Fears PCSO killer roamed streets for victim after female dog walker accosted by mystery van driver just days before

A TERRIFIED female dog walker was accosted by a man in a van just one mile from where a tragic PCSO was murdered, locals claim.

Julia James, 53, was tragically discovered with head injuries in Akholt Wood in Snowdown, near Dover on Tuesday – with her loyal Jack Russell beside her.

The tragedy bears a chilling similarity to the brutal hammer murders just two-and-a-half miles away in Chillenden in 1996.

Police are now treating Julia's death as murder with locals urged to remain vigilant as the killer remains at large.

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They are probing whether the mum, who had worked for the police for 15 years and was commended for bravery, was the victim of a random attack carried out by a stranger.

Locals say two weeks ago a woman walking her dog was approached by a man in a white transit van in Nonington – about a mile from the murder scene – two weeks ago.

He was distracted and the woman managed to flee in panic and called out for help.

One female neighbour of Julia said: “We’re all terrified. There’s a lot of dog walkers in the area.

“It’s horrific. We’re aware there’s a report of another woman having been followed.”

Kent Police have been approached for comment.

Officers ramped up the investigation today with cops seen carrying out meticulous fingertip searches in remote woodland and fields.

Police haven't confirmed if Julia, who is thought to have worked in the domestic violence unit at Kent Police, was on duty at the time.

No arrests have been made and a post-mortem will be carried out to establish a cause of death.

One family friend said Julia’s family were considering her killer was a stranger.

He said: “They’re becoming more convinced this was a random attack.

“Nobody has been arrested.

"It’s on their minds that it’s random. 

“It’s a totally mystery as to why anyone would harm her.”

The theory Julia was killed by a stranger in a random attack has left people living in the Kent hamlet scared to go out alone.

Charles Woodgate, who represents Aylesham, Eythorne and Shepherdswell on Dover District Council, said: "People in the village are scared there was some crazy nutter in the woods who is now on the loose.

"They fear it was a stranger who killed Julia and hopefully the police catch them quickly."

Mary Bosson, a cousin of the PCSO's mum, said today: "It is worrying. We all walk our dogs around that area. I have a pregnant granddaughter and she walks her two dogs around there.

"She was there Monday and Tuesday, on her own. We don't know if it was random or what. We won't be doing it now until we find out."

Dorothy Morgan said: "It's so chilling. She was a really nice girl. I just can't believe it. We seldom walk about, but I've seen more people walking around in twos. Quite a lot of people have dogs here."

Another mum, who also lives nearby, said she won't walk her dog on the path where Julia was found.

"I used to go most days on my own but I just wouldn't do that now", she said.

"I'm also having to take my daughter to school, whereas normally she'd take the bus. I don't want her walking on her own, or waiting for it on her own, and I think most parents will probably be doing the same thing.

"There's obviously quite a big police presence so hopefully everything will be OK, and we have a strong community, which is nice."

It comes as Julia's ex Wayne Davis told how their sobbing son Patrick, 23, revealed the heartbreaking news she had been killed to the family.

He told The Sun: “The first I heard of it was last night.

"I asked my son if he knew what was happening in Snowdown.

"He said to begin with he didn’t, but there was police everywhere. I said I’d heard a woman has lost her life. 

“Then a bit later, the phone rang and he said, 'Dad, it’s Mum’. He was crying and crying.

“He was devastated. Julia was the love of my life, but we separated, as couples sometimes do.

“She was a lovely woman. She was walking her dog a lot.

“What she did as a PCSO was not just a job – it was a way of life."

And he raised the frightening possibility someone knew where Julia was when she began her walk.

“What I personally find odd, is it’s happened in the middle of nowhere," he said.

“It’s a mystery. The police know more than what they’re saying – they want to catch who has done it. 

“For something like that to happen, in the middle of nowhere – you don’t know whether it’s just random."

The nephew of Julia's devastated husband paid tribute to her today.

Karl James, who lives in the same street as Julia and Paul, said he had been working away when tragedy struck.

He told Channel 5 news: "It's been a real shock.

"We're just waiting for answers really, that's the worst bit.

"She's a lovely person."

He added: "It's really sad."

Julia's body was discovered near Chillenden, where mum Lin and six-year-old daughter Megan Russell were murdered in a random hammer attack in 1996. 

Lin's older daughter Josie, then nine, suffered horrific injuries but survived.

Michael Stone was jailed over the killings with his earliest chance of release in 2023, when he will be 63.

The Chillenden murders

Julia James’ body was found in Snowdown, Kent – just two-and-a-half miles from Chillenden.

In 1996, Michael Stone slaughtered Dr Lin Russell, 45, and her six-year-old daughter Megan, along with the family dog.

He also tried to kill nine-year-old Josie Russell, who miraculously survived the horror.

The family were tied up, blindfolded and attacked with a hammer as they walked in a country lane in the Kent village.

Following the horrific incident, Josie and her father Shaun moved to Dyfrryn Nantlle, Gwynedd, Wales Online reported.

And Josie has gone on to see great success as an artist. She got engaged in 2018, when she said she hopes to be a mum.

Stone's earliest chance of release will be in 2023, when he will be 63.

Lawyers acting for him have claimed there is "compelling evidence" linking Levi Bellfield to the Russell killings.

Neighbours say Julia may have been working from home when she took the dog for a walk after finishing in the afternoon.

Local Sean Simmonds believes he is the last person to have seen tragic Julia alive.

He said: "I was polishing my car on the driveway and I looked up and saw Julia walking past on the other side of the road with the dog.

"She was heading towards the woods at the back, I'd occasionally bump into her there when I was out walking my two dogs.

"I didn't see her come back. Around 4pm, the police arrived and started cordoning off the area."

The 57-year-old paramedic added: "I might have been the last person to see her alive.

"It’s chilling."

Mum-of-two Julia, who has a grandson, became a PCSO in 2007 and was commended for bravery three years later after chasing down a shoplifter.

After she moved to the town of Tenterden to continue her role in 2013, she told a local paper: "I am a people person and love being in the community."

Devastated locals say she was a pillar of the small community of Snowdown.

One neighbour of Julia’s broke down in tears when he paid tribute.

He said: “It’s heartbreaking – absolutely tragic.

“I can’t believe it. She was a loving mum and the pillar of the community.

“This is devastating. She was a lovely woman. A terrific part of the community.

“Her family transformed the house and improved it greatly. It was a great comfort having a PCSO there.

“They’re a lovely family."

Officers were yesterday seen guarding a field alongside Aylesham Road with several others sealed off as they investigate.

An aerial image from the scene appears to show a police tent set up next to floodlights in a nearby field.

There is still a large police presence in the area today with officers seen carrying out fingertip searches.

Assistant Chief Constable of Kent Police Tom Richards said: "Officers are carrying out a number of lines of enquiry to establish the circumstances and people in the Snowdown area will see an increased police presence as a result.

"It is vitally important that anyone who was in the area on Monday and Tuesday who may have seen something suspicious gets in touch with us.

“We’re particularly keen to speak to those who regularly visit the area who may have seen something out of place and those who drove by who have dashcam footage.

"We would advise people in the area to remain vigilant until the full circumstances of the death are established."

Home Secretary Priti Patel also tweeted, saying: "So saddened to hear of the death of Kent Police PCSO Julia James. I offer my sincere condolences to Julia’s friends, family and colleagues at this awful time."

Officers are keen to speak to anyone in the area on Monday or Tuesday who may have seen something unusual or suspicious.

Anyone with information should call 0800 0514526.

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