Patrick Warren and David Spencer

What happened to David Spencer and Patrick Warren and what does milk carton kids mean?

The case is re-examined in Channel 4's In the Footstep of Killers

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A new Channel 4 documentary re-examines the tragic disappearance of David Spencer and Patrick Warren in 1996 – but what happened to them?

Were they killed and why were they called the Milk Carton Kids?

Here’s everything you need to know about the disturbing case and the new C4 doc In the Footsteps of Killers.

Patrick Warren and David Spencer
Journalists nicknamed Patrick Warren and David Spencer the Milk Carton Kids – but why? (Credit: YouTube/West Midlands Police)

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David Spencer and Patrick Warren: Who were they?

Friends Patrick Warren and David Spencer liked to play near their homes in Chelmsley Wood on the edge of Birmingham.

Patrick, 11, attended a local school nearby, while David had been excluded from mainstream schooling at the age of 12.

Schoolboy Patrick – known as Paddy – was one of seven siblings from an Irish family.

Police knew of David, a keen boxer, as he’d been in and out of youth court as a result of petty misdemeanours.

Tragically, their faces became known for all the wrong reasons when they went missing in 1996.

What happened to David Spencer and Patrick Warren?

The pair disappeared without a trace on Boxing Day 1996.

They had spent the day together, playing near their homes and roaming the sprawling, working class estate.

Just before midnight, David returned to his home in Circus Avenue.

He told his mother he was going to spend the night at Patrick’s brother’s home, a short walk away.

But instead of heading straight there, the boys decided to stay out a little longer.

Patrick was riding his brand new red bicycle – a Christmas present – while David was on foot.

Eyewitness saw them last in the early hours of the morning just minutes from their home.

Their last known sighting was at a petrol station, where they asked an attendant for a packet of biscuits.

The attendant then saw them walk away towards Chelmsley Wood Shopping Centre.

David and Patrick’s parents never saw them again.

Patrick Warren and David Spencer
Emilia Fox and Professor David Wilson investigate the disappearance of Patrick Warren and David Spencer (Credit: C4)

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Were David Spencer and Patrick Warren killed?

Police treated the boys’ disappearance as a normal missing persons inquiry.

They knocked on doors and spoke to neighbours.

Police offered a £500 reward for information on someone who might be sheltering them.

In late January, police held a press conference where the boys’ mothers appealed for them to come home.

Paddy’s new bike – a prized Apollo Laser – had been found abandoned behind the petrol station where they were last seen.

Just a few days after the boys disappeared, 17-year-old Nicola Dixon was raped and murdered in leafy Sutton Coldfield, seven miles away from Chelmsley Wood.

The two cases are thought to be unconnected.

Crimewatch and suspects

On the 10th anniversary of their disappearance, the boys were the subject of a BBC Crimewatch special.

Sadly, it drew no fresh leads.

In 2003, West Midlands Police announced they had arrested a 37-year-old man in connection with the disappearances.

But he was later released on bail and was never charged.

In 2006, the police announced they were “closer than ever” to solving the mystery of what happened to the boys.

But no one has ever been charged with their abduction.

After the case was reviewed in 2006, convicted murderer and paedophile Brian Field was named as a suspect.

However, police were not able to secure a confession or obtain tangible evidence to connect him to the boys’ disappearance.

In 2016, a fresh appeal for information was launched.

DCI Caroline Marsh of West Midlands Police stated her belief that both boys had died.

Patrick Warren and David Spencer
Emilia Fox and Professor David Wilson re-examine cold cases in In the Footsteps of Killers (Credit: C4)

Where is Brian Field now?

Brian Field raped and murdered Roy Tutill on April 23 1968 in Surrey, England.

He abducted Roy when he was just 14 on his way home from school.

Brian Lunn Field eventually confessed to the crime after 33 years when DNA evidence surfaced in 2001.

On 15 November 2001, police convicted the 65-year-old to life in prison for the murder of Roy Tutill.

Before that, a judge jailed him for four years in 1986 for the kidnap of two teenaged boys on New Year’s Day near Oswestry.

They fled from his car after he threatened them with an iron bar when they refused to undress.

The terrified boys managed to flee from the moving car and tumbled onto a grass verge and raised the alarm.

Milk Carton Kids – what does it mean?

In April 2007, Paddy Warren and David Spencer were among the first children to appear on four-pint milk cartons.

Their faces appeared on milk cartons in 770 Iceland stores, as part of a campaign by the National Missing Persons Helpline.

The charity hoped the scheme would be as successful as its American counterpart.

The local media nicknamed the boys “the Milk Carton Kids”.

In the Footsteps of Killers on Channel 4

Emilia Fox and Professor David Wilson front this new C4 series looking at several unsolved murders.

In each episode, Silent Witness star Emilia and criminologist David Wilson re-open a cold case.

In the Footsteps of Killers uses the latest in forensic science and criminological research to shed new light on these troubling cases, looking for new leads the original investigation may have missed.

Travelling to the locations of the crime, Emilia and David will interview the witnesses, suspects and friends and family of the victims, and attempt to build a picture of what exactly happened.

The opening episode sees the pair reevaluate the 1996 disappearance of young Birmingham boys David Spencer and Patrick Warren.

In the Footsteps of Killers begins on Wednesday June 09 2021 at 10pm on Channel 4.

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