Ian Huntley and The Soham Murders

On 4th August 2002 two ten year old girls, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, went missing from their home in Soham, Cambridgeshire. The girls were missing for thirteen days before their bodies were discovered in an irrigation ditch near RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk. Ian Huntley was convicted of the girls' murder on 17th December 2003 and sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment with a minimum term of 40 years. The case became known as The Soham Murders.

It has been said that Ian Huntley lured Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman into his home and murdered them, likely by asphyxiation, then disposed of their bodies in an irrigation ditch in an area he knew to be remote.

The efforts made to find Holly and Jessica in the thirteen days of their disappearance have been described as one of the most intense and extensive in British criminal history.


About Ian Huntley

Born in Grimsby on 31st January 1974 Ian Huntley was the first of two sons from the working class family. Growing up he was said to be a timid child who threw tantrums to gain his mother's attention but childhood friends would later say he was terrified of his stern father.

In school he was an average student and people described him as a loner, an oddball, and an attention seeker and he became a target for bullies. As a result of the bullying his grades fell and his parents moved him to Immingham Comprehensive at age 13. In 1990 he finished school with 5 GCSE passes but chose not to continue his education in college or university, instead finding employment. Between 1990 and 1996 Ian Huntley worked in various menial jobs but didn't hang on to any of them for a substantial period of time. Despite this he thought of himself as a 'ladies man' and was scrupulous with regards to personal appearance and hygiene.

In 1994 he began dating Claire Evans and they married shortly after, on 28th January 1995. However, the marriage was short-lived, lasting just one week due to Ian Huntley's volatile temper. He is known to have beaten his wife so extensively, on one occasion, she suffered a miscarriage.

Previous Criminal Offences

March 1996 Ian Huntley was charged with burglary after him and an accomplice allegedly broke into a neighbour's home and stole electrical goods, jewellery, and cash. Although the case reached court the prosecution offered no evidence resulting in the judge ordering the offence to *lie on file.

*lie on file is when the presiding judge agrees there is enough evidence for a case to be made, but that it is not in the public interest for prosecution to proceed, usually because the defendant has admitted other, often more serious charges. No admission to the charges is made by the defendant, and no verdict is recorded against them. 

Between August 1995 and May 1996 Ian Huntley established sexual relationships with teenage girls, all of whom were under the legal age of consent. Three of them were 15, and one aged just 13. He was not charged for any of these offences because the girls denied having sex with him and refused to file criminal charges.

He was arrested in April 1998 on suspicion of raping an 18 year old woman. He admitted having sex with her but claimed it had been consensual. He wasn't formally charged with this offence.

Ian Huntley. Source: cosmopolitan.com

Just one month later he was charged and remanded in custody after another 18 year old woman claimed to have been beaten and raped by him while walking home from a nightclub. The woman said he had threatened to kill her before assaulting her. Again Ian Huntley admitted having sex with the woman but insisted it was consensual. The criminal charge was dropped after CCTV footage was examined and found to show the two of them socialising within the nightclub. The Crown Prosecution Service determined there was insufficient evidence to secure a conviction.

As a result of this rumours about his sexual violence became community gossip and he was fired from his job, forcing him to move in with his mother. He was also forbidden from initiating contact with his daughter or her mother.

In July 1998 police were notified he had sexually assaulted an 11 year old girl in September 1997, having also threatened to kill the child if she told her mother about the attack. He was never charged with this offence but Ian Huntley confessed to the attack in April 2007.

July 1999 brought yet another incident when a woman was raped and Huntley - by now suspected by police to be a serial sex offender - was interviewed. He gave a DNA sample to assist in their enquiries and Maxine Carr provided an alibi to support Ian Huntley's claims of innocence.

By 2001 his proven and alleged criminal activities had been reported to Humberside Police on ten separate occasions and to the social services on five occasions.

Maxine Carr

Ian Huntley met Maxine Carr in February 1999 when they were out drinking in a night club. The 22 year old was "instantly attracted" to his self-certain and pleasant persona and agreed to start dating him. In June 1999 he proposed but throughout the course of their relationship they were both known to have had affairs.

By 2001 Ian Huntley had reconnected with his father and developed aspirations to become a school caretaker, like his father. He learned of a vacancy in the village of Soham, close to where his father lived, and secured employment as a senior caretaker at a Secondary School in September 2001.

The Disappearance of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman

After attending a barbecue at her friend Holly Wells' house, and playing computer games with another friend, both Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells left the Wells residence, without telling anyone, to buy sweets from a vending machine in the local sports centre. While returning home they passed the College Close home of Ian Huntley, now the senior caretaker at the local Secondary School. He lured the girls into his home telling them his girlfriend Maxine Carr – a teaching assistant at the girls' school – was also present in the house (She was actually visiting her mother in Grimsby on this date).

"I don't know the girls. I was stood on the front doorstep grooming my dog down. She'd run away and come back a bit of a mess... they just came across and asked how Miss Carr was... I just said she weren't very good as she hadn't got the job and they just says please tell her that we're very sorry and off they walked; in the direction of the library over there."

Ian Huntley, interviewed by Sky News. 15th August 2002.

The precise chain of events that follow is unknown but investigators believe sections of Ian Huntley's later claims in interviews he gave to the media and his later trial testimony – such as he had been cleaning his dog as the girls passed by at 6:30pm and that one of the girls had been suffering a mild nosebleed – may have actually been true. The cause of death was ruled asphyxiation, and Jessica Chapman's mobile phone was switched off at 6:46pm.

At 8pm Nicola Wells, Holly's mother, went up to her daughter's room to ask the girls to say goodbye to the house guests and discovered they were missing. She and her husband searched their house and nearby streets but when they still couldn't find the girls Nicola called the Chapman residence, minutes after her daughter's 8:30pm curfew had expired, to find out if the girls were there. She learned that Leslie and Sharon Chapman were concerned their daughter had not yet returned home. Following frantic efforts by the families of both girls, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were reported missing by their parents at 9:55pm.

Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. This photo was taken just hours before they went missing. Source: cosmopolitan.com

Police launched a manhunt to locate the missing children. Over 400 officers were assigned full-time to search for the girls. These officers conducted house-to-house enquiries across Soham. The police efforts were boosted by the assistance of hundreds of local volunteers and, later, United States Air Force personnel stationed at nearby airbases.

To help with appeals police released a photo that had been taken less than two hours before the girls' disappearance in which they were both wearing distinctive Manchester United football shirts. A physical description of both girls was given to the media. The parents of the girls were adamant their daughters had been wary of talking to strangers, having warned them not to trust people they did not know from early childhood.

Suspecting the girls had been kidnapped the police questioned over 260 registered sex offenders across the UK as well as in and around Soham – but all were eliminated from the enquiry.

During the investigation Ian Huntley claimed to have spoken to the girls immediately before their disappearance. He told investigators on 5th August he'd spoken with the girls on the previous afternoon. According to him the girls had asked about Miss Carr's application for a teaching assistant job at their school. When he told them she'd been unsuccessful one of the girls said, "tell her we're sorry" before they both walked along College Street in the direction of a bridge leading towards Clay Street. Police were suspicious of his account and his house was searched by a single officer on 5th August. No incriminating evidence was found but the officer noted clothing on the washing line despite the fact it had been raining. The house had been cleaned extensively and Huntley said "Excuse the dining room. We had a flood". The officer was unconvinced by his claims and was suspicious of his agitated behaviour, and he remained a strong suspect.

A day later, on 6th August, Ian Huntley drove to Grimsby to pick up Maxine Carr. Shortly before they returned to College Close a neighbour saw the two of them standing at the rear of the car. According to the neighbour, Marion Clift, a "pale, shaking" Huntley had gazed into the boot for several minutes, while Maxine Carr stood alongside him, her head bowed, crying. When Ian Huntley became aware of Clift's presence he abruptly closed the boot.

Ian Huntley gave several interviews in the weeks following expressing his dismay at being the last person to see them alive.

Suspicions and Arrest

Twelve days after the disappearance, on 16th August, Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr were first questioned by police. By this point the police had received information from several Grimsby residents who had recognised Huntley from his television interviews. These individuals recalled he'd been accused of rape years earlier.

While they were under police watch at separate locations police again searched the College Close property and grounds of Soham Village College where Ian Huntley worked. During these searches a number of items declared as being of "major importance" were found. It was not made public at the time but these items included clothing the girls were wearing when they were last seen, like the charred and cut Manchester United shirts, which were recovered from a bin within a hangar at Ian Huntley's place of work. Fibres upon these items were proved to be a precise match to samples taken from Huntley's body, his clothing, and from College Close. Furthermore his fingerprints were recovered from the bin. 

The charred and cut remnants of the Manchester United football shirts the girls were wearing when they went missing. Source: cosmopolitan.com

His car was also subjected to a detailed forensic examination. It revealed the car had been cleaned, just like his home. Traces of brick and dust that precisely matched the type used to pave the road leading to where the girls' bodies were discovered, were found around the wheel arches and pedals. A cover from the rear seat was missing and the lining of the boot had been removed and replaced with household carpet.

After finding the clothing at Soham Village College police arrested Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr.


At approximately 12:30pm on 17th August Keith Pryer, a 48 year old gamekeeper, discovered the bodies of both girls lying side by side in a five feet deep irrigation ditch close to a pheasant pen near the perimeter fence of RAF Lakenheath, some 10 miles from Soham. 

Both girls had been missing for thirteen days when their bodies were found and both corpses were in an advanced state of decomposition. In an apparent attempt to destroy forensic evidence the murderer had tried to burn both bodies. Despite the efforts to destroy the evidence investigators rapidly deduced who the victims were and that they had not died in the location they were discovered. Hairs, later determined to belong to Jessica Chapman, were also found on a tree branch close to the location of the girls' bodies.


The trial of Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr opened at the Old Bailey on 5th November 2003 with opening statements. Ian Huntley testified before court in his own defence on 1st December 2003 once opening statements had concluded. Following questioning by his defence council, Stephen Coward QC, Ian Huntley admitted both girls had died in his house but denied it had been intentional. According to Huntley, he, Holly Wells, and Jessica Chapman had entered his bathroom to stem a nosebleed Holly had been suffering. 

The bath was already filled with water as he had been cleaning his dog that afternoon. He slipped, knocking Holly into the bath and this unintentional act had caused her to drown as he himself had simply "panicked and froze". He also claimed Jessica Chapman had witnessed the accident and began repeatedly screaming "You pushed her!" and that he had accidentally suffocated her while trying to stifle her screams. By the time his panic had waned it had been too late to save the lives of either of the children.

During closing arguments the prosecution described both Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr as "accomplished liars". He referenced Huntley's likely motive and his claims the deaths had been accidental, saying "We invite you to reject the accounts of both deaths being accidental as desperate lies; the only way out for him. We suggest that this whole business in the house was motivated by something sexual. But, whatever he initiated, playing went wrong. Therefore in this ruthless man's mind, both girls had to die in his own selfish self-interest."

Stephen Coward QC delivered his argument on behalf of the defence. He conceded his client was guilty of the physical responsibility of the girls' deaths and that Huntley deserved punishment but he argued the prosecution failed to "provide definitive proof" Huntley had intended to murder the children or cause them actual bodily harm.


Jury deliberations began on 13th December 2003. They deliberated for 4 days before returning their verdict on 17th December 2003. They returned a majority verdict of guilty on two counts of murder against Ian Huntley.

The jury accepted Carr's insistence that she had only lied to police because, prior to their arrest, she had believed his claims of innocence. As such she was found not guilty of assisting an offender. She was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for perverting the course of justice.

Ian Huntley was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term to be imposed at a later date.

"Your tears have never been for them; only for yourself. In your attempts to escape responsibility, in your lies and manipulation... you have increased the suffering of two families. There is no greater task for the criminal justice system than to protect the vulnerable. There are few worse crimes than your murder of these two young girls."

Section of Judge Alan Moses's formal sentencing of Ian Huntley. 17th December 2003.

The minimum term was decided on 29th September 2005. High Court Judge Mr Justice Moses announced Huntley must remain in prison until he had served a minimum of 40 years imprisonment; a term which would not allow parole eligibility until 2042, by which time Ian Huntley would be 68 years old. 

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