True Crime

TRUE CRIME – Who murdered Billie-Joe?

The 13-year-old school girl was brutally murdered in her own backyard

Little Billie-Jo Jenkins wasn’t dealt the fairest hand in life. When she was eight, her dad Bill was sent to prison. Then, her mum, Deborah Barnett, decided to place Billie-Jo in foster care.

A year later, Sion Jenkins and his wife Lois, who by chance had the same surname as Billie-Jo, took her in.

The Jenkins were well-off and respected in their community.  Sion, a deputy head teacher, and Lois, a social worker, had four daughters but felt they had room in their hearts to give their girls another sister.

In time, streetwise Billie-Jo settled in to life with Annie, 12, Lottie, 10, Esther, eight, and Maya, seven. She started doing well at school and seemed stable and happy.

But four years later, on February 15, 1997, Sion Jenkins made a frantic call to emergency services.

‘My daughter’s fallen, or she’s got head injuries, there’s blood everywhere, she’s on the floor,’ he told the operator. He was talking about Billie-Jo, then 13.

By the time paramedics arrived, she was dead.

An autopsy revealed she had been beaten in a frenzy with a 45-centimetre metal tent spike in the backyard of the Jenkins’ home. She’d been struck at least nine times and her skull was crushed. Bizarrely, a small piece of plastic bag was stuffed up her nose.

That morning, Lois had taken Esther and Maya for a walk while Sion had remained at home with Annie and Billie-Jo. Billie-Jo had been outside painting the French windows at the back of the house. Lottie was at a clarinet lesson.

At 3pm, Sion drove in his Rover MG to pick up Lottie, taking Annie with him. Billie-Jo was left alone, he told police, painting the doors.

After the three of them returned home, Sion decided to make a trip to the store to buy white spirit to clean up splashes of paint made by Billie-Jo. For about three minutes, he was alone in the house with Billie-Jo while his daughters waited outside for him.

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Sion Jenkins was alone with his foster daughter Billie-Jo before her death (Credit: Getty Images)

Returning from the DIY store 20 minutes later, Lottie discovered Billie-Jo’s battered body. ‘Dad!’ she called out. That’s when he phoned the police.

While officers investigated, Sion and Lois made a plea for anyone with   information to come forward. But within days of the murder, Lois began to suspect her husband.

Years later, she wrote in The Mail on Sunday, ‘I woke up in the middle of the night as he turned over in bed and it dawned on me it could have been him. I lay there terrified, thinking it must be him – and if it wasn’t him, at least it could have been him.’

Lois went to the police, telling them things weren’t as idyllic as they seemed in the Jenkins’ household. Sion had even lied on the CV he used to get his job.

Police already had serious doubts about Sion. But there was another person on their radar.

A mentally ill man with a fetish for plastic bags, later referred to in court as ‘Mr B’, was spotted near the Jenkins’ home on the day of the murder.

After he was arrested for questioning, he was found to have a piece of plastic bag up his nose, just like Billie-Jo. But police eliminated him from enquiries after DNA tests.

Sion Jenkins was arrested and charged with murder.

In court, the prosecution picked apart his version of events. They didn’t understand why he needed to go to a DIY store when he had a bottle of white spirit in the house. They also questioned why, on the way, he had circled a nearby park twice, according to his daughters.

Prosecutors alleged he’d killed Billie-Jo in the three-minute window he’d been alone with her, and had dragged out the trip to create an alibi. They also questioned how he behaved upon finding Billie-Jo dead. He had not put her in the recovery position or given mouth to mouth.

There was DNA evidence too. Forensics officers found over 100 microscopic droplets of Billie-Jo’s blood on his jacket and pants. While the fine mist would have been invisible to the naked eye, the prosecution claimed it had splattered over Sion as he battered his foster daughter with a tent peg.

Jenkins’ defence insisted the droplets could have been expelled on to him when he’d knelt next to her body. But the jury found Jenkins guilty of murder, and he was sentenced to life in prison.

Lois Jenkins left her home in Hastings, UK, and moved her family to Australia. 

But that wasn’t the end.

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Tributes flooded in for murdered schoolgirl, Billie-Jo Jenkins (Credit: Getty Images)

Five years later, Jenkins appealed his conviction and a retrial was ordered.

That retrial failed to end in a verdict, and at a second retrial a jury failed to reach a decision following eight days of deliberations.The judge announced there would be no third retrial, and Jenkins was formally acquitted.

He left the court a free man.

In 2017, Billie-Jo’s birth mother Deborah called on police to reopen the case. ‘I can’t describe it to you, unless you have lost a child, it’s a nightmare,’ she told The Mirror. ‘I want to get justice for her.’

Now, 22 years on, whoever took the life of a lively young girl with a bright future remains at large.

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