Real Crime: The Caroline Dickinson Murder

The murder rape and murder of 13-year-old Caroline Dickinson while she was on a school holiday at a youth hostel in the small French town of Pleine-Fougeres lay unsolved for eight years.

REAL CRIME: THE CAROLINE DICKINSON MURDER examines how, after a much criticised investigation by French police, the quick thinking of a US customs officer brought justice for the devastated family of the victim.

Some time in the early hours of 18 July 1996 a man entered the youth hostel where Caroline and her 40 fellow pupils were sleeping – probably through a door which had been left unlocked.

He crept silently up the stairs to the girls’ dormitory. Picking out Caroline’s bed – apparently at random – he put his hand over her mouth, raped her and then suffocated her.

The 54-year-old killer, Francisco Montes, had attacked young girls many times before using a method he had perfected over many years as he traveled across Europe preying upon children staying in youth hostels. Just two hours before he killed Caroline he had tried to attack another English girl in a hostel only thirty miles away but had been chased off.

However, French officials didn’t check this out, so sure were they that they would soon have their man. They picked up the usual suspects including a homeless man whose confession turned out to be false. By the time DNA tests had eliminated him the trail of the real killer had gone cold. No finger prints or samples had been taken for three months, the real killer had already moved on, and it became a low priority.

Caroline’s parents, John and Sue, started pushing the case forward in the press and on numerous visits to France. Together with the unrelenting pressure of the British press and the UK government, they persuaded the French police to overhaul the investigation. There was disappointing progress, despite similar attacks in Ireland which were ignored by the Irish police. As John Dickinson’s frustrations grew, lead after lead disappeared.

He realised that the only way to keep his daughter from “becoming a statistic – an unsolved murder” was publicity, and ultimately it was. A US Customs officer, Tommy Ontko, who was visiting the UK read an article in The Sunday Times. When he returned to the United States he checked his computer records. There was a match with a man arrested in a Miami youth hostel for molesting a young girl.

At the trial in France the jury was told there was a billion to one chance the DNA found at the scene did not belong to Montes. The jury reached a guilty verdict in just four hours, bringing an end to a long story of one family’s search for justice and a devious and dangerous killer and serial sex offender who very nearly got away with it.

ITV1 Network Tuesday 9 January 11:00 PM to 12:00 AM

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