Mother-of-three Natalie Hemming vanished seemingly without trace from her home in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, on Sunday 1 May 2016.
48 hours later, her own frantic mother called 999. When asked by the operator: “What’s the specific concern that’s caused you to call the police?” she replied: “Him.”
That phone call launched one of the biggest missing person searches ever seen at Thames Valley Police.
On Thursday, Channel 4 will air Catching A Killer: The Search For Natalie Hemming at 9pm, which follows the investigation hour-by-hour and features unprecedented access to the police and the missing woman’s family and friends as they struggle to come to terms with the harrowing situation around them.
What Happened To Natalie Hemming?
Natalie, 31, was last seen leaving her mother’s home in Hemel Hempstead at 4pm on Sunday 1 May.
On 7 May, her partner Paul Hemming was charged with murdering Natalie. In court it emerged the then 43-year-old, who had spent ten years bullying and controlling Natalie, had discovered she had a new lover and planned to leave him.
A jury at Luton Crown Court heard Paul violently beat Natalie in the living room of their home, waking up their six-year-old son who peeked through the door and saw his mother’s body being wrapped in a large red rug.
Not realising she had just been killed and fearing he would be punished, he crept back to his bedroom. When the child and his sisters awoke the next morning they were told by their father that their mother had left the house while they were asleep. He then took them to zoo for a day out.
The children were unaware that their father had carried their mother’s naked body out of the house, thrown her into the boot of his car and dumped her face-down in a wooded area 30 miles away.
Her badly decomposed remains were found near Chandler’s Cross, Hertfordshire, three weeks later. Natalie had suffered a fractured skull and a broken arm in the attack, presumably as she tried to ward off the blows.
Paul explained her disappearance by lying to police and her family that Natalie had been raped by a work colleague on a night out and needed time to “clear her head.”
On 4 November Hemming, who admitted manslaughter, was convicted of murdering the mother of his children and given a life sentence.
This week Natalie’s family spoke out for the first time in a bid to try and help other victims of domestic violence. Her sister Joanne Beverley, 39, said: “As soon as I got the call from mum saying Natalie had gone missing, I knew she was dead. And I knew Paul had killed her.
“I just got this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. We’re a large and very close family and Paul didn’t really mix with us. He always sat apart and stayed quiet at family gatherings. He even refused to go to his own children’s baptisms.”
Joanne said Paul was so possessive he offered to pay Natalie to give up her job at a car salesroom and to stay at home and kept promising to marry her – though called the wedding off three times.
Natalie had even bought a wedding dress and had told her friends she was to tie the knot. Eventually she changed her name to Hemming as a compromise.
But in 2013 she realised her mistake and fled to Yorkshire to live near her sister in a rented house with her three children - one of whom was from a previous relationship.
“It was so lovely, and we were all so happy,” said Joanne. “We thought she’d finally made the break. But four months later Hemming wormed his way back into her feelings and she moved back to Milton Keynes to live with him. We were all devastated.”
Joanne is bringing up two of Natalie’s children, two girls aged 12 and four, alongside her own four children in Yorkshire. The third child, a seven-year-old boy, is being cared for by Natalie’s other sister Kerry.
But Natalie’s mother, 73-year-old Margaret Hammond still sobs daily for her youngest daughter, who she calls her “baby”.
Joanne added: “We’re doing okay. We all support each other and everybody is there for everybody else. We’re that kind of family. If telling her story can help other woman walk away from an abusive relationship then we will know that my sister did not die in vain.”
Refuge - Domestic violence help for women and children - 0808 2000 247
Women’s Aid - Support for abused women and children – or call the National Domestic Violence Helpline, run by Women’s Aid and Refuge, on 0808 2000 247
Galop - The LGBT domestic violence charity - 0800 999 5428
Men’s Advice Line - Advice and support for men experiencing domestic violence and abuse - 0808 801 0327
Detective Superintendent Simon Steel of Thames Valley Police said: “The documentary which has been produced is deeply moving and highlights the issues of domestic abuse. While tragically this became a murder investigation, it shows the efforts the force made to find Natalie for her family – this was our absolute priority.
“Natalie was killed by a person she should have been able to trust but instead he was a manipulative cold and calculating killer. She lost her life at Paul Hemming’s hands and he left three children without their mother. We knew nothing we did could ever make up for the loss of Natalie however it was our duty to build the strongest possible case to ensure they received justice.
“Any feelings of apprehension which I had about being followed by a film crew while carrying out what is extremely difficult, painstaking and sensitive work, were put at ease as I knew Natalie’s family fully supported the work the documentary crew was carrying out to raise the issue of domestic abuse. During the family’s darkest days they were thinking about how their loss could help other victims.
“I appreciate signs of domestic abuse can be difficult to spot. It can include controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship and can be misinterpreted as ‘love’.
“I would encourage anyone to report any incident of domestic abuse to police - whether you are the victim or you have concerns for a friend, a family member or even a neighbour. Specialist officers will listen and deal with you sensitively.”