Mystery of 'crying woman at the lake' resurfaces in Leah Croucher case in Milton Keynes
A community investigation group has vowed to help police finally solve the puzzle
A fresh appeal has been made to solve what could be one of the most vital clues in the disappearance of Leah Croucher.
It involves witness sightings of a young woman seen to be "visibly upset and crying" while texting on her phone at Furzton Lake on Friday February 15 2019, the morning Leah vanished while walking to work.
The significance is that the sightings came between 9.30am and 11.15am that day - hours AFTER Leah was last spotted on CCTV and her phone inexplicably left the network, never to be used again.
If the texting woman is proved to be Leah, it could throw a whole new light on the so far unsolved case. Not only would it prove that something upset Leah enough to make her avoid completing her journey to work as intended, but it could also mean she had a second and possibly secret mobile phone.
The implications of a 'burner' phone would strengthen the theory held by many members of the public and Leah's own family - that the teenager was in a secret relationship at the time she vanished.
The Citizen has written about the 'Mr X' theory in the past, and Leah's family has criticised police for not focusing enough on any possible relationship. You can see one of these stories here.
Almost three years on from Leah's disappearance, and with police still no nearer to discovering what has happened to her, the public frustration appears to be growing daily. A Facebook group called Leah Croucher Disappearance - Community Investigation has rocketed to 2,300 members over the past few months and posts are prolific.
In the group are websleuths, professional criminologists and crime historians.
Following a request from an admin member of the group, Thames Valley Police this week took the unusual step of issuing them with a statement about Leah.
Interestingly, the statement from the leader of the investigation, DCI Andy Howard, goes right back to the basics of the case and renews the appeal about the lakeside sightings of the texting girl.
DCI Howard outlines the basics of the case, then says: “I would also like to make a further appeal regarding a female of similar description to Leah who was seen apparently upset by Furzton Lake later on the morning that Leah went missing."
He adds: "Despite previous appeals nobody has come forward with information about this person and we have so far been unable to identify her. It is very important for the investigation that we establish the identity of this person. Clearly if it is Leah then it is hugely significant but equally if this girl is not Leah then it will assist the investigation if we can preclude this person from the enquiry."
The Facebook group has now vowed to spread the appeal and help.
Details were first published in April 2019 of three witnesses who come forward to say they saw a female answering Leah's description at Furzton Lake on the morning she disappeared.
The first witness was walking alone along the wooden boardwalk on the eastern side of the lake when she saw a female between 9.30am and 10am.
The witness described her as white, aged approximately 20, around 5ft 4ins tall, with dark brown, shoulder length hair. She was dressed in a black mid-thigh length coat, with the front zip undone, dark trousers and what appeared to be white earbuds in both ears.
The witness described the female as using her phone, and typing using both thumbs. She said ‘Excuse me' as she walked past, to which the girl replied ‘Oh sorry’.
The other two witnesses, who were walking anti-clockwise around Furzton Lake together, saw the girl between 10am and 10.15am near the sports pavilion, and described her as being visibly angry, upset and crying.
They then saw her again around 20 minutes later just after passing the Premier Inn, and described her to be in a calmer state. They also believe she may have been speaking to somebody on her mobile phone.
The original police appeal reached hundreds of thousands of people - but nobody ever come forward to say they were mystery girl.
DCI Howard has also appealed for any new witnesses who saw Leah earlier that morning as he still believes part of the puzzle is missing.
He said: "Leah walked to work in Knowlhill most mornings. On Friday 15 February 2019 she was seen on CCTV in Buzzacott Lane, Furzton, at 8.16am, so we know for certain that she walked that way.
"A member of the public saw a female matching Leah’s description walking around Tellytubbie Hill on the morning of 15 February at a time that would be consistent with Leah being in that location. From that point we believe that Leah would have either taken a route north around Furzton Lake or along Loxbeare Drive into Shenley Lodge and north along Faraday Drive.
"This area is a well populated residential area with people commuting, doing the school run or exercising. Given how busy the area is I find it hard to believe that this CCTV clip of Leah at 8.16am, or the female seen by Tellytubbie Hill, is the last time that we know she was seen."
He added: "We are appealing to the people who are local to these areas, and feel that there could still be someone out there with information we need.
“I genuinely believe that there are people in the area that morning who will have seen Leah and who can help the investigation. It was the day after Valentine’s Day and the last day before the schools finished for half-term so I am hopeful that it is a date that people may be able to recall more readily.
“It’s never too late to come forward with information to help our investigation, no matter how insignificant it may seem to you."
During the 32 months since Leah went missing, TVP has carried out more than 1,400 investigative actions, reviewed over 1,200 hours of CCTV and conducted over 4,000 house to house enquiries.
The force has utilised specially trained teams to conduct large scale searches of external areas and a number of properties in Milton Keynes and surrounding areas. It has also reviewed and investigated more than 600 reports from member of the public across the UK, Europe and Australia, and published numerous public appeals, which have reached millions of people.
"However, despite this painstaking work, there is still no confirmed sighting of Leah after 8.16am on Friday 15 February 2019," said DCI Howard. "I'd like to appeal to anyone who has any information about Leah’s disappearance who hasn’t already contacted Thames Valley Police, to come forward."
Anyone who has information is asked to contact 101 or complete a web form via the Thames Valley Police website, quoting reference number 43190049929, or Operation Dawlish. Information can also be submitted the dedicated website for investigation.
Meanwhile, DCI Howard has described the interest from community groups as forums as "positive".
He said: “I am aware of a number of online forums that have been set up to help find Leah. It is really positive that the local community have taken Leah’s case to their hearts and are determined to keep her case in the public profile. I would like to take the opportunity to encourage people who believe they have genuine information which can assist the police to report it to us using the various options that are available."
A spokesman for the admin of the Leah Croucher Disappearance - Community Investigation Facebook group told the Citizen: "The aim of the page is to share information and thoughts that may lead to some insight into what has happened to Leah and where she may be... It is time this heartbreaking case was solved."