- Helena Wilkinson & Jeremy Britton & Bethan Bell
- BBC news
What could have led a woman to kill her friend, decapitate her, put her in a suitcase, keep her body for two weeks, and then dump her in a forest more than 300 km away?
For Jemma Mitchell, the answer is simple: greed.
“Mitchell is one a merciless killer. The motivation was money. The cold facts of this case are shocking,” Detective Chief Constable Jim Eastwood of the London Metropolitan Police said ahead of the sentencing, which was broadcast live for the first time in England and Wales on Friday.
Mitchell, 38, was sentenced to life imprisonmentwith a minimum term of 34 years.
A story about two friends
This is the story of a friendship that began within Christian community and ended up with one woman dead and another facing life behind bars.
It was a summer afternoon in a seaside town when events took an unexpected and terrifying turn. A family of tourists encountered a a body without a head.
Mee Kuen Chong, also known as Deborah, 67 years old and born in Malaysia, she has been missing for 16 days.
His headless body was found in woodland in Salcombe, Devon, in south-west England, some 200 miles from his home in north-west London.
His head was found nearby a few days later.
A year later, the murder trial at the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, known as Old Bailey, revealed gruesome details that few could forget.
Deanna Heer KC (Queen’s Counsel) described the case.
It was basic and simple: “Jemma Mitchell attacked and killed the deceased and then transported her body to Salcombe in a large blue coffin where she attempted to dispose of him.”
During the two-week hearing, Mitchell listened from the dock and Chong’s family watched via video from Malaysia.
Heer told the jury that the prosecution did not have to prove motive, “but in this case, the reason is clear: money“.
The house is in a state of abandonment
Mitchell comes from a wealthy background, had a private education, and his mother worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
He has a property in Australia, where he was born, and a family home in London in an area where properties do not sell for less than $1.1 million.
Text messages from Chong indicated she believed Mitchell’s house was worth $4.6 million.
However, this house needed renovation. The rooms were crammed with things and some of them could not be entered, Heer explained to the jury.
“There were boxes and suitcases everywhere, freezers full of food, old mattresses and building materials. The kitchen was dirty, with spoiled food and a mess, with paper covering surfaces,” Heer said.
“The bathroom was stained and in poor condition. The place looked like a hoarder’s residence. The second floor of the property was under renovation with unfinished walls and ceilings.”
The court heard it Chong offered Mitchell a US dollar230,000 to help him fix the house, but he refused the offer. Shortly after that, she disappeared.
Both women considered themselves devoted Christians. They met through the Church in the summer of 2020.
Mitchell used an online dating site called Christian Connection, where Chong posted evangelical messages.
It is not known what drew the women to each other, but Chong was a vulnerable woman with mental health problems, and Mitchell, who had a degree in osteopathy, offered her health advice and spiritual healing.
Chong was known for her generous naturefor befriending the homeless and opening doors to the needy.
Apparently both They seemed to be on good terms. But then Chong’s body was found and detectives began reviewing security camera footage.
After that, the mystery began to unravel.
What the cameras found
As Eastwood explained, there was a “substantial amount of evidence” pointing to Mitchell.
CCTV cameras showed “Mitchell to and from the area of Deborah’s address on the day she disappeared. There was also key CCTV footage which captured Mitchell traveling to and from Devon.”
“We have been able to recover the blue wheelie bin which we claim he used to transport Deborah’s body from Chaplin Road to his address in Brondesbury Park and then to Devon.”
Mitchell also reactivated the dead neighbor’s phone number and took it with her.
“We were able to show that he had left his mobile phone at home while using his deceased neighbour’s phone on the way to and from Devon,” Eastwood explained.
And then the cops searching Mitchell’s address found the reason for the shady scam and the latest betrayal of a friendship.
“We found willswhich we were able to prove was fraudulently created and signed in order to exercise a substantial right to Deborah’s estate,” Eastwood said.
“They were together with personal and financial documents taken by Mitchell from Deborah’s address on June 11.”
The prosecution told the jury that Mitchell “intended to use them for his own personal gain”.
Eastwood described the cold-blooded planning as “terrible”.
Much of the focus of the trial was centered on blue suitcase which Mitchell was seen dragging through the streets of the capital.
Prosecutors said Mitchell brought the suitcase to Chong’s house with the intention of killing her and placing her body inside.
Jurors heard that when Mitchell left Chong’s house, the coffin seemed “much heavier and more difficult to manoeuvre”.
Two weeks later, using a false name and reactivating a dead neighbour’s phone number, he hired a car, packed a suitcase and drove to Devon.
The prosecution said the trip was to dispose of Chong’s body.
“When you consider the calculated way in which Mitchell planned this murder, from rewiring a deceased neighbor’s cell phone before the murder so he could use it while transporting the victim’s remains to Devon, to carrying the coffin to Deborah’s house, knowing he would use it to take her body after he killed her, that’s a really evil act,” Eastwood said.
Between Chong’s death and the trip to Salcombe, Mitchell showed extra insight by going out to London Zoo with someone he met online.
However, budgeting and planning only took Mitchell so far. Even she could not have imagined that the tire would be damaged.
The mechanic who came to change the tire noticed that Mitchell acting strange. He also noted a “strange smell” in the vehicle and found it strange that Mitchell insisted on keeping the bad tire in the back seat instead of the trunk.
Mitchell refused to testify during the trial. From arrest on July 6, 2021kept silent all this time.
The court heard how Mitchell studied humanities at King’s College London, which included a course in experimental anatomy.
She had the ability to dismember a body. He had the ability to remove his head, although it is unclear why he did so.
She also worked as an osteopath in Australia for seven years before returning to Great Britain in 2015, where she lived with her mother and sister, with whom she had a turbulent relationship.
Mitchell is the only person who knows exactly what happened on Chaplin Road, at the Chongs’ home, on that fateful day in June 2021.
“We can only speculate as to what Mitchell did and what his overall plan was,” Eastwood said.
“It’s almost certain that Mitchell decapitated Deborah at that time.”
“The decomposition was at such an advanced stage when the body was found that Mitchell may have started to fear that Deborah’s body would be discovered – we may never know whether this made her move the body and why she chose Salcombe in Devon.”
“However, what is clear is that Mitchell, seeing his opportunity to obtain the funds he so desperately wanted disappear, decided to target and kill a vulnerable woman for his own benefit in a truly despicable crime.”
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