The day before popular teacher Stephanie Scott, 26, was to marry her sweetheart, her burnt remains were found dumped in an Australian national park. While she’d spent happy months planning her wedding, her killer had spent over a decade thinking about murder…
School cleaner Vincent Stanford, 24, was a ticking time bomb.
He’d had murderous thoughts since he was a boy – it was just a matter of when, where and who.
Tragically, for bride-to-be Stephanie Scott, that moment came when she happened to cross his path on Easter Sunday 2015.
It was just six days before her wedding to her soulmate Aaron Leeson-Woolley.
Stephanie had driven to Leeton High School in New South Wales at 11am on Easter morning, to plan lessons for her students while she was on her honeymoon in Tahiti.
She picked up a set of classroom keys from a colleague and, at 1pm, sent an e-mail to the bus company she’d hired for her wedding.
No-one heard from her again.
Aaron’s calls went to voicemail, Stephanie didn’t show up to dinner that evening.
At home, half-finished place settings for the wedding sat untouched. Stephanie’s car – a red Mazda – had vanished, too.
Alarmed, Aaron contacted family and friends – nothing.
By Monday night, a huge ‘missing person’ hunt was on.
Family rebuffed claims Stephanie had ‘cold feet’, was a runaway bride. Friends said she’d been so excited about her upcoming wedding.
Over 100 guests were already on their way.
Stephanie’s parents worried she’d been run off the road and was injured. They raised money on social media for a helicopter search.
But, behind the scenes, police were suspicious of local man
He’d misled officers when questioned about working at the school that Sunday.
Classroom keys matching Stephanie’s were found at his house. Blood was found in his car.
Then detectives found a photo of what looked like a burnt body on his mobile phone.
Three days after Stephanie’s disappearance, Stanford was arrested for murder – a crushing blow to Stephanie’s fiance and family, who’d clung to the hope of finding her alive.
Little was known about Vincent Stanford in the small, close- knit community of Leeton.
Born in Tasmania, he’d moved to Holland with his family, before recently returning to Australia.
He’d got a job as a cleaner for an agency – passed criminal checks. Neighbours said he was quiet, a hard worker.
The Monday after Stephanie had vanished, he’d hung out washing, waved to neighbours.
Hours after his arrest, Stephanie’s car was found in a field. Then, on the Friday – the day before the wedding – her charred remains were found at Cocoparra National Park – a regular camping spot for the Stanford family.
The next day, Stephanie and Aaron’s wedding venue was locked and silent.
Distraught family and friends had flown from around the world for the ceremony but, instead, guests attended a tragic memorial.
Yet there was more horror to come. It was thought Stanford had also raped Stephanie.
Last July, Vincent Stanford appeared at the NSW Supreme Court in Sydney. He pleaded guilty to murder and aggravated sexual assault.
He’d given detectives a graphic and disturbing video confession, saying he’d dreamt of killing since he was aged 7.
He said that, on that fateful day when he’d spotted Stephanie at the school, he knew he ‘had to kill her’.
‘I was not angry or anything, I was pretty emotionless.’
While Stephanie had planned lessons, Stanford obtained a ‘rape kit’ from his home – including Viagra, a knife, plastic handcuffs and cleaning products.
Back at the school, friendly Stephanie wished Vincent Stanford a happy Easter…
He grabbed her, put a hand over her mouth and dragged her into a storeroom.
‘I closed the door behind us, chucked her on the floor and I beat her to death,’ Stanford said.
He punched Stephanie up to 40 times before sexually assaulting and stabbing her.
He only stopped when ‘she stopped moving and breathing’.
Vincent Stanford also confessed to taking photos of her body, keeping her bra. He put Stephanie’s body in her car boot, cleaned up her blood and the rest of the school.
He drove to the national park, heaped branches over her naked body, poured petrol on them, and set her alight.
After dumping Stephanie’s car, Vincent Stanford walked home.
Court documents revealed Stanford showed ‘characteristics of sexual sadism’.
He was known to linger in the girls’ toilets while students were on their lunch break.
Aged 12, he’d attacked and choked a teacher, and been placed in a mental-health unit.
And before the murder, he’d Googled bride rape, bride rape vid, and bride raped with wedding gown. He also searched for necrophilia and necro rape.
During his confession, Vincent Stanford told police that he couldn’t adapt to society.
‘I would have to require emotions, I have almost none, I have hatred,’ he said.
Vincent Stanford was jailed for life but intends to appeal his sentence.