Isabelle Gray was brutally murdered in Leeds 20 years ago... her killer is still at large

It was a brutal attack on a vulnerable pensioner, which horrified the community and sickened detectives tasked with tracing those responsible.

INVESTIGATION: Police examine the roof of Isabelle Grays home; inset, a Crimewatch reconstruction.

But 20 years on, the killers of Leeds pensioner Isabelle Gray are yet to be brought to justice.

Reliant on a stairlift and mobility scooter, 82-year-old Miss Gray lived alone in a Victorian terraced house opposite Manston Park in Crossgates.

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And it was in the kitchen of her home in Austhorpe Road that she was found dead on January 29, 1997.

Isabelle Gray

A ‘meals on wheels’ worker had arrived at around noon and found the front door to the house closed but unlocked.

She was immediately suspicious and found her fears for the worst confirmed when she discovered Miss Gray’s body inside.

Injuries revealed during the post mortem examination pointed to a violent attack and a murder investigation began.

Detective Chief Inspector Jim Dunkerley, of West Yorkshire Police Homicide and Major Enquiry Team, said: “The murder of Isabelle Gray was a horrendous crime that shocked the community at the time and is still seen as a particularly sickening offence even after all these years.

Isabelle Gray

“Isabelle was a frail and vulnerable pensioner who was subjected to a brutal and prolonged attack by criminals whose only concern was to find out where her money was.

“Once they had that information, they took what they came for and left her to die. The appalling callousness of those individuals speaks for itself.”

As the investigation progressed, police became convinced that Miss Gray had been the victim of travelling criminals.

Receipts were found at the house which suggested she had previously been targeted by cowboy builders.

It is thought that information about how she paid in cash and was vulnerable had reached those responsible for her murder.

An inquest in May 1998 concluded that Miss Gray had been unlawfully killed, almost certainly by bogus tradesmen calling at her door.

It heard how the intruders had placed her on a kitchen chair after the attack and left her there to die.

Miss Gray, who suffered from curvature of the spine, was found to have a fractured cheekbone and spine.

Timeline of events

January 27, 1997 – Isabelle Gray was last seen by neighbours at about 1pm as she returned home from a trip to nearby shops and parked her mobility scooter.

January 27, 1997 – It is believed two men call at the house at about teatime. Evidence suggests Miss Gray was assaulted in the hallway, dragged into the kitchen and forced to tell the men where she kept her money. A handbag was missing and cash was taken from a chest of drawers in the bedroom.

January 28, 1997 – A woman from a ‘meals on wheels’ service arrived at around noon, finding the front door closed but unlocked. She found Miss Gray’s body in the kitchen.

The inquest heard her death was not treated as suspicious initially and it was only when the post-mortem examination revealed the extent of her injuries that the murder inquiry began.

A team of 24 officers was assigned to the case, but were unable to find her killers.

Det Chief Insp Dunkerley said: “Extensive enquiries were conducted at the time and over the years that followed, with a specific focus on distraction burglars and rogue traders, but the people responsible for Isabelle’s murder were not caught.

“Although 20 years has passed, the case remains under review and we would welcome any new information that could assist in identifying those responsible.”

The case was twice featured on Crimewatch during 1997, with a reconstruction staged of Miss Gray’s final movements.

An appeal in March that year prompted more than 100 calls to police in Leeds and at least 50 more to the BBC’s studio in London.

The second in December yielded another 80 calls with potential leads for officers to pursue.

Detective Superintendent Brian Steele said at the time: “I don’t think any names have been given, it is more a case of passing on information relating to travelling criminals. I am certain this was carried out by travelling criminals.”

The pensioner’s keys had been left on the stairs, something Det Supt Steele thought could be a quirky habit and might have been seen in other break-ins.

He believed footprints found on the floorboards of Miss Gray’s attic were also made by the pensioner’s killers.

During enquiries, officers were told about two men travelling in a white Transit Van who had called at a house in nearby Poplar Avenue two weeks before the murder.

They had asked the owner if they wanted their bushes pruning but were not seen in the neighbourhood again.

It was a case which loomed large for some time in West Yorkshire, inspiring campaigns to raise awareness of bogus officials and an innovative project to understand the psychology behind the crime.

The county’s force secured a £10,500 grant from the Home Office-funded Police Research Group in 1998 to support its work alongside psychiatrists and crime prevention experts.

And it was among around 50 ongoing and unsolved murder cases under review by West Yorkshire Police back in September.

Today Det Chief Insp Dunkerley renewed the appeal for information in the hope that the case could yet be solved.

“Over those two decades it is very possible that relationships or allegiances have changed and there may be someone who is now in a better position to pass on information that could assist the investigation,” he said.

“I would ask anyone who is in that position to search their conscience and provide that crucial information that will help us to bring those responsible for her murder to justice.”Anyone with information is asked to contact the Homicide and Major Enquiry Team via 101 or call the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.