(Updated 4th May 2018)
On a cold November day in 1995, a 16-year old girl supposedly set off for Sixth Form, except this wasn’t a normal day. Ruth Wilson was last seen by a taxi driver after he dropped her off at Box Hill later that afternoon.
Who was Ruth, what is known about her disappearance and why has it been seemingly ignored by much of the national media?
Ruth was born on 31st January 1979 in Surrey to parents Ian, a teacher, and Nesta Wilson. She lived in a 17th century cottage in the picturesque village of Betchworth that sits just outside Dorking and Reigate, along with her younger sister, Jennifer. They were, to all intents and purposes, a stereotypical middle-classed family living in a suburban commuter-belt in a beautiful part of Surrey.
Sadly Nesta died on 4th December 1982, and Ian remarried to Karen a year later. Ruth was raised knowing her mother had a tragic accident having broken her neck after falling down some stairs and called Karen ‘mum’.
Despite such tragedy, Ruth grew into a studious, well-mannered, traditional girl, who was described by her ex-boyfriend, Will, as ‘not cool’ and as being ‘unconventional.’ She was studying A-Level Chemistry and Biology at Ashcombe School Sixth Form, where she had a small circle of like-minded friends. Ruth enjoyed reading, music, playing the electric guitar and piano, as well as going on bike rides. She also had a Saturday job working in a music shop as well as being a popular local babysitter.
Ian became a local parish councillor and Ruth was an active member of her local church, St Michael’s, where she was a member of the choir, played the organ and enjoyed bell-ringing. In fact, the image portrayed of Ruth was that of a happy, settled young girl who led a very busy life.
When Ruth disappeared, Ian was head of a school science department and Karen was deputy head of a school.
THE RUN UP TO RUTH’S DISAPPEARANCE
On the Saturday, Ruth had worked at the music shop in Dorking and then went out for a meal with her ex-boyfriend, Will and his friend Neil. Her and Will were still very close, but it now transpires that there were elements to her life that she hadn’t divulged to him. (Please see the update further down the page.)
On Sunday she went to bell-ringing practice before heading to a local youth club in Dorking and then to Will’s for supper, before spending the evening at home.
MONDAY 27 NOVEMBER 1995
It was a cold Monday morning and Ian had an Ofsted inspection to contend with and was in a hurry as he pushed past Ruth to leave. “I remember being annoyed with her and said something like ‘Out of my way. I’m in a hurry.’ I’ll always regret those were the last words I ever said to her.”
Karen was a deputy head of a local primary school and also left for work early.
Ruth and Jenny always caught the bus to school together but Ruth announced that she had a study period and would make her own way to school later. It wasn’t unusual, but the fact she’d left it until the last minute to say anything was.
A little while afterwards, Will turned up and offered her a lift to school in his car, which she declined telling him she’d be at school later that day.
Instead, Ruth ordered a taxi and headed to Dorking Library where she spent a few hours before popping into Thistles Florist, where she ordered a bouquet of flowers and gave strict instructions that they were to be delivered to her stepmother two days later, not before. There was no card attached.
Ruth was seen at 4pm at Dorking Library before then heading to the nearby main railway station where she took another taxi to The Hand in Hand pub at the top of Box Hill. She asked to be dropped off at a bridleway near the pub, and the driver recalls watching her in his mirrors, standing in the rain by the side of the road as he drove away, as if she was waiting for him to leave or waiting for someone else to turn up. This was the last time she was seen. It was approximately 4:30pm and daylight was fading.
- 5ft 3″
- Dark, shoulder-length hair
- Blue eyes
- Normally wore glasses
That night Surrey Police began a huge search across 1,000 acres of parkland using dog-handlers, heat-seeking equipment and helicopters. Fellow pupils also joined the search but it was fruitless. Ruth had simply vanished.
Two days later a bunch of flowers arrived for Karen that Ruth had ordered before she disappeared, and, according to one report, within another two days police discovered three notes hidden under a bush at Box Hill – one to her parents, one to her best friend and another to a male friend. Nearby was an empty packet of paracetamol and bottle of vermouth.
School friends told police that Ruth often went to Box Hill after school before heading home. Why? Was there something or someone, or simply just a place she loved to sit on her own, away from all her stresses and busy life?
A month after her disappearance, Ian and Karen gave an interview to The Times newspaper, in which they made a heartfelt appeal to Ruth:
We love you dearly. We miss you terribly. We used to grumble about the sound of your electric guitar twanging away. Without it now, the house is just dead. Since you left, the piano hasn’t been touched. It is now a house without music. Whatever the issue that drove you away, or you found difficult to cope with, we will do everything in our power to sort it out.
The article goes on to state that homework was considered important in the household, and her parents had realised that “maybe Ruth had been pushing herself too hard.” Was Ruth pushing herself too hard, or was the culture at home adding intolerable pressure to a girl who clearly had an extremely busy and active life? Either way, police later discovered that Ruth had been very worried about her grades and had hidden her last report from her parents that weekend.
People have made numerous attempts to bring this matter to the forefront of the media but there has been a reluctance by locals to speak with journalists as they were suspicious. I don’t know why or from where this suspicion originates.
A new documentary has now been aired looking into the case. It follows journalist Martin Bright, and former Scotland Yard detective, Liam McAuley, who have followed the case since 1995. Both Surrey Police and the Wilsons were asked to participate but declined. Ian Wilson told Martin Bright:
I’ve made the final decision that I don’t wish to participate in this particular project. I know that you will do a good job and your part is going to be very professional, like you have always been in the past, but it’s a complicated one and I’ve made the final decision. You can probably tell from my voice that it’s quite an emotional one.
WITNESS AND SIGHTINGS
- One witness came forward stating she had known Ruth, although Ruth had been a couple of years older than her. She claimed that she saw her walking along the Reigate Road holding a navy blue suitcase, either on the day she disappeared or the day after.
- A fellow Ashcombe pupil thought she had seen Ruth in Dorking later that day.
- According to one officer, in the weeks following Ruth’s disappearance “there were some fairly reliable sightings of her in the Dorking area by people who knew her well.”
A year after her disappearance a young girl entered a small newsagents in Dorking and asked for a copy of all local newspapers. She was described as ‘distressed’ and became more emotional when told that one had already sold out. It was caught on the shop’s CCTV. So concerned by what had happened, the shopkeeper reported the incident to the authorities.
Having watched the CCTV numerous times, Ian and Karen were convinced that the girl caught on tape was Ruth.
CONCERNS OVER THE INVESTIGATION
The constable that worked as the Wilson’s Family Liaison Officer was Mark Williams-Thomas. He wrote an internal report which was critical of the investigation and methods used by Surrey Police. In 2002, Williams-Thomas said:
“The force never formally acknowledged the points I made.” His report, written five months into the search for Ruth, highlighted what he regarded as a number of inadequacies. “The search was just not done well enough. To be absolutely honest, Ruth could still be up there,” he said, referring to the Box Hill area where she was last seen. “There was also a lack of sufficient house-to-house inquiries, and numbers of people were not spoken to until later on. These were fundamental errors.”
He added: “The report went to the superintendent, but it was never signed to indicate that it had been seen. I got no actual response at all, other than the report being handed back to me. To the best of my knowledge, no action was taken.”
He added that the general force, however, had improved its procedures significantly for finding missing people since Ruth’s disappearance.
- February 1998: Iceland, the frozen food retailer, put Ruth’s picture on their milk cartons as part of the ‘Missing’ campaign.
- 2006: Sgt Shane Craven, head of East Surrey police’s missing persons team, launched a fresh appeal for information about Ruth’s disappearance in the hope that someone who was unable to speak out at the time, could feel confident enough to come forward.
- December 2008: a fresh appeal was launched after Surrey Police received new information about a possible sighting in Canada. Sgt Caroline Zamir from the missing persons team, said: “Thirteen years on we still do not know what happened to Ruth after she was dropped off by a taxi at the Hand in Hand pub in Box Hill. The investigation into her disappearance has never been closed.”
- March 2010: Roxy Birch made an appeal on BBC’s Missing Live programme for information regarding Ruth’s disappearance.
- 2010: A new appeal was prompted when Ian wrote an open letter to Ruth on the 15th anniversary of her disappearance.
- 2012: Ruth’s disappearance was one of a number that was included within “The Big Tweet for Missing Children” in which details of missing children were tweeted every half an hour.
- 2016: Sgt Terry Hardie from the Missing Persons team, said: “Over the years we have followed up many possible sightings of Ruth but we still do not know exactly what happened to Ruth after she was dropped off by a taxi.
Then along came Catherine – a close friend of Ruth’s at the time she disappeared – who painted a very different picture of Ruth’s life for this new documentary. Both girls had bonded due to the fact they were going through a lot at the same time, and both girls disappeared around the same time too.
Catherine said that Ruth had a lot going on in her head and she had also just discovered that her mother, Nesta, hadn’t died as a result of an accident, but had committed suicide by hanging. Something about what she had always been told didn’t quite add up for Ruth and she only discovered the truth after looking into it. This had left Ruth very troubled, Catherine claimed, and she felt her “childhood was based on a foundation of secrecy and lies.”
Ruth had known that Catherine was planning to leave, and had asked if she could go with her, but it wasn’t possible.
Catherine’s mother recalled that Ruth had slept over not long before she disappeared and had been adamant she didn’t want to go back home. Ruth hadn’t explained why, but it made Catherine’s mother feel very uncomfortable.
Catherine feels that Ruth’s sending flowers to her stepmother was more a gesture of “up yours” than goodwill.
When told of this new revelation, Ian Wilson contacted Martin Bright and refuted any claims that Ruth had been troubled prior to disappearing, although he admitted that she was raised believing her mother had died after falling down the stairs even though it wasn’t true.
**THE LATEST – MORE WITNESSES HAVE COME FORWARD**
Since the release of the documentary, another friend of Ruth’s, Ben, said that Ruth had run away from home a month before she disappeared.
Will and Neil, whom Ruth went to dinner with on the Saturday before she disappeared, have both come forward separately with new information – each corroborating the others version of events and stating that Ruth paid for the meal that night and told them it would be something to remember her by.
With so many new witnesses coming forward and offering information about Ruth’s desperate unhappiness prior to her disappearance, isn’t it time that Surrey Police took a fresh look into the case?
MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS
The documentary left viewers with more questions than answers although not through any fault of those involved. With such discrepancies between those closest to Ruth, the refusal by police to share information they have collated over the years, and so many conflicting reports in the press, we are no closer to uncovering the truth. The case has always been described as ‘mysterious’ and ‘suspicious’ by those in the area, and you get a sense that the general view held by many is that someone knows something and have withheld information.
- Was it a case of a care-free young girl disappearing, or was she a troubled youngster who decided to run away? If so, did she achieve her aim, change her identity and pursue a new life, or did she come to harm – either at her own hands or someone else’s?
- Was the pressure of A-levels too much to bear at a time when the discovery of the truth about her mother’s death had come as such a shock?
- Why was the internal report written by Mark Williams-Thomas ignored by Surrey Police?
- Were her roles within the church looked at and was everyone questioned?
- Had Ruth confided in someone there, and/or did someone offer to help her disappear?
- Why is there an underlying sense of mistrust towards the media by those in Betchworth, a sleepy suburb?
- What was so bad at home that made Ruth not want to return just before she disappeared?
- Why did she tell Catherine’s mother so sincerely that she didn’t want to go home?
- What investigation took place following the possible CCTV sighting?
- What became of the notes found at Box Hill, the empty tablet bottle and alcohol – did they really exist and, if so, have they ever been forensically tested?
- What was the youth club in Dorking that Ruth attended?
The whole case is a very sad example of how appearances can be so deceptive and how we never know what really goes on behind closed doors or inside people’s minds.
Missing Persons have made appeals for Ruth to get in touch but to no avail. Is it time for a ‘Proof of Life’ investigation to be undertaken by police? What about a cold case review in light of this important new evidence? When Surrey Police were contacted about Catherine’s claims, they maintained that Ruth’s case is considered a missing persons case and remains open.
One thing is certain, you only have to look at the list of references below to realise that the national press largely ignored Ruth’s disappearance. After 22 years, it’s safe to say that many of the people around Ruth’s age from that area would have dispersed to all areas of the country and world by now and so it’s my opinion that the national press really need to focus on the story in order to reach those who may now feel confident enough to come forward.
It also highlights how horribly unfair the system is when police have just been given another huge amount of money to continue the search for Madeline McCann, whereas children like Ruth receive almost nothing. Every child matters – there is no hierarchy.
No child should go missing and be forgotten.
If you have any information about Ruth’s disappearance or know of something, you can contact Missing People, or Surrey Police. Alternatively you can contact those involved in the documentary via their Facebook page. They are so committed to getting to the truth. You can also use the ‘Contact Me’ option at the top of this page.
- Vanished: The Surrey School Girl
- The Times, 29 December 1995
- Get Surrey, 14th November 2017
- Get Surrey, 3rd May 2018
- Daily Mail, 21st December 2006
- Independent, 10th October 2009
- Reigate Mirror, 9th December 2010
- Get Surrey, 17th December 2010
- Facebook Group
- Missing People
- The Vanishing – original article by Martin Bright, 2002
- BBC News – appeal – 25th March 2010
- The Guardian, 29th April 2018
The Times, 29th December 1995
The Times, 2nd January 1997
Daily Telegraph, 7th April 2002
The People, 14th April 2002
News of the World, 11th January 2004
Surrey Advertiser, 6th January 2006
Daily Mail, 21st December 2006
Ruth Wilson was 16 when she went missing in November 1995. Her parents Ian, 56, and Karen, are teachers in Betchworth, Surrey. They have a younger daughter, Jenny, 24. Ian writes:
We still have the presents we bought you for Christmas in 1995. They’re safe in a drawer – waiting for you to come back, though I expect your tastes have changed so much you’d probably laugh at the music and clothes.
Though the house is too large now that your sister Jenny has moved out, we can’t bear to move. It’s your home after all.
Jenny lives nearby. You remember how she adores horses? Now she’s got a full-time job in an equestrian centre. She’s as happy as she can be without her big sister around.
Your disappearance is still a mystery. You were confident, independent minded and, apart from the usual teenage frictions, seemed so happy at home.
You enjoyed bell ringing and had just started learning to play the organ. The congregation at the local church still prays for you every week.
Though you’d just broken off with your boyfriend, you were still close. You had lots of friends and had just joined the sixth form and were talking of studying archaeology at university.
You had a Saturday job in a music shop, and were so trustworthy that neighbours queued up to ask you to babysit. In fact, you were so reliable that when you didn’t come home from school that Monday afternoon in November 1995, we assumed we’d forgotten one of your many activities.
It was late at night before the terrible truth dawned. Surrey police swept straight into action. They’ve been brilliant and still keep in touch. They discovered that, instead of going to school, you had called a taxi to take you to Dorking library. You took taxis occasionally and regularly visited the library, but even so, this was totally out of character.
As the day progressed, your behaviour became even more inexplicable. You visited a florist and ordered an expensive bouquet for Mum. You left no message – simply strict instructions that it must not be delivered until Wednesday.
Then, around 4pm, you called another taxi from Dorking station and asked to be taken to Box Hill, a local beauty spot. You asked the driver to leave you by a bridleway a short way from a pub.
The light was failing as you got out. The driver says you stood there as he drove off. You can imagine our terror and how we searched month after month.
I trawled London – hoping against hope I’d find you. We wondered if you had a secret, but your Filofax revealed nothing. The police discovered you had visited Box Hill before, but don’t know why.
They also found that you’d been worried about your grades and had hidden your last school report from us.
There have been many false leads. Every time our spirits are raised, only to be dashed again. It’s torture. Even now I find myself driving past bus stops and staring. Could that young woman – you’re 27 now – be you?
Most of all, we want you to know that while we miss you desperately and want to know you’re fine, we have never been angry with you, whatever prompted you to go that day.
We are just so sad that a big chunk of your life has been lived without us. There is nothing to forgive. Mum and I simply want to put our arms around you and tell you how much we love you. All any parent wants is for their child to be happy.
Knowing you are safe and well – even if you don’t want to come home – would make me the happiest man in the world.
Daily Mirror, 28th November 2008
Leatherhead Advertiser, 4th December 2008
Surrey Advertiser, 9th December 2008
Surrey Advertiser, 25th May 2012
Surrey Mirror, 31st May 2017
Dorking Advertiser, 26th April 2018