John Taylor was today starting a life sentence for the murder of his wife Alethea. Wayne Beese reports on a crime that shocked a village.
To the outside world, and parishioners in the sleepy village of Orleton, near Ludlow, John and Alethea Taylor were a happy, well-respected couple.
He was a former chairman and caretaker of the village hall, a self-made and hard-working man who ran a successful undertaking business.
She was a governor at the village primary school and leader of Evergreens, a group which met regularly in the village to put on outings and activities for the over-60s.
Both were regular church-goers and shared a love of music and singing. They were members of choirs including The Birchpole Singers and Little Hereford Voices Community Choir.
Alethea, who taught at Blackheath Primary School in the Black Country for more than 30 years before retiring seven years ago, was described as happy, chatty, confident and outgoing by friends in the village.
The couple were extremely well-off, with financial investigations revealing they owned two homes outright and had nearly £250,000 in various bank and savings accounts. They went on regular outings to the theatre and enjoyed luxurious holidays.
But one day, on January 19 last year, Alethea mysteriously vanished and was never seen again.
Taylor reported her missing to the police and it was to start off the chain of events that would lead, six months later, to him being arrested and charged with murder.
Initial searches of the couple’s home in Mortimer Drive uncovered two notebooks that contained diary entries from Alethea, which had been kept from her husband.
In it they painted a very different picture than that of the happy, doting couple the rest of the village saw.
In it Alethea talked of a ‘Mr Nasty’, of being ‘churned up’ and ‘desperately upset’. The reason? She had discovered her husband had been having an affair.
For the six months before her disappearance, Taylor had been having a dalliance with Alison Dearden, a long-time friend and widow from the village of Brimfield.
Taylor had conducted the funeral of Ms Dearden’s husband and started going round to the house to comfort her.
Text messages between the pair read out in court revealed the relationship soon became sexual, and they soon declared their love for one another and started to talk privately of leaving the village to start a new life together.
At about the same time, in September 2011, Taylor made an offer of £110,000 cash for an empty property in Westgate, Leominster. By his own admission it needed a ‘lot of work’, but he bought it jointly with Alethea and told his wife he wanted to ‘do it up’ as an investment opportunity. But the prosecution saw it differently – this was the love nest Taylor was feathering, with his wife’s help, for him to move into with his new mistress to start his new life. Ms Dearden told the court while in the witness stand that Taylor had told her he would leave Alethea before Christmas of that year. That never happened, perhaps because the purchase of the home in Leominster dragged on and was not completed until December 23.
So, into 2012, life went on for Mr and Mrs Taylor. He continued to see and speak to Ms Dearden as regularly as possible. Between October 2011 and up to the time of Alethea’s disappearance, Taylor called Ms Dearden more than 1,200 times from his mobile phone. By contrast he phoned his wife’s mobile just 19 times and the landline at home 24 times. Texts painted a similar picture – he sent 166 messages to his mistress but just two to his wife.
He was blissfully unaware Alethea knew what was going on, but told close friends he was becoming increasingly concerned about her behaviour. On November 24, 2011, she had slammed her drink on the table and stormed out of a wake held at the Bell pub in Yarpole, near Ludlow. Taylor said she had become upset because of the lack of space in the packed pub and took umbrage at requests by the landlady to move to another area. But the prosecution said the real reason for her anger was seeing her husband on the phone to his mistress.
Similarly, on New Year’s Eve, Mrs Taylor again became very agitated at a party the couple had attended at a friends home. Witnesses said the pair had not exchanged hugs and kisses at midnight – instead Taylor snuck outside to send a text to his lover.
On Boxing Day, Taylor and friends Brian and Tina Powell found Mrs Taylor sitting on a bench in Tunnel Lane sobbing uncontrollably. She had gone missing and called Mr Powell to say she did not know where she was.
Mr and Mrs Powell told the court she was asking for Taylor but ‘looked right through him’ and did not even know he was there.
Matters came to a head on January 18 last year, the night before she was reported missing. Taylor told police he had been doing the crossword at home in the afternoon when he heard the door slam and his wife walk through it. He said she started cursing him, talking ‘jibberish’ and asking if he had even noticed if she had gone.
Taylor said that event was unusual, that the couple had hardly had a cross word in more than 16 years of marriage. He had left his first wife, Patricia, and two now grown-up children to start a new life with Alethea in Orleton a couple of years before they got married. It was initially a marriage of love and passion – but had become ‘sexless’ by the time of her disappearance. Taylor insisted in the witness box he still had affection for his wife but said they had become more like ‘brother and sister’. At the same time he said he knew it was wrong but admitted he had ‘fallen in love’ with Ms Dearden.
Alethea Taylor doing a reading and playing the keyboards for an event at Orleton Village Hall
Taylor managed to calm his wife down and they both headed off for choir practice with The Birchpole Singers. But problems soon reared their head again and Alethea sat at the back of the hall, refusing to move, after claiming someone was sitting in her seat in the alto section.
Taylor had to speak to the choir about arrangements for a funeral that week. When he had finished and looked up, Alethea had gone missing again. He eventually found her, at the home of a friend, Iris Lawson, again sobbing uncontrollably. They managed to calm her down and returned home without singing.
But, according to the prosecution, this night was the final straw for Taylor. He had claimed to friends that Alethea was ‘losing the plot’ and feared she was suffering from dementia.
But the notebook entries, kept secret from Taylor, seemed to point that the root cause of her angst was her husband’s affair.
He was under a lot of pressure – funerals were stacking up, work needed doing on the home in Leominster, and he had promised Ms Dearden months ago they would leave and start a new life together.
All of this, the prosecution said, combined with his annoyance at being embarrassed in front of the choir, caused him to snap and murder his wife in their bedroom after they returned home that night.
Despite the fact Taylor insisted on referring to Alethea as a ‘missing person’ throughout the trial, all evidence pointed to the fact she was dead. Police helicopters combed the area in the days after her disappearance and the community came out in force to help with the search. Appeals were made in the local media. People came forward with 29 different possible sightings of Alethea, but none were considered worthy of further investigation by the police.
Not a penny had been taken out of her bank accounts since her disappearance and all of her clothes and treasured possessions, including a bracelet given to her by her father which she almost always wore, remained in the family home.
But in the absence of a body, what evidence did police have to charge Taylor and support the claim he had murdered her?
He was used to handling dead bodies, they said, and as a lifelong resident in and around the area would know a secluded spot to hide one. He was a man of impeccable good character with not a single previous conviction or police caution, but he seemingly had a motive – he wanted to get on with his new life with Alison.
The evidence he was responsible, police said, came in his words and actions at the time of her disappearance. There were inconsistencies in his accounts and whereabouts, detectives said.
Blood matching Alethea’s DNA was found on the duvet in their bedroom and also in the recesses of the rear passenger side door of his BMW car.
Taylor told police it must have come from a ‘horrendous’ nosebleed Alethea suffered before her disappearance. He told officers a couple of days after she went missing he had come home to find his wife sitting on her side of the bed with blood-covered tissues strewn around the room. But by the time of his second interview in June last year, and after detectives told him blood was only found on his side of the bed, Taylor said Alethea was sitting on that side instead.
The undertaker also told police the couple had spent the evening at home after the nosebleed, with a very pale and ‘peeky’ Alethea sleeping in the living room before they went up to bed.
But it was later put to him this was also wrong – the pair of them had attended a meeting at the village hall that evening for more than two hours. Detectives interviewed others in attendance and not one said either of the couple had mentioned the nosebleed, or that Alethea had been looking unwell.
The inference by police was clear – the ‘nosebleed’ was a lie to divert attention away from what really happened. Prosecutor Michael Burrows said during the trial Alethea would not have been the kind of woman to have slept in bloodstained sheets for two nights before she went missing.
No, they said, the blood that was in the bedroom was spilt the night before Alethea was reported missing, the night the couple returned home from the choir. Taylor killed her in a rage, detectives said, before using his professional experience to wrap her body and drag it outside to his car. A particularly high hedge outside the front of his home would prove the perfect cover along with the night sky, and his local knowledge would give him the perfect spot to dump her body. His actions the following day, the day he reported her missing, as well as his behaviour in the weeks and months to follow would also arouse suspicion. Taylor told police he left Alethea at home just before 9am. She was ‘doing some chores’ while he visited the farm of friend Peter Brooks to wash his hearse.
Taylor insisted he did not leave the Brooks farm until just before 11am, returning home to drop off his bucket and sponge and change out of his wellies before heading straight off to do some work on the home in Leominster. He said he did not go into the family home, only the garage, and so did not see Alethea.
But a witness, and a friend of the couple, Janice Preece, said she waved at Taylor as he pulled out of Millbrook Way in his car at about 9.39am. Another witness, Mercedes Morgan, said she was ‘adamant’ she saw Taylor as she walked along Mortimer Drive on the way to her weekly tai chi class. His car was parked on the drive and he was next to it holding the nozzle of a vacuum cleaner. If he was in fact cleaning the inside of his car, as it appeared, it was a strange thing to do. He had planned and indeed did visit the tip later that day to dump debris from the house in Westgate.
Taylor’s response was to insist that both witnesses must have been mistaken. But Mercedes Morgan only attended tai chi on a Thursday and gave her statement to police two days after the sighting.
To detectives, it was clear. There were unexplained journeys made by Taylor that day that he was hiding from police.
He moved on from home where he visited Morrisons before going to the house. He told the electrician there he was getting worried about Alethea because he had not heard from her that morning.
Phone records showed he attempted to ring the landline at home at 11.46am but got no reply. He told police he made that call from Westgate – but the cell records said he could not have made it from the house.
He visited Alison Dearden for an hour that day and finally returned home at about 4.30pm. Alethea was not there – but he made no attempt to ring her mobile to see where she was and instead called Ms Dearden. The reason for that was clear, detectives said. He already knew she was dead and he was the killer.
Plain clothes officers started to follow him around, to funerals and in his everyday life. Taylor said he immediately noticed them and that they ‘stuck out like a sore thumb’.
But to the police that were tailing him, Taylor seemed little affected by the continued disappearance of his missing wife. The day after he reported Alethea missing he invited his mistress around for breakfast. It was the first time she had ever ‘crossed the threshold’ and in their eyes Taylor must have been ‘supremely confident’ his wife was not going to return.
They were spotted enjoying walks, laughing and joking. Calendar entries relating to Alethea were scrubbed off at Mortimer Drive and new ones relating to Alison were added. Taylor sold his wife’s car and took her off the insurance for his BMW, adding Alison onto it.
And he also moved most of her treasured possessions up to the loft. t was because he was decorating, he said, but the police took a different view. He wanted her stuff out of the way.
The absence of a body and any clear evidence of an attack meant this was never going to be an easy murder investigation. But by June, and following further interviews with Taylor, detectives felt the case was strong enough to charge him with murder and he was remanded in custody for nearly eight months until this trial.
The belief there was enough evidence there was founded, as Taylor begins life in jail today.