Daughter’s plea to find mum Sharon Harper’s killer in another Grantham murder unsolved for 21 years
A young woman, who was just five months old when her mum was murdered in Grantham, has called for more attention on the horrific crime which happened only two months prior to the murder of Julie Pacey.
Sara Fowler, now 21, never got the chance to know her mum Sharon Harper, who was found beaten and strangled in shrubs at the Shepherd Construction car park in Earlesfield Lane on Sunday, July 3, 1994.
The lack of answers about what happened to her mum has become more pressing, after Mrs Fowler watched last month’s BBC Crimewatch appeal on the death of Grantham mother-of-two Julie Pacey, who was strangled after being sexually assaulted on September 26, 1994.
Police have not considered the two murders to be linked, despite a post-mortem revealing Miss Harper also had sex just before she was killed.
It has never been explained to the family why it is thought they were not linked, says Mrs Fowler. Moreover, she is upset that no mention was made at all of her mum’s death during the Crimewatch appeal. “It feels like it’s all more focused on Julie, even though mum’s murder happened only a couple of months before Julie’s.”
Miss Harper who lived on Sycamore Court and worked as a barmaid at the Market Cross pub, went missing after leaving work shortly after midnight on Saturday, July 2. Usually she would have walked along Westgate, Harlaxton Road nd Trent Road to get home, and had been expected to collect Sara from a childminder’s house, but she never arrived.
Mrs Fowler, who is now the same age as her mother was when she was killed, has to cope with having no memories of her mum. “Nothing. I remember absolutely nothing of her,” she says.
Back in 1994, police investigated sightings of a mystery car parked at Shepherd Construction at 3.35am on July 3, as well as an earlier report that a man described in his 30s had been seen arguing with Sharon near the Archways service station on Harlaxton Road. Although five people were arrested, no-one was ever charged.
The first Mrs Fowler heard of the renewed interest in Julie Pacey’s case, was through her family. “My other nan, my dad’s mum, told me that Julie was on the TV news, and she got quite annoyed because they didn’t actually mention my mum’s name, they just referred to her as ‘a barmaid’.”
Mrs Fowler no longer has any direct contact with her dad, who was engaged to Miss Harper at the time of her murder. Instead she has been brought up by Miss Harper’s parents, who, eager to protect their granddaughter, waited until she was older before revealing that they were not her mum and dad.
Mrs Fowler said: “Growing up I’d always wondered, considering that my nan, who I do call my mum, was quite a bit older than I would have thought a mum would have been – not to be horrible to her! I was always curious thinking, ‘is she my actual mum, or is she just a carer for me?’ Then when other people mentioned my mum’s name, and called who I thought was my mum, my nan, I just thought, well where is my mum?’”
She was gradually told the full story between the ages of seven and 10, but this hasn’t stopped her calling her nan Jennifer, and her late grandad Michael, mum and dad.
“It’s just the easiest thing to do really, and they have brought me up as their own child. I know for a fact that they don’t think of me any less than how mum did.”
For Mrs Harper, 64, it remains difficult to remember how she got the news that her daughter’s body had been discovered. “We didn’t find out from a call,” she remembers. “No, it went through the grapevine of people around the town.”
In the midst of her and her husband’s grief, looking after baby Sara soon became their focus. “As soon as things happened she was our priority, and yes she is like our daughter,” said Mrs Harper.
Her husband sadly died from stomach cancer last year, and right up until his death his daughter was in his thoughts. “He would get very tearful all the time about mum,” remembers Mrs Fowler. “When the police came to visit us last time, he got ever so teary.
“It’s just a shame that he passed away without ever knowing what happened to her.”
Both her mum and grandad were there in memory at Mrs Fowler’s wedding last month, with their photos placed on a special table at their reception at Clumber Park Hotel.
“It would have been nice to have them there,” she says. “I was too nervous to look at people, but according to mum, my nan, everyone was crying, and I think it’s probably because I’m Sharon’s daughter.”
Mrs Fowler has remained living in Grantham, and has just completed her BTEC in Graphic Design at Grantham College. She is now looking forward to joining her new husband, also called Michael, at the University of the West of Scotland, where he is in his final year studying Computer Gaming Technology.
Mr Fowler, 24, shares his new bride’s anguish that her mum’s killer has never been found. “It’s terrible,” he said. “It’s been so long, and there’s almost nothing to show for it. You’d think there would be something.”
The renewed appeal into Julie Pacey’s murder resulted from developments in DNA testing, enabling them to gather a full profile of her killer. The only indication Sharon Harper’s family have had of any forensic developments, relate to a hair found near her body, although this does not seem to have led to anything conclusive.
“They did find this rogue hair near my mum’s body, but I think they’re unsure whether it’s my mum’s hair or not. So they’re going to have to look into it more,” explained Mrs Fowler.
DCI Martin Holvey, head of EMSOU Major Crime in Lincolnshire, has been leading the investigation and has been in contact with the family.
Mrs Fowler said: “They did visit us about three or four years ago to explain what was going on and that they were checking for other evidence. They said they would get back to me if anything popped up, but nothing ever did.
“After Crimewatch was on about Julie I thought I might as well email Martin, just to see if there was anything. He said if we wanted to we could meet for another chat.
“He did say that they would only look into doing a Crimewatch appeal if there was some new kind of evidence that would help. He came to see us this week and he did apologise saying he should have told us beforehand that Julie was going to be on Crimewatch.”
In a statement, DCI Holvey said: “Officers from EMSOU Major Crime are still working on the investigation in relation to the murder of Sharon Harper, and this work is ongoing.
“Various forensic work has been carried out over the last two years and this will continue in relation to the investigation. I would encourage anyone with information into this and other crimes to contact Lincolnshire Police.”
In the meantime the family still have many questions. Mrs Fowler has also watched news footage from the time, and was shocked to learn that it was children playing that found her mum’s body. She remains in their thoughts and in their front garden they have planted a rose bush, like that near the scene, in her memory.
Sharon’s mum adds: “We can’t do anything about it. We’ve just got to hope that one day something will turn up, some new evidence, and that whoever did it slipped up somewhere.”
Asked if they thought a public appeal like Crimewatch would make a difference to their case, Mrs Fowler said: “Yes definitely. With Julie’s so many people called in afterwards. They got certain information from people that they didn’t even get at the time. If they did the same kind of appeal for mum, you never know what might turn up. Someone, somewhere, might just say something, which would go towards finding the person who did it.
“I just want to say to people get in contact with the police if you know anything or know anyone, even if it’s the smallest of things. It’s really important to tell someone.”
Lincs Police are asking anyone with any information to call Lincolnshire Police on 101, or contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
More by this authorJudith Hawkins