A self-styled healer has become the first woman in England to be handed a life sentence on television for the “profoundly shocking” murder of her friend whose headless body was dumped in Devon.
Jemma Mitchell was told she will serve at least 34 years in jail for killing 67-year-old Mee Kuen Chong at her London home in June last year.
Two weeks after the murder, she drove more than 200 miles to the seaside town of Salcombe in Devon where she left devout Christian Ms Chong’s decapitated and badly decomposed body in woods.
The prosecution claimed 38-year-old Mitchell hatched a plan to murder the vulnerable widow, who was known as Deborah, after befriending her through a church group.
When Ms Chong backed out of giving her £200,000 to pay for repairs to her rundown £4m home, Mitchell killed her and forged a will to inherit the bulk of her estate – worth more than £700,000.
The trained osteopath, who boasted online of her award-winning skill in human dissection, had denied having anything to do with Ms Chong’s death – but declined to give evidence at her trial.
Mitchell stood impassively in the dock as she was found guilty of murder while Ms Chong’s family in Malaysia watched the verdict via a video link on Thursday.
On Friday, Judge Richard Marks KC was broadcast handing down his sentence to Mitchell at the Old Bailey.
The judge said it was a particularly shocking murder for gain perpetrated by an “extremely devious” person.
He told Mitchell: “There is the chilling aspect of what you did to and with her body after you killed her.
“You have shown absolutely no remorse and it appears you are in complete denial as to what you did, notwithstanding what in my judgment amounted to overwhelming evidence against you.
“The enormity of your crime is profoundly shocking, even more so given your apparent religious devotion and the fact Deborah Chong was a good friend to you and had shown you great kindness.”
Mitchell’s mother, Hillary Collard, blew kisses to her daughter as she was sent down from the dock.
The victim’s sister, Amy Chong, nieces Pinky and Yinky, and nephew Ryan, watched proceedings by video link from abroad.
In a victim impact statement read to the court, Amy Chong said: “Deborah’s death was a shock to us all. It was difficult to comprehend how it could have happened to her, although we are not close due to certain differences of opinion with regard to religion.
“It saddens me she had to go through such a horrifying ordeal and tragic death.”
She had suffered sleepless nights and the murder left a “huge bottomless hole” in her life, the sister said.
She said that “no-one in their right mind” would mutilate another person in the way Mitchell had.
Hearing in the trial of how Mitchell had taken advantage of her sister had caused more upset.
She added: “I hope she gets what she deserves.
“She is the crazy one who steals people’s belongings after they died.
“We still do not understand how she died. Did she suffer? This mystery will haunt me forever.”
Mitigating, Richard Jory KC said: “This started as a genuine friendship between two women who shared a faith.”
It is only the second time cameras have been allowed into an English criminal crown court to record a sentencing, and the first in a murder case in which the defendant is a woman.
During the trial, jurors viewed CCTV footage of Mitchell arriving at Ms Chong’s home carrying a large blue suitcase on the morning of June 11 last year.
More than four hours later, she emerged from the property in Wembley, north-west London, with the suitcase appearing bulkier and heavier.
She also had with her a smaller bag full of Ms Chong’s financial documents, which were later recovered from Mitchell’s home.
After Ms Chong was reported missing, Mitchell claimed she had gone to visit family friends “somewhere close to the ocean” as she was feeling “depressed”.
In reality, Mitchell had decapitated Ms Chong and stored her remains in the garden of the house she shared with her retired mother in Willesden, north-west London, the prosecution suggested.
On June 26 last year, she stowed the body inside the suitcase in the boot of a hire car and drove to Devon.
Ms Chong’s headless body was found by holidaymakers beside a woodland footpath near the picturesque town of Salcombe the next day.
Following a police search of the area, Ms Chong’s head was recovered a few metres away from the body.
A post-mortem examination found skull fractures which could have been from a blow to the head and broken ribs, said to have been caused by the body being stuffed into the suitcase.
A search of Mitchell’s home uncovered Ms Chong’s fake will and personal papers.
The blue suitcase had been stored on the roof of a neighbour’s shed.
Although no forensic evidence was recovered from the suitcase, Ms Chong’s DNA was identified on a bloodstained tea towel in a pocket.
Jurors heard that Ms Chong had suffered from schizophrenia and was referred for help after writing letters to the then-Prince of Wales and also the then prime minister, Boris Johnson.
Malaysia-born Ms Chong came from a poor background and came to the UK to study a Huddersfield Polytechnic in the 1970s.
Her mental health suffered after the death of her husband.
Mitchell had grown up in Australia, where her mother worked for the British Foreign Office and had set up an osteopathy business there before returning to the UK in 2015.
On her website, she had claimed she was “attuned to subjects in neuroanatomy, genetics and dissection of human cadavers”.
Following her conviction, Detective chief inspector Jim Eastwood, who led the investigation, said: “Mitchell has never accepted responsibility for Deborah’s murder so there are questions which remain unanswered.
“Why she kept her body for a fortnight, why she decapitated her, why she deposited her remains in Salcombe.
“What we do know is that these were evil acts carried out by an evil woman and the only motive clearly was one of financial gain.”