This wasn’t the post I was going to write. I was going to write something quirky and random – the usual. But I was lying in bed unable to sleep the other night. And you know how it is when you can’t sleep. You eventually start to look back over your life history, like you do; just general things that have happened during the course of your existence. All the things that barely ever cross your mind day-to-day because you’re so consumed with your current concerns, but those are the things that consume your thoughts in the pitch darkness at three o’clock in the morning. Lying there wide awake, my mind had oddly cast itself back to the night of 8th June 1996. It is a night that I possibly may have forgotten all about, were it not for the fact that that particular evening ended in the murder of a young woman.
On the evening of Saturday 8th June (probably the early hours of Sunday 9th) in 1996, 25-year-old hospital clerical worker, Melanie Hall, left Cadillacs nightclub in Bath after quarrelling with her boyfriend. She left the club alone, without her partner and friends, and was never seen alive again.
Coincidentally, the 8th June 1996 was also the chosen date of my friend Sarah’s hen-night. Sarah and I had very recently graduated from nursing college in the city of Bath, and were still living and working at the very hospital we’d trained at. I would have been about 24, and I reckon that I was probably a nurse on a gastroenterology ward at the time, living in a flat-share with some other nurse-pals. Sarah was one of my best friends back then, but today I do not know Sarah at all – not even on social media. That’s sad of course, but it isn’t relevant to this story. Sarah was to be married to her longstanding boyfriend, Ade. So I and a bunch of her female relatives and nursing-buddies were invited for a night out on the town.
My memory has become sketchy over the last 22 years, but parts of that evening are still rather vivid, in what now seem insignificant ways; yet some of the events (even if petty and irrelevant to you) stick in my mind. I remember turning up at Sarah’s new house she’d bought with her fiancé with a couple of my flatmates (who we’d also been nursing classmates with). I was wearing a brand-new blue summer dress that I was feeling pretty damn chuffed about myself in. Unfortunately, Sarah had purchased that very same dress that very same morning, so she (as the bride-to-be) won out. Even though we were at her house and it would have been far easier for her to change into something from her wardrobe, as mine was miles away. I’m not retaining any bitterness about it anymore (I am), but since I wasn’t going to be the blushing bride, Sarah insisted I wear one of her other dresses. I didn’t like it; it was a weird rusty, chequed thing that simply wasn’t right for me, and didn’t match my shoes. Oh, and it was too small (Sarah had the stature of Grace Kelly…and I was more of a stocky Russian shot-putter). So right from the very start, I was out of kilter that night – out of sorts, if you will.
In fact, the evening was strange from start to finish. I remember we went to a restaurant – but which restaurant has been completely obliterated from my memory. However, I do remember that Sarah’s soon-to-be sister-in-law had an allergic reaction to something; we felt at the time there must have been unseen nuts in her meal because she had a known nut-allergy, and her tongue began to swell and her breathing became difficult. Anyway, she had to be taken off to hospital (I can’t remember who took her, but it wasn’t Sarah and it certainly wasn’t me). The rest of us thoughtlessly carried on with our festivities and headed off to a local nightclub in town, where we spent the majority of the night. We may have briefly gone to a pub or two in the interim, I just don’t know now that I’m 46 and so many years have gone by.
At that time, the nightclub was called Cadillacs (a terrible name for a nightclub; it makes it sound cheesy and cheap – which it was – which was why we liked it). I don’t think it’s even a club anymore. I vividly remember its terracotta walls, the black bar and woodwork, and sweat dripping from the ceiling when everybody was dancing and it got too hot. It was a meat-market, really, but we weren’t on the pull – not on a hen-night. Unbeknownst to us, in that same nightclub that same night, was a girl named Melanie Hall. Like I say, I didn’t know poor Melanie existed on that night of the 8th June 1996 – I found out later; sadly, we all did. I keep saying this, and although I’ve forgotten so many details, much of that evening has remained with me (probably because of how it ended). And although nothing terrible happened to me that night, I had a fair bit of my own shit going on. Firstly, I was in that dress, which was a constant source of annoyance – it wasn’t mine and it wasn’t me. Secondly, at different periods of that long evening, I spotted not one but TWO ex-boyfriends in the same club that same night. I hadn’t had many boyfriends by the age of 24, so that was super-weird. One of them didn’t even live in the city of Bath anymore – so he certainly shouldn’t have been there. One ex after the other, I coolly eyed them (whilst looking my absolute worst in my awful borrowed dress – what are the chances?!), and breezed on by; refusing to acknowledge either of them – and they didn’t acknowledge me. I don’t believe in having exes as friends; if you could still be friends you wouldn’t be exes. Oh, and less importantly, I remember some random stranger stating audibly to his friend that I looked like Julia Roberts after having been hit by a hammer (I know he was talking about me because everybody said I looked like Julia Roberts in those days), so that pissed me off too. It’s funny the pointless little things you remember.
Melanie Hall worked in the same hospital in which we all worked as nurses. But none of us knew Melanie. I understand she worked in Medical Records, but nurses and clerical staff don’t really cross paths. Perhaps we unknowingly did in the hospital corridors or canteen. Maybe. Melanie was born in the town where I now live, and she was only a year older than me. And although we didn’t know it, our paths may have crossed just for a brief moment that night in Cadillacs nightclub. My friends and I were there for hours, so I possibly waited beside her for a drink at the bar, I possibly mingled in her vicinity in my ill-fitting dress, my friend Louise possibly threw some shapes whilst standing near her on the dancefloor when ‘Dancing Queen’ came on, my friend Jo possibly jostled her out of the way whilst dancing completely pissed (Jo was always jostling people out of the way whilst dancing completely pissed). We will never know – we did not know Melanie, and she did not know us. But my happy-go-lucky friends and I – we all managed to make it home safely to our beds that night. Sadly, Melanie Hall did not.
That’s all I can remember from that night. Days later we heard about the missing girl on the local news. It was a huge story; that kind of thing didn’t happen in Bath. It even made ‘Crimewatch’. We all knew right from the start she was dead; she had no reason to purposefully disappear. At some point I telephoned the police to inform them, that although I didn’t know and hadn’t seen Melanie, I had been there that night. I’ve no idea if the police would ever have been able to make contact with me if I hadn’t called them. But a day or two later the police came over to interview me briefly; I told them the little I knew, and named every other person in the club that was known to me – including the two ex-boyfriends. And that was that.
Melanie Hall’s whereabouts were a mystery for years. Until thirteen years later her remains were found near Thornbury on 7th October 2009. The inquest said she probably died from blunt force trauma to her skull – she had been tied up with blue rope and her body buried. Many men have been detained and questioned over the years, but none have ever been charged with her murder. Her killer to this date has never been found – this murder remains unsolved. I often wonder what happened to Melanie that night. Who did she meet whilst trying to get home from the nightclub? Was it somebody she knew? Was she just in the wrong place at the wrong time when some evil stranger spotted her on the streets of Bath?
I don’t know why I’m telling you this story now. Like I say, I couldn’t sleep the other night, and that evening of 22 years ago flooded my head with random, disjointed memories. Maybe I am writing this because I tout myself as a storyteller, and it’s a story I’ve never put down in writing before (I hope I’ve been vaguely accurate; it was so long ago). Maybe I just want my young daughters to know that, although horrific things like this hardly ever happen (especially not on the quaint streets of Bath), they can happen. And it happened that night; whilst we were out revelling without a care in the world, so it’s always best to be careful when you’re a girl – never separate from your mates. It makes me terribly sad that, what should probably be reflected upon as a fun evening from the past, is now tainted with such a dreadful history. I’m sorry I never knew Melanie. I bet she was nice. I’m sorry she didn’t live long enough to meet Mr Right, have a family, and grow old like I did. I write this post with none of my usual flippancy, and hope that the pettiness of my unflattering dress, the two weird exes, and unfavourable comments about my likeness to Julia Roberts aren’t thought heartless. They are just incidental memories. A horrible thing happened to that girl, and we will never know who did it – or why. What I most hope is that her parents and family and friends have managed to find some kind of peace over the years – if that’s possible.