At around 11am on Thursday, 6 June 1991, two women drove to the swimming pool at Gurnell Grove in Greenford, west London. After parking next to a green Jaguar XJS, they noticed someone slumped in the front seat, as if asleep. Thinking nothing more of it, they went for a swim before returning to their car just after midday. The Jaguar was still there, and so was the person in the front seat. This time they took a closer look and noticed blood in the car and a stab wound. The police were called at 12.15pm.
The body in the Jaguar was Penny Bell, a 43-year-old married mother-of-two who worked as a partner in an employment agency. She had been stabbed more than 50 times as she sat in the driver’s seat of her car. On the centre console was a wallpaper sample, as if she had been looking at it or showing it to someone shortly before the attack. Nothing appeared to be missing from her handbag, which was found behind the front passenger seat.
How had Penny Bell ended up at the swimming pool car park? The police investigation established that she had left home in Denham, Buckinghamshire, at 9.40am. Shortly before leaving she had made coffee for the builders and decorators working on the house. She appeared in a hurry and told them that she had an appointment she could not miss at 9.50am.
While that was the last positive sighting of Penny Bell, other witnesses came forward to say that they had seen either the Jaguar or a woman similar to Penny that morning.
One witness reported seeing Penny meeting with the driver of a bronze saloon car in Fulmer Common Road near Black Park, Iver, at around 9.40am. Another saw a pale blue Jaguar XJS parked in Fulmer Common Road between 9.50am and 10am. And a further witness claimed to have seen similar Jaguar car driving erratically in Greenford Road that morning.
However nobody witnessed the fatal attack.
It was a clear and sunny day on the morning that Penny was killed and it’s estimated that around 300 people are believed to have used the car park or leisure facilities, meaning that there should have been plenty of witnesses. Approximately 250 people who had used the leisure facilities between 09:00hrs and 11:00hrs were interviewed and eliminated. Over 60 drivers are known to have parked their cars in the car park during this time. No one interviewed had witnessed the attack or the killer’s escape; it’s almost as if they vanished into thin air.Detective Sergeant Susan Stansfield, from the Met’s Special Casework Investigation Team
To add to the mystery, three days earlier Penny had withdrawn £8,500 in cash from her joint personal account while visiting her bank in Kilburn High Road, at around 2.30pm on 3 June 1991. The money, all in used £50 notes, was handed to her in a brown manila envelope. Penny appears not to have mentioned this withdrawal to anyone or even made a reference to it in her spending records.
Detectives were unable to establish who Penny was meeting on the morning of her death or establish why the money was withdrawn and what happened to it.
One further lead emerged in 2019, when a new witness told police they had seen a man in his underwear walking across the footbridge crossing the A40 Western Avenue in Greenford at around 10.50am. This man appeared wet, as if he had just washed. He was wearing blue stripped boxer shorts, a white t-shirt, had a chunky chain link thick bracelet and was carrying a rucksack.
DS Stansfield described this as “very significant information that might help us catch Penny’s killer”, and added: “Did you also see something odd at the time that you now might think is connected? Or did you also see this man in his underwear and think nothing of it? If so, we need to speak to you as soon as possible.”
A £20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the killer remains on offer.
DS Stansfield said: “We are still, to this day, trying to bring closure to her family who remain hopeful that justice will be served. To help us investigate Penny’s death, I am once again asking for anyone who might know who killed this mother of two to come forward and speak to a member of my team. A lot can change over 30 years. A partner, family member or friend from the time of the attack may have been too scared to report their information to us in 1991, but circumstances and relationships change and I would implore anyone who knows who committed this crime to call us.”
“We are grateful for the work of the Metropolitan Police and their determination to help solve this case. Thirty years marks an extremely painful milestone but with the help of Crimewatch and their viewers, we could be one step away from finding the perpetrator who still walks among us. Any information would be life-changing for us as a family and a result would mean we could finally find closure.Lauren Bell, Penny’s daughter, speaking in 2021
Call police on 0208 7858267 or the independent charity Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.