Murder Most Vile Volume 5

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Innocence Betrayed

Tia Sharp was born in Croydon, a suburb of London, England, on June 30, 2012. In the hot summer of 2012 she was a happy and bubbly 12-year-old, much loved by her mother, grandmother and two younger brothers. She was a confident and outgoing girl who did well at school and was popular with classmates and teachers alike. Her mother described her as more of a best friend than a daughter.

Aside from her direct family, there was someone else in Tia’s life. Stuart Hazell was the 37-year-old boyfriend of Tia’s grandmother, Christine Bicknell. He was very fond of Tia and the feeling was mutual. She called him ‘Granddad’ and often visited him at her grandmother’s house, even when Christine wasn’t there. When Tia’s mother, Natalie, arranged a special day out for Tia’s 12th birthday, she asked which friend Tia would like to bring along. “Stuart,” Tia replied without hesitation. The relationship was that close.

But there was a dark side to Stuart Hazell, some of which Tia’s family was aware of, and some of which they weren’t. They knew, for example, that Hazell was the illegitimate son of a prostitute and had grown up mostly in state care. They knew that he had a number of criminal convictions and had served prison time for drug dealing, aggravated assault, and for carrying a machete in a public place. They knew that he had a drinking problem and that he often used cannabis.

But they never suspected that Stuart could be violent, or that he was addicted to child pornography. They never knew that he spent hours online searching for illicit images and videos, using search terms like ‘schoolgirl rape’ and ‘incest sex.’ They never knew that one of his favorite searches was for ‘little girls with glasses.’ Tia wore glasses. Tia’s mum and grandmother never suspected that Hazell had become sexually obsessed with her.

But obsessed, Stuart Hazell most certainly was, and as Tia reached puberty, his sick fantasies became all consuming. He went to extraordinary lengths to indulge them. First he removed the bathroom door so that he could spy on Tia. Then he rigged a light fitting in the bathroom to fashion a peephole. He also began secretly filming Tia on his cell phone, capturing her as she sat in her pajamas applying moisturizer to her legs. Finally, he took to sneaking into her room at night and filming her while she slept.

But eventually all of those things were not enough to satisfy the warped obsessions that by now occupied most of Hazell’s time. Tia was 12-years old and by his reckoning ready for sex. He decided to make his move.

On the afternoon of Thursday, August 2, 2012, Tia sent a text to her grandmother, asking if she could spend the evening. Hazell picked up the text and replied to Natalie, Tia’s mother, telling her that he had no problem with Tia staying over, but that Christine wouldn’t be there. Natalie then asked Tia if she still wanted to go. “Yes, yes, yes,” was the little girl’s reply.

Later that evening, Tia took a tram to New Addington. CCTV footage picked her up stepping off the tram and meeting Hazell. Later, she and Hazell were seen shopping at a local supermarket. It was the last time that anyone but her killer saw Tia Sharp alive.

The following day, Friday August 3, Christine arrived home and found Hazell sprawled on the couch watching television. Noticing that Tia wasn’t in the house, Christine asked about her. Hazell said that she’d gone to a nearby shopping mall to buy some sandals. Christine had no reason to disbelieve him.

However, when there was still no sign of Tia by 6 p.m. Christine became concerned. She phoned Natalie to find out if Tia had perhaps returned home. She hadn’t, so Natalie and Christine agreed to search their respective neighborhoods, hoping to find Tia. When those searches proved fruitless, Natalie called the police.

The following morning Natalie, Christine and Hazell arrived at the Croydon police station to file a missing persons report. Under questioning, Hazell stated that he’d last seen Tia at around midday, when she’d left to walk to the shopping mall. The police then sent officers to canvas the neighborhood around Christine and Hazell’s house. They found one man who appeared to corroborate Hazell’s story. He said that he’d seen Tia at around noon. Encouraged that Tia might still be alive, the police stepped up their search, starting with Christine and Hazell’s home. They found no trace of the missing girl.

By now the story had been picked up by the media and reporters and TV crews were streaming into the area. Friends and neighbors had also become involved in the search, all of them wearing t-shirts bearing a photograph of Tia. One of the most diligent searchers was Stuart Hazell himself. At one point during the search he took time to speak directly into a TV camera. “Tia, come home babe,” he pleaded.

Of course, Hazell knew that Tia was never coming home, that right now her dismembered remains were slowly decomposing in the attic of his home. He knew exactly what had happened to her.

On the evening of Thursday August 2, while alone in the house with Tia, Hazell had decided to make his move. Drunk on booze and stoned on cannabis, he’d made sexual advances. Tia, of course, had been disgusted. She’d threatened to tell her mum. But having come this far, Hazell was not about to be denied. He forced himself on Tia, then suffocated her with a pillow to cover up the crime.

Having murdered the 12 year old in order to sate his lust, Hazell was now faced with a problem. There was a body to be disposed of. Carrying Tia to the bathroom, he dismembered her in the tub, then wrapped her body parts in a sheet and then in black garbage bags, securing the packages with duct tape. These he carried up to the attic where he stashed them beside the rafters, covering them with debris. He would soon come to regret his disposal method.

On August 7, the police searched the house again, this time using dogs. Again, they found nothing, although they did notice a rank odor. Christine apologized for this and said that her cat had probably carried in a dead bird. Little did she know that what they smelled was the decomposing remains of her missing granddaughter, just twelve feet above their heads.

The police, meanwhile, were pursuing another avenue, sifting through 800 hours of CCTV footage in the hope of picking up the missing girl on camera. They also followed up on over 50 sightings reported by members of the public.

On Monday, 8 August, Stuart Hazell contacted ITV and asked to give an interview on camera. During this bizarre interlude, Hazell claimed that he wanted to clear the air because he felt that everyone was looking at him as the main suspect. He swore that he had nothing to do with Tia’s disappearance and declared his love and support for her grieving mother and grandmother.

Hazell’s motive for giving the interview is unknown, although given what we know about this type of killer, it was probably deeply gratifying for him to lie so blatantly on national television. The pressure, however, was getting to him. With the stench in the house growing ever stronger it was only a matter of time before Tia was found. He needed to move the corpse, but with the strong police presence in the area and the media parked outside his front door, he was effectively trapped.

On Friday August 10, Hazell must have realized that the game was up. Rising early, he left the house, perhaps thinking of going into hiding. His absence wasn’t noted until the police returned to carry out a fourth search for Tia’s body. This time their noses led them to the moldering remains. The search for Tia Sharp was over, now the hunt was on to find the man suspected of killing her.

As it turned out that proved easier than expected. Hazell hadn’t gone far. That same morning, he was picked up on CCTV buying vodka in a liquor store in Cannon Hill Lane, South London. He was arrested later that day on Cannon Hill Common. As the police took him into custody an angry crowd formed and surrounded him, shouting abuse and insults. Hazell might well have been lynched had the police not hustled him into a car and driven him away.

The evidence against Hazell pointed to an open and shut case. Yet even now the consummate liar had a new tale to tell. He claimed that Tia’s death had been an accident. According to this new account, the two of them had been goofing around and Tia had lost her balance and fallen down the stairs. She had appeared unhurt after the tumble and had assured him that she was okay. He’d then begun drinking and had eventually passed out. When he woke he found that Tia was dead.

According to Hazell, he felt guilty at not having done more for Tia and also worried at how Christine and Natalie would react. He had therefore decided to hide the body.

The story was far-fetched to say the least and unfortunately for Hazell it was easily disproved. While searching the house police had found a sex toy, which proved to have Tia’s blood on it, suggesting that he’d used it on the little girl. Investigators also found a memory card from a cell phone that contained the secret video footage he had shot of Tia, as well as some photographs that showed just what kind of a monster Hazell was. The photos showed Tia posed in a crouching position, with the shot taken from behind. After a pathologist examined the picture, he confirmed that it had been taken after her death.

Stuart Hazell’s murder trial began at London’s Old Bailey on May 7, 2013. He went into the trial still maintaining his innocence and subjected Tia’s grieving family to four days of horrendously graphic testimony before eventually changing his plea to guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison with the stipulation that he must serve at least 38 years. That means that Hazell will not be eligible for parole until he is 75 years of age.

Murder Most Vile Volume Five features another 17 shocking true crime stories.