Described by the Daily Mail as a "stunning 6ft blonde", Sally Anne Bowman was a part-time hairdresser and aspiring model whose "ambition was to be on the front page of Vogue magazine". A graduate of the Brit School in Croydon, Sally Anne had taken some practical steps to fulfil her ambition; she was on the books of the model agency Pulse Model Management, and had done four catwalk shows in London, including one at the Café de Paris in Piccadilly, and appeared at the Swatch Alternative Fashion Week in April 2005. She appeared content with her life and described herself as the "happiest girl in the world".
She spent the evening of Saturday 24th September 2005 at a number of bars in Croydon with friends. During the course of the evening she met her ex-boyfriend, Lewis Sproston who gave her a lift back to her home at Blenheim Crescent in Croydon. Having dropped her off at around 4.00 am on the morning of the 25th September, Sally Anne then walked the short distance to her home as Sprotson drove off. At 4.20 am that morning a neighbour named June Cumpper heard "a girl screaming at the top of her voice". According to her husband, she "looked out of the bedroom window and saw someone walking past the builders skip outside the house, but she couldn't see anyone else and didn't think anything more of it". Another neighbour named Ann Hardy also heard two screams in the night which she thought had either been made by a vixen or a woman, but it was not until 6.30 am that she woke up and looked out of her window across the road, and saw a pair of legs sticking out from behind a skip. She went out to investigate and made the "gruesome discovery" of the "mostly naked and bloodied body" of Sally Anne Bowman lying just yards from her home.
It was later established that Sally Anne Bowman had been attacked in the front garden of her home, where she was very likely first stabbed in the neck from behind. In total she suffered seven stab wounds to her abdomen and neck, two of which were described as "major wounds" that had passed through her stomach and exited out the back, with a third fatal major wound that had pierced through her spine and voice box, almost completely severing the carotid artery in her throat, leading to her death within some twenty or thirty seconds later due to the severe blood loss involved. The postmortem examination also revealed that lumps of concrete had been placed in Sally Anne's mouth and vagina. Even relatively hardened police officers were shocked by the savage nature of the attack. As Detective Superintendent Stuart Cundy, who was placed in charge of the murder inquiry, later put it; "There have been other horrific offences up and down the country but I have never seen anything quite like this. It was sheer violence. The pathologist who dealt with Sally Anne's body has said he had never seen anything so horrific."
Born on the 11th September 1987, Sally Anne Bowman was killed just two weeks after her eighteenth birthday.
In the immediate aftermath of the discovery of the body the police arrested three men, "aged 20, 25 and 26". The two older men were later released on bail, whilst the youngest, being indeed the former boyfriend Lewis Sproston, who was naturally considered to be the prime suspect until forensic evidence apparently ruled him out. The police then worked on the theory that it was the work of a serial killer, and linked the killing with at least six other incidents, whilst they even considered the similarities with the Rachel Nickell murder which had taken place some five miles away in Wimbledon earlier in 1991. This was however nothing more than intelligent speculation, as the only firm piece of evidence they had was the fact that DNA recovered from the scene matched that previously recovered from an incident in nearby Purley in 2001 when a man masturbated in front of a woman whilst she was making a call from a public phone box.
The police duly appealed for local men in Croydon to come forward and volunteer their DNA. Although 1,770 volunteers came forward, the killer was not among them. Indeed as the months went by it became that the police had made little progress in actually identifying the killer, as in April 2006 Sally Anne's mother was urging the police to take note of the "vital clues" provided by a spiritualist named Ben Murphy, a thirty-five year old plasterer from Watford, who was apparently frustrated that police would not take him seriously.
That might well have been the end of the matter, where it not for the fact that there was a fight at a public house in Crawley following a World Cup match on the 15th June 2006, and a certain Mark Dixie was arrested as a result of this incident. As a matter of standard practice a DNA sample was taken from him. It was subsequently processed and put on the police national computer at 3.00pm on the 27th June 2006, which threw up a match to that recovered from the body of Sally Anne Bowman. Dixie was arrested later that day at the Ye Olde Six Bells public house in Horley where he was employed as a chef. The police searched a barn next to the Six Bells where Dixie stored some of his belongings, and found a digital camera in a suitcase he kept there. On the digital camera they found a video clip, apparently recorded in March of that year, which showed a man (believed to be Dixie himself) masturbating and ejaculating over a photograph of Sally Anne Bowman appearing on the front page of the Daily Mail. He was taken to Sutton Road Police station for questioning where he remarked, "I must have been mental to have done something like that, eh?", but otherwise responded "no comment" to all questions put to him.
Later described by his friends as an "ordinary guy" Mark Dixie was born in south London, and worked as a chef in pubs and restaurants in Britain, Spain, and the Netherlands, as well as living in Australia between 1993 and 1999 where he fathered two sons with a woman called Sandra Beckhouse. He had then returned to Britain and fathered another son in 2003 with his girlfriend Stacey Nivet, although that relationship had subsequently ended. His trial duly opened on the 4th February 2008 at the Old Bailey, with Brian Altman leading the prosecution, Anthony Glass appearing for the defence, and with Judge Gerald Gordon presiding, where Mark Dixie faced the charge of murdering of Sally Anne Bowman, together with further charges of indecent assault and outraging public decency regarding the Purley incident. Although Dixie admitted the Purley offences he pled not guilty to the charge of murder, despite the fact that it appeared to be an open and shut case since Dixie's DNA had been found on Sally Anne Bowman's body, his bloody fingerprint on her shoe, and his bite marks on her cheek, neck and right nipple.
However Dixie had a straightforward, if rather bizarre explanation of events. It was his birthday on the 24th September 2005, and he celebrated the occasion by going out drinking with his friends and taking two lines of cocaine, before spending the night with a friend named Victoria Chandler at her flat in Avondale Road in Croydon, which was only a couple of streets away from Blenheim Crescent. According to Ms Chandler, Dixie had fallen asleep on her sofa at 2.30 am and was still there when she later woke up at 10.30 am. However shortly after settling himself on the sofa, Dixie decided to pay a visit to a drug dealer living nearby. According to Dixie's version of events the dealer was not at home, and as he was strolling back along Blenheim Crescent he came across Sally Anne Bowman lying in the street. As Dixie explained in court; "All I saw was a pair of legs, naked genitalia, skirt up over her waist and I took advantage of her. I crouched down behind her back and I took full advantage of someone I shouldn't have." Apparently it was only after intercourse was concluded that he realised that she was dead, and it was then that he placed the lumps of concrete in her mouth and vagina in an apparent attempt to conceal his DNA.
Even his own barrister described this as an "unattractive defence", although given the scale of injuries suffered by Sally Anne, it was difficult to believe that anyone would not have realised she was dead, but nevertheless this was the defence, which effectively pointed the finger at the ex-boyfriend Lewis Sproston, and claimed that he'd killed Sally Anne in a jealous rage and left her body to be discovered soon afterwards by Dixie. As unlikely as it might have sounded, there remained a remote possibility that it might have been sufficient to raise the spectre of reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury. However thanks to the ability of the prosecution to now introduce evidence as to the "bad character" of the accused, the jury was told that Dixie had earlier been convicted of indecent assault and assault occasioning bodily harm on a young woman on the 21st June 1988, and that he'd also attacked another woman exactly ten years later in Perth, Australia. Indeed on the 21st June 1998 he'd carried out what was described as a "strikingly similar" attack on a Thai woman whom he'd stabbed around eight times and then had sex with her after she'd passed out. (After Dixie's arrest, the British police had shared his DNA with their Australian colleagues, which led to him being identified as the perpetrator of this assault.)
On the 22nd February the jury returned to deliver their unanimous verdict of guilty. Judge Gerald Gordon sentenced him to life imprisonment with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of 34 years, which given that Dixie was 37 at the time, meant that Dixie would indeed likely spend the rest of his useful life in prison, It was also revealed that Dixie had previously been convicted of a string of offences in the years 1986 to 1990 including robbery, burglary, shoplifting, indecent exposure, indecent asasult, actual boldily harm and assaulting a police officer. He had then moved to Australia in 1993 and worked as a cook in various bars and restaurants, before he was deported in 1999 after being convicted of indecent exposure in Perth, at which point the authorities realised that his visa was six years out of date. Not to mention the attempted murder and rape of the Thai woman in Australia.
Detective Superintendent Stuart Cundy was convinced that this was not the first murder that Dixie had committed and that he
"done something somewhere", particularly since Dixie was in the habit of using a variety of aliases including those of Mark Down, Mark James McDonald, Steven McDonald, and Shane Turner. Dixie was however ruled out as a suspect in the Claremont Murders in Australia which were committed in 1996 and 1997 at the time that Dixie was there.
Based laregly on reports of the trial of Mark Dixie appearing in the British press between the 4th and 24th February, with particular regard to the detailed coverage given in the Croydon Guardian (see http://www.croydonguardian.co.uk/news/sallyannetrial/) and also the following earlier reports on the case;
- Ex-boyfriend held over savage murder of teenage model, Daily Mail, 27th September 2005
- Duncan Gardham and John Steele, Last pictures of murder victim Sally Anne, Daily Telegraph, 07/10/2005
- Sami Mokbel, Sally Anne’s mum begs police to listen to medium, Evening Standard, 20th April 2006