The prime suspect in the murder of Leah Croucher, who vanished while walking to work in February 2019, has been named by police as Neil Maxwell, a sex offender who killed himself in April 2019.
Thames Valley Police say Maxwell was the only person with keys to the house where remains were found near the 19-year-old’s possessions.
The remains were discovered in the loft of a property on Loxbeare Drive, Furzton, Milton Keynes, while the owners were away.
Maxwell had been employed by the homeowner to carry out some property maintenance at the house.
Maxwell had previous convictions for sexual offences against women and was wanted in connection with a sexual assault in Newport Pagnell in November 2018.
In a statement via Thames Valley Police, the family of Leah Croucher thanked the force for its efforts to find the 19-year-old over the past three years and eight months.
Detective Chief Superintendent Ian Hunter said: “They (the family) have specifically asked me to pass on the following message.
“’We would like to take this opportunity to thank Thames Valley Police for all their efforts over the past three years and eight months.
“We believe that they could not have done anything differently, they have always approached every conversation with dignity and compassion.
“As a family, we ask that everyone respects our privacy as well as our immediate family, at what is one of the most difficult times of our lives.’”
Detective Chief Superintendent Ian Hunter, Thames Valley Police’s head of crime, said in a statement: “I cannot even begin to imagine what it is like for Leah’s parents and family, for three years and eight months not knowing what has happened to their daughter and loved one.
“All of the investigation team who are working on this case are dedicated to finding the truth for Leah’s family.”
He went on: “Today, I am able to confirm that we have nominated a suspect in this case. His name is Neil Maxwell.
“However, Maxwell was found dead on April 20 2019 having taken his own life.”
He added that police remain “absolutely committed to establishing the truth” about what happened to Leah Croucher during a press conference in Milton Keynes about the lines of inquiry that are of interest.
He said: “Maxwell has been nominated as a suspect. There are no other suspects currently nominated. I hope that reassures the local community.
“I hope people can understand how challenging and difficult this is for the investigation team to work through. We are going to do that in the most diligent manner that we possibly can.
“We will keep the public up to date. I know that all of our officers and staff who are working extremely hard in this investigation are absolutely committed to establishing the truth.”
He added: “This inquiry was always extremely challenging. If we go back to Buzzacott Lane and the CCTV at 8.16am on February 15, 2019 – there were no further lines of inquiry that helped us from there.
“Of course, Leah’s route to work has always been subject to intense scrutiny throughout our investigation. (There were) 4,000 properties visited and CCTV that we were able to obtain has been viewed.
“At this stage, it is of course an active line of our inquiry – did Leah walk past that house and some sort of action took place? That is exactly what the investigation team are going to try and establish.”
Police said it is “impossible to say” at this stage whether the house where the human remains were found is also the place where that person died.
A Home Office post-mortem examination is currently taking place after which formal identification of the remains will take place.
They say the investigation and ongoing search of the property is “going to take some time.”
Det Ch Supt Hunter said the case was “one of the largest missing person investigations I have ever been aware of”.
He said: “We don’t want to increase fear unnecessarily – we want to keep people informed of what we are doing and why we are doing it.
“This investigation in my experience is one of the largest missing person investigations I have ever been aware of.
“The concerted media coverage has of course affected all of the residents of the local area and wider Milton Keynes – and I suspect more widely beyond.
“What we have tried to do is keep people up to date with the investigation as much as we possibly can and (have) tried to be open in explaining what the situation is. We don’t want to increase fear unnecessarily – we want to keep people informed of what we are doing and why we are doing it.
“We have been really active in the area around Furzton since this week. We would urge anybody with concerns to reach out and speak to somebody if they are worried about any of this – which we completely understand as well.”