WHEN mum-of-four Julie Paterson disappeared from her home in Darlington, County Durham, her partner assumed it was the latest in a long line of vanishing acts, brought on by depression and drinking.
But when she failed to return after a few days, a police search led to the gruesome discovery of her torso, which had been wrapped in a bin liner and hurled into the back garden of a nearby house.
As news spread through the quiet market town, in April 1998, pub-goers remembered local drinker David Harker boasting about murdering a woman called Julie.
Listeners had dismissed his ramblings as drunken fantasy, but alerted police.
When police searched his flat they found blood-stained floors and weird messages scrawled on the wall in what one forensic officer described as “a scene from Silence of the Lambs” – the 1991 movie starring Anthony Hopkins as cannibal Hannibal Lecter.
Harker later admitted strangling Julie, 31, with her own tights, before having sex with her corpse and dismembering her.
He also claimed he cut chunks of flesh from her thighs, which he cooked with garlic, cheese and pasta before eating it.
Julie’s brutal killing – which features in tonight’s episode of Murdertown on Crime+Investigation UK – left her family devastated and horrified the nation.
Twenty years on, Julie’s head and limbs have still not been found and Harker – who left a sick riddle as a clue – has refused to reveal where he hid them despite desperate pleas.
In an exclusive interview with The Sun Online, Julie’s brother says: “David Harker is never going to tell us where she is because that’s the only thing he holds on to, he craves notoriety,” he says.
“It hasn’t just destroyed my family, it’s destroyed a lot of families.”
Killer was ‘bored’ with sex session
Durham-born Julie had a history of depression and alcohol addiction. In 1998, Michael says she was on anti-depressants and would often start drinking early in the morning.
Although she was in a relationship with Alan Taylor, and had a child with him, she would often disappear on benders around local pubs for days.
It was there she met David Harker, a 24-year-old who – despite having tattoos on his head reading “disorder” and “subhuman” – was described by journalist Andrew Smith as “a young man who could turn on the charm.”.
That charm worked on Julie and after a few drinks, she went back to his flat, where they had sex.
But the one night stand turned to horror after “bored” Harker took Julie’s tights and strangled her as on the bed.
After having sex with her dead body, he sliced off the flesh of her thighs with a meat cleaver before cooking it on his hob.
He then dragged her body down to the basement where he hacked off her arms, legs and head.
Rotting torso found in a hedge
When Julie missed an appointment with her oldest daughter – who lived with her dad – boyfriend Alan finally called the police.
A few days later, a police sniffer dog began barking at an object in a hedge in a quiet lane and officer David Davies pulled out a bin bag containing a pillowcase with the “rotting remains of some flesh, with some bone” and crawling with insects.
From that point her brother Michael says life became a nightmare.
“The police said they found a body and the next day I read in the paper it had no arms and legs. It was so unreal.
“You only read about these things in books and horror films but it was actually happening.
“My grandma was in her seventies and we kept all the details from her, turning off the TV when the news came on. Our life was never the same.”
Killer brags ‘I killed a girl called Julie’
Harker’s drinking pals, who had heard him boast “I’ve killed a girl called Julie,” also saw the newspaper report and, realising the horrific brag could be true, rang the police.
Harker was arrested and forensic officers found blood in his bedroom and, in his flat’s dingy basement, they found a blood-stained knife and stains on the walls and floor.
Scrawled on the wall were chilling messages, including, “I have lost the will to live … Nothing more for me to say.”
In February 1999, Harker was found guilty of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and given an indefinite jail term, with no parole for 14 years.
“I wanted so much to get over there and kill him but I had my family to think about,” says Michael. “But we got the right result in the end.”
Michael was just three when he lost his mum to a brain tumour at the age of 31 – the same age as Julie when she died – and he always looked after his little sister.
“I always watched out for her and stuck up for her. But I wasn’t there on the last time. That’s haunted me ever since.”
Revenge murder plot leads to ex’s suicide
While Michael refrained from killing, Julie’s devastated ex Alan hatched a bizarre plan to seek revenge – by committing murder so he could get to Harker inside.
In 2006 Alan, an alcoholic living in a homeless hostel, strangled his friend John Morrison with his own belt.
At the trial, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and said the horrific murder of Julie had affected his mind. He was jailed for life but sent to a different prison from Harker.
Three months into the sentence, he killed himself in the cell at Holme House Prison in Stockton.
Another ex, Freddie Newman – the father of Julie’s oldest children Sophie, 28, and Freddie, 26 – committed suicide in the wake of her murder, leaving his mum to raise the children.
Sick riddle that torments Michael
Harker has refused to reveal the whereabouts of the rest of Julie’s body – including her head, arms and legs – and, in an evil twist, taunted the family with a riddle which read:
I have a bank but have no money.
I have falls and keep on going
I have a bed but do not sleep
I have a mouth but do not feed.
What am I? Do you know where it is?
The riddle torments Michael – who doesn’t believe it’s a river where remains would be washed away.
Last year he believed he had solved it and spent weeks digging at an area called the Cat’s Well in Durham.
“I looked at that riddle in my scrapbook for the first time in 20 years and I had a mental breakdown,” he says. “I was in hospital for a month.
“While I was in the hospital, I picked the newspaper and read, ‘skull found in garden could be remains of Julie Paterson.’
“It wasn’t but it creeps up all the time. It’s as raw now as it was in 1998.
“I’m just hoping in my lifetime her remains might be found.”
Michael says that 21 years after her death, he can’t work and rarely leaves the house.
“We don’t go out in public and I can’t socialise.
“I’m just watching everyone else get on with their lives, partying, smiling, being happy. It’s really hard.
“I don’t believe in hanging but I hope Harker stays in jail for the rest of his life and that somebody puts him through the pain that he put my sister through.”
Murdertown airs on Crime+Investigation at 9pm tonight