LONDON (Reuters) - Murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler “disappeared in a flash” when she was snatched in broad daylight by a prowler who had already tried to kidnap another schoolgirl, a court heard on Tuesday.
Former wheelclamper and bouncer Levi Bellfield abducted and murdered Milly, 13, then went on to murder two other young women and tried to murder a third, the Old Bailey was told.
Milly, who only took a different route home from school by chance that day, was “gone in the blink of an eye” in what was “every parent’s worst nightmare,” the court heard.
Her decomposing body was not found until six months later in a field 25 miles away, the Press Association reported.
Bellfield, 42, formerly of west London, denies Milly’s kidnap and murder after she left Walton-on-Thames train station in Surrey on March 21, 2002.
He also denies the attempted kidnap of 11-year-old Rachel Cowles, who was approached by a man in a red car in Shepperton, Surrey, on March 20, 2002.
Prosecutor Brian Altman said Milly, whose birth name was Amanda, had spent an ordinary day at school in Weybridge, Surrey. Still in her uniform, she took a train with friends and spent time with them in the station cafe, where they ate chips.
Then she began to walk to her home about a mile away along Station Avenue, where Bellfield had been staying at the time, the court heard.
“Within moments of leaving the station to walk along the road, just a few minutes after 4 p.m., she vanished -- gone in the blink of an eye,” said Altman.
“Milly had simply disappeared in a flash from a street in a suburban town in broad daylight. This was of course every parent’s worst nightmare.”
Altman said it was only by chance that Milly was taking that route home. She would normally have got off at another station, Hersham, had she not gone to the cafe with friends that day.
The jury heard that Milly’s disappearance sparked a major police hunt and months of agonising uncertainty for her family.
“For six long months the Dowler family suffered the excruciating pain of not knowing what had become of their daughter,” Altman said.
Her naked body was found by chance by some mushroom pickers on September 18, 2002, in undergrowth in Yateley Wood in Hampshire. The remains were identified as those of Milly but the cause of death could not be determined.
At the time Milly vanished, Bellfield was living with his partner, Emma Mills, and their two children in a rented ground- floor flat yards from the spot where Milly was last seen alive.
Within 22 minutes of Milly disappearing, a red Daewoo Nexia car, which Bellfield was using at the time, was caught on CCTV leaving the area by the access road to the flats and along Station Avenue.
The day before, at around the same time, there had been an attempt to abduct another schoolgirl in Shepperton, just over three miles away, Altman said.
Rachel Cowles was approached by a man in a small red car driven by a man resembling Bellfield, it was alleged.
“He tried tricking her by telling her that he had just moved in next door and asked her if she wanted a lift,” Altman said.
“Sensibly she did not accept his offer. At this time, a police car was driven along the road, which possibly spooked the man and he drove off. The prosecution say there can be no doubt that Levi Bellfield was responsible for both.
“He has been proven to be a predatory and violent offender towards women.”
Bellfield had gone on to attack other women in west London over a period of just over two years and was convicted at the Old Bailey in 2008.
He killed Marsha McDonnell, 19, in February 2003 and Amelie Delagrange, 22, in August 2004, by striking them on the head with a blunt instrument. In May 2004, he attempted to murder Kate Sheedy, 18, by deliberately running her over in a car.
Altman said the offences bore similarity in many respects to Milly’s murder and Rachel’s attempted abduction.
“Milly was slim, pretty and intelligent. She was popular among her friends. To all intents and purposes she was an ordinary girl who was developing into a fine young woman,” he said.
Editing by Steve Addison
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