The Murder of Lisa Bennett

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In May 2013, Lisa Bennett’s mother, Janet, was becoming increasingly concerned about her whereabouts. Lisa was Janet’s oldest of two daughters and 39 years old at the time. Lisa grew up in the town of Burton-on-Trent in the English midlands and had moved 30 miles away to Birmingham, the UK’s second-largest city.

In England, the number of homeless people had risen year by year from 2010 – 2013 and that year, Lisa Bennett was one of an estimated 185,000 people without a home, and like a significant number of those 185,000 people, she had struggled with drug and alcohol addiction.

Content warning: mentions of suicide and drug addiction

In May 2013, Lisa Bennett’s mother, Janet, was becoming increasingly concerned about her whereabouts. Lisa was Janet’s oldest of two daughters and 39 years old at the time. Lisa grew up in the town of Burton-on-Trent in the English midlands and had moved 30 miles away to Birmingham, the UK’s second-largest city.

In England, the number of homeless people had risen year by year from 2010 – 2013 and that year, Lisa Bennett was one of an estimated 185,000 people without a home, and like a significant number of those 185,000 people, she had struggled with drug and alcohol addiction.

Despite the instability of not having a permanent home and the difficulties of battling an addiction, which had previously resulted in her serving time, Lisa always made sure that she spoke to her parents regularly. Her family knew of her problems but alongside their fears, they maintained hope that Lisa would be able to get her life back on track. It seemed that she had tried to. Lisa had a prescription for Subutex, a drug used in the treatment of opioid addiction.

But in May 2013, Janet’s calls to her daughter had gone unanswered for days. She had received a few text messages from Lisa’s phone, but rather than bringing relief to hear from her, they brought further worry. The messages didn’t sound like Lisa had written them. When her calls continued to go unanswered, Janet called the police and reported her daughter missing.

Birmingham police opened a missing persons investigation and began looking into Lisa’s life and her last known movements.

After speaking with Lisa’s family, friends, neighbours and local businesses, the police learned that she had last been seen on May 9, 2013, about two weeks before her mother had reported her missing. Lisa had visited a pharmacy in the Selly Oak area of Birmingham to collect her Subutex prescription. Other than that, the police didn’t discover much. 

In October 2013, the police became aware of a couple named Kevin Flanagan and Kathleen Salmond. Prior to her disappearance, Lisa had been staying with a couple in their flat on Weirbrook Close, in the Northfield area of Birmingham. Kevin and Kathleen also suffered from substance addictions, and together they had multiple previous convictions for a range of offences.

Due to her circumstances, Lisa received two benefit payments; a weekly disability living allowance of £100 and a £230 employment and support allowance every two weeks. However, since Lisa was last seen, her benefits changed from being paid into her own bank account to being paid into Kathleen Salmond’s bank account.

When the police questioned the couple about this, Kathleen explained that Lisa had asked her if these benefits could be paid into her account, to which she had agreed. They told the police that Lisa had stayed with them for a while but left, and that as far as they knew, Lisa was “alive and well.” Kathleen went on to explain how she would withdraw Lisa’s benefits from her account and that Lisa’s boyfriend Ian, a man that no one other than Kathleen was aware of, then came to collect it.

Other than this alleged boyfriend, no one else had seen or heard from Lisa since she had picked up her prescription from the pharmacy almost nine months earlier.

Lisa’s benefits payments were then stopped. The only other money Lisa had access to was what her parents would send her every now and then. Given that they hadn’t heard from her and that Lisa was unemployed, homeless, battling addiction and had a criminal record, it was very unlikely that she had been able to earn or access any other money. When the benefit money Lisa depended on stopped and she made no attempt to have the payments restarted, there remained little to suggest that Lisa had left on her own accord, or that she was even still alive.

Suspecting that foul play had been involved, Lisa’s case was passed on for review by the murder investigation team, and in early 2014, Birmingham police launched a murder investigation.

The officer leading the investigation, Detective Inspector Warren Hines, shared his belief that Lisa had met her death shortly after she disappeared. Speaking to ITV News he said, “All the usual things that you’d associate with normal life such as, you know, telephone calls, accessing your bank, going to the post office, she’s done none of those things. So I’m left with the unavoidable conclusion really that she’s no longer with us.”

The detective urged the public to call the police if they knew anything at all about what had happened to Lisa. “Regardless of what has caused her disappearance,” he said, “Lisa is still missing. We need to find her and give her family some answers.”

On February 5, 2014, the police arrested a 34-year-old man on suspicion of murder. Although I couldn’t find a source that named this man, I believe it was Kevin Flanagan because it was reported that the suspect was arrested at a flat in Weirbrook Close, which was where Kevin Flanagan lived with Kathleen Salmond.

On the same day that the police made this arrest, Lisa’s mother and sister gave a televised press conference in which they echoed the detective’s pleas for anyone with information to contact the police.

Lisa’s younger sister, Lindsey, spoke of her anguish at not knowing what had happened to her sister saying, “People come to me, you know in Burton and they say how’s your- how’s your Lisa and it’s just so hard because I don’t know really. I don’t know what’s happened to her, I don’t know where she is, but I just know I want to find her, whether she’s alive or dead. I just want to know where she is so we can bring her home.”

During the televised press conference, Janet Bennett referenced her daughter’s troubles and told the public that Lisa had friends and family back in her hometown who love and miss her.

“I just want to find her,” she said, “and I know that somebody out there must know or have seen her, and we just want to find her and bring her home ’cause we know, we know that she’s no-” Janet’s voice began to crack, “no longer with us, and it’s just as if nobody can find anything, it’s as if she never existed and she did.”

In the UK, the police can usually only detain you for 24 hours, at which point they must either charge you, or release you. The following day, the police released the man I believe was Kevin Flanagan on bail pending further inquiries. This meant that the police still suspected he had something to do with Lisa’s disappearance and presumed murder, but that they didn’t have the grounds to charge him.

One of the people who had seen Janet and Lindsey’s heartbreaking pleas for help was a man named Joseph Flanagan. As he watched, it dawned on him that the nightmarish story that his brother had told him months earlier was true.

Seeing the distress that not knowing what had happened to Lisa was causing her mother, while knowing what his brother had told him played on Joeseph Flanagan’s mind until November 2014, when he finally went to the police. The story he relayed to them went as follows.

On Thursday, May 9, the last day that Lisa had been seen alive, Kathleen Salmond went with Lisa to Selly Oak to get Lisa’s opium treatment prescription. While the women were in Selly Oak, Lisa stole some meat. Later that day, Lisa told Kevin and Kathleen that she was suicidal, but that she couldn’t bring herself to end her own life. So, Kevin and Kathleen decided that they would end Lisa’s life for her. As they cooked the meat Lisa had stolen earlier that day, Kevin and Kathleen told her that it would be her ‘last dinner.’

That night, the couple drowned Lisa in the bathtub in their flat. They then removed her body from the bath, wrapped it up and dumped it in a wheelie bin across the road. After killing Lisa, Kevin Flanagan text her mother pretending to be Lisa in an attempt to make it seem like she was still alive. On the Monday after they had killed Lisa, Kathleen Salmond called the Department for Work and Pensions pretending to be Lisa. She spoke to someone in the benefits office and arranged for Lisa’s benefits payments to be paid into her own account.

When the bin men came, Lisa’s body went unnoticed and unknowingly, the bin men emptied the wheelie bin containing her remains into the back of their truck and continued their route.

In the following days, Kevin Flanagan sent two more messages to Janet Bennett pretending to be her daughter. But Flanagan wasn’t as smart as he thought. Janet knew that the text messages she had received hadn’t been from Lisa, so she contacted the police.

Upon receiving this information from their suspect’s very own brother, the police wasted no time and headed back to Weirbrook Close. Flanagan, perhaps for the second time was arrested, along with Salmond and taken into custody. Police officers cordoned off their flat and the area surrounding the bins at the rear of the building.

When questioned, Flanagan implied that other people had something to do with Lisa’s disappearance and insinuated that one man in particular might have been responsible. But the police weren’t buying it.

Specialist forensic experts were called in from around the country to conduct a fingertip search of the flat. DI Hines told the press that he expected the search to last a week and that, “only by doing these detailed forensic searches will be able to confirm whether my fears are correct.”

But despite the extensive searches and investigation, the police found no evidence that supported what Joseph Flanagan had told them. They were also unable to find any of Lisa’s remains. The police believed that after Flanagan and Salmond put her body into the rubbish bin, it was then taken to a community waste facility where it was incinerated leaving no trace.

To be able to charge Flanagan and Salmond for murder without a body, the police would first have to prove that Lisa was dead.

For the next five years, Birmingham police painstakingly pieced together the events that led to Lisa’s death. They tracked down people who had seen her in the weeks and months before she disappeared. These people described Lisa as appearing less put together than usual and seeming subdued. Not long before her death, Flanagan and Salmond had accompanied Lisa to a pawn shop where she had sold her phone. She had already pawned her jewellery. With Lisa out of the way, Salmond impersonated her and over the following months, they collected her benefits for themselves, stealing a total of £4,979, about $6,000.

Detective Inspector Munro explained some of the difficulties of the police investigation to the Birmingham Mail, saying, “There were issues of Flanagan and Salmond trying to divert the investigation by providing false information, lying in interviews. This has provided difficulties around the complexities of the investigation.”

In the UK, the coroner is a judicial officer who’s role is to investigate deaths due to violence or unnatural causes, where the cause is unclear and deaths that occurred in custody or state detention. The purpose of this is to determine who the deceased person is and where, when and how they died.

In 2017, an inquest was held into Lisa Bennett’s death, which is believed to have occurred on May 9, 2013.

On May 28, 2019, Kevin Flanagan and Kathleen Salmond finally appeared in court and were charged with murdering Lisa Bennett. In addition to the murder charges, Flanagan and Salmond were both charged with benefit fraud and preventing the lawful and decent burial of a body. Flanagan entered a plea of guilty to the charges of fraud and preventing a burial but entered a plea of not guilty to murder. Salmond didn’t enter any plea. They were both granted conditional bail and were released from custody until their first court hearing. They would both be tried together.

In August, 2019, a warrant was issued for Salmond’s arrest after she failed to appear for a pre-trial review. Flanagan did appear in court. He was again granted conditional bail and told to present himself at Birmingham Crown Court for his trial starting on November 5.

When the joint murder trial began, Flanagan stuck to his plea of not guilty to murder, but whereas he had admitted to fraud and preventing the burial of a body, Salmond was pleading not guilty to all charges.

Salmond appeared in court in a wheelchair. In July 2013, just two months after Lisa Bennett was killed, she attempted suicide during which she severely injured her spinal cord. This resulted in incomplete tetraplegia, or incomplete impaired mobility from the neck down. Salmond attended later days of the trial via video link from her bed.

In his opening, the prosecuting barrister, Simon Denison QC, told the jury that Lisa Bennett died in the defendants’ flat on or around May 9, 2013, and that her body had never been found. “She has no grave,” he said. The prosecutor laid out their case; that Flanagan and Salmond had murdered Lisa Bennett and callously disposed her body in the communal bins by their flat.

Speaking to the nine men and three women who would decide the case, Denison said, “What they did, we suggest, was carry out a plan: to kill her, to conceal her body so it wouldn’t be found, to lie and lie and lie in pretending that she was alive, and to take her money for themselves.” He then posed a rhetorical question, “It is an almost-inhuman thing to do, is it not, to treat not just a human body but the body of someone they knew, as a piece of rubbish to be thrown away.”

Kathleen Salmond’s defence barrister, John Butterfield QC, suggested that while in a relationship with Flanagan, she had been a victim of domestic violence, which Flanagan vehemently denied.

Salmond refused to give evidence but Flanagan chose to take the stand. He was pleading guilty to unlawful burial and claiming that Lisa Bennett had died from an overdose. After testifying in his own defence, Salmond’s defence barrister crossed-examined him.

Likely wanting to show that Flanagan was alone responsible for the murder, the barrister asked, “Did you say that she was deliberately killed?” Flanagan answered, “No I didn’t.”

“Did you say that Lisa’s body was put in a bin?” he asked.

“Yes I did,” said Flanagan, “I said me and Kathleen put her in the bin.”

Salmond’s defense barrister then asked about him telling his brother that he and Salmond had drowned Lisa in the bath, to which Flanagan responded, “I told him that she died from an overdose.”

Following this line of questioning, Flanagan refused to continue the cross-examination and told the court that he wasn’t going to give any more evidence.

Although there was no physical evidence, such as blood, that connected the defendants to Lisa’s death, the prosecution had built their case using evidence gained from Lisa Bennett’s movements before her disappearance, financial records and mobile phone evidence. When put together, it made a compelling case against both Flanagan and Salmond.

At the end of the trial, the jury entered deliberations, and on December 11 2019, they returned their verdict. They had found both Flanagan and Salmond guilty of murder. For many, most of all Lisa Bennett’s parents, who had sat through the entire trial, it was the verdict they had hoped for. Flanagan and Salmond were also found guilty of benefit fraud and preventing the lawful burial of Lisa Bennett’s body.

Sentencing was on December 13, 2019, but neither Flanagan nor Salmond bothered to attend. In her sentencing remarks, Judge Justice Carr DBE commented that they didn’t possess, “the courage to face the consequences of their actions in public or to face Lisa’s family.”

Janet Benett read a victim impact statement. “Lisa was my eldest daughter and I loved her with all my heart,” she said. “No one will know the heartache behind my smile.” Janet revealed how she searched crowds for Lisa’s face when she went missing and spoke of how she hoped that Lisa would be able to turn her life around. “That chance was taken away from her when she was murdered,” she said. “Since the day she went missing,” said Janet, “I have lived in hope that she was still alive and well. I spent my days waiting for her to come home or to ring me to say she was ok.” Janet told the court that her daughter was “a kind, caring, loving and generous person who went down the wrong track” and that she was loved by many. The grieving mother said her daughter was vulnerable and that she trusted the defendants who took advantage of her.

“They have robbed me of the right to bury my daughter, a place to go and visit and talk to her and grieve. I will never know where her body went or where she is now.”

Due to being found guilty of murder, the judge was obliged by law to sentence both defendants to a life sentence. In the UK, a life sentence rarely means a lifetime behind bars. When determing the length of the custodial term for someone conviced of murder, judges begin from a starting point of 12 years, 15 years, 25 years or 30 years. This depends on factors such as degree of premeditation, what weapons were used and interference with the course of justice. The judge can then raise or lower the sentence in accordance with the mitigating or aggravating features of each case. For the most serious of cases, judges also have the option of sentencing a defendant to a whole life term. These sentences are called life sentences because no matter if and when they’re released, someone convicted of murder will remain on licence for the rest of their life.

When considering the aggravating factors for both Flanagan and Salmond, the judge said, “By way of aggravation on the count of murder, I take into account the concealment of Lisa Bennett’s body and the callous manner of its disposal and the shocking false texts and lies to the police.”

As for Flanagan’s mitigating factors, she said, “there is evidence that a childhood experience has led to the need for psychiatric treatment as an adult and may have played a part in the development of his drug addiction. I do not consider that he has shown any genuine remorse for what happened to Lisa Bennett or her family.”

Regarding Salmond, she said, “Kathleen Salmond had a tough upbringing, with much of it in care. I am told that she has suffered serious domestic violence in previous relationships. Her relationship with Kevin Flanagan was dysfunctional, involving drink, drugs and possibly on occasion violence. She has a history of taking overdoses. There is no suggestion for her of any insight or remorse into this offending.” The judge also took Salmond’s health into account.

Kathleen Salmond was given a minimum term of 27 years for murder with concurrent sentences of 6 years for preventing a lawful burial and 10 months for fraud.

Kevin Flanagan was handed a minimum term of 32 years for murder with concurrent sentences of four years and ten months for preventing a lawful burial and 8 months for fraud. The judge had allowed him a shorter sentence for preventing a lawful burial and fraud because he had pleaded guilty to those offences.

Following the sentencing, Senior Crown Prosecutor, David Parons, released a statement in which he called the callousness and cruelty of their actions breathtaking. He said, “For the past six years her parents have suffered the appalling grief of not knowing what happened to their daughter. Janet Bennett has been steadfast in her quest for the truth. I know there can be no replacing the loss but I hope that today’s sentencing can provide at least some small comfort.”

So, what do I think? Please remember that I have no background or education in law or law enforcement and that these are my personal thoughts and opinion based on the information I was able to find about this case.

No body murder cases are notoriously difficult to prove, but they are more common than you might think.

England and Wales had a “no body, no murder” rule for almost 300 years until a farmer named Thomas Davidson confessed to murdering his 8-year-old son in a murder-suicide attempt that he had survived. Before his confession, Davidson had claimed that his son had fallen into a canal and drowned. He said that he had buried his son but the boy’s body was never found, but despite there being no body, Davidson was convicted of murder on September 18, 1934.

Recent research undertaken by the Crown Prosecution Service suggests that there are about two murder cases with no body each year in England and Wales, and up to five across the whole of the UK.

This case was likely even more difficult because the victim was homeless. Having lived in countries that make very little and often no effort to seek justice for the homeless, I feel proud to come from a country in which the police and justice system care to investigate cases no matter who the victim is and how difficult a case might be to prove. Though I can’t shake the thought that if it weren’t for Lisa’s family raising the alarm, it seems likely that Flanagan and Salmond would have got away with murder. This makes me wonder how many homeless people have been killed and their killers never brought to justice.

As I mentioned earlier, and as most people are already aware, drug and alcohol addiction is common within the homeless population and is both a cause and consequence of being homelessness. A study by Crisis, the national charity for homeless people in Britain, found that 66% of homeless people cite drug or alcohol use as a reason for them becoming homeless.

gov.uk shows that the mean age at death of homeless people between 2013 and 2017 was just 44 years old. For women it was even lower at 42 years old, which is almost half the mean age at death of women in the general population, which was 81 years old in the same period of time.

These statistics are shocking, but probably not surprising to most, which I think adds to the possibility that the jury might have believed Salmond’s claim that Lisa Bennett died from an overdose.

According to data from the Office for National Statistics, in 2013, when Lisa Bennett was killed, there was a 32% increase in the number of registrations of heroin-related deaths from the previous year. Statistics also show that people born in the 1970s, like Lisa Bennett, had the highest rates of deaths from drug misuse between 1993 to 2020.

During the televised appeal for the public’s help, Lisa’s mother said that not knowing what had happened was the most difficult thing to deal with. Like family members of people with serious addictions across the UK and abroad, she lived with the fear that one day she’d get a call to say that Lisa had died from her addictions, but she never thought anything like this would happen.

When Lisa’s mother and sister took part in this appeal, the police had been investigating Kevin Flanagan’s part in Lisa’s disappearance for a few months. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the police arrested Flanagan on the same day. My guess is that the police were hoping that with Flanagan in custody, Kathleen Salmond might have come forward with information about what happened to Lisa. While I probably won’t ever find out if my theory is right, I think it’s somewhat telling that Salmond didn’t come forward when Flanagan was arrested. If she was under Flanagan’s control as she claimed during the trial, him being arrested on suspicion of murder would have been an ideal time for her to come forward. But she didn’t. I think she was hoping that without a body, they might never be able to prove that Lisa was murdered, let alone convict anyone for it. Thankfully, they could.

In January 2021, on her 42nd birthday, Kathleen Salmond died from Covid in her cell at Foston Hall prison.

In the same month, the prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Act – known commonly as ‘Helen’s Law’ was enacted. This means that parole boards in England and Wales are now legally obliged to consider the anguish murderers who refuse to disclose the location of victims’ bodies cause victims’ loved ones when considering them for release. The act also applies to paedophiles who refuse to identify victims of their crimes.

Thank you for listening to Turned Up Dead. All sources for this episode can be found at turnedupdead.com. If you have any suggestions for a case to cover, you can me at turnedupdeadpodcast@gmail.com

Remember, if you listen carefully, even the words of liars will tell you the truth.

Court documents

1 RV KEVIN FLANAGAN AND KATHLEEN SALMOND SENTENCING REMARKS OF MRS JUSTICE CARR DBE

Newspaper articles

Missing woman ‘may have been murdered’ – ITV News

Couple murdered homeless woman and claimed her benefits | Crime | The Guardian

CPS statement on the sentencing of Kevin Flanagan + Kathleen Salmond for the murder of Lisa Bennett

Female killer, 43, who drowned homeless woman for £5,000 benefits dies in jail from Covid

Selly Oak woman Lisa Bennett missing since May – Birmingham Live

Video: Distraught mum of missing Lisa Bennett makes tearful ‘bring my daughter home’ plea

Evil couple drowned homeless Selly Oak woman Lisa Bennett in bath after ‘final meal’ – Birmingham Live

Live court updates as Kevin Flanagan and Kathleen Salmond jailed for life for murdering Lisa Bennett – Birmingham Live

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7406539/Murder-suspect-court-accused-killing-woman.html

Woman ‘who drowned homeless woman in bath’ refuses to speak in court | The Independent

Lisa Bennett murder suspect bailed as police continue search for missing woman

Police start finger-tip search of Selly Oak property for clues into disappearance of Lisa Bennett

Video: Police fear missing woman could have been murdered at city address – Birmingham Live

Jailed: Twisted couple fuelled by ‘greed’ killed homeless woman to steal £12k-a-year benefits – Birmingham Live

‘No one will know heartache behind my smile’ – Murder victim’s mum speaks out as killers jailed

Video

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