Gina Lander death: From missing person to grisly murder case
It started out with police looking for a 'medium risk' missing person but it ended with a search of drains looking for human remains.
Gina Lander, a 46-year-old New Zealand national, had moved to Walsall with her partner David Stokes, a geophysicist from the borough who worked abroad for long periods of time, back in 2015.
The pair had met through Gina's role as a teacher to Mr Stokes' young son in Indonesia and started a relationship.
When West Midlands Police received a call saying that Gina was missing from her home in Mellish Road at 9.30pm on March 16, her partner told them she had 'taken off' with her passport and other personal items but left her phone.
As days went by without finding Gina, the search was upped to 'high risk' by the force, prompting officers to carry out further searches of the house which she shared with her partner.
All seemed to be straightforward and usual procedure, however, it has now emerged that police believed she was already dead by the time she was reported as missing.
During an inquest at Oldbury Coroners' Court, detective inspector Paul Joyce said a search of Mr Stokes laptop uncovered what he believed to be the truth behind her disappearance.
Online searches for 1,000 litre plastic barrels, large water heaters, cable pulling systems, industrial air fresheners, mechanical grinders, meat tendering powder, concentrated chemicals and one search for the 'best way to clean bones' were discovered, despite attempts to wipe the hard drive of internet search history.
Indecent images of children were also found on the laptop, which prompted officers to arrest Mr Stokes.
Speaking during the inquest, Mr Joyce said: "By this time, David was of particular interest to me.
"It had started to become clear he had some involvement in her disappearance."
Further searches of Mr Stokes' house found that drains in his garage had been heavily bleached, while empty bottles of drain cleaner gel were also found.
When one of the drains was dug up, two 'tiny fragments' of cartilage and bone were found.
Police also discovered that Mr Stokes had made two visits to tips in Walsall on the day he reported Gina as missing. Mr Joyce said be believed this was to get rid of her bones.
Mr Joyce said: "This isn't just my fantasy or theory, much scientific research has been done on this area.
"Water, heat and biological washing powder will break down our flesh and leave our skeletons.
"The materials that we saw Mr Stokes had brought that linked to him doing this were missing from his house and have never been recovered."
A statement released by West Midlands Police yesterday said: "The disappearance of Walsall woman Gina Lander is being treated as a murder.
"One line of enquiry to date has been that David Stokes may have killed Gina and disposed of her remains shortly before she was reported missing."
It was also revealed during the inquest that Mr Joyce believed Mr Stokes was prompted to report Gina as missing after receiving a call from the New Zealand embassy on behalf of her 18 year old daughter, who was concerned for her mothers welfare.
He said: "The report was made under pressure from the New Zealand embassy, but we believe that by the time he called us she was already dead and disposed of."
Mr Stokes would later jump from a motorway bridge between Junction 9 and 10 of the M6, taking his own life.
Speaking at the inquest yesterday, Coroner Zafar Siddique said: "There have been extensive proof of life searches carried out by the police but nothing has uncovered her whereabouts.
"Having considered all of the evidence, my conclusion is that Gina Lander was unlawfully killed. I offer my condolences to both families involved in this inquest."
The inquest heard Mr Stokes was also under investigation from the police due to child pornography images found on his laptop and had jumped to his death after being dropped off near Walsall Police Station, where he had to report his presence every day, by his father.
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