On September 18, 2002, a few mushroom pickers decided to look in Yateley Woods in Hampshire, United Kingdom, when they stumbled upon a gruesome and tragic sight hidden beneath the undergrowth: the remains of a young girl. The remains were those of Amanda Jane “Milly” Dowler, a 13-year-old girl who was last seen walking from the train station not far from her home in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, six months prior. It was difficult for investigators to determine her cause of death, as her remains were too badly decomposed–but they could ascertain that Dowler had died not long after her disappearance and that her clothing and belongings were stolen.
CCTV footage caught Dowler on her usual walk home–she left Heathside school at 15:07, took a train from Weybridge at 15:26, arrived at Walton-on-Thames station at 15:30, and was last seen only yards from her home at 16:08. What happened to Dowler in those few moments just several yards from her house perplexed investigators for eight months until she was discovered in Yateley Woods. Unfortunately, the case was a difficult one from the beginning: police spent too much time focusing on Dowler’s father; at the same time, News of the World illegally hacked Milly Dowler’s voicemail and deleted crucial evidence in order to listen to her mailbox. Later, the Dowlers would say that seeing the voicemails had been wiped clean gave them a false sense of hope that Milly was still alive. To add insult to the injury, News of the World breached Dowler’s privacy and violated communications laws with little legal repercussion.
It wasn’t until 2004 when police named their prime suspect: a man named Levi Bellfield (who now refers to himself as Yusaf Rahim), who lived fifty yards from the Dowlers prior to his arrest and was already in prison for the heinous murders of two other women (Amelie Delagrange, 22 and Marsha McDonnell, 19 as well as the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy, 18) at the time the police began to suspect him. Better yet, detectives discovered that CCTV footage caught Bellfield’s red Daewoo driving away from the direction of Dowler’s residence not long after she was last seen.
In 2011, Bellfield was officially convicted of Dowler’s murder and received yet another life sentence without the possibility of parole. In 2016, Bellfield finally admitted to Dowler’s murder and revealed the teen’s final moments to police and Dowler’s family. At this time, Dowler’s family believes that Milly’s spirit can finally be at peace after everything that has happened.