It all started typically enough, pretty teacher Helen Hooper, 31 and married with three children, went missing on St Valentines Day 1976. Hooper who lived in an isolated bungalow in Broken Green in Standon, Hertfordshire was married to Walter Hooper, who at 63 was more than twice her age. She was also having an affair with fellow teacher Colin Clarke whom she was supposed to be meeting that same day.
Four months later Helen Hooper was still missing and the police were now very much suspecting foul play. Detective Inspector John Newton was in charge of the investigation into Helen’s disappearance. On June 26 he told the press “we know she was planning to leave her husband and set up home with Mr Clarke. But on the morning she was to meet him she did not turn up.” Helen’s parents admitted that she had told them she was going to leave Walter to live with Colin Clarke. The Hooper’s marriage was stormy – Helen had left Walter on three different occasions but had always taken the children with her. Helen was Walter’s second wife. Walter’s son from his first marriage, Roger Hooper said that on one occasion when Helen walked out on him his father had threatened to do away with her. He was also convinced that Helen had made sexual advances to Roger.
Walter, who was looking after their three boys – Tony (13), Geoffrey (12) and Michael (11), had told the police that he had seen Helen leave the house that morning and get picked up in a car by a man he didn’t know – “I don’t know who the man was. I couldn’t see him properly. But the car whizzed down the road and I haven’t seen Helen since.” He also added that he knew nothing about Helen’s involvement with Colin Clarke.
When the police searched the garden of the family home, Walter Hooper was quick to talk to the press “it’s obvious the police didn’t find anything in the garden” he said. He also claimed that his wife had been seen in London by a shopkeeper friend of his who knew Helen. As far as Detective Inspector John Newton was concerned Hooper was prime suspect in the murder of his wife. Especially as Walter had a strong temper, at least according to Helen’s father George Draper who said Walter went berserk when he asked him if Helen had taken her passport with her. He stormed out of the room and returned with two passport envelopes – his was there, Helen’s was missing. Newton had also gained access to a safety deposit box that contained jewellery belonging to Helen including a silver piece she was wearing on the night she vanished.
By now the press were taking a very keen interest in the case and Walter Hooper seemed happy to talk to them. “I know the police regard me as their No. 1 suspect,” he told the Daily Mirror on 28 June. “They have been here time and time again. It has been sheer hell. They tried to suggest I killed her and hid her body away.” On a poignant note Helen’s children were finding their going hard. “We want out mum to come home. All of us are missing her.” They also told the mirror.
The same week Helen’s lover Colin Clarke finally broke his silence admitting that he and Helen were going to set up home together. “I couldn’t understand it when Helen failed to turn up on the morning we were supposed to meet,” he told the Daily Mirror on 29 June. “I am convinced something dreadful has happened,” he continued. “If she were alive she would have contacted me.” It was Colin who actually reported Helen missing to the police but he felt they were far too slow to do anything “They have only started taking the matter seriously in the last week of so.” He said and then added somewhat mysteriously “if Helen turned up alive and well now I don’t know whether I would still set up home with her.”
Events took a more sinister turn at the beginning of July when police discovered a blood stain on the foot path at the family home. Samples of blood were also taken from Walter and the three boys. Hooper remained defiant “I have no idea how the blood got there. But I am sick and tired of all the police activity around my home.” The police, meanwhile, were planning another extensive search of the Hooper home and garden.
By July 18 the police had decided they had enough evidence to charge Hooper with murder, despite the fact that the body of Helen had still not been found. The following week, with Hooper remanded in custody and his three children staying with relatives, the police began a full excavation of Hooper’s garden. Still no body was found.
Possibly as a result of the stress he was under, Hooper’s health, especially a persistent back injury, was beginning to suffer and he was moved to Brixton’s prison hospital where he stayed for several weeks.
The police still had no body and Walter’s day in court was fast approaching. On Wednesday 6 October 1976 a trial committal hearing was held, Crown Counsel Evan Stone told the court that despite there being no body “the jury was entitled to infer that not only is Mrs Hooper dead but that she was murdered by the defendant.” He also made it plain that Hooper was not showing any anxiety about his wife’s disappearance and that he only contacted the police at the insistence of his wife’s parents. During the hearing John Doyle, another teacher at Hadham Hall, was also revealed to have been close to Helen. A friendship that he said developed into kisses and cuddles but no intercourse.
At the end of the eight day committal hearing the presiding magistrates decided there was no case for Hooper to answer. Magistrate Tony Burgess ruled that “this is a murder alleged to have happened on a night when there were three boys asleep. There is no indication of movement of a body or of people moving. There is nowhere near enough evidence where a jury can conclude that there was a death and that the death was committed by Mr Hooper.
In a sad Christmas coda eldest son Tony ran away from home on the 21 Dec 1976 (but only as far as his grandparents) – he had had an argument with his dad after a watch given to him by his mother was scratched. He told the Daily Mirror “I was mum’s favourite and I miss her terribly. I have been very upset living at home since dad was acquitted of mum’s murder.”
The story went cold for almost a year until Detective Inspector John Newton received new information that caused him to reopen the investigation. Despite the new information the case went nowhere and Helen Hooper’s disappearance remains a mystery to this day. It’s unlikely that Helen did just walk out on her life but without a body it’s impossible to say definitively.
Daily Mirror 26 June 1976, 28 June 1976, 29 June 1976, 22 Jul 1976, 8 Oct 76, 9 Oct 76, 16 Oct 1976, 22 Dec 1976
Sunday People 27 June 1976
The Birmingham Daily Post 24 Aug 1976
The Journal 3 Nov 1977