A woman has been found guilty of killing her friend and dumping her headless body more than 200 miles away in order to inherit hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Jemma Mitchell hit Mee Kuen Chong, 67, over the head with a weapon at her London home and left her decapitated and badly decomposed body in woodland in Salcombe, Devon, two weeks later, it was alleged.
The prosecution claimed Mitchell, 38, had planned to murder the vulnerable woman and fake her will to inherit the bulk of her estate, worth more than £700,000.
She devised the plan after Chong, who was known as Deborah, backed out of giving her £200,000 to pay for repairs to Mitchell’s £4m family home, jurors were told.
Mitchell, an osteopath who had posted online of her skill in human dissection, had denied having anything to do with Chong’s death but declined to give evidence at her trial.
It was claimed on her behalf that the prosecution had failed to prove she was involved or that Chong was murdered as a postmortem found the cause of death was “unascertained”.
A pathologist said her skull fractures could have been caused by being pushed on to a protruding surface or being hit with a weapon, although none was ever recovered.
Multiple rib fractures could have been caused by Chong being stuffed inside a suitcase Mitchell was seen wheeling away, or during resuscitation attempts, jurors heard.
A jury at the Old Bailey deliberated for seven hours before finding Mitchell guilty of murder.
DCI Jim Eastwood, who led the investigation, described it as a “truly despicable crime”.
He said: “The motivation for Jemma Mitchell’s actions was money and she showed a significant degree of planning and calculation as she attempted to cover up her horrific actions. The cold facts of this case are shocking.”
During the trial, jurors viewed CCTV footage of Mitchell arriving at Chong’s home carrying a large blue suitcase, allegedly containing her murder kit, on the morning of 11 June last year.
More than four hours later, she emerged from the property in Wembley, north-west London, with the suitcase appearing bulkier and heavier.
The prosecution said CCTV appeared to show Mitchell struggling to carry the unwieldy suitcase because it contained a body.
She also had with her a smaller bag full of Chong’s financial documents, which were later recovered from Mitchell’s home.
After the victim’s lodger reported her missing, Mitchell claimed she had gone to visit family friends “somewhere close to the ocean” as she was feeling “depressed”.
A police search of Jemma Mitchell’s home uncovered Chong’s fake will and personal papers. Photograph: Metropolitan police/PAIn reality, Mitchell had decapitated Chong and stored her remains in the garden of the house she shared with her retired mother in Willesden, north-west London, the prosecution suggested.
On 26 June last year, she stowed the body inside the suitcase in the boot of a hire car and drove to Devon.
En route to Salcombe, the Volvo blew a tyre and Mitchell drove into a service station to call for assistance.
The person called to change the wheel described Mitchell’s “confused” demeanour and an “odd, musty smell” inside the vehicle.
Chong’s headless body was found by holidaymakers beside a woodland footpath near Salcombe the next day.
The victim, who was 5ft 2in and slim, appeared to have been redressed in clothes meant for a larger woman, jurors heard.
After a police search of the area, Chong’s skull was recovered a few metres away from the body. A search of Mitchell’s home uncovered Chong’s fake will and personal papers. The blue suitcase had been stored on the roof of a neighbour’s shed.
Although no forensic evidence was recovered from the suitcase, Chong’s DNA was identified on a bloodstained tea towel in a pocket.
Mitchell’s defence asserted there was no evidence to confirm Chong’s body had been in the suitcase and pointed to the lack of evidence indicating a violent assault at her home.
Mitchell’s legal team suggested the Willesden property, which had been in the family for generations, was worth £4m and she had £93,000 in the bank so did not need the money.
Mitchell grew up in Australia, where her mother worked for the British Foreign Office, and had set up an osteopathy business there before returning to the UK in 2015.
On her website, she claimed she was “attuned to subjects in neuroanatomy, genetics and dissection of human cadavers”.
It can now be reported that Mitchell has a conviction for a breach of a non-molestation order relating to family members.