Convicting a murderer without a body is extremely rare, but seven months of painstaking police work helped to bring a Welshman who killed his love rival in cold blood to justice.
The story of the investigation into the murder of Carmarthen father-of-three Mike O'Leary and how police caught his "evil' killer is being told in a new documentary.
Mr O'Leary's eldest son Wayne said he knew there was something not right the moment his dad sent him a text message saying "I'm so sorry" in January 2020.
Read more: Why son of man murdered by his pal knew immediately 'I'm sorry' text wasn't really from missing dad
"Dad was a proud Welshman. I didn’t believe for a minute that he would send me a message like that in English – especially if this was the last message he was ever going to send” said Wayne in the new ITV documentary. "He also wouldn't have sent a text message because he always used WhatsApp."
"No Body Recovered" tells how that text message lead to a huge missing person enquiry which in time turned into a full blown murder investigation. Officers from Dyfed Powys Police had to sieve through 70 tonnes of earth and fire debris, in an attempt to find any shred of evidence to bring the killer to justice.
The documentary team had exclusive access to the detectives, crime scene investigators and forensic specialists and the programme follows the complex and challenging rare murder investigation.
That text message was the last sign of Mr O’Leary and in the days after his disappearance the police team grew increasingly concerned and suspicious. His car had been found abandoned near the River Towy and police initially thought they could be dealing with a suicide but as they dug deeper, alarm bells rang. After tracking Mr O’Leary’s work phone to a derelict farm owned by Andrew Jones, they turned their attention to the local builder, businessman and friend of Mr O’Leary.
Officers had also discovered that Mr O'Leary had been having a relationship with Jones' wife Rhiannon and they had been seen chatting at the rugby club two days before his disappearance.
Jones' wife had been admitted to hospital complaining of dizziness and memory loss, but officers went to speak to her husband at the hospital about the disappearance of their friend.
Originally, Jones told them that he had last seen Mr O'Leary at the rugby club two days before his disappearance, but under pressure he changed his story and admitted that he had used his wife's phone to lure his friend to the farm but he told officers that Mr O'Leary had driven off when he was confronted about their affair.
With the last known sighting of Mr O’Leary at Jones’s derelict farm the team begin their searches of acres of land and numerous buildings, desperate for clues.
A police sniffer dog found two shirt buttons in some gravel in front of the old house. Detectives thought they looked to have been ripped off a shirt because they still had the cotton tied around them so they were examined under a microscope which revealed a tiny trace of blood. It was invisible to the naked eye, but DNA analysis on this blood proved it was Mr O'Leary's.
For Detective Chief Inspector Paul Jones, senior investigating officer on the case, Mr Jones was their worst nightmare as a suspect. "First of all he’s somebody with no previous convictions, never come to police attention, apart from he’s a very successful businessman. But he’s a builder, he has access to machinery, access to ongoing building sites, building works, foundations, his capability to dispose of a body is I would say probably the most difficult one to investigate."
Without a body they couldn't definitively prove Mr O'Leary was dead - and so Jones, who had eight licensed guns and 21 imitation guns at his home, couldn't be charged with his murder.
Clutching at straws and with the clock ticking, officers trawled through hours of CCTV footage from local homes, in the hope it might reveal further evidence.
They had a breakthrough in finding footage of Mr O'Leary's truck being driven to the riverside. Mobile phone data suggested it was Jones driving. Another CCTV camera then shows a cyclist making the return journey a short time later, heading in the direction of the derelict farm.
By now, detectives were convinced it was Jones on the bike, having ditched his murdered friend’s truck.
Det Chief Insp Jones said: "We literally had minutes left on the custody clock when the call came through to say 'Yes, charge with murder'.
"A lot of people don’t understand that once you charge somebody that’s pretty much the beginning of it. We’ve got a huge amount of work to do. We haven't located Mike, we still haven't tied up a lot of loose ends, we have a load of digital work to do, there’s just so much more to do."
What followed was seven months of painstaking and challenging work for the officers as the investigation team searched tens of acres of land, river beds and 70 tonnes of rubble taken from Jones’ builders yard, in a desperate search for evidence.
They sifted through hours of footage from the seven cameras that operated 24 hours a day at Jones' builders yards, and saw him starting a bonfire in the corner of the yard in the middle of the night that burned for five hours.
Searching the area later, they discovered tiny pieces of human flesh that were later determined to have belonged to the missing man.
There were added complications, with Storm Dennis and restrictions of coronavirus, but officers were adamant nothing was going to stop them bringing the killer to justice.
“Nobody can remember anything like it during their time in the force, but one thing was certain – nothing was going to stop this investigation. The team was determined that they were going to do everything within their power to give answers to the family and Covid-19 wasn’t going to stop us,” said Llŷr Williams, Deputy SIO on the investigation.
The ITV Cymru Wales documentary team exclusively got access to tapes of Jones being questioned by detectives, where he refuses to reveal what he has done with Mike’s body saying: “I want to go home to see my family that’s all.”
There was also a moment during the interviews that he let slip police might be looking for a body.
It also shows the moment he was confronted by officers who had found Mr O'Leary's blood on a pair of jeans found in his bedroom.
For the most part, Jones refused to answer questions, replying with a no comment and to this day he has not told the truth about what happened that night and what happened to Mr O'Leary's body. In October last year, Jones was found guilty of the murder of Mr O'Leary.
For the family it is some sort of justice, but as son Wayne says: “We will never know exactly what he has done with Dad – that’s something that we think about all the time.
"Now we have some answers, but still not body to bury. It is something only a monster could be capable of."
"He was a good man and a great father. He would do anything for any of us. Growing up, he would work every hour he could just so we could go on holidays, we never wanted at Christmas or birthdays.
“What he did to Dad, there is no way of undoing what he did – there are no words.”
No Body Recovered was shown on Thursday, July 29 at 9pm on ITV1 and can be watched on ITV Hub.
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