The Murder of Joanna Yeates

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On Friday, December 17, 2010, 25-year-old Joanna Yeates spent the evening out with colleagues, enjoying pre-Christmas drinks at the Bristol Ram pub. It would be the last time they would see her.

Joanna Clare Yeates was born on April 19, 1985 to David & Teresa Yeates in Hampshire, England. She attended private school & then moved on to Peter Symonds College for her A-levels (advanced Level) (usually takes 2 years) & ended up graduating with a degree in landscape architecture from Writtle College. From there she got her post-graduate diploma in landscape architecture from the University of Gloucestershire (gloss-ta-sure). 

At age 23, in December of 2008 Joanna met 25-year-old architect Greg Reardon at their architecture firm & the couple moved in together in 2009. In October of 2010 they ended up settling into 44 Canynge Road in Clifton (suburb of Bristol) in a large house that had been split into several flats. Joanna & Greg lived in the downstairs portion of the house that had been divided into two separate units; another couple occupied the other unit & the landlord of the property lived upstairs. David described Joanna as “modest, conscientious and laid-back.”

On the evening of December 17, 2010 Joanna told her friends that she wasn’t looking forward to spending her first weekend alone in her flat. Greg had gone away for the weekend to Sheffield to visit relatives and Joanna planned to spend the holiday weekend doing Christmas shopping & baking in preparation of a Christmas party they would be hosting the following week. 

Joanna left the Bristol Ram pub around 8pm to start her 30 minute walk home. She was seen on CCTV at 8:10pm leaving a Waitrose supermarket without purchasing anything. She called her best friend Rebecca Scott at 8:30pm about plans of getting together for Christmas Eve. Joanna was then seen buying a tomato, mozzarella & basil pizza at Tesco Express around 8:40pm. She had also bought 2 small bottles of cider from Bargain Booze. The last sighting of Joanna was from CCTV video from a public house of her making her way toward her home address. It was estimated that she would have arrived home about 8:50pm.

After trying to call & text Joanna throughout the weekend without success, Greg came home at approximately 8pm on Sunday December 19, only to find the flat empty. While waiting for her at home, Greg called Joanna’s cell only to find that it was ringing from her coat pocket that was hung in the hallway of their flat. He also found her keys, glasses & purse at the flat & their cat Bernard seemed neglected/hadn’t been fed. At 12:45 am Greg contacted the police & Joanna’s parents to inform them of her missing. 

Search & Discovery

The investigation team included 80 detective & civilian staff & became one of the largest police operations in the Constabulary’s history. Any witnesses involved were urged to come forward with any information. They received  thousands of calls, exhausting every lead they had been given. Over 100 hours of surveillance footage had been seized & examined.

A website was set up by Greg & Joanna’s friends to help look for her. On December 21, 2010 Joanna’s parents made a public appeal at a police press conference for her safe return saying, “Jo, whatever the reason that you haven’t been in touch for the last few days.. We want you to know that we love you dearly and are desperate to know that you are safe & well.” 

Her parents knew that Joanna & Greg were in love, she had freedom & happiness in her life & had no reason to go away without her things & without word to her friends & family. Joanna came from a stable background; she was close with her family & in a solid relationship with Greg. Her future was bright, Christmas was approaching & her disappearance was completely out of character.  Her father felt that she was absolutely abducted from her flat as she got home the night of the 17th. On December 23, another press conference was broadcast by Sky News & BBC News. Joanna’s dad David said, “I think she was abducted after getting home to her flat.. I have no idea of the circumstances of the abduction because of what was left behind.. I feel sure she would not have gone out by herself leaving all these things behind and she was taken away somewhere.”   Her mother Teresa begged that she would be returned safely, tears streaming down her face as she pleaded with whoever may have taken her. 

Greg was heartbroken, saying, “she was my future. This Christmas was going to be our first together. I was going to spend it with her family, which is always a big deal for a boyfriend.”

The fact that all of Joanna’s personal items had been left behind in the flat was very unsettling; early on police believed they were dealing with a murder case vs. a missing persons case. Joanna was known for opening her Advent calendar religiously yet the 17th & 18th were left unopened and her baking apron was found on the floor. The packaging and contents of the pizza she was seen purchasing were never found, only the receipt was located at the flat. Both bottles of cider were found in the flat, one being partially consumed with maybe a sip taken. There was no evidence of forced entry or a struggle, so it was suspected that Joanna may have known her abductor.  

There was a party across the road from Joanna’s flat the night of her disappearance. Some of the guests said they recalled hearing two loud screams shortly after 9pm coming from the direction of Joanna’s flat. Another neighbor that lived behind the flat said she heard a woman scream, “help me!” but wasn’t sure of the time. 

One week after her disappearance, there was still no sign of Joanna. Her family grew more & more desperate as the days ticked by, getting closer to Christmas without her return. No one felt that this was going to end well.


On Christmas morning, the search team met in the briefing room & were made aware of a phone call. 

At 9am, a couple enjoying a Chrimas morning walk with their dog on Longwood Lane, they came across a fully clothed body. Some of the items of clothing were able to be seen through the snow, alerting the couple; this was three miles from Joanna’s flat.  Her body was on a small grass verge at the side of the road.  It was covered in leaves & snow, there was a wall about 4-5’ & on the other side of the wall were trees & bushes that then lead down to a quarry. There had been signs that someone tried to disguise Joanna’s body with trees & leaves & then it snowed, further concealing her. She was in a fetal position, legs bent & it appeared she had been placed there.

Joanna’s parents were obviously devastated, being told on Christmas, of all days, that they may have found their daughter’s body. The police were now focused on finding out who did this. Joanna was found fully clothed, other than one missing sock. Her bare foot was clean, her other sock was free of any debris which suggested she hadn’t walked anywhere which led police to believe she had been put into a car & taken to the place where she was found. 

The crime scene manager decided not to put a tent over her body, in order to not raise the ambient temperature, preventing the snow from thawing/washing away any evidence. They wanted to maximize the forensic evidence. There was blood seen on the wall near Joanna, though it wasn’t blood spatter. The location of the blood toward the top of the wall indicated that someone may have tried to unsuccessfully place her on the other side of the wall that was away from the road. Had they been successful, it would likely have taken a lot longer to find Joanna’s body. 

Joanna’s body was frozen so DNA recovery was more challenging. There was DNA found on the back of the knees of her jeans & the fly area. It was not her DNA & also unrelated to Greg. Foreign DNA was also found on areas of her bare skin.  The crime scene manager deduced that this is where her capture held her. 

A couple of days later, after the post mortem results had come out, a press conference was held, letting the public know that this was a homicide & there was a killer out on the loose. There were 43 injuries on Joanna’s body but the pathologist concluded that Joanna’s cause of death was strangulation. The autopsy also showed that she never ate the pizza she was seen buying. There was no evidence to show that she had been sexually assaulted. 

Finding a killer

Now it was time to figure out who did this to Joanna. It was guessed that this was someone that Joanna knew & freely allowed into her flat. Someone who knew Greg was away for the weekend & someone that had access to a car. 

Greg was quickly eliminated as a suspect because his family confirmed he was with them for the weekend & CCTV also picked up images of him on the motorway.

Days after Joanna went missing, police conducted a standard search of the apartment building & interviewed the couple who shared the bottom floor of the house. 32 year old Dutch architectural engineer Vincent Tabak & Tanja Morson were a quiet couple that had been together for 3 years. Tanja had been at a work party that night & Vicent was home all evening & picked Tanja up at 2am. Since Joanna & Greg lived there only since October, Vicent said he did not know the couple; not even having met Joanna before she had gone missing since he was out of the country for work until December 11th. Shortly after Joanna went missing, Vincent & Tanja traveled back to see his family in Holland for Christmas.

Joanna’s landlord Christopher/Chris Jefferies was questioned & said that he arrived back to the property around 9pm, right around the time Joanna would have returned home, after going to the gym. He said he parked in the road, walked up the driveway & into the house where he spent the rest of the evening in his flat. Chris Jefferies lived in the same building & had a key to each & every flat. 

When Greg returned to his flat, before heading out for his weekend away, his car wouldn’t start. Chris Jefferies helped Greg start his car & likely knew that Greg was leaving for the weekend & that Joanna would be home alone.  His alibi wasn’t very strong, because it was only his claim that he was home alone all evening & night. 

Chris gave 2 statements to the police, detailing all that he recalled from that night. He did recall coming back & feeling vaguely aware of others walking down the side pathway away from the house. Investigators felt Chris fit the criteria which had been set for a suspect. On December 30, 2010, the police came to the flat & arrested Chris Jefferies for the murder of Joanna. Chris was absolutely shocked by his arrest. He was later told that they had CCTV footage of a car similar to his, driving across a bridge the night of the murder. 

Despite Chris’ name never being released to the media, it was quickly figured out who he was and a media frenzy began. They painted him as a creepy, weirdo, lewd, peeping Tom & filled the papers with damning information as public enemy #1.

On December 30, Vincent called police to inform them that he saw Chris’ car the night of Joanna’s disappearance facing a different direction the next morning, indicating he had moved it during the night.  An officer was sent to Holland on NYE to record a statement from Vincent. Suspicions arose during their conversation because of the questions he asked, the questions he evaded & the almost unhealthy interest in the forensics surrounding the case. His story also changed his story from being in all night until getting Tanja at 2am to going out twice; once to take photographs & another time to go to the grocery store. Vicent’s decision to place this phone call & involve himself in the case moved him up on the list of people of interest. The police asked him for a DNA sample which prompted Vincent to tell them he had previously been in Joanna’s apartment before she went missing in order to have a conversation with Chris. 

As Chris was in custody, the apartment building of Joanna & Chris was searched. There was no DNA from Chris identified on Joanna’s clothing. His DNA was also not a match from the profile found on Joanna’s body. They examined Chris’ car/trunk & nothing was found. They did find a pair of gym shoes hidden under one of the kitchen cabinets, behind the kick board, that had a spot of blood on them. The shoes were taken & a profile was obtained. It came back as insufficient quality & Chris was released at 9pm on New Year’s Day.

If it wasn’t Chris, who was it? There were no other suspects at this time & everyone was desperate to find the  murderer & the investigation felt to be at square one.

Forensic scientists find a match for the DNA found on Joanna’s body; Vincent Tabak. On January, 2, 2011, Vincent is now suspect #1 for the murder of Joanna Yeates.  Because the DNA sample had been exposed to the elements, it was considered a low-level DNA profile.  The investigators began to focus on the car that Vincent & his girlfriend shared. CCTV showed images of his car going across the river toward where Joanna’s body had been found.  Vincent Tabak was arrested on January 20, 2011. To prevent the media circus that came with Chris’ arrest, the police tried to derail the media by arresting Vincent in the early hours, closing down streets, instilling a no-fly zone & erecting screens & scaffolding around the building. 

Vincent had been living in the flat for about 18 months where Joanna had only been living there for a couple of months. He had recently come back from traveling abroad for work. He was 32, came across as polite & well spoken. Just the day before Joanna’s murder, Chris had tried to get his car up the icy, sloped driveway but couldn’t. He knocked on Vicent’s door, asking for help which he did. When they got the car up the drive & Chris said thank you, Vincent replied, “of course, what are neighbors for?” 

Vincent was the youngest of 5 siblings, born in Holland, very shy & introverted. After he got his PhD, he moved to England in his late 20s in 2007. The girlfriend he had in the UK was his first serious girlfriend, he was inexperienced with women. When police spoke with Vincent, he happily provided a statement & nothing made police suspicious of him. 

When Vincent was arrested, all of his electronics were taken & searched. It was found that six days before the discovery of Joanna’s body Tabak was doing a street view search of Longwood Lane & zoomed into the area where her body had been found. On the same day, he was researching “forensics”, “Jo”, “Bristol.” He was also looking at body decomposition times. They found extreme pornography on his laptop of videos & images of women being subjected to extreme violence, including strangulation. 

He had no previous convictions & was well respected at his job. Vincent denied having any involvement in Joanna’s murder on his arrest. His car was searched & multiple fibers from Joanna’s search were found in the trunk of the car along with a single fiber from bedding from her flat.  They also found fibers that matched Vincent’s own bedding.  It was also examined for blood & other fluids; blood was recovered & it matched Joanna’s blood. Next Vincent’s coat was examined & one fiber was found from her t-shirt. Joanna’s clothes were also examined & fibers from Vincent’s coat were found. It was clear that she had been in the trunk of his car. This was obviously a breakthrough in the case. 

On January 24, 2011 Vicent was charged at Bristol’s Magistrates Court & immediately taken to Bristol Prison. Chris Burke, Prison Intelligence Officer, said at the time of his booking, Vincent was grinning & looked lost, finding the situation either amusing or smiling from nerves. 

Vincent told the prison chaplain that he was going to plead guilty. When the chaplain asked if it was to do with the girl from Bristol, Vincent answered, “yes.”  When asked if he was sorry for what he did, he said, “yes.” 

May 5, 2011 at Central Criminal Court in London Vincent confessed to “killing” vs. “murdering” Joanna Yeates. He planned to plead guilty to manslaughter; that it was an accident & he had no intent to harm & kill her. The police believed he intented to  kill Joanna & did it for sexual gratification based on the findings from his laptop. His laptop indicated that he would often research Joanne’s case & would then immediately switch to watching violent porn showing scenes of strangulation. Though this was deemed too prejudicial to the case & never presented to a jury. Vincent had admitted to being attracted to Joanna. He also said he knew she would be alone that weekend as Chris, the landlord, mentioned it in passing. 

October 4, 2011 the trial begins; was it going to be deemed murder or manslaughter? The defense presented that Vincent passed Joanna on his way out to a supermarket & she acted flirty, inviting him inside for a drink where he misunderstood signals from her, saying he tried to kiss her & she screamed. He put his hand around her neck, trying to quiet her & accidentally caused her death. He denied that there was a struggle saying that he held Joanna by the neck with only minimal force “for about 20 seconds” though he did have scratches & marks on his arms which were likely defensive wounds. He told the court that he was in a state of panic after dumping her body. Those that knew Joanna knew this was not at all in her character & would not have invited him in & flirted with Vincent. 

The police & prosecution believed there were major holes in Vicent’s recollection of what happened. Again, they believed it was more sexually driven & Vincent found strangling Joanna thrilling. Some even thought he had been spying on Joanna & found an excuse to talk to her & decided to knock on her door. There are suspicions that the attack could have started in the hall between the two apartments since it was found in disarray. One of Joanna’s earrings she was believed to be wearing that day was found under her duvet which could have indicated that he moved her to the bedroom at one point. There’s also an hour of missing time before he put Joanna in his trunk & drove away. Her jeans had not been tampered with though her shirt had been pulled up above her breasts, exposing part  of her right breast & a sample of Vincent’s DNA was found on Joanna’s chest. It wasn’t determined where the DNA came from.

Vincent was telling his story on the witness stand & was then asked to re–live in his mind the 20 seconds he held Joanna’s throat. For 20 seconds the courtroom became absolutely silent & the 20 seconds seemed to go on forever. It was a very emotional & powerful 20 seconds, thinking of the last moments of Joanna’s life. Joanna wasn’t just strangled, she sustained 43 other injuries to her head, neck, torso & arms during the struggle; her nose had also been fractured.  Vincent said he then put her body in the trunk of his car, went shopping & dumped her body on the side of the road. He apologized for putting her parents through a week of hell. 

On his cell phone after it was believed that Joanna was killed, he sent a text to his girlfriend saying he was bored. He was then seen an hour  later on CCTV at Asda supermarket while it was believed Joanna’s body lay in the trunk of the car. It was believed he used this as an excuse to be out & about. He then made his way to Longwood Lane where he got rid of Joanna’s body.  On day 3 of the trial, the jury was able to go to Joanna & Greg’s flat to see the scene of the crime with a select group of reporters following along. They gray powder from forensics was coating the cabinets & shower of the apartment. You could see signs of Christmas around the flat with presents & wrapping paper. 

On October 28, 2011 it was time for the 6 men & 6 women of the jury to make their decision. The courtroom was jam packed, some in standing room only. 10 of the jury members of the 12 had to agree on a decision. It was decided that Vicent was guilty of murdering Joanna Yeates.  He was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 20 years.

Joanna’s memorial service was held at a parish church in the Bristol suburb where she lived & her funeral took place near the family home in Hampshire.  Joanna’s father David had said, “she loved Christmas; that was her best time of the year. She loved playing games, cards & being competitive. She enjoyed the whole razzmatazz to do with Christmas. That’s why being found on Christmas Day was so poignant.” 

Answered Questions:

What happened to the pizza: Vincent admits he ate the pizza but denied it was hers. He said he took the pizza & box from her flat & dumped the box in a municipal bin. The prosecution suggested he ate it. 

The partially consumed cider: It was possible Joanna took a sip before she was attacked. Vincent claims Joanna offered him a drink but he declined saying he had to drive later. 

Missing sock: Vincent said the sock fell off in her flat. After he had moved her body to his flat, he went back to her’s, retrieved it & put it in a municipal bin. 


  1. Wikipedia: Murder of Joanna Yeates
  2. Chilling Crimes: Joanna Yeates
  3. Body in the Snow: The Murder of Joanna Yeates 
  4. The Guardian: Joanna Yeates murder: the mysteries explained
  5. Daily Mail: Heartfelt tributes left for Jo Yeates’ family one year after she was murdered

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