Daughter of Ipswich murder victim Karen Hales searches for answers

Daughter of Ipswich murder victim Karen Hales searches for answers
Daughter of Ipswich murder victim Karen Hales searches for answers
  • By Laura Devlin
  • BBC News, Suffolk
21 November 2023, 02:57 GMT

Updated 8 hours ago

Image source, Hales family

Image caption,

Emily Hales, pictured as a baby with her mother, said it pained her that she couldn’t remember what happened

Emily Hales is the only witness to her mother Karen Hales’ unsolved murder – but she was just 18 months old and can remember nothing about it.

Now 31, and a mother herself with a young son, she is a friendly, bubbly, happy-sounding person – just like her own mother, she is told.

Karen was brutally stabbed and her body set alight on November 21, 1993. Thirty years on, Emily is still searching for answers.

Here, in her own words, she talks about the pain of not knowing her mother – or the killer’s identity.

‘I really wish I could have remembered’

I was so, so young – so little – when it happened. I was a baby.

I’ve been told that I would ask for Mummy a lot. I would speak to my [maternal] nan, and I can’t remember my age, but I was told I hadn’t got a mum any more.

I honestly cannot remember when I was told what had actually happened to Mum, but I know I became more aware as a teenager.

My grandparents had arrived at the house soon after it happened – they saved my life. As far as I’m aware, I wasn’t harmed in any way, or had to go to hospital.

I really wish I could have remembered something, because I was the only one who was there. But I was just 18 months old, so I couldn’t say anything to help police. I don’t remember a thing.

Image source, Suffolk Police

Image caption,

Karen Hales was a brilliant mum, Emily has been told

I would love to be able to help; to remember something, to say I had seen something. I could have been the only one to maybe recognize the person. I wished I was older. If I was 10, for example, I would be able to say “the man was like this.”

I have always had conversations with my nan about Mum. It was never kept from me. When I was growing up we would always mark her birthday and we still go to her grave.

I know that she had a bubbly personality. People always say what a good mother she was; that she always put me first. She used to take me swimming quite a lot. She was a loving, caring person; a very happy person.

Image source, Hales family

Image caption,

Emily grew up with her dad with the help of both sets of grandparents and other relatives

A lot of people say I look like Mum – I’ve got the same eyes and the dark hair. I remember once my nan said to me ‘Oh, you’re not like your mum in the mornings, she would be happy and singing’, while I was not a morning person.

It is nice to know that I’m like her in some ways. It makes me feel closer because I haven’t been able to feel close to her. It’s so hard to explain how it feels.

‘I wish Mum was here’

Now, as a mother myself, I cannot imagine my son not having me around.

I do suffer with a bit of anxiety about that, if something happens to me. I think about it, and it brings the anxiety out in me that I haven’t felt before, since I had him.

It makes you see things differently, like a mum; all the time I spent with him, I didn’t have that with Mum.

When I had my son, I had a tough time. He was colicky and I had times when I was holding him and thought ‘I wish Mum was here’.

When you have a baby you are totally new to it and I suppose a lot of new mums would call their mum for some help but I didn’t have that.

It’s not like I didn’t have support, but it’s nice to have your mum at those times. It was tough. No-one is like your mum.

Image caption,

Emily wants answers for her grandparents, Graham and Geraldine Hales, who are in their late 70s

I think a lot about if I’d had that [relationship] with her, what it would’ve been like. I just wished we were a normal family.

On her birthday, I think ‘What would we have been doing?’ Would we have gone out for lunch and had a nice girlie day together? It makes you think what could have been.

When I think of the investigation, I feel it has been such a long time now, I feel the person is never going to be found. It’s terrible.

I can’t believe that that person hasn’t told anyone, it’s so big, how could they keep it to themselves all these years? I believe someone is keeping a secret.

Sometimes I’ve wondered ‘Have I walked past them in the street? ‘Would they recognize me?’ I hope that person does read this and I hope it triggers part of them that would admit to what they have done.

I hope that they [police] can find anything for my grandparents while they are still alive, because they will go and they will never know. My grandfather has got that image of walking into that.

‘Never too late’

Shop assistant Karen, who was 21, was with Emily at home in Lavenham Road, Ipswich, on 21 November 1993.

Her fiancé Peter Ruffles, Emily’s father, had left for work at 15:50 GMT. There were at least two inches (5cm) of snow on the ground.

Shortly before 16:40, Karen’s parents, Graham and Geraldine Hales, called in at the house and entered through the unlocked front door.

They were confronted with smoke and flames and found their daughter had been stabbed and an attempt was made to set her alight.

Her purse was missing, as were two Laser knives.

Suffolk Police put 50 officers on the case and spoke to hundreds of witnesses and seized more than 300 items, but, 30 years on, detectives are yet to make a breakthrough.

Image caption,

Karen Hales was killed after her husband had left for work on a snowy day in November 1993

Det Supt Mike Brown, head of the Major Investigation Team, said it had not given up hope of catching Karen’s killer.

On the 25th anniversary, in 2018, officers chased up fresh information after receiving a flurry of calls and messages in response to a police appeal.

“These leads were pursued but unfortunately were not able to provide a breakthrough in the case,” he added.

“We continue to believe that someone out there knows who is responsible for Karen’s murder and my message to them is that it is never too late to come forward.

“Any information we receive will be treated in the strictest confidence.”

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