Skip Nav

Is Manhunt Based on a True Story?

Manhunt: This UK Miniseries Is Headed to the US, and the True Story Is Horrific

The mother and sister of murdered schoolgirl Amanda Dowler, Sally (L) and Gemma (2nd L), listen as father Bob Dowler (3rd L) reads a statement outside the Old Bailey in central London, on June 24, 2011. Surrey Police apologised today for mistakes in the Milly Dowler investigation. Convicted killer Levi Bellfield was given a second whole-life jail term today for the murder of schoolgirl Milly Dowler. Relatives of the 13-year-old, snatched from the street on her way home in March 2002, hugged each other as Bellfield was told he would never be released. He is already serving a whole-life term for the murders of French student Amelie Delagrange and Marsha McDonnell and the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy.  AFP PHOTO / CARL COURT (Photo credit should read CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

The new UK series Manhunt has everyone across the pond talking, particularly because the factual drama is based on real-life events. The three-parter, which will air in the US on Acorn TV, depicts the true story of how Detective Chief Inspector Colin Sutton (played by Martin Clunes) brought serial killer Levi Bellfield to justice for the murder of young women in Surrey and South West London in the early 2000s. The detective has also published a memoir about the investigation, and told Radio Times that everything they did was done with "full disclosure to the victims' families". Clunes also said it was "crucially important" to him that they respected the memory of the victims. Here are the details of what happened in the case.

The Crimes

Milly Dowler was a 13-year-old schoolgirl when she was murdered in March 2002. She was kidnapped when walking home from a train station in Surrey after school. She was strangled, and her body was found six months later, 25 miles away in Hampshire.

Marsha McDonnell was a 19-year-old student on a gap year when she was murdered in February 2003. She had been on night out at the cinema with friends and was walking home from the bus stop in Hampton. She was killed by being struck over the head with a hammer.

ADVERTISEMENT

Amelie Delagrange was a 22-year-old French student when she was murdered in August 2004. She had been on a night out with friends and had missed her bus stop, so she was walking home across Twickenham Green. She was struck over the head with a hammer, her body left on the Green.

Three months earlier, 18-year-old Kate Sheedy was run over as she crossed the road in Isleworth after getting off a bus in May 2004. She suffered multiple injuries and was hospitalized for several weeks. She gave evidence against Levi Bellfield in 2008 when he was tried for her attempted murder.

The Investigation

The cases of Milly and Marsha remained unsolved at the time of Amelie's murder, which is when Detective Chief Inspector Colin Sutton became involved. He could see the similarities the cases shared with Marsha's murder, and believed their best chance of solving the crimes would be to focus their investigation on finding a suspect for Amelie's death. Then he and his team could look back at the other cases to see if the suspect fitted those.

CCTV was crucial in solving the case. Sutton's team searched for every piece of CCTV footage for miles around Twickenham Green, and viewed 2,000 hours of it, which included footage of Amelie on the bus. A breakthrough came when footage taken from external cameras on passing buses showed a white van arriving at the green just before Amelie was killed. They couldn't track down the actual van, but a woman suggested her ex-boyfriend, Levi Bellfield, (who owned a white van) as a potential suspect. He was found hiding in his loft and arrested in November 2004.

How the Cases Were Linked

CCTV footage was also used with Marsha's case. Like with the van link in Amelie's case, it was a vehicle that also linked him to Kate's attempted murder, as it emerged that he owned a Toyota Previa with blacked-out windows — the type of vehicle that ran her over.

In November 2004 detectives discovered Bellfield had previously lived off Station Avenue in Walton on Thames — the road that Milly was taken from. They told Surrey Police Bellfield may be a suspect in that investigation. Again, it was a vehicle that proved vital in linking Bellfield to the crime.

The day before Milly was abducted in March 2002, schoolgirl Rachel Cowles was offered a lift home by a man in his red car in Shepperton. A police car driving past scared him off, and her mother Diane Cowles reported the incident to the police. In May 2005 Diane saw a police TV appeal for a red Daweoo car seen on CCTV close to where Milly was last seen, and told Surrey Police about the similarities with her daughter's incident.

The Conviction

Bellfield was charged in March 2006 and then convicted in February 2008 of murdering Amelie and Marsha and attempting to murder Kate. He was given a life sentence and told he would never be released. In March 2010, he was charged with murdering Milly, then convicted in June 2011.

In January 2016 Bellfield reportedly admitted abducting, raping, and killing Milly, in a prison confession during the investigation into whether he had an accomplice. He later denied confessing.

Image Source: Getty / Carl Court / AFP
Latest Entertainment
All the Latest From Ryan Reynolds