What Apple watch told police about PCSO Julia James' final moments and brutal murder

Julia James was found dead on the edge of Akholt Wood in Snowdown

A smart watch has been credited as one of the key ways detectives were able to track Julia James' movements following her brutal murder - and ultimately led to police being able to identify her killer.

It is the first time the technology is believed to have played such a crucial role in a murder conviction.

PCSO Julia James, 53, was found dead on the edge of Akholt Wood in Snowdown, near Aylesham, Kent, shortly after 4pm on Tuesday 27 April 2021.

Today (16 May) Callum Wheeler has been found guilty of her murder at Canterbury Crown Court.

Following Ms James' death, a massive police investigation was launched with thousands of pieces of evidence being reviewed - including her Apple watch.

Detectives were able to retrieve the mother of two's device, to analyse GPS data it had recorded, tracking her movements from the time she left her home in Aylesham to the moment she was found dead.

The technology, which also monitored Ms James' heart rate was also able to tell police the exact time she died.

Speaking about the relevance of the smart watch in the investigation, Martin Yale, Senior Crown Advocate, for the Crown Prosecution Service said: "It's the first time I've had smart watch evidence in a prosecution. It was crucial.

"It enabled Julia James' movements to be tracked from the moment she left the house, until the time of her death.

"It also enabled CCTV evidence and witness evidence to be pieced together to build a strong and compelling case, that Callum Wheeler was the person who was responsible for Julia James' death.

  • CCTV showing Julia James out on her walk in the distance

The data revealed Ms James had left her home at 2.12pm on Tuesday 27 April - at that time her smart watch disconnected from her home wi-fi router.

She is believed to have taken the dog out on a walk - taking a lunch break from work. 

She travelled around the perimeter of the field behind her house in The Crescent, Snowdown, along a bridal way towards Akholt Woods.

She then turned around at a spot known as the butterfly place, where she would normally look at butterflies, and started to walk back.

Detective Superintendent Gavin Moss, senior investigating officer for Kent Police said, "At this point there is something that has happened.

"Her glasses were found around 50 metres from where her body was found.

"I speculate that this is the point that she’s seen Callum Wheeler and instead of returning the way she came, she has decided to go another way to try to escape him. She had more chance of being seen out in the open.

"We believe she was attacked where she died."

Detectives say Julia died at 2:30pm.

Map of the route by Julia, recorded by Apple Watch.

Detective Superintendent Gavin Moss, senior investigating officer for Kent Police said: "Smart watch data was absolutely crucial for our investigation.

"I’ve personally never had a case where we’ve had to use smartwatches before. This brought us a wealth of information that I’d have never have got beforehand. 

"It helped us fully understand Julia’s last movements."

Wheeler, now 22, did not know 53-year-old Mrs James, but she had seen him in the same place in the woods before, and described him to her husband Paul as "a really weird dude".

Other witnesses also felt uneasy about Wheeler, including gamekeeper Gavin Tucker, who came across him walking across fields in September 2020. When he saw the same figure walking near the woodland the day after Mrs James's murder, he challenged Wheeler, taking a short video clip and photograph.

The images of a young man carrying a blue holdall with a long item covered in plastic bags protruding from the top - the railway jack he had used to kill Mrs James - proved vital in identifying the killer.

Investigators initially circulated images to law enforcement, but when this drew a blank they went public on May 7 2021.

Within hours someone had called in to identify Wheeler and he was arrested.