Britain’s ‘forgotten’ serial killer who could be behind string of unsolved cases

It has been 30 years to the day since the murder of Rachel Nickell.

The gruesome killing shocked the world as details of it emerged – but it would take another 16 years to find the killer.

On the morning of July 15, 1992, Rachel was walking her dog with her two-year-old son Alex Hascombe in Wimbledon Common, in southwest London.

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They were passing through an area of woodland when the 23-year-old mother was knifed 49 times and sexually assaulted – all in front of her young son.

Her killer fled, leaving the toddler clinging to his mother’s body repeatedly asking her to get up.

Months later, Alex’s grieving father Andre Hanscombe moved to the south of France and then to Barcelona, in Spain, in a bid to start a new life.

The Metropolitan Police launched a desperate search to find the young mum's killer.

Investigators quickly homed in on a man named Colin Stagg who was known to walk his dog on the Common and had previously revealed a dark sexual fantasy that was reported to the authorities after Nickell's death.

However, no forensic evidence was found linking Stagg to the scene of the attack.

Criminal psychologist Paul Britton created a profile of the killer, later deciding the newspaper delivery man was their chief suspect.

An undercover officer, going by the pseudonym "Lizzie James", was then brought in to see if she could elicit a confession from Stagg.

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She wrote a series of sexually explicit letters to the suspect and they also met several times so she could gain his trust and managed to draw out fantasies from Stagg that Britton interpreted as “violent”, but there was still no confession.

Despite that, he was charged with the murder, but the trial later collapsed when a judge condemned the police for the "honey trap" undercover operation – and Stagg was given £700,000 in compensation.

It was later revealed that the police had been focusing on the wrong man, leaving the real murderer free to kill again – and he did.

Robert Napper, now 55, murdered 27-year-old Samantha Bissett and her four-year-old daughter Jazmine after forcing his way into their home in Plumstead, eighteen months after he killed Alex's mum.

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He was serving time for that murder in Broadmoor high-security psychiatric hospital when, in 2004, new techniques connected DNA evidence of Robert Napier to the murder of Rachel Nickel.

And in 2008, he admitted to the murder and was charged with manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

He had earlier been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

Napper is now serving “indefinite detention” in the same hospital, and admitted to attacking four other women.

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The final words he heard in court from Mr Justice Griffiths Williams were: “You are, in any view, a very dangerous man.”

It is thought by some experts that Napper could be behind other unsolved murders in the area – but having admitted to four other attacks, no clarity has been given as to which cases he is being linked with.

The Daily Star has approached the Met Police for comment.

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