A 22-year-old man has been found guilty of the murder of police community support officer Julia James.
Callum Wheeler beat the mother-of-two to death as she walked her dog in fields and woodland near the back of her home in Snowdown, Kent.
Mrs James was off duty on the afternoon of 27 April last year when she was killed by the loner who attacked her with a railway jack, a tool used to lift train tracks, resulting in “catastrophic injuries”.
He was seen roaming around the countryside with the weapon the day before the 53-year-old woman died near Ackholt Wood, and in the days after as hundreds of police officers scoured the area for clues.
Witnesses were able to provide vital images of Wheeler near the scene, including gamekeeper Gavin Tucker who took a video clip and photo of the killer walking around with the jack in a blue holdall the day after she was murdered.
When the photo of Wheeler was released to the public, he was identified within hours and arrested.
Wheeler told officers “sometimes I do things that I cannot control” and “you can’t go into the woods and expect to be safe”.
He also told a member of police staff that he would return to the woodland and rape and kill a woman, and that Mrs James had deserved to die.
Police pinpointed where she was attacked
Detectives used data from her Apple watch to find out where and when she had walked her Jack Russell and pinpoint where she was attacked.
Data showed her heart rate and walking pace spiked at the point it is believed she spotted Wheeler in the woodland, and changed her route home in an attempt to escape.
Mrs James had seen him in the same location before, and had described him to her husband Paul as “a really weird dude”.
But, in an unexplained outburst of violence, Wheeler, who lived in nearby Aylesham, beat her to death and walked away.
No explanation from Wheeler
He had no connection to the mother-of-two, and offered no explanation for what he had done when questioned by the police.
Alison Morgan QC said Mrs James had been left with some of the most serious head injuries ever seen by the pathologist involved in the case and had suffered “repeated blows to her head”.
Wheeler, who admitted killing Mrs James, was convicted of her murder at Canterbury Crown Court.
A jury of eight women and four men took less than one hour and 10 minutes to find him guilty.
Wheeler, who is being held at Broadmoor high security psychiatric hospital in Berkshire, did not react when the guilty verdict was delivered.
Detective Superintendent Gavin Moss, who led the hunt for Wheeler, said the case was particularly poignant for the force.
He said: “The death of Julia had real ramifications throughout the whole organisation, because she was one of our own.
“What needed to happen was that justice needed to prevail, and we needed to do what we did to catch Callum Wheeler, who was a particularly dangerous individual.
“He caused her catastrophic injuries.”