A retired farmer has been found guilty of murdering his wife in 1982 and dumping her body in a septic tank close to their home.
David Venables, 89, had been accused of murdering Brenda Venables and getting rid of her body in the tank at Quaking House Farm in Kempsey, Worcestershire, where it was discovered in 2019 – 37 years after she disappeared.
During a month-long trial, Venables tried to blame serial killer Fred West for the killing, but following 17 hours of deliberation, he was convicted by a 10-2 majority verdict on Friday .
At the start of the trial, prosecutor Michael Burrows QC said Venables, then 49, had “got away with murder” for nearly 40 years after dumping his wife in the septic tank close to Quaking House Farm.
Her skull and other bones were discovered during work to empty the underground chamber on July 12 2019, six years after Venables had sold the property for more than £460,000.
Venables sold the farm to his nephew, and contractors discovered the remains while clearing out septic tank.
Her pelvis and thigh bones were also recovered, while remnants of clothing including half a pair of knickers, a pair of tights, a bra, remains of some shoes and a sweater were also found.
DNA evidence later confirmed that the remains were of Brenda Venables but it was not possible to determine a cause of death.
Worcester Crown Court heard that Venables had rekindled a “long-standing” affair he was having with his mother’s former carer, Lorraine Styles, months before his wife disappeared.
The jury heard Venables’ affair with Styles started “around 1967”, and continued on and off.
Venables told the trial that he searched in vain for her after waking up to find her missing on 4 May, 1982.
He reported his wife’s disappearance later the same day, and claims police did search the tank during their initial inquiries.
Defence barrister Timothy Hannam QC had suggested that Mrs Venables’ death may have been suicide, and had visited a consultant psychiatrist three months before her death.
The doctor noted she was “very depressed”, and had called the Samaritans in March because she “felt suicidal”.
However, no suicide note was ever found and prosecutors said it was “beyond belief” Mrs Venables “took her own life by climbing into the septic tank” before replacing the lid.
Venables, described by one witness at the trial as a smartly-dressed “typical gentleman farmer”, told the jury he woke up on the morning of May 4 1982 to find his wife, then aged 48, had disappeared.
He said he then searched surrounding lanes and a stretch of the nearby River Severn.
Following the murder, the court heard, Venables appeared calm to those who knew him.
He later sought an annulment of his marriage to Mrs Venables, who was described by relatives and friends in court as a kind, hospitable and friendly woman.
A female friend of someone Venables knew, the court heard, had told him that “Fred West picked her up in Worcester at a bus stop early one morning, and she managed to escape”.
Venables, of Elgar Drive, Kempsey, told investigating officers: “I wondered since whether he was responsible for picking her up and eventually disposing of her body.”
It was also submitted on behalf of Venables that West had worked emptying septic tanks and that Mrs Venables’ disappearance had been unfairly “ignored” during inquiries into the Gloucester builder following his arrest by Gloucestershire Police in 1994.
Venables was remanded in custody and will be sentenced next Wednesday.