Julia Rawson: How hidden bloodstain in flat of horrors brought twisted killers to justice

Tipton murderers Nathan Maynard-Ellis and David Leesley feature in a new documentary about the macabre murder of a Dudley market trader.

Nathan Maynard-Ellis, top, and David Leesley, bottom,  were both jailed for life
Nathan Maynard-Ellis, top, and David Leesley, bottom, were both jailed for life

It was late in the afternoon when Det Insp Jim Colclough received a call to go to a quiet stretch of canal between a school and a business park.

But even for an experienced and case-hardened detective, little could have prepared him for what he was about to find.

"The discovery that was made on the other side of the canal and the waste area sent a shock through the investigation team," he said. "I think we all feared the worst would come round the corner."

Indeed, what was about to unfold was one of the most macabre cases that West Midlands Police has ever had to deal with.

The "Flat of Horrors" murder of 42-year-old Dudley market trader Julia Rawson is the subject of a television documentary programme fronted by Dermot Murnaghan on the Crime + Investigation channel at 9pm on Monday.

The first edition of the Killer Britain series will look at how Julia's dismembered body was found in neatly-packed bags near a canal on the outskirts of Tipton.

Julia Rawson was aged 42

As detectives pieced together the evidence, it emerged that Julia had been murdered after serial-killer fanatic Nathan Maynard-Ellis and his boyfriend David Leesley had lured her back to their disturbing-looking flat.

Mr Colclough recalled how the flat was festooned with stuffed creatures on walls, face masks, a Chucky doll, reptiles in tanks and DVDs and books about serial killers.

Knives, saws, axes and other bladed articles were also found crammed in next to the horror memorabilia in the small flat in Mission Drive, a quiet, leafy cul-de-sac in Dudley Port.

Recalling the call to where Julia's body was found, Mr Colclough said: "I received a call from search investigators to be informed that they had made what turned out to be a very grim discovery.

"It was evident from the first viewing that we had located body parts and those parts had been found in two separate bags sort of spread from each other over a distance of 20 or so metres."

Inside the 'flat of horrors'
CCTV footage showed Maynard-Ellis and David Leesley walking along the canal with carrier bags

The body parts were wrapped in a black material and were "very very well" wrapped and preserved, with the discovery made due to an exposed body part – the scent of which was picked up by a search dog.

CCTV footage showed Maynard-Ellis and Leesley walking away from the flat on many occasions, casually walking along the towpath with carrier bags.

Aside from the sinister decor, the other thing police officers noticed about the flat was that the living-room carpet had been very recently replaced.

But the killers made a major error – they had not replaced the underlay, and when officers pulled up the newly laid carpet they discovered a stain which turned out to be Julia's blood.

"What's apparent is that on being killed Julia was taken into the bathroom and during the course of the rest of the evening she was dismembered," said Mr Colclough.

Det Insp Jim Colclough

"All murders are obviously very tragic events, not least for the families of the victims involved, but what's been particularly distressing about this investigation is that there were concerted efforts by both men to dispose of Julia's body parts.

"There was no consideration given to her family."

Julia was last seen by her friends when she spent the day with them on May 11, 2019, before finishing the evening at the Bottle and Cork pub in Dudley town centre. She was reported missing to police on May 14, after family and friends were concerned that they hadn’t heard from her and she had not attended work.

A missing persons search was carried out and as part of those inquires, police were able to determine that Julia had a chance meeting with a man – and they were seen leaving the pub in a taxi at around 2am on the morning of May 15.

Nathan Maynard-Ellis and David Leesley caught on police bodycam when they were first questioned

CCTV footage of her talking to an unidentified man was circulated on West Midlands Police's briefing systems and a breakthrough came when a local security guard in Dudley town centre contacted police officers to say he thought he had seen the man. Police stopped Maynard-Ellis in Dudley town centre on May 22, and asked him what he knew about Julia’s disappearance.

He denied meeting Julia and said the man in the footage was not him. However, officers were confident it was him as he had shown Julia some distinctive tattoos on his arms. He was arrested on suspicion of kidnap.

The following day the missing persons inquiry was passed over to the force's homicide team as there was no proof that Julia was still alive.

Footage had also shown Maynard-Ellis, who was 30 at the time, deny having anything to do with Julia going missing when questioned by officers during the missing persons case.

A forensic search of the flat provided police with sufficient evidence to charge both Maynard-Ellis and 25-year-old Leesley with murder, although at this stage no body had been found.

Police searched for 47 days using a range of specialist equipment including search dogs from other areas of the country.

Police searching for Julia's body

On the afternoon of June 12, a search dog found a bag which contained human body parts, and another bag was found approximately 20 yards away. The body parts had been wrapped tightly in plastic bags, one was slightly torn which had allowed the dog to pick up on the scent.

Following specialist forensic analysis, West Midlands Police officers were able to confirm that they had discovered Julia’s body.

Julia’s family described her as “easy-going and quick to make friends with anyone she met."

They said: "She was a talented artist and musician, with the ability to play by ear. Her drawings were shown at local art shows.

David Leesley, left, and Nathan Maynard-Ellis during their trial at Coventry Crown Court

“Her death has had a devastating impact on us, the mutilation of her body and the callous way in which her remains were scattered has revolted us. We can only pray Julia knew nothing about these abhorrent acts.

“We are a close and loving family, clinging to each other in an attempt to support each other through this harrowing ordeal, but shall remain deeply affected and troubled by these events for the rest of our lives because Julia’s loss is felt as keenly today as when we heard she had first gone missing."

Maynard-Ellis was also found guilty of four counts of rape, one of attempted rape and making threats to kill relating to historical allegations made by a woman following his arrest.

Both defendants, of Mission Drive in Tipton admitted perverting the course of justice and concealing a body.

They were both sentenced to life in prison at Warwick Crown Court in December 2020, with Maynard-Ellis told he would serve at least 30 years, and Leesley a minimum of 19.

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