What happened to Nicola Payne? Mystery of 18-year-old woman who disappeared without a trace on a foggy day 30 years ago and was never found despite extensive searches – as her mother sadly passes away without finding out the truth
- No trace of Nicola Payne found despite extensive searches over the years
- Today family confirmed her mother Marilyn Payne has died at the age of 77
The disappearance of Nicola Payne in 1991 remains unsolved despite a 30-year search by police who have failed to find answers before the tragic death of her mother.
Nicola, then 18, vanished in thick fog while walking across wasteland in Coventry, on what should have been a five minute journey to her parents’ house at around midday on December 14 that year.
Over the last three decades, numerous searches of properties, gardens, rivers, a canal, a lake and woodland have been undertaken by detectives, with the help of private investigators, but no trace of her body has ever been found.
Her parents Marilyn and John never gave up and held regular appeals, urging the public to help them find their daughter.
But tragedy hit today as family confirmed that Nicola’s beloved mother Marilyn, 77, has died without knowing what happened to her daughter.
Here, MailOnline examines the mystery of Nicola’s disappearance.
Nicola had left her seven-month-old son Owen with her boyfriend Jason Cooke at his home to visit her mother and father – but never made it
Marilyn (right) has died at the age of 77 without ever finding out what happened to her daughter (left)
Marilyn and John Payne from Walsgrave, Coventry whose daughter Nicola went missing on the 14 December 1991
The day Nicola vanished amid fog so thick ‘you could not see a thing
On December 14, 1991, Nicola left her seven-month-old son Owen with her boyfriend Jason Cooke at his home to visit her mother and father who lived a five-minute walk away.
She made her way across wasteland known as Black Pad but never made it to her parents’ home.
Family friend David Williams, 76, who lives opposite the park land, said in 2012: ‘I remember the night that it happened well.
‘It was ever so misty. You could not see a thing. It was real thick fog so nobody would have seen anything untoward.
‘She went walking across the path and never made it.
‘Half an hour later her dad went out looking for her and phoned the police.
‘The family have never given up looking for her but they do think she is dead.
‘It is the biggest mystery in Coventry. It has never gone away.’
Miss Payne was 5ft 3in tall, of medium build, with brown hair and brown eyes.
She was last seen wearing a brown leather jacket, purple T-shirt and fawn trousers.
Nicola Payne with her son Owen, 10 weeks before she disappeared
The search operation that followed in the years after she vanished
West Midlands Police launched a huge search for her – with a reconstruction of the day she disappeared released around a week later, according to ITV.
In April 1996 police excavated the garden of a property in Coventry, acting on a tip-off, but after 12 hours of searching nothing was found.
Her parents made a fresh appeal for information in 1998.
Then in June 2001, part of the Oxford Canal, in Ansty, was dredged after a witness came forward with fresh information, but nothing was found.
That September, bones were found near to where Nicola disappeared but turned out to be animal remains.
In 2005, a new poster campaign was launched around the country to bring the case back into the public eye, and the following year Nicola’s picture appeared on Tshirts printed by the National Missing Persons helpline.
The Major Investigation Unit re-opened the case in March 2007 after potential lines of inquiry were identified. Her parents John and Marilyn also re-appealed for information.
The ‘Black Pad’ in Coventry which Nicola Payne crossed but did not make it home in 1991
Read more: Police probing disappearance of 18-year-old mother
Nicola’s son Owen says he has no memories of his mother and envies those who do
In 2007, Nicola’s son Owen – then 21 – described how he had missed out on memories with his mother.
He said: ‘I was seven months old when my lovely mum Nickie went missing.
‘Nan and granddad always say that she had a loving bond with me, which was noticeable to all.
‘Sadly I have no memories of her and I envy my older cousins who remember her well, and they tell me what a fun-loving girl she was.
‘During my early years at school I wished that my mum could meet me at the school gates after school to collect me, as other mums did with my friends.
‘School plays, sports days and open days – there was no mum there to spoil me.
‘My dad and all the family were always loving and caring, but it wasn’t the same.
‘My one wish would be to have my mum found and to be able to understand the confusion, mystery and heartbreak of the past 16 years.’
Excavations – which came to an end with no discoveries
Excavations took place at the garden of a house on June 11, 2008, but drew a blank.
In June 2012, following a tip off, police began searching land.
Officers searched a nature reserve in February 2014.
None of the searches gave Nicola’s family the answers they needed.
Two male suspects acquitted in 2015 following court case
Several arrests have been made over the years but a bungled police investigation and a 2015 court case resulted in two suspects being acquitted.
In 2015, two men, both aged 51, were cleared of murdering Nicola after a trial at Birmingham Crown Court.
Speaking outside court, Miss Payne’s brother Nigel said: ‘Our family are devastated and heavy-hearted with today’s verdict.
‘For nearly 24 years we have lived daily with the anguish of not knowing what’s happened to our beloved Nicola, and worse than that – to this day not knowing where she is.
‘We will never give up on Nicola and therefore we would ask anyone with any information to come forward and contact the police or Crimestoppers.’
Continued police and private searches fail to find the young mother
In 2016, police and scientists spent weeks searching through woodland at Coombe Country Park after receiving new ‘credible’ information but failed to find the young mother.
After hearing about the family’s desperate search for their daughter, private detectives also agreed to help hunt for her in 2018.
Investigative reporter Mark Williams-Thomas and forensic search specialist Peter Faulding – the latter who this year tried to help find mother-of-two Nicola Bulley, offered their services for free after hearing of the family’s plight.
But despite several searches, the case went cold.
Police teams searching a section of canal, near Rugby, Warwickshire as part of the investigation
After hearing about the family’s desperate search for their daughter, private detectives agreed to help hunt for her in 2018
Searches led to a stretch of canal after ‘new information’ in 2020
In February 2020, police investigating the disappearance searched a stretch of canal after receiving new information.
Specialist underwater search teams from West Midlands Police scoured a stretch of canal between Coventry and Rugby.
It was unclear what the new information was.
Detective Inspector Justin Mason-Spanner, from the homicide team, said at the time: ‘We are as committed as ever to finding Nicola’s remains, allowing her family to lay her to rest and to achieving justice for her family and the community.
‘We recently received new information which has led to this search that will last a few days. Nicola’s family has been kept fully informed.
‘We still believe there may be people out there who hold information about what happened in 1991 and I urge anyone who has not previously contacted us with information to contact us.
‘It could make all the difference and could finally bring Nicola’s family the closure they deserve.’
A police diver preparing to enter a canal near Rugby, Warwickshire, after detectives began searching the canal in a bid to find Nicola
Police investigating the disappearance of the young mother searching a stretch of canal after receiving new information in February 2020
A police boat on the canal near Rugby, Warwickshire, in a photo dated February 3, 2020
Cousin’s tribute on the 30th anniversary of Nicola’s disappearance
The family’s campaign for answers will now be led by Nicola’s brothers Scott and Nigel and her cousin Amanda Eales.
Speaking on the 30th anniversary, Amanda said Nicola was ‘the big sister I never had’.
She said: ‘I was eight years younger than Nicky, and I really looked up to her.
‘She had everything to live for. She completely adored her son – and everyone who knew her loved her.
‘Everyone’s life took a different turn the day she disappeared, and we are still here, 30 years later, trying to find answers.
‘We are a big family and there is always a birthday or anniversary to celebrate. There is always an empty space where Nicola should be.’
Anyone with information urged to get in touch with police – as anonymous donor gives £100,000 reward
The search for what happened to Nicola has been given fresh impetus with a £100,000 reward from an anonymous donor in 2018.
Anyone with information about Nicola’s disappearance can contact West Midlands Police on 101 or via its Live Chat at west-midlands.police.uk between 8am and midnight.
Alternatively they can call Crimestoppers confidentially on 0800 555 111 or visit www.crimestoppers-uk.org.
Nicola Payne went missing after setting off on a walk to her parents’ house in Coventry in 1991
Nicola’s heartbroken mother dies without finding out what happened to her daughter
Today it was confirmed her beloved mother Marilyn, 77, has died without knowing what happened to Nicola.
Writing on the Find Nicola Payne Facebook page, her family said: ‘Nicola’s family are devastated to announce the death of her mum, Marilyn Payne.
‘A tenacious woman who never gave up on finding her daughter and laying her to rest.
‘The bravery she showed was extraordinary, and now her determination will continue through her family and many friends in order to finally bring Nicola home.’
Nicola’s parents never gave up hope – and never stopped searching
Mrs Payne previously said: ‘You’ve always got to keep positive and hopeful because that will help make things happen – that’s just what I believe.
‘You think that people that do these things are bad people – and yes they are – but everybody has to have a conscience and at some point you really should look deep into what it’s telling you – you will have family, children of your own.
‘How would you feel?
‘We’ve never ever given up, never stopped searching. Everything has always revolved around having her found. I will always try and stay positive that we are going to get our answer.’
Marilyn and John never gave up and held regular appeals, urging the public to help them find their daughter
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