Hair-in-hand murder: Whose hair was in Heather Barnett's hand?
- 29 June 2011
- From the section Dorset
Detectives always hoped the key to solving the bizarre murder of Heather Barnett was to identify whose strands of cut hair had been placed in the palm of her hand after her death.
Another murder - that of teenager Elisa Claps hundreds of miles away in Potenza, Italy - also bore the same "hallmark" of cut hair placed in the victim's hand.
Italian national Danilo Restivo had links to both killings.
He not only had arranged to meet Miss Claps on the day she disappeared in 1993, he was also living opposite Heather Barnett when she was murdered at her Bournemouth home in November 2002.
Over the next eight years, Dorset Police tried again and again to identify the mystery hair in Heather Barnett's hand in the hope it would help catch her killer.
Ms Barnett's murder was "so extreme and so bizarre", according to police, that it was difficult at first to comprehend what had happened to the 48-year-old seamstress.
Her two children - Terry, then aged 14, and Caitlin, then aged 11 - found their mother's badly mutilated body in the family bathroom on their return from school.
As well as the horrific nature of her death, the 9cm (3.5in) strands of someone else's cut hair had been placed in Ms Barnett's right hand.
Strands of her own hair - which had also been cut - had been placed in her left hand.
Det Supt Mark Cooper, senior investigating officer, said: "It was, and it will always be, with me. It was an absolutely horrific scene and to think that her two children saw what I saw is absolutely dreadful."
Ms Barnett's daughter Caitlin said in a BBC interview last year it "was the most unexpected thing that could possibly happen to someone, the most traumatic thing that could happen to anyone, especially to an 11- and 14-year-old".
The killer was clever and had left very little other evidence behind, police said. Without enough proof to arrest Restivo, he was placed under surveillance in 2004.
Police then discovered he had a hair fetish.
Meanwhile detectives appealed on the BBC's Crimewatch programme and the Italian equivalent - Chi La Visto? - for women who had had their hair cut in odd circumstances to come forward.
One hair-cutting victim was Sonia Taylor, who was travelling home on a bus in Bournemouth in December 2002.
'My hair had been cut'
She noticed an "odd looking" man getting on and sitting behind her. Then she felt her hair being pulled.
"The next thing I knew, I felt my hair, and my hair had been cut because it was coming out on the floor. He cut about 4in all jaggedy," she said.
Retired Det Supt Phil James, head of the Dorset Police murder inquiry until 2007, said of the appeals: "A large number of Italian people came forward and spoke about the fact the Danilo Restivo was known to cut head hair, that he'd been seen to cut head hair in a cinema in Potenza, Italy, and some other very valuable information.
"There were women in England, in Bournemouth, and women in Potenza, in Italy, that came forward and said 'yes a man has cut my hair'.
"As a result of that we were able to hold identification parades and Danilo Restivo was picked out as the man that did cut head hair."
Yet this was still not enough to arrest Restivo on suspicion of Heather Barnett's murder or to identify the owner of the hair in her hand.
Restivo remained a free man.
Five years after Ms Barnett's death, in 2007, a scientific breakthrough gave the inquiry hope.
Dr Stuart Black, of the University of Reading, undertook chemical and isotope analysis of the hair strands, which represented nine months' growth.
Killer 'transferred' anger
The results revealed the owner was a UK resident who had visited eastern Spain, between Valencia and Almeria, or the Marseille to Perpignan area of southern France, for up to six days, some 11 weeks before the hair was cut.
They then went to the urban area of Tampa, Florida, US, for eight days some two to two-and-a-half weeks before the hair was cut, and had changed their diet twice in the previous months.
But despite such detailed results and appeals, no-one came forward.
Mr James said one theory was that the hair was from someone the killer knew and he was effectively transferring his anger and his violence from that individual to Heather Barnett.
Dorset Police only charged Restivo with Ms Barnett's murder in May 2010 following forensic advances.
They found a DNA match for Restivo on a towel he left at the murder scene.
Advances in computer science also enabled a forensic expert to refute Restivo's previously "plausible" alibi.
Elisa Claps' mummified body was eventually found in March 2010, in the loft of the Most Holy Trinity church in Potenza, where she had arranged to meet Restivo in 1993.
Restivo admits he had arranged to meet Miss Claps at the church that day, but denies involvement in her death.
It is expected Restivo will now be extradited to Italy to stand trial for Miss Claps' murder.