Died in 2005
Janet Brown (45) of Hexham, Northumberland was murdered in 2005. Her body has never been found.
Donald Graham (60), of Sparty Lea, Northumberland, was convicted of her murder. In June 2014 a judge at Newcastle Crown Court jailed Graham for life, saying he would not be eligible for parole for 32 years. He had denied murder but admitted fraud.
Ms Brown was a wealthy property developer and occasional television extra.
Ms Brown had been in a relationship with Graham, who was married. During the trial, the court heard him described as a “controlling and manipulative” man who killed Ms Brown, a, to fund a lavish lifestyle. Once having disposed of her body, Graham took advantage of the fact that Ms Brown had planned to go abroad by sending fake postcards from France saying she had found a job.
The trial heard that Ms Brown went missing just before she was due to go on holiday with Graham. After she disappeared up to £400,000 was transferred from her account to Graham’s in the space of a year. He also sold her Porsche, with personalised number plates, on eBay. He then befriended her elderly parents, and when they died went on to strip their estate of £285,000 before trying to get hold of their £300,000 farm. It was only when a building society clerk raised suspicions over a signature on a document that a fraud investigation began. It later became a missing persons inquiry, and eventually a murder investigation.
Ms Brown’s body was not found, despite an extensive search of farmland close to Graham’s home.
Sentencing, Judge Justice Openshaw said: “He was once a JCB digger driver, he could have disposed of her in some deeply-dug pit or put her down one of the many mine shafts in the area, or buried her in some wild and remote place. That he disposed of her body is obviously an aggravating factor.” He added that the fact that the murder was driven by financial gain was another aggravating factor. He said “All these offences were made possible only by the murder and he used the money to fund his extravagant and flashy lifestyle”. He added “The defendant has been convicted of a terrible offence, and must now pay the price.”
Speaking after the verdict Detective Chief Inspector Nicola Musgrove, of Northumbria Police, said: “Graham is a controlling and manipulative man, particularly towards women, a bully who deliberately instils fear into people and uses intimidating behaviour to get his own way. He is a callous man who made it look like Janet was alive when in fact he had, motivated by financial greed, murdered her.” She added “Despite living a seemingly modest lifestyle, Janet Brown had considerable assets – Graham fraudulently accessed these and her parents’ money and squandered everything on a lavish lifestyle for himself.
This has been a long running, complex investigation with many challenges; not least that Graham has never indicated where Janet’s body is. The final piece in Janet’s murder would be for Graham to admit what happened to her and give her family the opportunity to grieve.”
Janet Brown’s family said in a statement: “The last four years have been very difficult for us, dealing with the aftermath of these events. We would like to say that we are pleased with the verdict.”
Denise Graham, who was married to the killer, told Newcastle Crown Court that her husband became “nasty” towards her after starting his affair with Ms Brown. She told the court how, in 2010, Graham forced her to phone a solicitor and pretend she was Ms Brown as part of a scam to inherit her late parents’ estate. Without her knowledge, her husband bought a house in Seaton Delaval and allowed Ms Todd to live there, and she told the jury she only found out later after checking with the Land Registry. Ms Graham was asked if she ever questioned her husband about what he was doing when she spotted his car parked at Ms Brown’s parents’ house near Hexham. She replied: “No. I was frightened by him. I was told by him never to ask where he had been or what he had been doing.”
A jury was unable to reach a verdict on co-accused Elizabeth Todd, who was also having a relationship with the killer. She denied fraud and perverting the course of justice and now faces a retrial.
Note: This report was drawn from reports in the BBC.