsay’s murder and bring her killer to justice.”
Detective Chief Superintendent Peter McPhillips, of Cleveland Police, said: “The murder of Tina Bell remains an unsolved case. Officers have worked tirelessly to try to solve the case since Tina went missing in 1989.
“During that time, officers liaised with colleagues at West Yorkshire Police regarding information which had been passed to them.
“Two men were arrested in connection with her death and were later released without charge.
“We would always continue to appeal for anyone with information regarding Tina’s death to contact Cleveland Police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or www.crimestoppers-uk.org.”