23 Years After Melanie Hall Vanished, Police Found DNA Evidence On A Rope

After 23 years, hundreds of statements and several arrests, police are finally on the cusp of a major breakthrough in Melanie Hall’s case. The British hospital worker disappeared back in 1996, and no one has been able to figure out what happened to her. But now detectives have uncovered new DNA evidence – and it may just solve the mystery once and for all.

According to Melanie’s father, Steve, she was a “young, vibrant daughter.” In 2009 he told the BBC that the hospital clerical worker from Bradford-on-Avon, England, had a “future in front of her.” And yet Steve never got to see what his child would make of her life:  these hopes vanished along with Melanie on June 9, 1996.

Prior to that fateful day, Melanie had been living at home with her family. The 25-year-old had graduated from the University of Bath with a degree in sociology and psychology the previous year. And following Melanie’s disappearance, her mother, Pat, wrote in a letter that completing college had been one of her daughter’s “most cherished dreams.”

Recalling Melanie’s graduation, Pat recalled, “We were all so proud of her that wonderful, sunny day and happy to see such a lovely young lady facing the future with so much hope and enthusiasm.” And in the months that followed, it had seemed as though Melanie’s life was indeed coming together.

As well as holding down a job as a clerical officer at the Royal United Hospital in Bath, Melanie had been preparing to leave her family home and move into a new house that had been lovingly decorated by her dad. Plus, as of June 1996 Melanie had reportedly started dating a man named Philip Karlbaum, who was a doctor at her workplace.

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One Saturday, Melanie had arranged to stay at Karlbaum’s house in Bath ahead of a night out in the city. According to Pat, the young hospital worker wasn’t usually one for painting the town red. But she had nonetheless been excited for a fun couple of days with her new beau and some coworkers.

However, when Pat had dropped Melanie off at Karlbaum’s house on June 8, 1996, she couldn’t have known that she would never see her daughter again. In 2009 she would tell the Bath Chronicle, “When [Melanie] left home that evening in early June, it was in anticipation of an enjoyable weekend with her boyfriend and other friends and colleagues from work.”

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Yes, Pat had apparently noticed nothing out of the ordinary that day. She recalls Melanie leaving the house “in her usual way – 15 minutes late – borrowing tights, losing her shoes but looking lovely nonetheless.” Then, with her possessions packed into an overnight bag, the young woman made what would be her last journey with her mother into Bath.

Recalling those final moments with Melanie, Pat told the Bath Chronicle, “Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that when I kissed her goodbye as I dropped her in Bath that this might be the last time I would ever see her. I am truly thankful that my very last memory of her is of her happy, smiling face.”

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After arriving in Bath, it’s said that Melanie and Philip headed out to a large cookout. Then, apparently accompanied by another couple, the pair made their way to a nightclub in the city called Cadillacs. But at some point during the evening, Melanie reportedly had a fallout with her boyfriend, who is believed to have subsequently left the venue.

Meanwhile, Melanie’s friends, who allegedly believed that Philip was still at Cadillacs, also left. The final confirmed sighting of the young woman occurred at 1:10 a.m. on June 9, 1996, when she was spotted perching on a chair inside the nightclub. And her mother called the police the following morning, when she failed to turn up to her job.

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In the weeks that followed Melanie’s disappearance, her loved ones – including Karlbaum – opened up about their heartache. And meanwhile, police began scouring the river in Bath and interviewing thousands of possible witnesses. There was even a reward of more than $12,000 offered in exchange for information about Melanie’s whereabouts.

On June 18, 1996 – nine days after Melanie had gone missing – her older sister, Dominique, issued a heart-wrenching appeal to the public. And she implored revellers who’d attended Cadillacs on the night that her sibling had disappeared to speak with authorities. Dominique said, “If anyone has still not come forward despite the national publicity, please, please ring the police with any ideas.”

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But as the months passed, no solid clues to Melanie’s location emerged. And as a result, her mother released a heartfelt message in a bid to raise further awareness about the investigation. In the letter, Pat wrote candidly about her beloved daughter and revealed how the family had been coping in her absence.

Pat’s note read, “Melanie was such a kind, thoughtful girl, sharing so much of her life with her family. She had chosen to remain at home and continued to fill the house with the usual noise and muddles, laughters and tears – just as she has always done throughout her life.”

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Pat continued, “Since [Melanie’s] disappearance in early June, the house seems so quiet. The music and laughter have gone. While I have been writing this letter, my thoughts have been with the many other families who are grieving for the loss of a loved one. I do so hope that they will all find the strength to face the future – whatever that may be.”

Unfortunately, Pat’s letter wasn’t the last appeal that Melanie’s family would have to make in the search for their loved one. In 1998 – two years after Melanie’s disappearance – the Halls launched a fresh plea for any details that may aid the investigation. But there was still no word of Melanie.

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And as the years continued to pass, Melanie’s family had to struggle with the anguish of not knowing where their loved one was. In 2008 her father, Steve, explained to the Bath Chronicle, “It is never over… We will have this with us for the rest of our lives. She was a lovely, kind girl, who gave pleasure to everyone she met.”

Eventually, Melanie’s family came to believe that she had in fact been murdered. But with no body discovered, they would have to wait until 2004 to find some sort of closure. It was then that a coroner officially declared Melanie dead following an inquest. And yet even with this outcome, so many questions remained unanswered.

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In 2004 Steve revealed the family’s agony over not having a firm answer about what had become of their beloved Melanie. He said, “It doesn’t get any easier after eight years. This isn’t the end; it goes on. We have to live with the fact that she has gone.”

But five years later, Melanie’s family would finally find some answers. In October 2009 an individual working next to a highway just over 20 miles north of where the young woman had vanished uncovered a sack containing human bones. And two days after the grim discovery, dental records confirmed that the remains had belonged to Melanie.

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Speaking at the time, Detective Superintendent Mike Courtiour from Avon and Somerset Police explained that Melanie’s body had been dumped in black trash bags and had been undisturbed for a “very considerable time.” And following the discovery, investigators claimed that they had “absolute” determination to catch Melanie’s killer.

Yes, in a statement obtained by the BBC in 2009, Courtiour assured the public that police were taking Melanie’s case very seriously. He said, “The investigation into her disappearance has never been closed. Now, finding her body offers us a new and crucial opportunity for anyone who has information to come forward.”

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While Melanie’s family had long believed that their daughter had been murdered, their worst fears were now finally confirmed. In 2009 her dad, Steve, told the BBC, “We desperately need to know what happened to Melanie on the night she left the nightclub in Bath.”

Meanwhile, Pat vowed that the family would continue their search for the truth. The bereaved mother said, “Over the last 13 years we have had three things we wanted to know: where Melanie was, who was involved with what is now her murder and why; what were the circumstances that led to her murder?”

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In the 20 years that have passed since Melanie disappeared, police have taken 1,600 statements in relation to her case. They have also answered 1,700 calls from the public. And as of October 2019 11 people have been arrested as part of the investigation – but her killer has never been charged.

Unfortunately, however, following the discovery of Melanie’s remains, the Hall family would have to wait another ten years for the next major breakthrough in the investigation. This came in October 2019, when police revealed that they had lifted DNA from a significant piece of evidence: a section of blue rope that had apparently been used to tie the bags in which Melanie’s body had been wrapped.

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While police had previously confirmed they had found DNA on an object that had been discovered near to Melanie’s body, this was the first time that they’d revealed such a find on the rope. What’s more, detectives working on the case confirmed that it is “possible” that this newly uncovered evidence could have been left by Melanie’s murderer.

In a statement obtained by ITV in October 2019, Detective Chief Inspector James Riccio from Avon and Somerset Police explained, “Today we’re confirming the DNA traces were found on a length of blue polypropylene rope, which was wrapped around thin black bin liners, which had contained her body. We recovered a [42-foot] length of [0.2-inch] rope from the scene – made up [of] four separate lengths knotted together.”

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Continuing to describe the crucial evidence, Riccio said, “In addition to the three knots joining the ropes, there were four other knots on the rope – a total of seven knots. It’s commercially manufactured rope and commonly used on building sites and for drawing electrical cable through trunking.”

According to Riccio, the evidence is still “in its embryonic stages.” But since technology is advancing all the time, he’s hopeful that the DNA will one day be properly analyzed. The detective explained, “We’re confident that with corroborative evidence [it] will lead to a charge.”

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Meanwhile, police are working under the assumption that the location in which Melanie’s remains were discovered is “key” to solving the case. As Riccio pointed out, a patch of grass next to a highway is a rather unusual spot to dispose of a body. He also surmised that the corpse had been dumped there early on or around  June 9, 1996 – and that whoever did so had been in a rush.

What’s more, Chief Inspector Riccio feels it is “highly likely” that Melanie’s remains were dumped by someone who knew the area. He also added that the person who had put the body there may not have been responsible for her death. And so the detective encouraged said individual to speak up.

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Directly addressing anyone who may have been involved, Riccio said, “You’ve been living with a dark secret for years, but your guilt and fear is nothing compared to the enduring pain felt by Melanie’s family. I want to be clear: our primary focus is on identifying the person or persons who killed Melanie.”

Following the DNA discovery, Melanie’s father, Steve, reminded the public that it had been 23 years since his daughter had disappeared. He said, “Since that time, the Avon and Somerset Police have poured endless resources [into] their attempt to find her killer. Sadly, as [of] yet, this objective remains unfulfilled.”

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Steve continued in his emotional statement, “I and my family remain eternally optimistic that eventually [police] will be successful [in finding Melanie’s killer]. In our family we will forever grieve for and miss our lovely daughter – a young woman whose life stretched before her until that fateful night in June 1996, when that life was so cruelly snatched from her.”

In order to help with the investigation, police have appealed to anyone who may have had any ropes matching the one that was found with Melanie’s body go missing in June 1996. Plus, they requested information from anyone who may know an individual who was in possession of this style of rope and who began acting strangely around that time.

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Meanwhile, detectives have also reached out to anyone who may have spotted Melanie after her last confirmed sighting in the early hours of June 9 in Bath’s Cadillacs Nightclub. Authorities are also interested in speaking to individuals who may know something about the disposal of the young woman’s body. What’s more, anyone who noticed any unusual activity on or close to the M5 highway soon after Melanie’s disappearance could be of help to investigators, too.

Following the discovery of the DNA on the rope, 50 individuals have reportedly contacted police with information. But while detectives confirmed that they are looking into each message, they have nevertheless urged the public to keep potential leads coming. And they are still hopeful that they will get to the bottom of Melanie’s disappearance.

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In October 2019 a spokesperson from Avon and Somerset Police said, “We’d like to thank everyone who’s taken the time to read our appeal and contact us, [but] we still need people to call us with information relating to the key appeal points outlined in our anniversary appeal.” After all, a single phone call could be all it takes to solve the mystery of Melanie’s death – and finally find closure for her bereaved family.

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