Who was Kate Bushell? The Exeter schoolgirl whose 1997 murder has never been solved

Kate Bushell's murder remains unsolved 25 years on. Credit: Devon and Cornwall Police

Police have renewed an appeal for information to find the killer of Exeter schoolgirl Kate Bushell, who was murdered just 300 yards from her home 25 years ago this week.

The murder of the 14-year-old schoolgirl in the Exwick area of the city prompted one of the largest and longest-running unsolved murder inquiries by Devon and Cornwall Police.

Her family have issued a renewed appeal to help achieve justice for Kate ahead of the 25th anniversary of her death.

When was Exwick schoolgirl Kate Bushell killed?

Kate Bushell was just 14 when she was killed near her home in Exwick, Exeter, on Saturday 15 November 1997.

The St Thomas High School student was murdered as she walked a neighbour's dog near her home, suffering a savage knife wound to her throat.

Her body was discovered by her father in a field off of Exwick Lane - just 300 yards from her home in Burrator Drive.

  • Watch ITV News West Country's 2017 report on the 20th anniversary of Kate's disappearance

What do we know about the day Kate Bushell died?

Kate left her home around 4.30pm on the day of her murder to walk her neighbour’s Jack Russell, Gemma.

The teenager was last seen alive at 4.50pm by a layby near the Whitestone Cross end of Exwick Lane.

At 5.30pm a small dog, believed to be Gemma, was seen running loose from a gateway in Exwick Lane at the base of the field where Kate’s body was subsequently found.

Her body was discovered around 7.30pm following searches of the area by police and her family.

She had died from a catastrophic injury to her neck caused by a blade at least six inches long.

Kate Bushell was just 14 years old when she was murdered. Credit: Devon & Cornwall Police

Have there been any suspects?

More than 160 detectives and staff were initially deployed to the case in 1997, with more than 5,000 house-to-house interviews conducted and over 5,000 DNA samples taken.

Three suspects have been interviewed and released without charge.

What are the key lines of inquiry?

Police pieced together Kate’s final movements with witnesses reporting various sightings of a blue vehicle and two unidentified men.

These lines of inquiry remain key to the investigation along with tracing the source of orange fibres found at the scene, police said.

Witnesses remember seeing Kate and Gemma but also spotting a small blue car parked in the nearby stables layby with a man stood by it.

Kate with her brother Tim. Credit: Devon & Cornwall Police

He was described as white, aged between 30 and 40, of average build and height, clean shaven with dark collar-length hair.

Several witnesses also said that they saw a man running wildly from the corner of the field in the Farm Hill/Cornflower Hill area of Exwick that evening.

The two men have never been traced despite renewed appeals by Devon and Cornwall Police.

Was anything found at the scene?

More than 100 orange clothing fibres were found on Kate's body and one on a nearby country stile.

The orange fibres were from a bright orange azoic-dyed cotton material, predominately used in non-florescent workwear such as boiler suits, aprons and gloves.

The actual weapon used to murder the 14-year-old has never been found.

Police searching the crime scene in 1997. Credit: Devon & Cornwall Police

Do police have a suspect?

Detectives remain convinced that Kate's killer has local connections due to the isolated location of the murder.

The field where Kate's body was found was mainly used as a cut-through to Nadderwater and Whitestone, and was frequented by local dog walkers.

“The murder location has huge significance because it is not common to anyone from outside of the area,” said Senior Investigating Officer Detective Inspector Rob Back.

“We believe that the killer may have lived locally or had links to friends and family members there.

“Kate’s body was found in a field which leads to Kinnerton Way and she would have gone down a country path and across two stiles to get there."

Kate's family and Devon and Cornwall Police issued a renewed appeal for information on November 14, 2022.

Kate’s brother Tim Bushell, who was almost 16 at the time of her murder, also called on anyone who was still withholding information to look to their conscience and speak out.

He said: “Twenty five years ago my 14-year-old sister Kate was taken from my family and me when she was murdered near our home whilst walking a friend’s dog.

"There isn’t a day that goes past where my family and I don’t think of her, what life would be like if she hadn't been taken from us, what she would have achieved, and all the family milestones that we have been unable to include her in."

A £20,000 reward has been offered by Crimestoppers for information which leads to the arrest and conviction of Kate's killer.

Information can be reported through Devon and Cornwall Police’s Major Incident Public Portal online, or through Crimestoppers anonymously.

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