Simon Holdsworth, 36, was beaten to death after getting off a bus and beginning a short walk across fields at the back of a primary school in Hackenthorpe, Sheffield, on the way home to his fiancée and three-year-old stepson, who turns four on Christmas Eve.
The South Yorkshire Police detective leading the inquiry, acting Det Supt Phil Etheridge, said there was no apparent motive for what he described as a “horrendous attack on a much-loved and popular man”.
The local police commander for the area, Chief Supt David Hartley, added: “This truly is an appalling crime. The family will be suffering unimaginable grief and pain and the revulsion will be shared right across Sheffield.”
A spokesman for FBS Prestige, the company where Mr Holdsworth had worked for 16 years, said: “He was a very hard-working, dedicated family man. He had a heart of gold. We are all heartbroken.”
Tributes also flowed in on social media, including Sheffield Wednesday fans’ forums, with many who either knew or recognised Mr Holdsworth as a regular supporter expressing shock and sadness at his brutal death.
Police said Mr Holdsworth was following his routine journey home from work at the paint-spraying company late on Monday night and there was no obvious motive for why he had apparently been set upon by one or more people. His body was found by a member of the public at 6.30am on Tuesday.
A post-mortem showed Mr Holdsworth died from severe head injuries as a result of an assault. Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Mr Etheridge said an unknown weapon had been used in the attack.
Detectives are trying to piece together what happened after Mr Holdsworth finished work at around 10.55pm in Intake, Sheffield. It is believed he got on a number 120 First Bus at a stop close to the Noah’s Ark pub in Mansfield Road five minutes later and then would have got off around 11.10pm at a stop near the Hogs Head pub in Birley Spa Lane.
The pub had closed by the time Mr Holdsworth began the short walk across fields behind Rainbow Forge Primary School to the family’s semi-detached home in Hackenthorpe. He was reported missing but in the event his body was found not long afterwards.
Police believe someone in the local community, on the south- east outskirts of Sheffield, will have crucial information to help find who carried out the deadly assault.
Mr Etheridge said: “Clearly it absolutely vital that we understand what happened to Mr Holdsworth after he left work on Monday night and attempted to make his way home.
“Were you on the 120 bus that night? Did you see Mr Holdsworth on the bus, or did you see him get off?
“Where he would have got off the bus is a busy and well-populated area, surrounded by houses where people would have been watching television or perhaps getting ready for bed.
“Even if you didn’t see anything that night, perhaps you may have heard raised voices, shouting, or more vehicle movements than usual in the area of Birley Spa Lane.
“If you have any information, however apparently insignificant, I would urge you to contact South Yorkshire Police.”
Police have stepped up patrols in the area but also stressed there was no reason to believe there was any general risk and pointed out that Hackenthorpe suffered from relatively low crime levels.