There is something almost out of place about Mark Bridger’s house in the village of Ceinws, just a short drive away from the town of Machynlleth in north Wales.
Ceinws is tucked in a neat little gulley in the beautiful Dyfi Valley, surrounded by clear, fresh water streams. The houses in the village are pretty with tended gardens proudly on display.
But on a steep road as you approach the village, looking out onto the other houses, lies the place where Mark Bridger lived and where April Jones is believed to have lay bleeding before she died.
It is austere and bleak in comparison to the other houses. It is now also notorious. One could hardly imagine a more idyllic setting for something so horrific, which now hangs over the whole community.
Many people I have spoken to in Machynlleth have repeated that what makes the murder of April Jones so much harder to comprehend is that this was not done by an outsider - a stranger to their community - but by someone who many regarded as one of them.
Mark Bridger was born and raised in Surrey, the son of a former Royal Protection Officer, but he had lived in Machynlleth for over 20 years.
Emyr Lewis knew him soon after he moved to the area. Bridger joined the same Badminton club as him. Lewis described Mark Bridger as “quite a tidy lad who kept himself to himself,” saying he couldn’t see any faults in him.
This is what many people who knew and worked with Bridger say of him; that essentially there was nothing untoward or out-of-place about him.
Anwen Morris helped to organise the hundreds of volunteers that searched for April. She says Bridger was seen by people here very much as one of them:
– Anwen Morris
He was everyone’s friend. Everyone knew him. You’d walk down the street, you’d see him and ... he’d speak to you and have a chat about life in general ...
If he was somebody who lived in our community but was a bit of a loner who didn’t mix, you may be able to deal with this a little bit better. But the fact he wasn’t like that and he was a charming man, that was the shocking thing to it.
Bridger had a reputation of being a “lady’s man” and had numerous relationships with local women. He also fathered six children with four different women.
He had the same rudderless and unstable approach to his professional life, drifting from one odd job to another: Lifeguard, slaughterhouse-worker, welder, forestry worker.
Peter Benson employed him briefly after Bridger was introduced to him as a mechanic. He describes Bridger as being “a jack of all trades but master of none”.
One other aspect to Bridger’s character was his tendency to be a fantasist, concocting fantastical stories about how he had been in the army and even having been a member of the SAS.
He would vaguely drop hints at having been involved in secret and dramatic missions in this imaginary past.
He admitted to having developed a dependency on alcohol in the past few years, saying he would particularly turn to alcohol in the wake of relationship break-ups. He also said he had taken anti-depressant medication over the past twelve years.
It is only when you put together these fragments of his past that a wider picture of Mark Bridger’s character begins to emerge. Yet those who knew him and worked with him in the tight-knit community of Machynlleth always saw him as just another ordinary member of the community.
The murder of April Jones by Mark Bridger leaves many lasting questions:
How could a man so many knew, accepted and liked have killed the child of another member of the community?
And most of all, what happened to April’s body after she died? Only Mark Bridger can give the answer to that.