Eighteen months earlier, the children’s author had suffered a terrible loss.
In February 2011, she’d gone on a dream holiday to Barbados with her husband, John, who she’d been with for 22 years. Then, a nightmare unfolded. Helen watched in horror from the beach as John struggled in the ocean. Caught in a rip, tragically he drowned. A talented writer, Helen poured her heartbreak into her blog, Planet Grief. Keen to connect with others enduring loss, she joined online forums. That’s where, eight months after John’s death, she met Ian Stewart. His wife Diane had died suddenly in 2010 from epilepsy, leaving him and two teenage sons.Supporting each other, their feelings eventually turned romantic.
Helen wrote on her blog about her gorgeous, grey-haired widower, or GGHW, as she dubbed him. When they moved in together in 2012, along with Helen’s beloved dachshund Boris, her loved ones were pleased for her. Settling in, Helen met her neighbours who described her as funny and cheerful while Ian was quiet and reserved. By 2014, she and Ian were engaged. Helen changed her will, leaving nearly all of her $6 million fortune to her fiancé. She also took out $2.1 million in life insurance to cover the inheritance tax bill he would face if she died before their wedding.
A year later, Helen turned her blog into a book, When Bad Things Happen In Good Bikinis. In it, she paid tribute to John, but dedicated the book to future husband Ian. He was her ‘happy ever after’. However, Helen had developed a strange health problem. Often feeling exhausted, she’d been so spaced out she’d even left her precious Boris behind on the beach one day. Why do I keep falling asleep? she googled, baffled.
On April 11, 2016, Helen searched online again. This time looking for a wedding venue. In the afternoon, she was seen out walking Boris. On the same day, Ian watched his son play in a bowls match before they had dinner together. When he got home, he later told police, he found a note from Helen saying she needed time alone and had taken Boris to her holiday home. That night, he texted her two kisses. But Helen failed to arrive at her holiday house and, four days later, Ian went to the police. She and Boris had seemingly vanished into thin air.
A missing person enquiry was launched, including a search of the couple’s home.Detectives read through her blog and pointed to a passage where she talked about a time, years earlier, when she’d wanted to ‘disappear.’ Had she tried to leave her life behind? Desperate, Ian printed flyers to spread the word. Had anyone seen his beloved fiancée? Appealing to Helen, he wrote, We miss you and Boris so much. He later added, You not only mended my heart five years ago, but made it bigger, stronger and kinder.
Days turned into weeks, but there was no trace of the popular 51-year-old. Then, in July, three months after she disappeared, police made a shock announcement. A 55-year-old man had been arrested on suspicion of murder. The man was Ian. Returning to the property, an officer chatted to a neighbour’s daughter, Nikki McGrath, who was visiting her mum from Perth. ‘It might sound stupid, but have you dredged the well?’ she asked. Nikki remembered a joke the house’s former owner used to make, about it being a good place to hide a body. Intrigued, officers contacted the previous owner who explained about a hidden cesspit under the garage, where sewage waste was disposed of.
When police went to search the cesspit, they made a terrible discovery. Helen and Boris’ bodies were buried in excrement. Ian Stewart was charged with Helen’s murder. During his trial at St Albans Crown Court, UK, he told a bizarre tale. He claimed Helen had been kidnapped by two men called Nick and Joe who had demanded a $1 million ransom. But prosecutors painted Ian as a calculated, tight-fisted and cold killer, who’d showered a lost and lonely woman with love, only to kill her out of greed. His sons gave evidence for the prosecution. And Helen’s brother told the court she’d joked about hiding a body in the cesspit, in earshot of Ian.
Prosecutors explained Ian had used his ‘missing’ partner’s money to buy a season ticket to the Arsenal football club, and had gone on a two-week holiday while police searched for her. Toxicology reports showed Helen had been drugged with sleeping pills, including at the time of her death. With no obvious injuries on her decomposed body, it was possible she had been suffocated or even been thrown into the liquid filth alive.
Jurors found Ian Stewart, 56, guilty and he was sentenced to life in prison with 34 years non-parole. Police also announced they’d be re-investigating the death of his first wife. After the verdict, lead investigator DCI Jerome Kent, called Stewart ‘bizarre, manipulative, greedy and self-centred’. He also said Ian had plotted to kill the besotted widow from the start. Tragically, while Helen planned her wedding to her dream man, he was planning her murder.
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