A loner who prowled the woods with a gun stuffed in his backpack has been convicted of murdering a People’s Police Community Support Officer.
Callum Wheeler, 22, used a railway jack, a tool used to lift train tracks, to beat mother-of-two Julia James to death as she walked her dog through fields and woods near from the back of his house in Snowdown, Kent.
He was seen wandering the countryside with the weapon the day before the 53-year-old died, and in the days that followed as hundreds of police scoured the area for clues.
During his arrest, Wheeler told officers “sometimes I do things that I can’t control” and “you can’t go into the woods and expect to be safe.”
He also told a member of the police staff that he would go back into the woods and rape and kill a woman, and that Mrs James had deserved to die.
On Monday afternoon, a jury of eight women and four men at Canterbury Crown Court took less than an hour and 10 minutes to find him guilty of murdering Ms James.
Wheeler, who is being held at Broadmoor High Security Psychiatric Hospital in Berkshire, did not react when the guilty verdict was handed down.
When asked to stand to hear the verdict, Wheeler did not rise but was instead restrained by staff members in the dock.
He did not enter the dock on Monday morning or after lunch, but was instead carried.
Ms James was off duty on the afternoon of April 27 last year and was walking her dog, a Jack Russell called Toby, near Ackholt Wood when she was killed.
Detectives used data from her Apple Watch to track where and when she walked, and identify where she was attacked.
The data showed her heart rate and walking pace increased to the point where it is believed she spotted Wheeler in the woods and changed her route home in a bid to escape.
She had seen him in the same place before and described him to her husband Paul as “a really weird guy”.
But, in an unexplained outburst of violence, Wheeler, who lived near Aylesham, beat her to death and drove away.
Alison Morgan QC said Ms James suffered some of the most serious head injuries ever seen by the pathologist involved in the case and suffered ‘repeated blows to the head’.
He was unrelated to the mother-of-two and offered no explanation of what he had done when questioned by police.
Detective Superintendent Gavin Moss, who led the hunt for Ms James’ killer, said the case was particularly poignant for police.
He said: ‘Julia’s death had real ramifications throughout the organization because she was one of us.
“What had to happen was that justice had to prevail, and we had to do what we had done to catch Callum Wheeler, who was a particularly dangerous individual.
“He caused him catastrophic injuries.”
Witnesses were able to provide vital footage of Wheeler near the scene, including game warden Gavin Tucker who took a video clip and photo of him walking around with the murder weapon still in his bag the day after the day where he killed Julia.
When Wheeler’s image was made public, he was identified within hours and arrested.
Martin Yale, Senior Crown Counsel for the Public Prosecution Service, said: ‘This is an extremely tragic case, and it is something that simply should not have happened.
“Women should be free to walk their dog in the middle of the day, without worrying about this sort of thing happening.
“This is clearly a tragic case.
“And our condolences go out to Julia’s family, the local community and Kent Police where she was an employee.
“We just hope that the outcome in this case can bring some comfort to these people.”