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Julie with Jackie Malton

A collaborative book written by a detective and a journalist has been shortlisted for a prestigious international literary award

A true crime book written by the region’s former top detective has been nominated for an internationally-acclaimed literary award.

‘To Hunt a Killer’ tells how former Det Supt Julie Mackay solved the cold case of Melanie Road – a 17-year-old schoolgirl stabbed in Bath in 1984. Her murder remained a mystery for decades.

The book, co-authored by TV Crime Correspondent Robert Murphy, who is well known in Wiltshire and covered stories including the Halliwell murders and the Salisbury Poisoning, has been shortlisted for a Crime Writers’ Association ‘ALCS Gold Dagger Award for Nonfiction.’

The shortlisting follows Julie and Robert winning the ‘Best New Author’ prize at CrimeConUK London’s True Crime Awards in June. 

The CWA Gold Dagger awards are seen as one of the highest accolades in international crime writing. Previous winners of the overall prize include Colin Dexter, John Le Carré, Ruth Rendell, Ian Rankin and Val McDermid. To Hunt a Killer is nominated in the True Crime category.

Julie said: “I just told my story and Rob wrote it brilliantly. The surprise win at CrimeconUK and then to be shortlisted for a Gold Dagger award is not something I ever considered and so I feel proud and humbled to be in such good company.

“It’s so important to be able to share the challenges, the highs and lows of a murder investigation and the impact it has on us all. Alongside that the ability to overcome the most testing of times and the strength we can get from others.”

‘To Hunt a Killer’ tells how Julie joined the cold case team at Avon & Somerset Police as a detective sergeant in 2009 and became obsessed with finding the killer of Melanie Road.

Melanie had been walking from a nightclub in Bath when she was stabbed 26 times and raped. She was 200 metres from her family’s home in Lansdown.

She was discovered the following morning by a milkman’s son. A trail of her killer’s blood was found leading away from the scene.

Melanie’s murder became one of the biggest manhunts of that year. Nearly 100 men were arrested.

In the 1990s, forensic scientists were able to develop a full DNA profile from items seized at the scene.

But Melanie’s killer had not re-offended and he did not appear on the National DNA Database. His identity was a mystery.

Over the years Julie had deathbed confessions to Melanie’s murder and suspects known as ‘screamers’ because they were forensically so likely to be her killer. All were investigative blind alleys.

She began a ‘Suspect of the Month’ competition to encourage her flagging team to continue their investigations.

Julie spent a total of seven years rebuilding the case while juggling a career as a murder detective and being a single mother of three. The book reflects the challenges faced in modern policing and the extreme demands placed on detectives’ personal lives.

To Hunt a Killer tells of the unique friendship Julie built with Melanie’s mother, Jean Road. The murder detective and murder victim’s mother would meet socially, confided in each other and found mutual comfort in each other’s company.

In 2015, Julie and her team eventually identified painter and decorator Christopher Hampton as Melanie’s killer.

The book culminates in a courtroom confrontation between Jean Road and Hampton, who was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum tariff of 22 years.

As a Detective Superintendent, Julie would later run the region’s three-force Major Crime Investigation Team (MCIT) before retiring in 2020.

She said: “I was very privileged and proud to have had the career I did; I hope it inspires others to achieve whatever they want.”

Robert Murphy said: “The murder of Melanie Road was a tragedy which affected so many people in Bath and the wider West Country. It’s been a privilege to work with Julie to produce this, the definitive telling of the story. 

“It is borne out of a truly appalling attack and the book reflects what achieving justice meant to the Road family – and to Julie. 

“To Hunt a Killer tackles other really important issues. It has big universal themes - the importance of resilience, tenacity and the power of family love. So while it is a true crime book, we always wanted it to appeal to general readers too.

“The response to the book has been incredible and we’re so honoured to have made the final six in this shortlist. The Gold Daggers are such a big deal in crime-writing. When you see the names of people who have won in the past, to see ourselves on the same billing as my literary heroes is a wonderful compliment.”

To Hunt A Killer is Julie and Robert’s first book.

Link to Gold Dagger Shortlist:

Fiona Scott Media Consultancy Bath

Scott Media

Scott Media is run by a UK-based journalist with more than 20 years' experience in the media - print, radio and television.

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