Heather Barnett

Heather Barnett

by Chilling Crimes June 17, 2021

"I still do not have any explanation for why this happened to mum. What did she do wrong? Why was mum his victim?"

-Caitlin Marsh, Heather Barnett's daughter

It was the 12th of November 2002. A Tuesday. Fourteen year old Terry and eleven year old Caitlin Marsh arrived home at 4pm that afternoon. They had been at school that day and expected to find their mother, forty eight year old Heather Barnett, waiting for them at home. But when they entered their ground floor apartment in Bournemouth, Dorset, England, United Kingdom they were met with silence.

Their mother worked from home as a seamstress so it was unusual for her not to be at home. Terry went into his bedroom to change his clothes while Caitlin called out for Heather. There was no reply. Caitlin knocked on the closed bathroom door and when there was no answer, she opened it slightly. Terry heard her scream and ran to see what was wrong. Their mother was lying on her back on the bathroom floor. There was blood everywhere. Heather was dead. She had been violently stabbed and her body had been mutilated. One of her hands was holding a clump of hair. Terry called police and told them that "mum's been murdered" and they needed help immediately. 

When police arrived, they discovered there were no signs of any forced entry. Did Heather know her killer?

Police believed that Heather had been murdered in her sewing room as there were spatter stains on the patio doors of that room. There was a trail of blood from that room, through the living room and into the bathroom where her body was found. There was a large pool of blood underneath her body. Heather's bra had been cut between the cups. Her throat was slashed, the cut went from ear to ear. Both of Heather's breasts had been cut off and were placed on the floor beside her body. 

Police traced the blood that was found in the apartment using luminol and based on the faint footprints, it appeared that whoever killed Heather walked back from the bathroom towards her sewing room. The footprints then stopped at the hall beside the front door which indicated that the person responsible may have removed their shoes before leaving Heather's apartment. 

Heather Barnett

Heather Barnett

Police began their investigation. Heather was last seen that morning. She dropped the children off at school and CCTV footage showed her white Fiat Punto turning into Capstone Road, where she lived, shortly after that.

Just one day after Heather's murder, her son Terry told police that her keys had gone missing the week before. He told police that they went missing after an Italian man called Danny called to the apartment. Danny asked Heather to make curtains for him. 

Police carried out door to door inquiries five days after Heather's murder. A man called Danilo Restivo lived just across from Heather's apartment. When police called to his apartment, they found his Nike trainers in the bath. They were soaking in bleach. Invisible traces of blood were later found inside the trainers. 

Danilo moved to England to marry a woman called Fiamma Marsango. He met her online. That woman lived across from Heather and he moved in with her in May 2012. 

Police believed that Danilo was the person who murdered Heather but they did not have enough evidence to charge him. They feared that he was a danger to others though and they kept him under surveillance. That surveillance continued for some time and due to the surveillance, police discovered other things about Danilo. In May 2004, police observed him following women and on one occasion when he was stopped and searched, he had a large knife and a packet of tissues in his bag. In the boot of his car police found a hooded jacket, a balaclava and gloves. They found two pairs of scissors inside the car. Police also bugged his home and listened to his conversations with his wife and calls he made and received. In one of the covert recordings, he was heard talking of his love of hair:

"When I touch the hair, hold them in the hand ,then everything is visible, everything."

Police discovered that reports were made by 15 women in the United Kingdom and 9 women in Italy in relation to incidents that involved their hair being cut. The women were either traveling by bus or sitting in the cinema when a man cut their hair. One woman, Holly Stroud, was asked in 2004 if she could pick out the man responsible from an identity parade and she identified Danilo as the man who had cut her hair while she traveled to school the year before. Danilo's fetish with cutting women's hair was of interest to police due to the clump of hair found in Heather's hand. 

Danilo was arrested in 2006 and his home was searched again. Police found a lock of hair tied with green cotton. Danilo claimed that it was planted. Police did not have enough evidence to charge him with Heather's murder so he was released. 

As the years went on and technology and tests improved, scientists continued to re examine the material recovered from Heather's apartment and the traces of blood on Danilo's trainers. In 2008 scientists made a link between DNA material found on a green towel recovered from Heather's apartment and Danilo. Even though it was a great break in the case, police needed more evidence to ensure the Prosecution could get a conviction. They did not believe they had enough evidence to charge him with Heather's murder. That changed in 2010.

In 2010, the body of sixteen year old Elisa Claps was found in the loft of the Most Holy Trinity in Potenza in Italy. Elisa had been missing since the 12th of September 1993. And the last person she was seen with was Danilo.  Like Heather, Elisa had suffered brutal chest and stab wounds.

Elisa's remains revealed cuts to her bones which indicated she received at least nine stab wounds from behind and three from the front. The stab wound which went through the front of her neck to her spinal cord may have been caused by a scissors. Her trousers, top, bra and underwear had been cut with scissors. Her trousers were lowered. There was hair found in each hand. The hair that was found in Elisa's hands had been cut from her own head after her death. 

Due to the similarities between the two murders, police arrested and charged Danilo with Heather Barnett's murder.

When he was arrested and charged, police told Danilo that a bloodstained green towel was found in Heather's apartment and a DNA profile was found that could be linked to him. He told police that it was his towel but he had given it to Heather to use as a color sample for curtains he wanted her to make for him.

Danilo pleaded not guilty.

Danilo Restivo

Danilo Restivo

It was the Prosecution's case that Danilo killed and mutilated Heather. The Prosecution warned the Jury that the details they would hear throughout the Trial would be harrowing and distressing.  The Prosecutor, Michael Bowes QC, opened his case with the factual details of what happened that day:

"On the 12th of November 2002, two children aged 14 and 11 came home from school in Bournemouth to find that their mother, Heather Barnett, had been brutally murdered and her body mutilated with a knife.

She had been killed by repeated forceful blows to her head, her body had then been dragged to her bathroom in her flat, where her children found her."

The children found their mother not only dead but brutally mutilated. The Jury heard the harrowing account Terry gave to police at the time. The Prosecutor told them:

"Terry felt something was wrong. There was a big silence, which he did not like.

Terry noticed the bathroom door was closed. Caitlin opened it a little. Both children discovered their mother lying dead on the bathroom floor."

The Jury heard that Terry Marsh told police:

"My sister started calling out and there was no answer. It was at that moment, when the house was silent, then I thought something's wrong here - nothing visually just quiet."

The video of Terry's account was played in full to the Jury and he told police at the time that as soon as he saw the blood, it was clear it was no accident and that his mother had been murdered. 

The Court heard that just after they found the body, Danilo and Fiamma arrived home and comforted the children. 

The Court heard that there was no sign of any forced entry and the Prosecution believed that Heather either opened the front door that day for Danilo or that he opened it himself using Heather's keys that had gone missing a week earlier. 

The Prosecution told the Jury about Danilo's fetish for hair and the Jury heard about Danilo cutting women's hair on buses and at the cinema. Two schoolgirls reported having their hair cut. At the time, Danilo was sitting directly behind them on the bus. One of the girls said that there was something white and sticky in her hair afterwards. Another man described a different occasion when he saw Danilo sitting behind a woman on a bus. He had her hair, and his hands, under a jacket placed on his lap.

The Court heard about Danilo's visits to the park that police observed when he was under surveillance. He was filmed watching women. On some occasions he hid in the long grass to avoid detection. He always wore gloves even when the weather was good and changed his shirt and trainers regularly when out. 

Hair was found in Heather's hand but the identity of the person whose hair was found was not known. Tests revealed the person , who the hair belonged to, had recently changed their diet and had visited Florida but despite appeals, a match was not found. 

It was the Prosecution's case that Danilo murdered Heather in a premeditated manner, one that was made all the worse knowing her children would find her body inside their home. The Jury were told that he then tried to conceal what he had done and in a "deliberate attempt to remove any forensic link to the scene of the murder" he placed his shoes in bleach. In relation to the towel that was found inside Heater's home, the Prosecution told the Court that they believed Danilo may have used it to wipe Heather's blood from him and simply forgot to take it with him. 

The Pathologist, Dr Allen Anscombe, testified. Dr Anscombe told the Court that he arrived at Heather's apartment at 8.45pm and that she was lying on her back on the bathroom floor with her legs straight.

Dr Anscombe testified that Heather's right hand rested on her lower belly and a clump of light brown hair was resting in the palm of her hand. Her upper clothing had been pulled to the level of her breasts, her jeans unfastened and slightly pulled down.

Heather's breasts had been cut off and placed on the floor either side of her head. He believed a knife or another sharp instrument was used. He noted that there was "nothing to suggest any great skill had been used".

The Court heard that Heather's throat was completely cut across.

Heather's trousers had been opened and lowered and a gloved hand had been placed inside her underwear but the Court heard there was no suggestion of sexual assault.

There was a trail of blood from the workroom through the living room and in the bathroom where her body was found. There was a large pool of blood beneath her body. 

When asked if he could say with certainty an exact time of death, he said that he could not but it was likely closer to the time when she was last seen alive in the morning rather than near the time of 4pm when she was found.

The Court heard that the day after Heather's body was found, Dr Anscombe carried out a post mortem examination and his report identified 10 separate injuries to Heather's head. One of the injuries was so severe that it had penetrated through to the skull revealing brain tissue. There was a shallow 24 cm interrupted cut vertically down the front of her abdomen and two smaller separate wounds on either sides. There were further injuries to Heather's hands. 

Dr Anscombe testified that the injuries were not random and appeared to have been carried out with a “degree of care and control“.

There was a lack of bleeding involved in relation to some of Heather's injuries. This indicated that they were carried out when she was already dead. 

Dr Anscombe determined that the cause of death was a result of multiple head injuries. He believed that a weapon such as a form of hammer was used.

The Court heard about the death of Elisa Claps and the discovery of her body in a loft of a church in Potenza in Southern Italy in March 2010. The Prosecution said that there were "striking similarities" between the murders of Elisa and Heather. Elisa had been repeatedly stabbed. Hair had been cut from her own head and placed beside her body. 

Elisa's bra was cut at the front and Heather's bra had also been cut in the same way. The Prosecutor said that the cut hair at both murder scenes is "akin to a hallmark."

The Prosecution told the Court that Danilo was interested in Elisa but she wasn't interested in him romantically. He arranged to meet her at the Church of the Most Holy Trinity in Potenza at 11.30am and the Prosecutor told the Jury:

"After their meeting she was not seen again."

It had been a busy Sunday morning when they met, people were out and about and a lot of people attended the Church. Elisa was reluctant to meet Danilo that day. She was aware of rumors about him and heard about his fetish for cutting hair. But Elisa felt sorry for him when she discovered he bought her a gift for passing her retakes. So she went along to meet him. 

Even though suspicion immediately fell on Danilo, he claimed that he saw her leave the Church. He said he stayed on at the Church in order to pray. Danilo got home one hour later and had a cut on his hand. 

When police asked him about the cut on his hand, he told them that he had fallen on a building site.

In 1995, Danilo was convicted in Italy of giving false information to the Prosecutor over the injury to his hand sustained on the day Elisa disappeared. At that point, no body had been found and no further charges were brought.

Her body was found under a pile of old tiles in the loft in 2010.

In relation to Elisa's case, the Court heard an inquiry was taking place in Italy and Elisa's murder was not a matter for the Jury to decide on. They must only decide and return a verdict in relation to Heather's case. 

It was the Defense's case that Danilo was not involved in Heather's murder and that the DNA found on the towel only indicated it was his towel. He did not deny that but claimed he gave it to Heather to use as a color match only. 

Danilo also claimed he had an alibi and that he was working on a computer at an educational centre around the time Heather was murdered. But the Court heard that an "evidential capture" by a digital forensics expert showed there was no user activity on the computer between 9.08am and 10.10am.

The Jury deliberated for five hours and found Danilo guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison. Mr Justice Burnett told Danilo at the sentencing hearing that the murder was so serious that no minimum term would be appropriate:

"The seriousness of this offence is exceptionally high... the depravity of the killing, the careful planning and preparation, its sexual content and the previous killing of Elisa Claps drive me to the conclusion that the alternative starting point (for a minimum prison term) of 30 years would not be appropriate.

I can find no mitigation in this case, none have been advanced on your behalf. There is, in my judgment, no minimum period which could be properly set – you will never be released from prison."

The Judge said that Heather's murder was of "inhuman depravity." He told Danilo:

"You knew an 11-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy would find their mother butchered on the bathroom floor. This feature of the case will haunt those who sat through it.

Why you picked Heather Barnett as your victim I do not know but it's clear that you did so to satisfy a sadistic, sexual appetite. The evidence in this case shows you are a cold, depraved, calculated killer."

The Court also heard Caitlin's victim impact statement. She spoke of the horror finding her mother in that way and said that when police told her she was dead:

"It was at that moment that I felt as if my heart had been ripped out. I was in a state of complete and utter shock and it took months before I accepted the truth. I understood the words used but I felt that things like this don't happen to people like my mum."

Caitlin also referred to how her life had changed as a result of that day:

"I also don't like going into bathrooms. I used to think that someone might be waiting for me. Now I just hold a fear of what's behind the bathroom door. It was several years before I accepted the help of a child psychologist to help me cope with what happened that day. My mum is no longer able to help me celebrate my successes and pull me through the disappointments. I will never get the chance again to tell her how much I love her and how much I now miss her. The only person that I can fully trust and rely upon now is Terry. My mum has been taken from me.

The home I had shared with my mum was now tainted with someone else's violent actions.

I have not been back there since and cannot face even going near our old front door. It reminds me too much of the horror that awaited my brother and I to find."

Danilo was sentenced to serve life in prison, a whole life sentence, which meant there would be no possibility of parole.

The family of Elisa Claps claimed that Danilo should have been in prison in Italy  and should not have been allowed to live in the United Kingdom and provided with an opportunity to kill Heather. 

Elisa Claps

Elisa Claps

Elisa's brother, Gildo, and mother, Filomena, claim the Church where Elisa's body was found was never searched properly. They also claimed that no search warrant was issued to search Danilo's home at the time despite everyone knowing that she was not seen again after meeting him.

Some people in Italy believe that Danilo was protected because his father was the director of the national library in Italy. Claims have even been made that people knew where Elisa's body was but nothing was done. Before Elisa's body was found, there were numerous rumors about what happened to her. There was talk of Elisa being seen in a white Fiat Uno, either in Potenza or Rome, that an Albanian was involved in her disappearance and that she had been sold into prostitution. There were suspicious deaths. Three people with small links to the case died in car crashes. Elisa's diary was found to have a page missing and tests on the pieces of paper left attached revealed that words had been written in Albanian. There was also talk of a Church cover up. Despite all the rumors, a Trial went ahead and Danilo was charged with murder. 

Danilo was found guilty in his absence for the murder of Elisa by an Italian Court and sentenced to a thirty year prison term.  

The Criminal Cases Review Commission took an interest in Danilo's Trial in the United Kingdom. A man called Omar Benguit was convicted of killing South Korean student Jong Ok-shin in July 2002. Jong was stabbed to death three streets from Heather's home. Omar was tried three times for the murder. The first two Trials ended in mistrials. His legal team appealed based on their belief that Danilo actually killed Jong, not Omar. But the Appeal was lost and his conviction was upheld. 

Danilo appealed against the whole life term that he was given in relation to Heather's murder. His lawyer argued the Judge should not have taken Elisa's murder into account when sentencing as he had not been convicted of Elisa's murder at that stage. The Court of Appeal agreed and and altered his minimum sentence to 40 years instead. 




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