Herts dad stabbed wife and daughter to death before setting himself on fire

A Hertfordshire husband and dad stabbed his wife and daughter to death in a “frenzied attack” before setting himself on fire in their family home.

The tragic incident happened shortly after midday on Sunday, March 29 last year in Stuarts Close in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, before a concerned neighbour saw smoke billowing from the upstairs window.

An inquest into the three deaths was held at Hatfield Coroner’s Court today (Thursday, February 25) where it was established that Gary Walker, 57, had stabbed both his wife Caroline, 50, and daughter Katie, 24, to death before dousing himself in a flammable liquid and setting himself alight.

The inquest heard that a post mortem examination revealed Mrs Walker had been stabbed by a kitchen knife 39 times, while her daughter had suffered 38 stab wounds. Some injuries were as a result of self defence.

They both died at the scene, as did Mr Walker, who was found badly burnt at the bottom of the stairs in the home shortly after firefighters arrived.

After police had initially launched a murder investigation, the court heard how detectives came to the conclusion that there was no third party involvement.

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Morning of the incident

The court heard evidence from DC Jason Rice of the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Major Crime Unit, who discussed the CCTV footage available from the Walkers’ Ring doorbell, as well as Ring doorbell footage from their opposite neighbours and the house that backs onto the garden of the Walkers’ in Marriotts Way.

At 9.38am on the day of the incident, the camera showed a delivery driver attempting to make a delivery before leaving a package on the front step.

Mrs Walker was spotted outside shortly after and then again at around 10.22am, this time leaving her home and crossing over the road.

The court later heard from DC Rice that Mrs Walker had gone to collect £70 from her opposite neighbour as he wanted her to buy a speaker for him on eBay.

If you have been affected by this story:

Anyone can contact Samaritans for free any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit. This number won’t show up on your phone bill.

Or you can email jo@samaritans.org or visit www.samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch, where you can talk to trained volunteers face to face.

Mrs Walker was then seen walking back to her house at 10.28am, and this is the last time she was picked up by the cameras.

Two hours later, at around 12.28pm, the Walkers’ next door neighbour spotted smoke coming from upstairs and, along with the family’s opposite neighbour, had tried to call Mrs Walker to check to see if she was okay.

There was no response so the emergency services were called, before they arrived at around 12.35pm.

Firefighters tackle the blaze

A tent was erected in the street while police carried out their investigations
A tent was erected in the street while police carried out their investigations
(Image: RMC Photography/Ricci Fothergill)

Firefighters tackled the blaze at the home, which is one of 13 houses in a small, tight-knit cul-de-sac.

Mr Walker was found by officers near the stairway, while Mrs Walker was discovered in the living room, the court heard.

Their daughter, meanwhile, was found in a bedroom upstairs. Miss Walker, who worked as a kennel assistant, kept some animals both indoors and outdoors but, due to the fire a number of those housed inside the property also died.

Firefighters also found four knives, which DC Rice told the court were later swabbed and had traces of both Mr Walker’s and Mrs Walker’s DNA on them. While there were no traces of Miss Walker’s DNA, the court heard this was due to the knives being badly damaged and limited swab samples being available.

While the firefighters were tackling the blaze, police were called due to the suspicious-looking and “unusual” nature of the circumstances.

Both Mrs and Miss Walker were taken outside by paramedics but were pronounced dead at the scene, as was Mr Walker.

What is an inquest?

Inquests do not investigate every single death that happens, but will hear unexplained or suspicious deaths of individuals. They will hear from witnesses from organisations, health services, as well as officers and police who investigated the incidents.

The law says that the coroner must open an inquest into a death if there is a reasonable cause to suspect that the death was due to anything other than natural causes.

An inquest is a limited fact-finding inquiry to establish:

  • Who died;
  • When they died;
  • Where they died;
  • How they died; and
  • Information needed by the Registrar of Deaths so the death can be registered.

There is a formal court setting and all must stand when the coroner enters and leaves the court.

It is very much in the public interest to have an effective inquest system, as it safeguards the legal rights of the deceased’s family and other interested persons. It highlights lessons to be learned and advances in medical knowledge.

Many families also find it helps to have the chance to ask questions to witnesses, and at the end of the process, know that they have the full and accurate facts about their loved one’s death.

DC Rice, who called the incident a “reasonably frenzied attack”, told the inquest that the CCTV from the back of a nearby home in Marriotts Way showed no one entering or leaving the property, while the garden gate was locked.

The patio doors to the home were also locked, with the inside handle covered in Mr Walker’s blood.

Following the thorough investigation, DC Rice told the court: “We believe there’s no third party involvement in this.”

He continued by telling the court that sometime between 10.28am and 12.28pm, Mr Walker had stabbed his wife and daughter to death, walked outside onto the patio while leaving blood prints on the inside patio door and blood spatter on the patio, before heading to the garden.

It was here where he picked up a bottle of a flammable liquid from the shed – the bottle of which was later discovered empty by officers inside the property – before returning inside the house and then locking the patio door behind him.

The court heard that Mr Walker then doused himself in the liquid before setting himself alight.

“Considerate and helpful family”

A number of uniformed officers were seen on the residential street
(Image: RMC Photography/Ricci Fothergill)

The court heard how the motives for the incident remain known.

Witness statements from neighbours and family suggested that they were a loving unit who had no issues behind closed doors.

The family, who had lived in the area for 27 years, were described as “considerate and helpful” by neighbours, with Mr Walker, who worked as a quantity surveyor, known to often help trim their hedges.

It was revealed to the court that Watford-born Mr Walker had often battled with anxiety after worrying over work projects and, with this incident following shortly after England’s first coronavirus lockdown announcement, had concerns over catching the virus and the implications of working from home. However, these were common issues with many people during the period and were considered by those who knew him to be nothing out of the ordinary.

Mr Walker had contacted his GP just days before the attack on March 23, citing worries around the Covid-19 pandemic, the court was told.

Meanwhile, background research found Mrs Walker also had long-term “chronic depression” linked to an old leg injury, and the court heard how she had run into around £20,000 of debt and kept this secret from her husband.

DC Rice told the court: “At the time of the incident we aren’t sure of the impact it [the debt] had on the situation [but] we don’t believe so.”

Summarising the evidence, Senior Coroner Geoffrey Sullivan confirmed that the medical cause of death for Mr Walker, as a result of a post mortem examination carried out at Hemel Hempstead General Hospital, was consistent with the effects of fire.

The medical cause of death for both Mrs Walker and her daughter were given as stab wounds to the chest.

Summarising, Mr Sullivan said: “Due to the CCTV footage and the thorough investigation, the events that took place are to my mind very clear. The reason for these tragic events, however, remain a mystery.”

Giving his conclusion, Mr Sullivan gave one of suicide for Mr Walker and one of unlawful killing for both Mrs and Miss Walker.

He offered his condolences to the family, particularly Mr Walker and Mrs Walker’s other children.

If you have been affected by this story, anyone can contact Samaritans for free any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit. This number won’t show up on your phone bill.

Or you can email jo@samaritans.org or visit www.samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch, where you can talk to trained volunteers face-to face.

HertsLive – Hemel Hempstead