Who was Tracey Mertens?
Tracey Ann Mertens met her future partner Joey Kavanagh when she was 16. At first, it looked like everything was all right. She fell in love with him, and they had two kids, daughter Kelly, and son Daniel. By all accounts, Tracey was a good mum who doted on her children.
Nonetheless, cracks began appearing in their relationship, and the couple frequently quarreled with each other. Moreover, Joey also had a heroin addiction at the time. It was believed that he had owed a lot of people a lot of money.
In mid-December 1994, Tracey, Joey, and the kids had shifted to a new house in Rochdale. A town just outside of Manchester, around 160 km (100 miles) north of their old house in Birmingham. The motive behind this move is not clear.
22-23 December 1994
Thursday, 22 December 1994, was a cold day in Rochdale. Tracey was heading south, back to her old home at Cattell’s Grove in the Nechelles neighborhood of Birmingham, to pick up a benefits book. She scheduled to make the trip as short as possible and to return that night. But ended up staying the night at the nearby house of her sister-in-law. The following day, Friday, 23 December, she came back to Cattell’s Grove house at around 11:50 am.
She’d been in the home for no more than 10 minutes when there was a knock at the front door. When Tracey answered the door, she was met by two men who grabbed, blindfolded, and forced her into the back seat of a yellow Ford Escort Mk2, similar to this. She was driven for about an hour to the Christ Church in Eaton, Cheshire, around 100 km (60 miles) from Birmingham. When they reached there, she was brought to the churchyard, doused with petrol, and set on fire. The two men then left her to perish. Nonetheless, she managed to crawl around 30 meters (100 ft) towards the church gate. And the main road, where she was found by a passerby who called 999.
Tracey’s wounds were dreadful. She had suffered third-degree burns in more than 95% of her body. She was so harshly burned that doctors had trouble finding a blood vessel to start a drip. Her shoes, which were discovered near her, had been so thoroughly burned, attending officers believed they were pieces of coal. Despite being critically injured, Tracey was still alive, and over the next 12 hours. She battled with all the might she had to tell detectives everything she knew about what had occurred.
Sadly, Tracey succumbed to her injuries and perished in the early hours of Christmas Eve 1994. She was just 31 years old.
The investigation and the Suspects
Tracy defined the two men who had kidnaped her as black (possibly Caribbean) men around 20-30 years old, tall and overweight, and spoke in a Brummie (Birmingham) accent. They were wearing brown leather caps and thigh-length leather coats. She said that as they barged into the home, they were inquiring her where Joey was and that her abductors had argued at some point in a foreign language, which detectives thought could be Patois, a Jamaican dialect. The yellow Ford Escort that she was taken in had a stuffed animal attached to the rear-right window.
When detectives scoured the Cattell’s Grove address after Tracey’s death. They discovered the word “death” daubed on one of the windows in paint. They also earned a tip from a couple with drug debt who were told that if they didn’t pay up, they’d “get what Tracey Mertens got”.
Detectives spoke to more than 2,000 people in the wake of Tracey’s killing but did not come across any data about the possible identities of the two men. When questioned by police, Joey claimed that he did not know why Tracey was murdered but said that it had nothing to do with his drug addiction. The police also have a DNA profile that could eliminate suspects.
In November 1997, a coroner inquest into Tracey’s death returned an open verdict, meaning that there was incomplete evidence to make a decisive ruling on her reason of death. Her family was deeply disappointed about this verdict, wanting her death to be ruled an unlawful murder. Nonetheless, according to coroner John Hibbert, an unlawful killing ruling needs evidence that satisfies the criterion of proof, and although he believed Tracey’s version of events, it had to be substantiated by other evidence.
The case is still open and the Cheshire police are offering a £30,000 prize for data leading to the arrest and conviction of Tracey’s killers.
It’s been nearly 27 years since Tracey Mertens was violently murdered in that Eaton churchyard. Amongst the several unanswered questions of this case, one thing is crystal clear: she was a spirited woman who did not deserve to die in such a terrible manner. I sincerely wish her surviving relatives and her kids can find some peace.