Parents of student who fighting to change death certificate

Elderly parents of Jessie Earl, whose body was found naked and tied up with her own bra after she vanished in 1980 aged 22, say they won’t give up the fight to change ‘open verdict’ to ‘murder’ on her death certificate

  • Jessie Earl disappeared from her home in Eastbourne, East Sussex, in May 1980 
  • Nine years later, remains of her naked body were discovered in thicket on a cliff
  • Parents John and Val Earl are campaigning to get coroner’s verdict overruled 
  • Couple, now 88 and 92, say: ‘As soon as we saw the bra we knew it was murder’

The elderly parents of a student who vanished nearly 40 years ago say they are ‘living’ to change her death certificate to state that she was murdered. 

Art student Jessie Earl was just 22 when she disappeared from her university home in Eastbourne, East Sussex, in May 1980. 

Nine years later, Jessie’s incomplete skeleton was found in dense scrubland above Beachy Head. Her personal belongings and clothing had been removed – and she was left only with her bra, which had been used to tie up her wrists. 

After her remains were found in 1989, an inquest recorded an open verdict and her parents Valerie, 88, and John, 92, have been fighting to have her her death reclassified ever since.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Val explained they ‘knew’ it was murder as soon as they saw Jessie’s remains, and that their only wish in life is to change the ruling of their her death.  

Art student Jessie Earl (picture) was just 22 when she disappeared from her university home in Eastbourne, East Sussex, in May 1980

After her remains were found in 1989, an inquest recorded an open verdict and her parents Valerie, 88, and John, 92, (pictured) have been fighting to have her her death reclassified

‘From the moment I saw the death certificate I thought this is not fair to our daughter, said John, ‘I thought we must get it altered — and that is what we have been living for since’.

Jessie was a student at Eastbourne College of Art and Design, and had been spotted coming home from the doctors by an elderly neighbour the afternoon before she went missing. 

After two weeks the police classified Jessie as a missing person, and her parents would spend every moment they had spare searching for their daughter, distributing flyers and contacting various charities. 

Val told the publication how at one point in the search she stood waiting near the A2, after a psychic said her daughter would be travelling on the road in a blue car. 

Jessie was a student at Eastbourne College of Art and Design, and had been spotted coming home from the doctors by an elderly neighbour the afternoon before she went missing in 1980

After the call to tell them that Jessie’s remains had been found, John and Val knew her death was suspicious, with the ring and watch she wore daily missing from her naked body.   

‘As soon as we saw the bra we knew it was murder’, Val said. 

The family, along with police officer-turned-investigator Mark William-Thomas, have speculated that Jessie could have been a victim of serial killer Peter Tobin. 

John, who now lives in Eltham, south east London, said in January he and his wife aren’t interested in revenge, instead they want to see their daughter’s death recorded as a murder ‘before it is too late.’

‘We are not interested in revenge’,  said John, ‘We just want final justice for our daughter. The important thing is for this to happen in our lifetime. We always hoped we hadn’t seen the last of this.

John, who now lives in Eltham, south east London, said in January he and his wife aren’t interested in revenge, instead they want to see their daughter’s death recorded as a murder ‘before it is too late’

‘The first 11 years after she disappeared were the worst. They were hard, because we had no idea what had happened to her.

‘We always knew were looking at something suspicious, but the uncertainty is very painful. When she was discovered we were relieved.

‘But this last part has been very painful to get over. We want justice and to have the right verdict.

‘You get over the crying in and things like that in 40 years, now were just want justice – but in our lifetime. We will get the right result.’ 

Following criticism of its handling, Sussex Police reopened the case in 2001 and formally recorded Jessie’s death as murder. A fresh file was sent to the Coroner but no new inquest was organised.

Jessie’s parents have previously speculated that their daughter was a victim of convicted serial killer Tobin, who was living in the area at the time

Earlier this year, the family launched a crowdfunder to get the verdict quashed off the back of Jessie’s death being featured in the second season of the Netflix series ‘The Investigator’.  

Jessie’s parents have previously speculated that their daughter was a victim of convicted serial killer Tobin, who was living in the area at the time.

He is serving life sentences for murdering Polish student Angelika Kluk, Scots schoolgirl Vicky Hamilton and Essex teenager Dinah McNicol.

But Sussex Police have previously ruled Tobin out, telling the BBC last year: ‘We have no evidence implicating Peter Tobin or any other named or known individual in the murder of Jessie Earl’. 

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