Heather Howden, 75, from Selsdon believes life should mean life for her daughter's killer...


Holding Tessa as a baby for the first time, I remember thinking just how lucky I was.

Two perfect little girls. My eldest Shirley was 2 and doted on her baby sister.

They bonded instantly, and the years passed quickly as my two girls grew up side by side.

We were lucky enough to live in a lovely little house tucked away at the top of a cosy cul-de-sac.

Woods backed onto our garden and all our neighbours had children of a similar age.

Not a day went by without a knock on the door. ‘Can Shirley and Tessa come out to play?’

I loved being a mum and my husband David would work long hours in a garage he owned.

We took trips with the girls and even went on mass holidays with many of our neighbours – once, there were 40 of us staying in the same Spanish hotel!

Life was idyllic.

Then, when the girls were teenagers, a couple of strange things happened.

I noticed items of underwear mysteriously disappearing from the washing line, particularly knickers.

Then the back- door key went missing and we had to get the locks changed.

Some other neighbours were having the same problem.

‘Must be childish pranks,’ we decided.

The teenage years whizzed by.

Before I knew it, Shirley was ready to leave home and get married.

Tessa, then 19, moved into her bigger front bedroom.

‘It won’t be long before she’s flying the nest, too,’ I said to David.

She had a steady boyfriend at the time and marriage had been mentioned.

Tessa had a marketing job with our local newspaper. She was doing well there.

One evening in January 1986, Tessa announced work were sending her to a Barry Manilow concert – and she was taking me, too! We were so excited.

The day before, the weather was wet and windy, so we spent the evening in.

Looking tired and full of cold, David announced he was off to bed.

‘I’m off, too,’ said Tessa shortly afterwards. ‘Night, night.’

I went to let the cat in and then locked the back door.

The wind was howling as I went to bed.

Nodding off, I slept right through till morning.

It was a scream that woke me up.


I leapt out of bed to see what was wrong.

He was standing just inside Tessa’s bedroom door, two strides away across the landing.

His face was white.

The words he said next turned my world upside down.

‘Don’t go in there,’ he said. ‘Somebody’s killed Tessa. We need to call the police.’

Shocked, horrified, scared stiff, my mind and body froze.

Was this a nightmare?

David took over. He called the police and within minutes, an officer had arrived and accompanied David into Tessa’s bedroom.

I stayed downstairs, rigid with fear, dread and shock.

There was a blast of cold air coming from the kitchen as police officers examined the house.

I began to realise that someone had broken in and killed my Tessa.

At first, no-one wanted to tell me the full horror of exactly what had happened to my lovely daughter.

So my mind raced with horrific possibilities until I was told.

David had gone into Tessa’s bedroom that morning to wake her up, thinking that she’d overslept.

It was 8.04am. He noticed her bed covers in a pile next to the bed and pulled them away.

There was Tessa, slumped against the bed, dead.

She had blood down her front and there was a pair of her tights tied around her neck.

She’d been brutally murdered in the night.

Killed as we both slept soundly just across the landing.


A police murder investigation was launched immediately.

Tessa Howden became known as The Sleeping Beauty in newspapers all over the country.

Fingerprints taken from our house identified local lad Gary Taken, 19, who lived just a few streets away.

He was arrested and then charged.

When police went to his home, they discovered photos of Tessa and other women.

He had a stash of underwear – and the missing back-door key.

It also turned out that, for a short time, he’d been in the same infant-school class as our Tessa.

Somehow, life carried on as David, Shirley and I struggled through our grief.

Exactly a year on, the case finally reached the Old Bailey in London.

In court, Taken’s mother claimed her son had been having a secret relationship with Tessa.

She produced a diary of dates they were supposed to have had, but it was all in his mind.

In reality, Tessa knew nothing about him.

A detective told the court that Tessa’s neck was slashed and she suffered wounds to her hands as she fought for her life.

She’d been strangled with her own tights.

Taken admitted that he’d let himself in and gone up to Tessa’s room at the family home, but claimed that she was ‘alright’ when he left through a window after hearing somebody moving around the house.

It was an obvious lie and the jury saw that.

In January 1987, Taken was convicted of murder and sexual assault and given a life sentence.

‘He’s where he belongs,’ I said to David.

It was the only comfort we had.

Of course, we never got over the horror of what had happened to our beautiful, brilliant girl.

We didn’t want to move away from the support of our friends, but what was once our happy family home was now haunted by Taken and the evil acts he’d committed under our roof.

We kept half of Tessa’s room how it was, David used the rest as an office. Several years ago, we converted the two bedrooms into a self-contained flat with no reminders of what happened there.

I used to love the garden. Now, I couldn’t bear looking at it, knowing it’s how that man got into our house.

Heather and her precious daughter Tessa

As the years passed, we missed Tessa every day.

Even happy moments were tinged with sadness, knowing Tessa Howden should have been there with us to celebrate.

We tried not to think about Taken, but whenever his case came up for parole, we wrote letters and gave evidence to make sure he stayed behind bars.

However, in April this year, a letter flopped onto our doormat from the Ministry of Justice.

‘It’s about him,’ David said, reading the letter.

It revealed that Taken was due to be released, possibly within two weeks, from a jail on the Isle of Sheppey.

Me and David were horrified to say the very least.

The parole board believe Taken can now be managed in society.

We were outraged.

‘How can he be freed?’ I cried.

Taken had never admitted murdering Tessa Howden, and never once contacted us to say sorry.

He’s shown not one ounce of remorse and I don’t believe he’s changed. And what’s to stop him murdering another poor girl?

Our lives have never been the same since Taken murdered Tessa.

He sneaked through the woods, climbed through our kitchen vent and destroyed not only our lives, but also those of our friends and neighbours living around us.

I’m terrified he’ll try and find us again.

Life should mean life.

While Sleeping Beauty woke up again, our Tessa never will. And that hurts my family as much today as it did 30 years ago.

Why should that monster be free from his life sentence while we’re still serving ours?