What happened to Rita Ellis?

In the Footsteps of Killers on C4: Who was Rita Ellis, what happened to her and was her killer ever caught?

Emilia Fox and David Wilson investigate...

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Emilia Fox and David Wilson re-examine another chilling cold case as In the Footsteps of Killers continues on Channel 4 – so what happened to Rita Ellis?

Who was she and who were the suspects in her murder?

Here’s everything you need to know about the C4 doc, and the Rita Ellis crime.

What happened to Rita Ellis?
An unknown attacker killed teenager Rita Ellis in 1967 (Credit: Thames Valley Police)

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Who was Rita Ellis?

Rita Ellis was a “painfully shy” 19-year-old Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) servicewoman.

She grew up in Stevenage and joined the WRAF in April 1967.

The teenager accomplished her basic training at RAF Spitalgate in Grantham, Lincolnshire.

She began serving at RAF Halton in Buckinghamshire, and was working in the kitchens of the St. Mary’s Hospital catering department on the camp.

What happened to Rita Ellis?

Rita Ellis was murdered on November 11 1967.

On that night, she was due to babysit for Wing Commander Roy Watson and his wife.

The Wing Commander arrived at the WRAF block at the agreed time of 7.40pm to pick Rita 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.

It is possible that Rita got into the wrong car as she’d never met Roy before.

A dog walker found her body the next day, on November 12 1967.

Rita’s corpse has been dumped at 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’s been beaten, sexually assaulted, and strangled with her own underwear.

What happened to Rita Ellis?
Rita’s murderer shocked the local community at the time – and continues to do so (Credit: Thames Valley Police)

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Who were the suspects in the Rita Ellis murder?

There remain no main suspects in the historical case.

Despite signs that the killer had attempted to hide the body under foliage, it was clearly a frenzied, unpremeditated attack.

Police did question a man about the murder, and a number of arrests were made, but no charges were ever brought.

Despite a number of leads, the police have never managed to catch Rita’s murderer.

Ellis’ murder still remains unsolved after 50 years.

Was the killer ever caught?

Devastatingly, Rita’s killer was never caught.

Thames Valley Police did reopen the investigation in 2007 as a result of new forensic advancement.

They do know the attacker was male, but they don’t know anything else about him.

Police believe the offender was a young man, possibly in his teens to mid-twenties, making him in his late fifties to eighties now.

They tested the murderer’s DNA sample against 200 suspects in 2017 to no avail.

The TV show Crimewatch also featured the murder of Rita.

In 2017, the victim’s sister Tina Steeter said: “It’s just through a freak incident – an opportunist – some evil, sick person who just couldn’t contain themselves.”

What happened to Rita Ellis?
Emilia Fox and Professor David Wilson re-examine the cold case of Rita Ellis (Credit: Channel 4)

In the Footsteps of Killers episode three

Silent Witness actress Emilia Fox and criminologist David Wilson investigate the 1967 murder of 19-year-old RAF servicewoman Rita Ellis.

A dog walker found her body near her Buckinghamshire RAF base.

An unknown killer took her life in a brutal attack.

The case is 53 years old, so Emilia and David have a challenge tracking down witnesses, other potential victims and a suspect.

Last in the series.

In the Footsteps of Killers concludes on Wednesday June 23 2021 at 10pm on Channel 4.

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