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How a young mum and daughter were lured to their deaths

Published on 2023-06-04 15:55:12 source:NBC News

Bennylyn Burke and her young daughter were lured hundreds of miles from Bristol to Dundee by a calculating killer who murdered them and then buried their bodies under his kitchen floor.

They had come to the UK hoping for a better life, and their deaths caused shockwaves which were felt by her shattered family thousands of miles away.

It was a Thursday in February 2021 and Shela Aquino was video-chatting with her sister Bennylyn.

Shela was calling from her home in the Philippines.

The sisters had been separated for 18 months, since Bennylyn moved to the UK.

But they were close and spoke every day, despite the eight-hour time difference.

This day was different. Bennylyn was the passenger in a car travelling to Scotland, along with her two-year-old daughter Jellica and another child.

The man she was with was taking the 25-year-old from Bristol to his house in Dundee for the weekend.

They had met on a dating website a few weeks earlier and seemed to get on.

But unknown to Bennylyn, he had deliberately targeted and groomed her.

They arranged to meet and the man drove 440 miles during lockdown to visit Bennylyn in Bristol.

Bennylyn told her sister that the 50-year-old seemed kind and caring.

Shela said: "I told her to give it a try, that perhaps she will be happy this time."

She said her sister "took pity" on the man after he made the long journey south, and was "curious" about Scotland.

During their video chat in the car, Shela asked her sister if she could see "the foreigner".

"So she showed me the guy - I had the chance to greet him. I said: 'Hello sir'.

"They were already on the road. We started chatting, I even joked with him."

Shela said the man was tall, thin and balding. His name was Andrew Innes.

Born in June 1970, Innes attended Alva Academy then studied at Aberdeen University before working in computer gaming for several firms in Dundee.

He told Shela that he also lived in Japan with his Japanese wife and their children, but their marriage broke down and he was deported back to the UK in 2019.

Innes had joined 34 dating sites, including one called Filipino Cupid - which Bennylyn had also joined to seek companionship.

Police later discovered that Innes had compiled a spreadsheet of data harvested from the site.

It graded women according to their age, height, weight, and if they had children.

His "top scores" were women in their mid to late 20s with young children.

This was how he met Bennylyn.

Three days before they met in person, his internet searches included "what is chloroform used for" and underfloor storage.

During their initial chats, Innes asked Bennylyn to work for him in Dundee as a community relations manager for £1,000 a month, but she refused, saying she could do the job from Bristol.

Innes also asked Bennylyn for intimate photos, which she also declined.

But at some point, they decided to meet in person in Bristol.

Bennylyn Burke was born in November 1995 in the Philippines, and worked hard as a teenager to complete her degree.

In 2015, Bennylyn, who was only 4ft 6in tall, met Lexington Burke, a landlord from the UK almost 40 years her senior, on a dating website.

They married in Samar, Philippines, in July 2018 and their daughter Jellica was born the following month.

In 2019, the couple moved to the UK, arriving on 20 August, Jellica's first birthday.

But the marriage broke down within months, leaving Bennylyn a single parent - and vulnerable.

However, she told her sister that she felt "different" and "free" after finally moving into her own flat in Kingswood, three miles outside Bristol.

Vicky Whipp, from the MumsInBath Facebook group, was one of the local people who rallied round to help the young mother.

"She was the sweetest person I've ever met, she was so lovely," she said.

Vicky described Jellica as lively and confident, with "lots of personality".

Bennylyn worked in a care home for a few months and sold car vacuum cleaners online, sending money home to her family, who described her as "the breadwinner".

Vicky said she had wanted a better life and a future in the UK. "She was determined - she missed her family but she wanted to stay here."

Bennylyn, Jellica, and another child arrived at Innes' house in Dundee on the evening of Thursday 18 February 2021.

They spent the next day sightseeing around Dundee, visiting attractions like the V&A and Camperdown Park.

Tellingly, they had not packed overnight bags and had no plans to stay in Dundee for long.

Shela chatted to her sister the following day. It would be the last time that they spoke.

"Bennylyn showed me his house. She showed me this white thing that was like a veranda."

The next day, Shela grew concerned that her sister was not replying to her messages.

On the Monday, she received a message from Innes.

He told her that Bennylyn and Jellica and another child were in Glasgow with another man she met online, a teacher.

He claimed Bennylyn wanted to hide at his house because Jellica's father wanted custody of his daughter, and wanted Bennylyn to be deported to the Philippines.

Innes said Bennylyn was safe in Glasgow, and that he told her to get rid of her mobile phone if she wanted to hide from the authorities.

When Shela pleaded to speak to her sister, Innes replied: "I expect she will get in touch with you once she gets settled down."

Shela said she couldn't contact Bennylyn on Messenger, and asked: "Sir can you tell me my sister is alive?"

Chillingly, he replied: "Scotland is a very peaceful country, we don't have much crime at all.

"Please try not to worry, I'm sure your sister is perfectly safe."

Four days later, Shela contacted "Sir Andrew" again.

He told her the "other gentleman" in Glasgow had messaged him to say that Bennylyn and Jellica were "settling in to their new routine very well".

Innes said she would be in contact "when she feels safe to do so".

He added: "She's happy to have found someone nice and desperately relieved that her baby won't be taken away from her."

He said he needed to "draw a line under this" and get on with his life.

He says he will delete everything from his phone and computer "not just to protect myself, but also to protect her, so the police can't find her if they search my house".

Shela asked Innes to record a video of Bennylyn, but he sent an old video of her instead.

She told Innes: "I hope we chat again sir." He replied: "Maybe one day we can, once the dust has all settled."

On 1 March, two weeks after leaving Kingswood, Bennylyn and Jellica were reported missing when they missed an appointment.

Two days later a search was launched by police, who said they were becoming increasingly concerned.

Shela said her family were already worried when Bennylyn couldn't be reached, and described a bleak premonition.

She said: "Our older brother had a dream. He was looking at photos of Bennylyn and Jellica.

"He saw some faces clearly, but others were blurred. That was when we felt something was wrong."

After being contacted by Avon and Somerset Police, officers in Dundee arrived at Troon Avenue at 15:20 on Friday 5 March.

Police in England had information that Bennylyn may have been in the city the previous week.

They had identified a car that had travelled from Dundee to Bristol and back during lockdown.

Officers saw the car in Innes' driveway and knocked on his door.

The officer in charge of the case, Det Ch Insp Graham Smith, said Innes confirmed that he took Bennylyn and two children up to Dundee, but claimed they were now in Glasgow.

Innes refused to allow officers into his house, saying that he was self-isolating and that his daughter had just come out of the bath.

The officers saw the girl, who was fully clothed, inside the house and insisted they were allowed in.

They were met with a scene of "complete disarray". The kitchen units had been removed, there was no cooker, and pots and pans were on the stairs.

The girl was taken aside by one of the officers. She confirmed that she was not Innes' daughter.

The officers asked him where Bennylyn was and Innes replied: "I killed her, she's under the floor. We got into a fight and I killed her."

Det Ch Insp Smith said: "I think the officers will undoubtedly have saved that child's life."

Innes was arrested and questioned by detectives.

Det Ch Insp Smith says Innes was "cold and callous" and showed no remorse.

He told officers that the two bodies were buried "three or four feet down" in the kitchen under a large amount of concrete.

With Innes in custody, and the child taken to safety, the search of his Troon Avenue home began.

Det Ch Insp Smith said those involved were faced with a "horrific" scene.

After two weeks of painstaking work, the grim discovery was made of two bodies in rubble bags under the kitchen floor.

Bennylyn had been stabbed and beaten to death with a hammer. Jellica had been strangled.

A phone call from Det Chf Insp Smith confirmed the news Shela had been dreading.

Shela said: "He said that Bennylyn was found in a black bag, a black garbage bag. Baby Jellica was also there."

Bennylyn's father, Benedicto Aquino, said he was "crushed and gutted" after being given the news.

"I asked why she was killed in Dundee," he said.

"My daughter doesn't pick fights, she was kind, God-fearing, friendly.

"Why do that to her? What an abomination that he murdered an innocent child."

Almost two years after the murders, Innes stood trial at the High Court in Edinburgh.

Bennylyn's family, including Shela and Benedicto, flew in from the Philippines for the trial, as did Jellica's father Lexington Burke.

On day three, Innes took to the stand. His testimony veered from rambling talk of dragons to tearful self-pitying outbursts and graphic descriptions of his horrific crimes.

He claimed that he attacked Bennylyn after thinking "crazy things" because she resembled two women he felt had betrayed him, and blamed steroid medication for his behaviour.

But the jury did not take long to find him guilty of the two murders.

Det Chf Insp Smith said staff at the National Crime Agency described the case as a once-in-a-generation inquiry.

And he added: "My focus is on the family of Bennylyn and Jellica and how they recover from this."

Bennylyn's family want her remembered as a good and caring mother, who came to the UK to seek the best for her family.

Shela says: "She was kind, there was nothing bad we could say about her."

Two weeks after their bodies were discovered, a group of Bennylyn and Jellica's friends had gathered at Brandon Hill Park in Bristol to pay their own tributes.

They met on the grass below Cabot Tower, where they had once enjoyed picnics together.

Candles and flowers were placed on a red blanket on the ground, along with pictures, a teddy bear and placards.

White balloons tied to a nearby tree read: "You are loved. You are missed. You are remembered."

Additional reporting by Virma Simonette

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