He'd dug a hole, he'd gone armed with a weapon and my gentle Jo didn't stand a chance.
I was in bed one night reading a book when the phone rang. I glanced at the clock. It was nearly 1.30am. I picked up the receiver and a shaky voice said: ‘Andy, I’m scared.’ It was my friend Jo. She said: ‘Rob held a knife to my throat. He thinks we’re having an affair.’ I sat bolt upright and said: ‘Are you OK? Shall I come over?’ ‘No,’ she said. ‘I’ve locked myself in the downstairs bathroom. A friend is coming over.’ I told her to call the police but she refused. She said she didn’t want to upset the children. Then she said: ‘I’m taking the kids to my mum’s tomorrow. My friend is here now. I’ve got to go.’
Despite what Rob thought, I wasn’t having an affair with Jo. But we’d known each other for a while and I liked her a lot. Jo, 44, was loyal to her husband but I knew she was deeply unhappy. Days passed and I received a text from her. Have decided to file for a divorce. This won’t be easy. And she was right. Rob refused to leave their home. The house had belonged to Jo before she’d met him and he had signed a prenuptial agreement promising that if they split up, she would keep the house. But now Rob was digging his heels in. Jo hired a bodyguard to live with her whenever Rob was home. We kept in touch by phone. The divorce got under way and he moved to a house nearby. Now we could see each other more regularly and we went away for a week. I realised Jo had feelings for me too but she was confused. She said: ‘I don’t want to inflame things with Rob.’ I said: ‘There’s no rush.’
In time we became a couple but we only told a handful of our friends and family. I’d help Jo in the garden and in the evening we’d open a bottle of wine and sit talking in her kitchen or cook a meal together. But she felt stressed. She often saw Rob jogging past the house or driving by slowly. When he dropped the children off, he would try to push his way into the house. Jo and I thought he was looking for evidence of a new boyfriend, even though he himself had a new girlfriend. Strange things continued to happen. Jo’s house alarm would go off for no reason. Then a man was seen skirting along the edge of the house and taking pictures. Next the building was broken into and documents were missing. There wasn’t enough evidence for the police to make an arrest but we both suspected it was Rob. She said: ‘Why does this person have to be in my life? He makes everything so difficult.’ I said: ‘It’s difficult now but it’ll soon be over.’
Jo decided to open up her house as a B&B. I helped redecorate and fit a new bathroom. The business took off and she was pleased with how things were going. It was good to see her smile again. A date was set for the final divorce hearing at the High Court. Jo called one day and said: ‘Did you see the news? The case was upheld!’ She was talking about a test case in The Supreme Court. The woman in that case had won the right to enforce her prenuptial agreement. It paved the way for good news for Jo at her hearing in a week’s time. As her own case drew close, I didn’t hear from her for a couple of days. I supposed she was busy at home making last-minute preparations for court. Then my phone began to ring. I picked it up and a voice said: ‘Mr Wilson, this is the police. When were you last in contact with Joanna Brown?’ My heart raced. I said: ‘Two days ago.’ She continued: ‘We received a report that Jo is missing.’ I said: ‘If you think something has happened to Jo, you need to talk to her ex-husband.’ I hung up and dialled another number. Jo’s mum Di answered. I said: ‘We can’t reach Jo.’ ‘Oh my God,’ she said. ‘He’s killed her.’ Her fears sounded extreme but I shared them. I went straight to Jo’s house. Police officers in white crime scene suits were pushing evidence flags into the ground and I noticed police tape across the drive.
I tried to go into the house but an officer stopped me. I waited for five hours then I went to Ascot Police Station, Berkshire, and made a full statement. I was told Rob and the children spoke to the police too. I went home that night sick with shock and worry. Two days passed in a blur. Then I recalled something Jo had told me months earlier. Rob had made a den for the kids in Windsor Great Park. What if she was there? I went to the park and began to search. I looked under bushes and walked for miles. After six hours, I returned home. Next day, I received a call. It was the police. The detective said: ‘We’ve uncovered a buried box in Windsor Great Park with the body of a blonde female inside. She was wearing an Egyptian-style necklace.’ I felt as if my heart was breaking. That was the pendant Jo always wore. Rob was charged with murder. I couldn’t help blaming myself. I thought:If only I’d seen her on Saturday. If only I’d been there on Sunday. If only, if only, if only…
We held a special memorial service at the church and more than 500 of her friends and family paid their respects. Several weeks later, Jo’s body was released and she was buried in a private ceremony.
In time Robert Brown, 47, of North Street, Winkfield, Berkshire, pleaded not guilty to murder and obstructing a coroner from holding an inquest. The trial began at Reading Crown Court. Prosecutor Graham Reeds QC said that Brown had dug a hole and burried a large plastic box in parkland. Then, eight months later he had taken the children back to Joanna Brown’s home at Tun Cottage, Ascot, Berkshire. There he’d attacked her with a hammer or mallet which he had taken from a shed, while the children cowered in a nearby room. The court heard that brown then wrapped Jo’s body in plastic sheeting and put it in the boot of his car. In a police interview, one of the couple’s children said: ‘Dad put mum in the car because he hurt her.’ Robert Brown was arrested and four days later he directed police to the plastic box which now contained Jo’s body. The prosecution claimed that Brown, who worked as a pilot for British Airways, killed Joanna because he felt he’d been ‘stitched up’ in the prenuptial agreement. Robert Brown stepped into the dock and admitted killing his wife but said he could not remember the attack. He said that she had made him feel like an idiot. Brown said: ‘I just burst and I can’t remember what I did at that moment. ‘I just lost it. I blew and the next thing I was standing over Jo and blood was all over the place.’
The defence claimed that Brown was suffering from an adjustment disorder, a mental health problem brought on by stress at the time of Jo’s death. Brown said that before the marriage breakdown, he’d thought that she was having an affair with me but denied holding a knife to her throat. He claimed that Jo had railroaded him into marriage. He said that the divorce had put dreadful strain on him. His words made Jo, who was so gentle and kind, sound like the villain. When asked about the box, Brown said that he’d hidden it because he planned to put documents in it. Before retiring, the jury were instructed to consider an alternative verdict of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. After three days of deliberations, the jury made its decision. Brown was found not guilty of murder. In the courtroom people gasped. Mr Justice Cooke gave Robert Brown the maximum prison sentence he could – 24 years for manslaughter under diminished responsibility and a further two for obstruction. He told Brown: ‘Your responsibility, though diminished, remains substantial. You intended to kill, you intended to conceal the body and to hide the evidence of the killing.’ Referring to the adjustment disorder he said: ‘Your case appears to have disappeared almost immediately after killing your wife. You never called an ambulance or took her to hospital and in my judgement you never had any intention to do so. ‘You took extensive steps to ensure that her body would never be found but when it became plain that the evidence was so strong, you directed the police to the site.’
I am unhappy that Robert Brown was not found guilty of murder. I want the Crown Prosecution Service to appeal for retrial. Jo was an amazing woman with the kindest heart. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.