The disturbing obsessions of a teenage killer

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In a lilac notebook she used as a diary, Jodi Jones described her blossoming romance with her tousle-haired, rebellious classmate, Luke Mitchell, who shared her passion for grunge music and goth teenage fashion.

“I think I‘m actually in love with Luke. Not in a stupid way. I mean real love. God I think I would die if he finished with me,” the infatuated 14-year-old wrote.

“When I’m not with him I want to be. When I‘m with him I am happy. He is the only person who ever makes me forget all the shit in my life. He’s just so sweet.”

Her devotion was not uncritical, however, and one entry says: “No matter what he says I believe him and that is really dangerous. I will have to be very careful.” Such doubts were to prove tragically prophetic.

On a balmy summer evening on June 30, 2003, three days before the start of the school holidays, Jodi kissed her mother, Judith, at 4.50pm and set off to meet Luke after having sent him a text message.

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Her mother, 39, had unexpectedly lifted a month-long curfew for skipping school and smoking cannabis. Jodi was in high spirits. It was the last time her loving family saw her alive.

Six-and-a-half hours later, Jodi’s mutilated, naked body, was discovered by Luke and several members of her family. It had been half-hidden under leaves in a wooded area, next to a secluded footpath she used as a shortcut from her terraced home to Luke’s.

Family members were at first too stunned by grief to think it odd that it was Luke who located the body, despite the fact that it was hidden behind a wall and the night was pitch dark.

The discovery in the Midlothian town of Dalkeith initiated one of Scotland’s biggest murder investigations, during which more than 3,000 people were interviewed and hundreds of DNA samples taken. But from the start, police suspicion fell squarely on Luke Mitchell, then 14.

Jodi and Luke were both bright pupils at St David’s High School. Drawn together by their shared love of Gothic clothes and grunge bands like Nirvana, and by their dislike of school uniform, they formed part of a distinctive teen subculture.

Favourite pastimes were listening to music and smoking cannabis – supplied by Luke – in a nearby park during school lunch hours, or going to Edinburgh to hang out with other Goths at Greyfriars Cemetery. One of their friends was later put on probation for breaking into a mausoleum at the graveyard and miming obscene acts with a skull.

Both Jodi and Luke liked posing as teen rebels and both wore dark, baggy clothes, emulating their musical heroes. Jodi experimented with braided hair and, like Luke, had her lip pierced. Their peers thought them cool.

Although they seemed well suited, however, they were fundamentally different and their lives at home had little in common.

Jodi was the youngest of three children and came from a loving but strict home, which had already been touched by the tragedy of her father, Jimmy’s, suicide five years earlier.

Her cannabis smoking, for which her mother repremanded her, her style of dress and her occassional melancholy, fuelled by her father’s death, were in many ways an independent girl’s rite of passage.

But for Luke, the interest in “Satanic” shock rockers like Marilyn Manson and his heavy, daily use of cannabis, had more sinister undercurrents and went beyond mere symbolic rebellion.

The neat exterior of his home in leafy Newbattle gave no hint of the chaos inside. His mother, Corinne, 45, a caravan dealer, appeared to have little control over him and even later encouraged his flirtation with Satanism, buying him a demonic tattoo although he was underage, and incredibly, a knife, the Christmas after Jodi died.

His brother Shane, 23, used cannabis and Luke’s own bedroom dope smoking went unchecked. He was allowed to sleep with his girlfriends there despite being underage. At weekends he visited his father Philip in nearby Livingston.

It took police ten months to gather enough evidence to charge him with Jodi’s murder, despite first interviewing him within hours of the discovery of her body.

There was no DNA proof linking him to the crime scene, no obvious motive, or any murder weapon found, but the Crown believed they had sufficient circumstantial evidence.

Crucial to the case was the fact that Luke was the one who found the body – in the dark, in a wood, even though it was hidden behind a crumbling stone wall which ran along the shortcut they both used, after joining the family search for her when she failed to return home.

The gruesome discovery left him dry-eyed and calm, while around him her family collapsed in grief and shock. He claimed that his dog, Mia, had alerted him to the spot, but his fellow searchers insisted that he climbed the wall and found Jodi behind bushes unprompted.

Luke claimed that Jodi had never shown up when he went to meet her, and that he was at home cooking tea with his mother between 5pm and 5.45pm, around the time she was murdered.

Mrs Mitchell lied to back his story but witnesses reported seeing him near the path with a girl at around 5pm. His brother, Shane, 23, also a heavy drug user, testified that Luke had not returned home until 5.15pm.

During the two-month trial at the High Court in Edinburgh, the prosecution painted a picture of an arrogant, clever and remorseless killer, who started to cover his tracks almost immediately, ringing her home after he killed her to ask where she was, and burning in the garden a green jacket he had been wearing that night.

Neighbours reported smelling smoke between 6.30pm and 7pm and later at 10pm. Mrs Mitchell bought him a new green jacket a week later, and denied all knowledge of the old one.

Friends told of his obsession with knives. Teachers had referred him to psychologists just months before Jodi died, after raising concerns about his apparent fascination with Satanism, and his mention in school essays of cutting himself.

There is no doubt he loved to shock and revelled in his reputation as an outsider, stubbing out cigarettes on his hand and carving “666” into his arm with a compass “as a dare”. His school exercise books were scrawled with Satanic slogans, including “Satan, master, lead us into hell” and he once even joked that it would be fun to get stoned and kill someone.

Even on the day of Jodi’s funeral in September he gave an interview to Sky News, and was filmed at the graveside with his mum leaving flowers after Jodi’s family had asked him to stay away. Jodi’s mother later dumped the blooms on his doorstep.

With hindsight it is hard to understand why Jodi considered him “sweet”, or indeed, how his doting mother, Corinne, claimed to be unaware of his daily dope smoking and his habit of carrying knives.

Police not only recovered drugs and drug paraphernalia from his squalid bedroom, but also found 20 bottles of urine which they thought might have some Satanic significance.

They found an empty leather knife pouch on which were scrawled the number 666, Jodi‘s initials, and the years of her birth and death, together with a lyric by Kurt Cobain that Jodi liked: “The finest day I ever had was when tomorrow never came.”

The prosecution only hinted at a motive. Unknown to Jodi, Luke had been seeing another girl from the start of their relationship. Neither knew about the other.

Perhaps she found out about his other girlfriend, Kimberley Thomson, who lived some miles away in Perthshire, and they had a fight which got out of control. Perhaps he then acted out a morbid fantasy inspired by Marilyn Manson’s obsession with a notorious 1940s unsolved murder of a Hollywood starlet.

The court was told that the mutilation wounds on Jodi, whose neck was sliced 20 times and whose breast and torso were deeply hacked with a knife, bore “superficial similarities” to the wounds found on Elizabeth Short, a Hollywood starlet whose gruesome killing in 1947 became known as the Black Dahlia murder. Some of Jodi‘s injuries were inflicted after she was already dead.

Images are freely available on the internet of Marilyn Manson’s graphic and disturbing painting of Short’s naked, mutilated body, the court heard. It was never proved that Luke was aware of the image, though he was a Manson fan.

Instead it was Luke Mitchell‘s arrogant belief that he was untouchable and his attention-seeking nature that became his undoing. The killer was compelled to revisit the murder scene, a move which ultimately gave him away.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
Times Online, UK
Jan. 21, 2005
Shirley English, Scotland Correspondent

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This post was last updated: Monday, November 30, -0001 at 12:00 AM, Central European Time (CET)