Rita Ellis was a 19-year-old Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF)[note 1] servicewoman who was serving at RAF Halton, Buckinghamshire, England, when she was murdered on 11 November 1967. Ellis' murder has remained unsolved after 50 years despite periodic cold case inquiries and the availability of the offender's DNA sample, which has been tested against 200 men.
Rita Irene Ellis
|Died||11 November 1967 (aged 19)|
|Occupation||Women's Royal Air Force|
Ellis, who grew up in Stevenage, joined the WRAF on 28 April 1967 and accomplished her basic training at RAF Spitalgate in Grantham, Lincolnshire. At the time of her murder, Ellis was working in the kitchens of the Princess Marys Royal Air Force Hospital catering department on the camp at RAF Halton in Buckinghamshire.
On the night of 11 November 1967, Ellis was due to babysit for Wing Commander Roy Watson and his wife. Steve Tank a RAF Apprentice and his Nurse girlfriend Liz, escorted Ellis to the front of the WRAF Block at 7.25pm leaving her there, to go on their date. The Wing Commander arrived at the WRAF block at 7:40 pm to pick Ellis up, but she was not there. He waited for 15 minutes before leaving and coming back 10 minutes later with his wife, who could, under the RAF rules of the time, enter the female block. Ellis was not in the block. It was reported some time later that the police believed Ellis, "a gentle soul" had got into the wrong car as she had never met Wing Commander Watson before and may have been too shy to question the driver's identity.
Ellis was last seen alive at 8:00 pm on 11 November, but as there were two functions on at the camp that night (disco and bingo) the camp was very busy with hundreds of people on the base.
Her body was found by a dogwalker the next day (12 November) in Rowborough Copse, a piece of woodland on the western edge of the camp where a disused railway line used to bring supplies into the camp. She had been beaten, sexually assaulted, and strangled with her own underwear, an effort had been made to hide her half naked body under foliage. Police did question a local scrap dealer, about the murder, but no charges were ever brought as his DNA profiling did not match.
On the 40th anniversary of her death, a cold case inquiry was launched by Thames Valley Police as part of a greater investigation into unsolved crimes going back over 50 years. The detective superintendent in charge of the case appealed for witnesses to come forward.
In 2012, police were also looking at an attack on a student nurse in Tring that at the time was tentatively linked to Ellis' death. The woman was raped and hit over the head with a blunt instrument, and police believed the attacker was leaving her for dead, but miraculously, she survived. The attack occurred only 3 miles (4.8 km) away from where Ellis was found murdered and whilst there were no definitive links, certain characteristics were very similar.
In November 2017, Thames Valley Police again announced that they were looking at the case. This time, however, they had a DNA sample which had been tested against 200 men, as well as the national DNA database. DNA analysis indicated that the sample belonged to a male and whilst the family of Ellis remained hopeful, they acknowledged that the perpetrator could be dead, as his age was assumed to be between his late sixties and early eighties. In late 2020, the Thames Valley Police's major crime review team issued a further appeal for anyone with information to come forward.
In June 2021 Ch 4's "In The Footsteps of Killers" Professor David Wilson and Presenter Emilia Fox interviewed Ellis's contemporaries and Wilson theorised that Ellis may have known her killer.
The reports, correspondence and statements about the case are sealed in the National Archives but centrally held by the MOD under section 3.4 ( National Security) with a prospective opening date on 1 January 2070.
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- "Unsolved murder of WRAF Rita Irene ELLIS found dead at the Old Coalyard, RAF Camp Halton, Buckinghamshire on 12 November 1967: report, statements and correspondence". The National Archives. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
- https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documents/foi-dlog-4.pdf[bare URL PDF]