Other High Profile Cases and Persons of Interest > The murder of landscape architect Joanna Yeates in Bristol in December 2010.

Introduction to the Joanna Yeates case.

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Joanna Clare Yeates (19 April 1985 – 17 December 2010) was a landscape architect from Hampshire, England, who went missing on 17 December 2010 in Bristol after an evening out with colleagues. Following a highly publicised appeal for information on her whereabouts and intensive police enquiries, her body was discovered on 25 December 2010 in Failand, North Somerset. A post-mortem examination determined that she had been strangled.

Murder victim and landscape architect Joanna Yeates.

The murder inquiry, codenamed Operation Braid, was one of the largest police investigations ever undertaken in the Bristol area. The case dominated news coverage in the United Kingdom around the Christmas period as Yeates' family sought assistance from the public through social networking services and press conferences. Rewards amounting to 60,000 were offered for information leading to those responsible for Yeates' death. The police initially suspected and arrested Christopher Jefferies, Yeates' landlord, who lived in a flat in the same building. He was subsequently released without charge.

Vincent Tabak, a 32-year-old Dutch engineer and neighbour of Yeates, was arrested on 20 January 2011. Media attention at the time centred on the filming of a re-enactment of her disappearance for the BBC's programme, Crimewatch. After two days of questioning, Tabak was charged on 22 January 2011 with Yeates' murder. On 5 May 2011, he pleaded guilty to Yeates' manslaughter, but denied murdering her. His trial started on 4 October 2011; he was found guilty of murder on 28 October 2011, and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 20 years.


Background and disappearance

Joanna Clare Yeates was born on the 19 April 1985 to David and Teresa Yeates in Hampshire, England. She was privately educated at Embley Park near Romsey. Yeates studied for her A-levels at Peter Symonds College and graduated with a degree in landscape architecture from Writtle College. She received her Postgraduate diploma in landscape architecture from the University of Gloucestershire.

In December 2008, Yeates met then-25-year-old architect Greg Reardon at the firm Hyland Edgar Driver in Winchester. The couple moved in together in 2009, and settled in Bristol when the company moved there. Yeates later changed jobs to work at the Building Design Partnership in Bristol. She moved into a flat with Reardon at 44 Canynge Road in the city's Clifton suburb in October 2010.

                                                            Joanna Yeates with boyfriend Greg Reardon.

At approximately 8:00 pm on 19 December 2010, Reardon returned home from a weekend visit to Sheffield to find Yeates absent from their flat on Canynge Road, Clifton. Reardon had been trying to contact her by phone and text, but without success. While awaiting Yeates' return, Reardon called her again, but her mobile phone rang from a pocket of her coat, which was still in the flat. He found that her purse and keys were also at the flat, and that their cat appeared to have been neglected. Shortly after half past midnight, Reardon contacted the police and Yeates' parents to report her missing.

Investigators determined Yeates had spent the evening of the 17 December 2010 with colleagues at the Bristol Ram pub on Park Street, leaving at around 8:00 pm to begin the 30-minute walk home. She told friends and colleagues that she was not looking forward to spending the weekend alone as it would be her first in the flat without Reardon; she planned to spend her time baking in preparation for a party the couple would be throwing the following week, she also planned to do some shopping for Christmas. Yeates was seen on closed-circuit television (CCTV) at around 8:10 pm leaving a Waitrose supermarket without purchasing anything. She phoned her best friend, Rebecca Scott, at 8:30 pm to arrange a meeting on Christmas Eve. The last known footage of Yeates recorded her buying a pizza from a branch of Tesco Express at around 8:40 pm. She had also bought two small bottles of cider at a nearby off-licence, Bargain Booze.

Search, public appeal, and discovery of a body

Reardon and Yeates' friends set up a website and used social networking services in an attempt to find her.On 21 December 2010, Yeates' parents and Reardon made a public appeal for her safe return at a police press conference. In another press conference, broadcast live on the 23 December 2010 by both Sky News and the BBC, Yeates' father David commented on her disappearance: "I think she was abducted after getting home to her flat ... I have no idea of the circumstances of the abduction because of what was left behind ... I feel sure she would not have gone out by herself leaving all these things behind and she was taken away somewhere". Her keys, phone, purse and coat were left behind at her flat. Detectives retrieved a receipt for a pizza, but found no sign of it or of its packaging. Both bottles of cider were found in the flat, one of them partially consumed. As there was no evidence of forced entry or a struggle, investigators began to examine the possibility that Yeates may have known her abductor.

On Christmas Day 2010, a fully clothed body was found in the snow by a couple walking their dogs along Longwood Lane near a golf course and next to the entrance of a quarry in Failand, approximately 3 miles from Yeates' home. The body was identified by police as that of Yeates. Reardon and the Yeates family visited the site of the discovery on the 27 December 2010. David Yeates said that the family "had been told to prepare for the worst" and expressed relief that his daughter's body had been recovered.

Funeral arrangements were delayed as investigators retained the body for tests. The pathologist Dr Nat Carey consented to the release of the body on the 31 January 2011.


The investigation, called "Operation Braid", comprised 80 detectives and civilian staff under the direction of Detective Chief Inspector Phil Jones, a senior officer with Avon and Somerset Constabulary's major crime investigation unit. It became one of the largest police operations in the Constabulary's history. Jones urged the public to come forward with any information to help catch the killer, especially potential witnesses who were in the vicinity of Longwood Lane in Failand in the period before Yeates' body was discovered. He stated that the investigation was seeking the driver of a "light-coloured 4x4 vehicle" for questioning.

Jones said that officers had been "inundated with thousands of calls" and were "exhausting every lead and avenue that [they were] provided with." Police examined over 100 hours of surveillance footage along with 293 tonnes (293,000 kg) of rubbish seized from the area around Yeates' flat. Crime Stoppers offered a 10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of her murderer, while The Sun newspaper offered 50,000. Authorities advised people living in the area to secure their homes, and warned women not to walk alone after dark. Speaking on the 29 December about the murder investigation Yeates' father said, "I fear that whoever has done this will never hand themselves in, but we live in hope that the police will catch who is responsible."

Post mortem and initial enquiries

Following the discovery of Yeates' body, detectives from the Avon and Somerset Constabulary issued an appeal for anyone with information about the death to come forward and investigated similarities with other unsolved cases. Of particular interest to them were those of 20-year-old Glenis Carruthers who was strangled in 1974, Melanie Hall, aged 25, who disappeared in 1996 and whose body was discovered thirteen years later, and 35-year-old Claudia Lawrence who went missing in 2009. Investigators identified "striking similarities" between the Yeates and Hall cases, notably their age and appearance, and that they had disappeared after returning home from meeting friends, but the possibility of such connections was later downplayed by the authorities. The police gathered surveillance video from Clifton Suspension Bridge, which forms part of the most direct route from the crime scene to the Clifton suburb where Yeates was last seen alive. The footage was of poor quality, making it impossible to clearly distinguish individuals or car registration numbers. Investigators were aware that the perpetrator could have used an alternative bridge across the River Avon less than a mile to the south to avoid CCTV coverage.

A post mortem examination began on the 26 December 2010, though results were delayed due to the frozen condition of the body. Police initially thought it possible that Yeates froze to death because her body showed no visible signs of injury. Investigators announced on the 28 December 2010 that the case had become a murder inquiry as the pathologist who performed her autopsy determined that Yeates had died as a result of strangulation. The post mortem indicated that she had died "... several days before being discovered" on the 25 December 2010. The examination also confirmed that Yeates did not eat the pizza she had purchased. Detective Chief Inspector Jones stated that the investigation found "... no evidence to suggest that Joanna was sexually assaulted". The police searched Reardon's laptop computer and mobile phone as part of their standard procedure. Reardon was sbsequently ruled out as a suspect and thereafter treated as a witness.

A young woman attending a party at a neighbouring house on Canynge Road on the night of Yeates' disappearance recalled hearing two loud screams shortly after 9:00 pm coming from the direction of Yeates' flat. Another neighbour who lived behind Yeates' home said that he heard a woman's voice scream "Help me", although he could not recall exactly when the incident had occurred. Officers removed the front door to Yeates' flat to check for clothing fibres and DNA evidence, with investigators examining the possibility that the perpetrator had entered the flat before Yeates returned home.


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