THE killer who bludgeoned a grandmother to death in bed three years ago may never be caught, her family fear.

Relatives of Valerie Graves are still enduring a painful wait to find out if the culprit of the 2013 murder in Bosham will ever be brought to justice.

The 55-year-old artist’s ex-partner Roy Wood revealed his concerns as loved ones prepared to mark the third anniversary (December 30) since the brutal attack.

She died just days after her birthday while house sitting for family friends in a £1.6 million home over Christmas.

It comes as the detective leading the investigation said a reward of £10,000 is still on offer to anyone providing information which would lead to a prosecution and conviction.

Mr Wood said: “Nothing much has changed and there does not seem to be any leads. It’s a bad thing if he – police suspect it was a man – is not caught because he could do it again to someone else.

"It’s hard to say we cannot find closure until he is caught because I’m not sure there is such a thing - closure is an American concept. I do feel the person responsible needs to be apprehended. The children do worry that they may never be able to do this.

“We are used to watching police shows on the television where the baddie is caught two hours later. We understand it doesn’t work like this. The police can only do what they can do if there is no trail to follow.”

While the couple had separated years before her death, Mr Wood, 68, of Portslade, said: “We remained friends. We [the family] talk about Valerie a lot, she has left an enormous hole in our lives. Particularly for her sister who found her. Even if you catch someone and send them to prison that will not bring them back.”

One of the biggest investigations in Sussex Police history has so far failed to track down the person responsible despite an exhaustive forensic search of the crime scene, hours of interviews and a massive voluntary DNA screening which asked all men over the age of 17 who lived, worked or visited the village to give a sample and eliminate themselves from the inquiry. More than 2,737 samples have been analysed so far.

Officers did find the weapon - a claw hammer - and discovered a small amount of DNA from the suspected killer which indicated it was a man. They found no matches to the profile on the National DNA Database Detective superintendent Jason Taylor, who is leading the investigation, said the case "remains a priority" and there were outstanding lines of enquiry still to pursue.

He added: "We will do everything reasonably possible to find Valerie's killer and get justice for her and her family. This time of year is particularly difficult for her family and friends. I would ask anyone who has information to contact police."

Call 101 or email quoting Operation Ensign or contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

The location of choice for crime dramas

BOSHAM has been linked with several murder cases over the years as a popular location for fictional TV crime dramas. 

The village - picked because it appears to be the epitome of genteel England - was the set of choice with producers in the 1990s for a storyline on hit ITV series Midsomer Murders and an adaptation of an Agatha Christie whodunnit. 

Some claim this is part of the reason why the murder of Valerie Graves was catapulted into the spotlight.  For years TV crews had seized on the area's peaceful atmosphere, the scenic streets with an affluent typically middle class neighbourhood which is right on the Sussex coast as the backdrop for their programmes. It is here directors set the Midsomer Murders episode Written in Blood, adapted from the crime novel of the same name.

It is painfully ironic that another show filmed on location, an episode of Poirot called The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman, featured the murder of a fictitious male character who shared the surname of the real life victim. 

Just three years after the attack on the 55-year-old grandmother, ITV filmed another crime drama on location in the village. Actors took to the streets in June last year for Innocent written by Chris Lang and Matt Arlidge. Starring Cold Feet actress Hermione Norris and Lee Ingleby, the four-part drama will tell the story of David Collier who is convicted of murdering his wife but is appealing the sentence after already serving seven years in prison.  The channel has not yet confirmed when it will air.


A COMPLETE murder mystery. 

That is how the killing of Valerie Graves was described last year in ITV programme Donal MacIntyre: Unsolved.  Broadcast just days after the second anniversary of her death, the TV show reviewed the case in a bid to find new leads and documented the sequence of events prior to the attack. 

The 55-year-old artist arrived at the house with her mother Eileen just days before Christmas and was joined by her sister Jan and her sister's partner Nigel Akers.

They were house sitting in a £1.6 million Smuggler's Lane mansion by the sea in Bosham for the Chamberlains - friends of Nigel's who were on holiday in Costa Rica with their twin children. 

The family spent the time going on walks and enjoying long dinners - by all accounts having a lovely festive break.  But on December 29, 2013, Mrs Graves went to her groundfloor bedroom at about 10pm and was never seen alive again.  As far as anyone knows, there was nothing to suggest she was upset or any altercation had taken place.

But may details of the night are still unclear and questions still surround the sequence of events:  How did the killer get into the house so quietly without waking anyone up?  Why did none of the other people in the house hear the attack?  There were no signs of a struggle. Did she wake and confront the killer or was she murdered in her sleep?  How did the killer leave the scene without a trace after such a frenzied attack? 

What we do know is Mrs Graves sustained severe and fatal head injuries from the ferocious assault with a claw hammer, most probably around midnight. She had been bludgeoned to death while she lay defenceless in bed. The scene of devastation was discovered by her sister who called the emergency services. 

The entire house, grounds and surrounding area was searched by forensic teams with a fine tooth comb.  All the relatives and neighbours were questioned over and over again. Three weeks later nearby flood water dispersed and the weapon, an old 16oz claw hammer, was found 700 yards away in Hoe Lane. The water had washed away most traces of evidence apart from a partial DNA profile and that of Valerie. 

Police have not been able to match it yet but they checked it against a national database and launched the biggest voluntary screening campaign in the force's history to eliminate more than 2,700 men. 

Experts believe police will be just as interested in the behaviour of people regarding the DNA testing - had they arranged for someone else to go for them or had they tried to avoid it altogether?  But there is still no clue to the motivation behind the killing. 

Several theories have emerged which can be dismissed and considered plausible in equal measure: It could have been a planned attack fuelled by something in her personal life; It was a case of mistaken identity and there was another intended victim; Or it was a tragic mix up where an unsuspecting burglar lashed out in a panic after being disturbed and finding someone asleep in that room. 

Each scenario poses even more questions than answers. Hammer attacks are rare and suggest a pre-meditated, personal motive. It is not the obvious weapon of choice for a burglar who do not usually seek confrontation. 

To gain entrance to this house would have attracted a seasoned thief rather than an opportunist making it more likely they would always come prepared for the element of surprise or the unexpected arrival of a visitor. 

Why would someone planning such an attack then seemingly toss the murder weapon into water nearby at random? The house is about a mile-and-half from the centre of the village, away from the fishermen's cottages and converted oyster sheds. The killer will have needed to know the area and will have gone there with a purpose, according to expert detectives brought in to analyse the case. 

The design of the house may explain why none of her loved ones heard the intruder or the murder.  Based on a ship, the layout of the house means it is big enough for the bedrooms to be completed isolated from each other. 

Clive Driscoll, one of the country's top former detectives who used to work for The Metropolitan Police, was drafted in to review the case for the TV programme which was broadcast in January last year.  He said: "I think this is somebody who is quite chaotic. The attack was incredibly ferocious."

In an interview with The Argus last year he said: "I visited Smuggler's Lane and it is not a location you just stumble across. He must have known the area and gone there for a reason.

"The person who committed this attack is yet to be caught, he is still out there. That is a fact."

Not long before she died Mrs Graves had moved down from Scotland to Bracklesham Bay and was throwing herself into her art. She died days after her birthday during what was meant to be a fun and relaxing Christmas break. 

Three years on neighbours, friends and family still cannot believe this seemingly unmotivated attack took place in a little village back road. The killer is still at large, apparently leaving nothing more than a partial DNA profile on the murder weapon behind him. 

Detectives have spent three years trying to unravel exactly what happened and this week said they had not given up hope on catching the killer. 

In June last year the West Sussex coroner Penelope Schofield said she hoped publicity about the case would lead to the attacker being caught when she concluded the cause of death was an unlawful killing.  Someone, somewhere knows something. 

They have kept silent for three years but now is the time to come forward.