Sussex police step up hunt for murderer

Valerie Graves.
Valerie Graves.

DETECTIVES have stepped up the hunt for the killer of an artist who was bludgeoned to death with a hammer just months after leaving her Borders home to settle in the south of England.

The bloodstained body of 55-year-old grandmother Valerie Graves, who ran a craft studio at Harestanes and lived at Maxton, was discovered in her bed by her sister Jan at a house in the Sussex village of Bosham on the morning of December 30, 2013.

The pair, along with their elderly mother Eileen and Jan’s partner Nigel Acres, had been “house sitting” the luxury mansion for friends who had travelled abroad for Christmas.

A post mortem revealed that Mrs Graves had suffered significant head and facial injuries.

Despite the offer of a £20,000 reward, a BBC Crimewatch appeal and the involvement of the National Crime Agency, her brutal killer has never been found.

But, last week, detectives announced plans to DNA test every man aged over 17 in the 3,000-population village as well as outlying areas in a bid to make a breakthrough in the investigation, codenamed Operation Ensign.

The voluntary testing will take place in a Bosham hotel over three weeks, starting on January 21.

Detective Superintendent Nick May, who is leading the investigation on behalf of Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team, said police had a limited DNA profile of the killer, but it was not enough to match on the police database.

“We need to match it to the person,” he told a press conference which was attended by Mrs Graves’ two children Tim Wood, 32 and Jemma Harrison, 35.

Both fought back tears as they described spending their first Christmas without their mother.

It is understood the partial DNA sample was obtained from the handle of the murder weapon – a 16oz claw hammer which was discovered on New Year’s Day, 2014, half a mile from the house.

“The weather the night Valerie Graves was killed was terrible and Bosham was not quite, but almost, flooded,” said Det Supt May.

“That is one of the reasons we think the person responsible for this crime has connections to Bosham – what else would they have been doing in such an out-of-the-way location at a time like that? Maybe they were visiting, working or perhaps a resident of the village.”

The officer also revealed that the owners of the house – Malcolm and Caroline Chamberlain – had not moved back since the murder and the property was now up for sale.

Mrs Graves had lived in the Borders for 10 years before moving to West Sussex to look after her 87-year-old mother. She had graduated from Heriot-Watt University in Galashiels in 2007 before setting up her Harestane studio, showcasing her flair for felted textiles.