Who Killed Shy Teenage Rita Ellis? Determined on the trail of the killers

Emilia Fox and David Wilson investigate yet another terrifying cold case as In the Footsteps of the Killer continues on Channel 4 – so what happened to Rita Ellis?

Who was she and who were the suspects in her murder?

Here’s everything you need to know about the C4 Document and the Rita Ellis crime.


An unknown assailant killed teenage girl Rita Ellis in 1967 (Image: Thames Valley Police)

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Who Was Rita Ellis?

Rita Ellis was a “painfully shy” 19 year old soldier in the Royal Air Force (WRAF).

She grew up in Stevenage and joined the WRAF in April 1967.

The teenager completed her basic training at RAF Spitalgate in Grantham, Lincolnshire.

She began her service at RAF Halton in Buckinghamshire and worked in the kitchens of the catering department at St Mary’s Hospital in the warehouse.

What happened to Rita Ellis?

Rita Ellis was murdered on November 11, 1967.

That night she was supposed to babysit Wing Commander Roy Watson and his wife.

The Wing Commander arrived at the WRAF block at 7.40 p.m. to pick up Rita, but she was not there.

He waited 15 minutes before leaving and came back 10 minutes later with his wife, who was allowed to enter the women’s block according to the RAF rules of the time.

It’s possible Rita got into the wrong car as she had never met Roy before.

A dog handler found her body the next day, November 12, 1967.

Rita’s body was dumped in Rowborough Copse, a wooded area on the western edge of the camp, where a disused railway line brought supplies to the camp.

She was beaten, sexually abused and strangled with her own underwear.

What happened to Rita Ellis?
Rita’s killer shocked the local community back then – and continues to do so (Photo credit: Thames Valley Police)

Read more: In the footsteps of the killers on C4: Who is Professor David Wilson and where is he from?

Who were the suspects in the murder of Rita Ellis?

In the historical case, there are no prime suspects.

Despite evidence that the killer had tried to hide the body under leaves, it was clearly a frenzied, unintentional attack.

Police questioned a man about the murder and several arrests were made, but no charges were ever brought.

Despite several clues, the police never succeeded in catching Rita’s murderer.

The murder of Ellis is still unsolved after 50 years.

Was the killer ever caught?

Horrifyingly, Rita’s killer was never caught.

The Thames Valley Police resumed the investigation in 2007 due to recent forensic advances.

They know the attacker was male, but they don’t know anything about him.

The police assume that the perpetrator is a young man who may be in his mid to mid twenties, so now in his late fifties to eighties.

They tested the killer’s DNA sample against 200 suspects in 2017, to no avail.

The TV show Crimewatch also featured the murder of Rita.

In 2017, the victim’s sister, Tina Steeter, said, “It’s just through a freak incident – an opportunist – an angry, sick person who just couldn’t control himself.”

What happened to Rita Ellis?
Emilia Fox and Professor David Wilson are re-investigating Rita Ellis’ cold case (Image: Channel 4)

In the footsteps of the killer episode three

Silent Witness actress Emilia Fox and criminologist David Wilson investigate the murder of 19-year-old RAF soldier Rita Ellis in 1967.

A dog handler found her body near her RAF base in Buckinghamshire.

An unknown murderer took her life in a brutal attack.

The case is 53 years old, so Emilia and David have a challenge tracking down witnesses, other potential victims, and a suspect.

Last in line.

In the footsteps of the killers ends on Wednesday, June 23, 2021 at 10 p.m. on channel 4.

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