Russell Bishop, who killed two nine-year-old girls in 1986 in a case that became known as the “babes in the wood” murders, has died of brain cancer.
Bishop, 55, died on Thursday, 1,137 days after his conviction for the schoolgirl murders. He had been diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2020, which spread to his brain.
In a long-running investigation, Bishop was convicted in 2018 for sexually assaulting and strangling to death Nicola Fellows and her best friend, Karen Hadaway, both nine, in woodlands in Brighton.
He was sentenced to at least 36 years in prison in December 2018. “I have no doubt that you were a predatory paedophile,” the judge said at the Old Bailey. “The terror that each girl must have suffered in their final moments is unimaginable.”
Bishop was a prisoner of HMP Frankland in County Durham. He died in hospital shortly before 9pm on Thursday, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said. They said the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman had been informed.
Bishop was previously tried in 1987 but acquitted due to errors by the authorities and forensic experts. In 1990 he was convicted of the abduction, molestation and attempted murder of a seven-year-old. While he was serving that sentence, the court of appeal in 2017 quashed his acquittal of Nicola and Karen’s murders.
In the nine-week trial, which presented DNA evidence, Bishop pleaded not guilty.
Last year the families of Nicola and Karen urged Bishop to admit to the murders. “Russell Bishop has a chance to come clean before he dies unless he is a bigger coward than he has always seemed,” they told the Mirror. “And if he doesn’t have the guts to confess his crimes and admit his guilt, he will be the loser, so our message to him is simple.
“We don’t need your admission of what you did to our beautiful girls. Your refusal doesn’t matter to us … but your admission would show you have finally had the courage to take responsibility for your despicable crimes.”
In May 2021 Bishop’s girlfriend in 1986, Jennifer Johnson, was sentenced to six years in prison for perjury and perverting the course of justice after lying in the original trial about a sweatshirt that linked Bishop to the murders.
Johnson had told police the sweatshirt was Bishop’s but changed her story during the trial, undermining the prosecution.