Leah Croucher inquest opens: Contractor found missing 19-year-old’s body in loft of house before police named dead sex offender who had keys as most likely suspect
- Leah Croucher’s remains were found in Milton Keynes years after she vanished
- Six months after she disappeared, her loving brother Hayden, 24, killed himself
The cause of death of murdered teenager Leah Croucher – whose remains were found in a loft years after she vanished – is still being investigated, an inquest heard.
The 19-year-old’s body was discovered by a contractor working on a home in Furzton, Milton Keynes, on October 10, almost four years after she disappeared.
Thames Valley Police believe she was murdered by 49-year-old sex offender Neil Maxwell, who took his own life two months after she vanished.
It was a crushing blow for Leah’s parents Claire and John – who had already had to grapple with the death of their 24-year-old son, who took his life six months after his sister went missing.
Leah Croucher, 19, was last seen in Furzton, Milton Keynes just after 8.15am on February 15, 2019, (right). Her family last saw her at around 10pm the evening before
On Wednesday Tom Osborne, senior coroner for Milton Keynes, opened and adjourned the inquest into the Leah’s death, confirming she was identified by dental records.
Ms Croucher was last seen on February 15 2019 and it was believed she was walking to work. Two years later, detectives offered a reward of £20,000 to help find her.
But all hope of finding the teenager alive was lost when were remains were unearthed in a loft in Milton Keynes, last year.
Her body and possessions were found at a four-bed detached house in Loxbeare Drive – a home that sex offender Maxwell had once worked at as a handyman, with detectives later confirming he was their only suspect.
Leah (pictured) disappeared the day after Valentine’s Day on February 15 and despite a widespread public appeal to find her, nobody has come forward with information
The address was less than a mile from the home in Quantock Crescent, Emerson Valley that she shared with her parents Claire and John. Leah would have passed the address as she walked to work at a direct debit collection agency in the city.
After she was reported missing, the police carried out door-to -door inquiries in the area. They got not reply at the unoccupied home and simply posted a leaflet through the door.
Earlier the coroner agreed to a police request to withhold the record of Maxwell’s inquest that was concluded on October 9 2019.
Maxwell hanged himself on April 20, 2019, in a communal bin cupboard in Campbell Park in the city.
He had left a note taped to the door that read: ‘Please do not come in. There is a dead body inside. Call the police.’
At a press conference in October Thames Valley Police’s Head of Crime, Detective Chief Superintendent Ian Hunter said the only suspect in the killing of Leah was Neil Maxwell.
He said: ‘Maxwell was found dead on 20th April 2019, having taken his own life.
Police named Neil Maxwell, as the prime suspect in the investigation into Leah’s murder. However, he killed himself on April 20, 2019, about two months after Leah disappeared
Miss Croucher’s parents John and Claire Croucher held an emotional press conference in February 2019 appealing for information
Leah was pictured on CCTV as she walked to work on the day she disappeared
‘It is unusual to name a suspect, but we have also learned this week that during the time when Leah went missing and whilst the owner of the property was not in the UK, Maxwell was the only person to have keys to that property.
‘Maxwell had been employed by the home owner to carry out property maintenance at the house.
‘We now know he had keys to that property from November 2018.’
Maxwell had previous convictions for sexual offences against women and girls and was wanted for a sexual assault in Newport Pagnell in November 2018 – three months before Leah disappeared. There was nothing to link Leah to Maxwell, he said.
In 1998 he had raped a child. In 2002 he was jailed for four years for three sex offences against a girl aged under 6 and for failing to notify the police of a change of name or address.
In 2009 he admitted raping a woman in Datchet, Berkshire and was jailed for 4 years 10 months. The following year he admitted sexual activity with a child and received a six month concurrent sentence.
He pleaded guilty in February 2018 to sexually assaulting a woman in Milton Keys and received 200 hours’ community service after serving time on remand.
John and Claire Croucher are pictured speaking to media at Milton Keynes Police Station, as they pleaded for information after Leah’s disappearance
Haydon with his sister Leah, with whom he was very close, before she went missing in 2019. Haydon later took his own life
The police tried to arrest Maxwell on 30 November 2018 in Central Milton Keynes, but he was not there. He was at an unknown location in Scotland at one point. Further arrest attempts were made in the UK at various addresses and shared appeal with other forces.
The Chief Superintendent went on: ‘Maxwell knew he was wanted for the sexual assault and was travelling across the UK and making concerted efforts to avoid arrest, including using false names and changing his mobile phones and vehicles. He was highly likely to have known he would have been returning to prison if he was arrested and convicted.
He said: ‘The property is owned by someone who lives overseas and rarely visits the United Kingdom. It is now known the owner was not in the UK at the time Leah was reported missing and the house was unoccupied when the police attended on these inquiries.’ Because of Covid, they had rarely been in the UK, he said.
But he said it was possible that people could have stayed at the property and been unaware of what was in the loft.
The police had been called by a contractor who had found the remains and Leah’s belongings in the loft at about 6.30pm on Monday October 10th last year. The home was cordoned off while forensic officers began their work, which is expected to last several weeks.
There was a reported sighting of 5 foot 2 inch Leah in Buzzacott Lane in Furzton in the city just after 8.15am on the Friday 15th February 2019. She was walking in the direction of Loxbeare Drive and Chaffron Way. Witnesses also saw a distressed female walking near Furzton Lake, close to the house where the remains were found. The police had previously searched the lake in an attempt to find her.
Leah’s family campaigned to find her. Posters and banners appeared in the city and there had been a social media campaign. Her disappearance has also featured on TV’s Crimewatch. In March last year a £20,000 reward for information was put up by the local community.
Leah. a talented martial artist, was described as a ‘bright, funny young woman’ whose ‘smile lit up the room’
Leah’s half-brother Haydon, 24, took his own life in November 2019. He had suffered mental health problems, worsened by Leah’s disappearance.
In an emotional tribute last year, Leah’s family asked her to give half-brother Haydon a ‘big kiss and a big hug’.
Speaking for the first time since Leah’s body was discovered, her parents Mr and Mrs Croucher said they ‘knew’ the news Leah had been taken from them would come.
They said: ‘Leah had so much to achieve in her life, milestones that will now never be met.
‘The void left in our lives after Leah’s disappearance was immense, a pain almost too big to bear.
‘However, there is little that compares to the deep chasm Leah’s death has brought to us.’
‘It’s a pain almost too big to bear’: Family’s full heartbreaking tribute to ‘bright and funny’ Leah
As a family, we knew this heart-breaking news would come one day. The news that Leah had been taken from us, from this world, forever. We are devastated that we have proven to be correct in this.
The faint glimmer of hope that we all held allowed us to fool ourselves into believing that our assumption could have been wrong. The deepest, darkest grief that we, Leah’s family and friends are experiencing over the past weeks shows us that glimmer was actually, foolishly, a shining beacon of hope, which has now been brutally extinguished in the cruellest and harshest of ways. It has been a long way to fall back to reality.
Leah had so much to achieve in her life, milestones that will now never be met. Family holidays, marriage, children, promotion, having her own home. So many ‘could have beens’…
The void left in our lives after Leah’s disappearance was immense, a pain almost too big to bear. However, there is little that compares to the deep chasm Leah’s death has brought to us.
Leah was a bright, funny young woman who was a kind, loyal, helpful and caring soul. Her smile lit up the room and her laugh cheered all who heard it. Leah had a wonderful sense of humour, who found joy in everything she did.
Leah was a second Dan black belt, a national and European champion in the world of Taekwondo. She enjoyed coaching the next generation of champions at the family club she ran with her dad.
Leah’s presence and warmth impacted on all who knew her, her disappearance has impacted on an entire city and beyond.
The world and our lives are darker for losing her in the prime of life. Solace is found in the belief that Leah will only finally die when the last of us who remember her dies and Leah will hopefully be remembered by a lot of people for many years to come.
We will soon be able to lay Leah to rest, as she deserves, and say our final goodbyes, be able to grieve at Leah’s graveside and lay flowers for her. We have missed Leah for so long already, and now have the rest of our lives to mourn her as well as the memories we will never be able to make.
We were able to love you for 19 wonderful years Leah and make amazing memories together as a family, memories that we hope will be sufficient to carry us through the dark and lonely years we have to come.
We hope soon that we will be able to look at pictures of you again, but they are too painful to even think about at the moment.
Give Haydon a big kiss and a big hug from us baby, we miss and love you both so much, but hope that you are together now, looking out for each other as always.
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