Hollie Kerrell was a 28-year-old mother-of-three, devoted to her children and beloved by her family and friends.
Her whole life ahead of her, Hollie was known to be an outgoing, vibrant young woman, described by friends as having been a ‘breath of fresh air’. A keen horse rider, Hollie also had a talent for makeup and was beginning to pursue a career in this field.
On Sunday, April 22 2018, Hollie vanished from her home in the village of Knucklas, mid-Wales, never to be seen alive again. Like far too many women up and down the UK, her life had been ended – brutally, callously – by the very person who had vowed to love and cherish her.
You can find out more about Hollie’s story here:
Hollie’s husband, Chris Kerrell, told officers she had stormed off after a heated argument, with the intention of starting her life over elsewhere. He’d even sent out worried texts to family members, asking whether they’d seen her.
However, Kerrell’s version of events didn’t quite ring true, and before long officers became suspicious of this supposedly concerned husband. A fiercely maternal individual, Hollie would never have willingly been parted from her kids. And it quickly became apparent she hadn’t left of her own accord.
Following his arrest, Kerrell insisted upon his innocence until the escalating evidence against him could no longer be denied. He had murdered Hollie in her own kitchen, before calmly sipping the cup of tea she had only just brewed for herself.
Kerrell then dumped his wife’s body somewhere he believed it would never be found, wrapped in the same Thomas the Tank Engine bedding their son had slept under. He initially said the murder had been in the heat of the moment, but evidence from Hollie herself proved this to be completely inaccurate.
The case is explored in Murdered by my Husband: The Hollie Kerrell Story, the first documentary in a week long domestic abuse focused programming event from Crime+Investigation.
The first documentary in the series follows Hollie’s murder investigation, and reveals how the dedicated police work of detectives Anthony Griffiths and Gareth Grant led to Kerrell’s ultimate conviction.
However, the documentary also tells a wider story. A story of how controlling behaviour leads to the deaths of hundreds of individuals each year, with the danger beginning long before the first blow is struck.
Coinciding with White Ribbon Day – the international day for the eradication of violence against women – the documentary illustrates how Hollie’s tragic death was sadly all too typical of those committed by a controlling perpetrator such as Kerrell.
The documentary includes commentary from Dr Jane Monckton Smith; a police officer turned criminologist, whose pioneering research into the ‘eight warning signs’ of domestic abusers is helping to shape the way authorities deal with domestic abuse cases.
Dr Monckton Smith told UNILAD:
Hollie’s case is so sad, so desperately tragic. And the thing is, in that case, it did follow the eight stage pattern in a fairly typical way.
She had been in a relationship that was violent and controlling – control was a real marker – she had decided to leave him, things had escalated. She knew that she was in danger, and she had said that. It’s just so sad that that risk wasn’t really recognised properly by anybody.
What we really have to do that we do not do at the moment is believe people when they say they’re frightened. We have to listen to what we’re being told and recognise that control – someone that is controlling someone else’s life and making them fearful, that is always, always dangerous.
All too often in relationships, we frame possessive or controlling behaviour as as an outpouring of romantic adoration. And, similarly, spousal murders are frustratingly spoken of as ‘crimes of passion’, with the perpetrator’s judgement clouded by a sudden ‘red mist’.
Through her work, Dr Monckton Smith challenges this narrative, with her research revealing such heinous crimes are rarely as out of the blue as perpetrators would have you believe. Indeed, a pattern can be traced back from the murder itself to before the relationship had even begun.
Today we are marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and White Ribbon Day with a stakeholder event in the Senedd followed by a Candlelight Vigil at 5pm. @JoyceWatsonam pic.twitter.com/QjUIu8vypb
— NFWI-Wales (@NFWIWales) November 25, 2019
Dr Monckton Smith formally identified the ‘eight warning signs’ model after examining the circumstances of 372 cases of domestic abuse killings, conducting interviews with both bereaved family members and public protection professionals.
The first step is an individual’s ‘pre-relationship history’, with the abuser having a criminal record, or a history of ‘control, domestic abuse or stalking’ in previous relationships. Victims may well be aware of such allegations, but don’t always believe them.
The second step comes at the ‘early relationship’ stage, where the relationship may accelerate with ‘early declarations of love, possessiveness and jealousy’.
Dr Monckton Smith told UNILAD:
I suppose in a simple message, don’t let your relationship start too fast. Put the brakes on, even if it feels like that’s not the most romantic thing to do. It’s the safest thing to do. And another thing to do, if somebody tries to control you, at the earliest possible stage, resist it. Resist it.
And if that resistance is met with more control, leave the relationship. Leave the relationship. Or in some cases people will recognise they have control issues. Go and get help for that.
Today is #WhiteRibbonDay. This is the international day for the elimination of #ViolenceAgainstWomen and girls. We ask men to take responsibility in ending #VAWG as most violence against women is done by men. Wear a white ribbon and #makethepromise:https://t.co/97fuhhF7KG
— White Ribbon UK (@WhiteRibbon_UK) November 25, 2019
As the relationship progresses, the third step emerges, whereby the relationship is ‘dominated by coercive control, usually with some of the high risk markers’.
According to Dr Monckton Smith, ‘the further you get along those stages, the more danger there is’, meaning recognising these steps as quickly as possible can be life saving.
Dr Monckton Smith said:
We really do need to make sure that we’re not just waiting for someone to turn up with a broken nose and a black eye. Because that’s not how it works. And be incredibly supportive. In many of these cases, victims are saying things and we’re just not believing them.
We know from global research that victims in many cases have a very good idea of what their partner is capable of. And we should listen to them. And get in as early as we possibly can.
And if someone is being stalked by their ex partner, for example. There’s been a separation, they’re frightened, we really, really need to do something urgently.
Today, officers, staff and volunteers across Gwent Police, with support from partner agencies, will be showing their support for International White Ribbon Day and International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women #MakeThePromise pic.twitter.com/90B9ZwATfg
— Gwent Police (@gwentpolice) November 25, 2019
The fourth step is defined by ‘triggers’, in which the abuser’s power is threatened by events such as a separation, illness or financial troubles.
With the fifth step comes a marked ‘escalation’, which could include more frequent or severe control tactics. This could involve suicide threats, violent behaviour, stalking and begging.
At these late stages, the danger accelerates, with the risk of homicide rising by 900% following a separation. And it is at this point a victim needs to be especially careful when planning their escape.
As Dr Monckton Smith said:
If there’s been any kind of big change in their life – and usually that’s a separation or something that threatens it – you do need to have safety, especially if you are frightened of your partner, and you need to get out of that relationship.
But you need to plan it safely. Once you’re out, at no point do you ever go back to collect your stuff, go and see them for a coffee. It happens all the time, it really does.
You need to consistently make yourself unavailable to that person. And how they respond to that will possibly tell you what safety measures we need to put in place.
If you’re being stalked, then go to the police. They are so much better at responding to these things nowadays. There’s a stalking helpline, there’s a domestic violence helpline. There are services for men and women who are frightened and who are suffering. Get all the help you can get.
Today is #WhiteRibbonDay this is a internationally recognised day where people are encouraged to wear a white ribbon to signal their opposition to men’s violence towards women. you can find out about today via: https://t.co/FzEfzC3ici #WhiteRibbon2019 #SupportWhenYouNeedItMost
— Victim Advice Line (VAL) (@WMerciaVAL) November 25, 2019
The sixth step is defined by a ‘change in thinking’, with the perpetrator driven to make a decision based on ‘feelings of revenge, injustice or humiliation’. This could involve ‘moving on, revenge, or potentially homicide’.
Step seven is the ‘planning’ stage; with the abuser perhaps ‘buying weapons’ and looking ‘to get the victim alone’, as well as conducting ‘stalking and threats’. The eighth and final step is murder, potentially involving ‘extreme violence, suicide, suspicious death, missing person, multiple victims’.
Official figures state two people are killed each week in the UK because of domestic abuse, however – in reality – the actual number of deaths could be far higher.
Dr Monckton Smith believes the figure is probably four or five times higher than this when taking into account domestic abuse suicides. And this is before looking at the number of historic cases of suspicious deaths that fit the pattern of the eight stage model.
Hollie’s story is shocking, but it’s sadly not an unusual one, and it’s hoped the documentary will drive home the true scale of this issue.
Diana Carter, executive producer for A+E Networks made the following comment:
Murdered by my Husband: The Hollie Kerrell Story is a tragic tale of a mother’s life taken in awful circumstances. But horrendously, domestic abuse against women is far more commonplace than many of us might realise.
As a brand, Crime+Investigation is at the forefront of highlighting issues such as domestic abuse and we’re proud to be telling Hollie’s story to help launch our global campaign that will help to educate the public and support victims in the UK and around the world.
Alarmingly, the UK is currently experiencing a five year high in the number of intimate partner homicides, following a long period of relative stability.
A devastating 173 people were killed in domestic violence-related homicides in the UK in 2018, showing an increase of 32 deaths from the year before. These aren’t figures which should be accepted or viewed as being beyond outside intervention.
Proud to be wearing a white ribbon on the eve of of White Ribbon Day. Very impressed with the awareness raising in Chester today – standing up against violence to women and girls. Looking forward to promote in Flintshire tomorrow! pic.twitter.com/ZJArKmcURL
— Sian Jones (@Sian2126) November 24, 2019
Going forward, Dr Monckton Smith is now calling for further progress to be made in terms of how domestic abuse cases are handled in the courtroom.
In recent years, UK police officers have become better equipped to deal with domestic abuse incidents, armed with greater knowledge, understanding and processes.
However, Dr Monckton Smith feels strongly about the urgent need to ‘upskill’ courts, telling UNILAD:
You could have the best police officer in the world dealing with this, the courts have got to back them up and I think that’s the next big wave of training that we need.
Only this month, the UK has seen campaigners out on the street protesting at the way family courts deal with domestic abuse, with some perpetrators still being permitted unsupervised access to their children.
We’re launching our #WomenWithNothing Christmas appeal for women who’ve escaped an abusive relationship and are left with nothing. A donation could help us give a box of fundamental toiletries to help them start again. https://t.co/aTfafMZpp6 #WhiteRibbonDay #IDEVAW #16Days pic.twitter.com/2oI0llRbHd
— Solace Women's Aid (@SolaceWomensAid) November 25, 2019
With a general election on the horizon, Dr Monckton Smith also spoke passionately about the need for politicians and policy makers to ‘raise the status of domestic abuse and coercive control’:
We need good leadership. We need somebody at the forefront saying, ‘this is not acceptable, we have zero tolerance, your behaviour will not be accepted’. That message is just not there.
Some of our politicians have not been the best role models in this, have they? When you have leaders actually grabbing women in public and pushing them round, as we know happened, that sends a message and it sends the exact opposite message to what we want to get out there.
[…] What we need is a very clear, very strong message that there is no solidarity at state level with domestic abuse. That will change things, at least partially, on the ground.
And it will send a message to professionals, and it will send a message to victims and it will send a message to perpetrators. And they can do that.
We're supporting #WhiteRibbonDay, an international day for the eradication of violence against women. @ChesterFireStn, who were joined by @CheshireChief, used an aerial ladder platform to raise a 25m white ribbon to support the @Chesterwomenaid annual street collection. #HeForShe pic.twitter.com/cJ5aZMocOY
— Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service (@CheshireFire) November 25, 2019
This White Ribbon Day, it’s vital we remember Hollie Kerrell and all others who have died at the hands of controlling partners.
As a society, we need to improve on every level, ensuring the shameful statistics are not simply viewed as being normal and unavoidable.
As individuals, we need to listen when our friend, neighbour or sibling tells us they’re frightened, with the knowledge that such terror is not always as glaringly obvious as a black eye.
Our thoughts are with the family of Hollie Kerrell, and all those whose lives have been affected by domestic abuse homicides.
Murdered by my Husband: The Hollie Kerrell Story airs on Monday, November 25, at 9pm exclusively on Crime+Investigation.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues, and want to speak to someone in confidence contact the 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247. Do not suffer in silence.
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.