"The strongest person in the world is a grieving mother that wakes up and keeps going every morning."
-Tara Watkins Anderson
It was the 9th of February 1988. 22 year old Helen McCourt was on her way home from work. She worked as an Insurance Clerk in Merseyside, Liverpool, United Kingdom. That day, she phoned her mother Marie to let her know she was on her way home from work. She rang just before 4pm as she wanted to let Marie know she planned to head out that evening with her boyfriend on a date so hoped to have dinner before then. Marie had planned to meet Helen for lunch earlier that day but cancelled as the winds were very strong so she was looking forward to seeing her for dinner at home.
Marie and Helen
Helen planned to go straight home from work so she would have enough time to wash her hair and have dinner before heading out for the evening.
Helen got the bus as planned and got off at the stop closest to her home which was just around 400 yards away. That evening there was a storm and it was around 5.30 pm when Helen got off the bus. Marie was waiting for her at home. There was still no sign of Helen at 7pm that night. At 8pm Helen's boyfriend Frank called to the house to collect Helen for their date. He had no idea where Helen was either. They were worried that due to the bad weather she may have been involved in an accident.
Marie was frantic especially as Helen had told her she would be straight home after work. She always told Marie what she was doing and where she was going. However, due to the fact it was a stormy and windy night, some of the trains and buses had been delayed so Marie rang the station to see if it had impacted Helen's journey home. The station informed her that Helen's one had not been delayed. That caused Marie to panic so she called Helen's work, friends and even the hospital but nobody knew where Helen was. Marie just knew something bad had happened to Helen. She felt it.
Marie went out to look for her herself but there was no sign of her so she went to the police station to report her missing. Police at that point were not concerned but Helen continued to call them every hour and eventually, at 4am in the morning, two Detectives arrived at her house to take a statement.
Helen's brother, Michael, who was 19 years old at the time searched everywhere in the area but didn't find anything either. He was very close to Helen and knew she would not have just went off without letting them know.
A search took place and witnesses were interviewed in the area including the employees in the George and Dragon pub. The George and Dragon was a pub that Helen would have to walk by on her way home and was just 250 yards from her house.
Police focused on the pub as a witness heard a woman's scream outside the pub that night . He had just gotten off a bus around the same time as Helen did and heard what sounded like a scream that was cut off, almost like a "hand had been clamped over a mouth."
The pub landlord, 31 year old Ian Simms, seemed suspicious to police as he seemed very anxious and worried so they brought him down to the police station to question him.
The George and Dragon pub
Police looked into whether Helen ever went into the George and Dragon and discovered that she had previously worked there as a barmaid and just two days earlier, on the 7th of February, Helen had been involved in an argument in that very pub. She argued with a woman and as a result Ian barred Helen. But what was so serious that may have resulted in him being involved in Helen's disappearance?
Customers in the pub at the time recalled how Ian hated Helen. He had used obscene language when talking about her. It was believed he had tried to come on to Helen but she wasn't interested. There was further speculation that Helen knew a private detail about Ian's life. She believed the married father of two children was having an affair with a 21 year old woman.
Police wanted to try to ascertain if Helen had perhaps called into the pub on her way home to sort out the argument so that she could frequent the pub again or if Ian saw her as she walked past the pub that night.
Ian told police he didn't know where Helen was or what happened to her but his actions that night were unusual.
A bar maid in the pub said that Ian was not there when she arrived into work at 7pm on the 9th of February. She saw him at 8pm and he said he was going out for half an hour but they didn't see him again until closing time. A customer in the pub claimed that they heard what sounded like dragging sounds from above.
Furthermore the cleaner in the pub told police she saw Ian cleaning the bottom of the staircase with bleach. The staircase led to Ian's apartment as he lived above the pub.
Police searched the apartment and Ian's car. A man found items of clothing some twenty miles from where Helen had last been seen. This provided crucial evidence for the police investigation. Fibres from Helen's clothes that had been found, the clothes she was wearing when she went missing, were found in Ian's apartment.
An electrical flex was also found and police believed this was used to attack Helen. There were dog bite marks on it and the bite marks were a match to Ian's dog. Ian's clothes were found along with a blood stained towel and the blood was Helen's blood. These were found some twenty miles from the pub.
A search of Ian's car provided further evidence. Traces of Helen's blood was found in the trunk of the car. A pearl earring was also found in the trunk and Marie told police that she had given those earrings to Helen for her 21st Birthday. Traces of Helen's blood were also found just outside and inside Ian's apartment.
In 1989, at Ian's Trial, he pleaded not guilty to murder. He admitted the clothes that had been found were his but he said that somebody must have entered his apartment, taken his clothes, worn them and murdered Helen. That same person must have used his car to dispose of Helen's body.
The jury did not believe him. Ian was convicted of the murder of Helen and sentenced to life in prison to serve a minimum of 16 years. The Prosecution believed Ian grabbed Helen as she walked home that night and attacked and murdered her inside his bedroom in the apartment above the pub. They believe he then used his car to dispose of her body. Unfortunately, Helen's body has never been found. Marie wrote to him three years after his conviction to ask him where Helen was as she wanted to bury her. Not only did he refuse to tell her, he sent her a letter threatening her. Marie continues to try to find out where her daughter is. She has never given up searching for answers.
Ian is due to be released. The parole board granted him permission and approved his release. This is despite the fact he has never shown any remorse and has still refused to tell Marie where Helen is. Marie continues to challenge the parole board, the justice department and the law. She believes that anybody who refuses to tell where a body is buried should be automatically refused parole. Marie is still campaigning for Helen's Law to make this a reality.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
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