"The sudden death of any person is tragic but the death of a vulnerable child is particularly grievous."
Mrs Justice May, the Judge hearing the case
It was the 8th of May 2020. A Friday. VE Day. Sixteen year old Louise Smith was staying with her aunt,Chazlynn Jayne "CJ" Mays and CJ's husband Shane Mays. Louise's parents, Rebecca Cooper and Bradley Smith, had separated and Louise lived with her mother in the Leigh Park area of Havant in Hampshire, United Kingdom. But after they had an argument in April 2020, she asked if she could stay with CJ and Shane. Things were tense for everyone as it was a difficult time due to a national lockdown being in place due to the coronavirus.
CJ and Shane Mays
CJ and Shane lived in a flat in Somborne Drive, Leigh Park, and they agreed that Louise could stay with them for a while. Louise wanted more independence. Things were going well for Louise with certain aspects of her life. She had a boyfriend Bradley Kercher and was training to be a veterinary nurse. She was generally happy and loved caring for animals. But Louise also had difficult days. She suffered from anxiety and depression, was on anti depression medication and had been assigned a social worker. On occasion, she even self harmed. So when Louise did not return to the flat after going out to meet a friend on the 8th of May, everyone who knew her was worried.
The day before, the 7th of May, Louise sent text messages to a number of her friends telling them that she wanted to leave CJ's flat as they "treated her like a child" and "they are just vile." A woman she knew, Samantha Burt, offered Louise a place to stay. She even agreed that Bradley could stay there too. Louise left CJ's flat that day and CJ tried to make contact with her. CJ made 51 attempts to contact Louise that day. At 2.34pm Louise and CJ sent a number of text messages to each other and Louise agreed to go back to CJ's flat to stay there. Louise, CJ, Shane and Bradley discussed some of the arguments they had so that they could try to move forward and live together amicably.
Later that evening, Louise went to the store with Shane and then they returned to the flat. That night Louise sent a number of text messages to friends and told them she had been drinking, she said that she drank so much that she had passed out. Louise seemed troubled that night and she reached out for help. She called a mental health helpline.
The next morning, the 8th of May, Louise contacted her friends via the app Snapchat. She told them she had the worst hangover going and was on the phone sending text messages and videos until around 1pm. She had arranged to meet Bradley at 3pm that day.
Bradley called over to CJ's flat that afternoon to meet Louise but she wasn't there. CJ was there but she did not know where Louise was. She called her a number of times but there was no answer. Shane got home at 4pm and he told them he saw Louise earlier that day and walked with her to a skate park in Emsworth but he did not know where she went after that. She told him that she was meeting a friend there. Louise had a 6pm curfew and when she still wasn't home by then, they were worried. CJ called police at 6.32 pm to report her missing. Shane and Bradley were present when CJ made the call. Police arrived at the flat at 1am on the 9th of May. A search for Louise began and her friends and family helped search for her too.
Police could not find any trace of Louise and her phone records revealed she had not been in contact with anyone since 1pm on the 8th of May. Police became suspicious of CJ and Shane as Shane changed his account of what happened that day. He told them that he walked with Louise that day to a Tesco food store but if that had happened, they would have been seen on CCTV footage and they were not. On the 14th of May, CJ and Shane were arrested on suspicion of kidnapping Louise.
Seven days after that and thirteen days after Louise went missing, a discovery was made. Louise's remains were found in an area of Havant Thicket. Louise's remains were found 40 meters from the track in the woodland between two fallen tree trunks.
Louise was unrecognizable. She had suffered catastrophic injuries, had been badly beaten and her body was set on fire. There were multiple injuries to her face, a hole in her stomach,her body was burnt and defiled. Louise's jaw was dismantled and the bone was detached from her skull. A stick had been inserted into her vagina and pushed up towards her liver. Sticks were found positioned around Louise's remains that looked like a bonfire setting.
Further investigation led police to release CJ without charge. Shane was rearrested and charged with murder.
Thirty year old Shane pleaded not guilty to murder. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
It was the Prosecution's case that Shane had lied to Louise's family, friends and the police. He told them he walked Louise to the skate park in Emsworth but he in fact went to Havant Thicket with her that day. They believed his motive for going there that day was a sexual one. He planned to rape Louise and when she made noise, he savagely beat her to death by repeatedly punching her in the face causing fatal injuries and then tried to destroy any evidence that may have been found on her body. It was their case that due to the burned and decomposed state of Louise's body, it could not be determined which of her multiple injuries caused her death.
The Prosecutor James Newton-Price QC told the Court:
"A determined attempt had been made to destroy her body, which was so badly burned and damaged by fire as to be unrecognizable. Her body had been subjected to extreme violence and violation, including repeated and heavy blows to her head."
It was their case that after Louise was beaten to death, her remains were set on fire and defiled. The Jury heard that a stick had been inserted into her vagina. That stick had Shane's DNA on it. Louise's blood was found on Shane's shoes.
The Prosecution admitted one of Louise's Snapchat videos into evidence. The video showed Shane tickling Louise's feet. Her boyfriend Bradley testified that Louise told him Shane would "flirt" with her and pin her down and she didn't want him to do that. It was the Prosecution's case that the night before Louise's death, Shane took her to the store to purchase alcohol and tried to get her drunk so that he could touch her. It was their case that he was sexually attracted to her. He denied this and claimed she "only had an inch" of the rum. He said that he was not romantically interested in Louise. The Prosecution argued that the horrific wound to Louise's stomach may have been a result of Shane believing that she may be pregnant. The Court heard that Louise was not pregnant.
A Still from the Snapchat video
The Court heard that after Louise had been savagely murdered, Shane continued with his day as if nothing had happened. He went straight from the location where he had attacked Louise to his mother's house. He was seen on CCTV footage at 3.11pm walking in the direction of his mother's house.
When he returned to the flat, he told CJ and Bradley the last he saw of Louise was when she went to the skate park to meet a friend. When everyone was frantic trying to locate Louise, Shane went to a food store, Iceland, to purchase four pizzas.
CCTV footage of Shane Mays purchasing the pizzas
It was the Prosecution's case that Shane lured Louise to the woodlands that day, and by his own admission, he repeatedly punched her. They asked the Jury to use their common sense. If Shane did that to Louise, then was it likely somebody else returned to the scene to set fire to her body? They argued that it was not.
It was the Defense's case that despite what Shane initially told police, he did in fact go with Louise to Havant Thicket that day. Shane testified at the Trial. He told the Court that he initially walked with Louise as she told him she was going to meet a friend to get some clothes. Louise told him she had to be back by 3pm as she was meeting Bradley.
Shane said that when they started walking, Louise said that she wanted to go to Havant Thicket with him as she wanted to talk to him. When they were there, they argued about Louise's drug use. Shane testified that:
"She picked up a big stick and hit me on the side with it. It hurt. I grabbed it off her and threw it on the floor and then I punched her.I punched her face. I was angry for what she did the night before and just then. The first punch she was standing, the second time she went down. When she was on the ground the punching continued. I was bending over. I did not know how many times. I lost control of myself."
Shane claimed that he punched Louise because she hit him in the ribs with a stick. He told the Court that when he walked away, he heard Louise moaning and she had blood on her face. He gave evidence that Louise was alive when he left her. He admitted he was the person who punched her but he denied setting her body on fire, putting a hole in her stomach and denied inserting a stick into her vagina. When challenged, he admitted that he punched her so many times that he lost count. The Court heard that he heard Louise's bones crack as he was punching her. He said that he lost his temper:
"I just carried on, I lost control of myself. She made a moaning noise, that's when I stopped."
Shane denied sexually assaulting or raping her.
The Jury heard that a clinical review of Shane revealed he had an IQ of 63 which put him in the bottom 1% of people. He was assessed as having learning difficulties and a personality disorder. Shane confirmed he had not worked for five years. He spent his days playing video games.
Shane was found guilty of murder.
At the sentencing hearing, the Court heard Victim Impact Statements from those closest to Louise. Her mother Rebecca Cooper said:
"You killed my daughter Louise in such a traumatic way but then to do what you did afterwards is beyond words. You are a monster. What gave you the right to do that? You damaged her so bad that I didn't have a chance to say goodbye, hold her hand or even kiss her. I will never forgive you for this. You came to my house the day you killed her, looked me in the eyes with no remorse when you knew what you had done was pure evil. You have made us relive what you did to Louise."
Shane was sentenced to life in prison to serve a minimum of twenty five years.
When Shane was sentenced, Detective Inspector Adam Edwards said:
"It's brilliant to get justice for Louise's family and friends. They lost her in the most tragic of circumstances. The defilement of her body was shocking. It's something all officers at the scene will have to live with for the rest of their lives."
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