Memory of missing Holly and Jessica poster in murderer's home 'sickening'

Maxine Carr who displayed a missing person's poster in her window after her ex-boyfriend had killed Holly and Jessica

Maxine Carr, the ex-girlfriend of Soham murderer Ian Huntley, who displayed a missing person's poster in her window after Huntley had killed Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman - Credit: Andrew Parsons/PA

Twenty years ago, members of Soham's tight-knit community began a desperate search for two missing 10-year-old girls, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

The St Andrew's Primary School pupils disappeared from a family barbecue on August 4, 2002. Both girls would have turned 31 this year (2022).

As the 20th anniversary of Holly and Jessica's disappearance approaches, Sam Russell from PA Media spoke to Debbie Davies, the former Ely Standard editor who offered murderer Ian Huntley and his then-girlfriend Maxine Carr a missing persons poster to display in their window.

Ian Huntley outside his house, with a missing person's poster amid the search for Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman

Ian Huntley outside his house, with a missing person's poster in his window amid the search for Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, who he murdered - Credit: Andrew Parsons/PA

Miss Davies, who is now The Hunts Post editor in Huntingdon, said the moment she saw the poster in Huntley and Carr's house is an "an indelible image" in her mind.

She told PA Media: "Of course at the time I was just, 'Oh, great, she’s put the poster up'.

"It’s only obviously since then that I’ve thought about the horrors of what went on in that house - which were only revealed in the course of time."

Miss Davies added that she felt "sick" when police officers in Cambridgeshire pieced together the events, and that Huntley's ex-girlfriend decided displayed the poster after he had killed the girls.

"Every time Ian Huntley came out of the house then went back into the house, the poster would have been staring at him," she explained.

"The fact the girls were laying in a shallow grave, and he knew that, and every time he saw that poster he knew what had happened - that still now is difficult for me to wrestle with, and I can never understand what was going on in his head.

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"I’m surprised he never did go and take the poster down.

"Maybe it was all part of their kind of cover-up and them still wanting to present themselves as upstanding members of the community and wanting to be helpful, and maybe Maxine thought that was a way of doing that and presenting themselves in that way."

Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells from Soham, near Ely, who died in August 2002

Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells from Soham, near Ely, who died in August 2002 - Credit: Archive

Debbie Davies is one of several journalists who have recounted their experiences working in Soham in the days and weeks following the Holly and Jessica's disappearance. PA Media reporter Brian Farmer and former Sky News presenter Jeremy Thompson shared their experiences in a Channel 5 documentary about the case in March this year.

Miss Davies recalled how the Ely Standard produced, printed and distributed missing person's posters in summer 2002.

She said she approached Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr's house because it was near a walkway - the "perfect place" to display a poster.

But when Maxine Carr was asked to chat, she told Miss Davies that she didn't want to talk to any more of the UK media.

Maxine Carr, ex-girlfriend of Soham murderer Ian Huntley, after her arrest in 2002

Maxine Carr, ex-girlfriend of Soham murderer Ian Huntley, after her arrest in 2002 - Credit: Cambridgeshire Constabulary/PA Archive

"She said, 'No, no, we’re fed up with all of this, we don’t want to talk to any more journalists'," Miss Davies said.

"I said, 'well, I’ve got some posters here. Would you put up a poster for me? I just thought this was probably quite a good place to have a poster'.

"She said she would, and then she took the poster from me.

"Because she had been a bit off and a bit dismissive, I thought maybe she won’t even put the poster up.

"As I walked back down her path I turned around and she had gone from the front door to the living room and she had put the poster up immediately.

"It's one of those moments in my life that’s like an indelible image, if you like, of her standing there with that poster, and the poster staring out at me.

"There was still hope at that time - that’s why we made the poster."

After a search which lasted nearly two weeks, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman's bodies were found buried near RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk on August 17, 2022.

Miss Davies told PA Media that her experience covering the case has left a lasting impression.

A tribute to Holly and Jessica outside the Old Bailey in London in 2003

A tribute to Holly and Jessica outside the Old Bailey in London in 2003 - Credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA

Tributes left to Holly and Jessica during the trial of Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr at the Old Bailey, London in 2003

Tributes left to Holly and Jessica during the trial of Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr at the Old Bailey, London in 2003 - Credit: Matthew Fearn/PA

She has grandchildren who are around the same age as Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were when they disappeared.

"I think my natural fear sometimes drifts into something else, that I make somebody extremely fearful and frightened that that’s how easy it can happen," Miss Davies said.

Maxine Carr, originally from Grimsby, Lincolnshire, was a teaching assistant at Holly and Jessica's school Soham at the time of their murder.

She was sentenced to three and a half years in prison in 2003 for perverting the course of justice after providing her ex-boyfriend with a false alibi.

Ian Huntley, who murdered the children, received a life sentence in 2003, and must serve a minimum 40 years before he is considered for release.