Corrie McKeague went missing in the early hours of 24 September 2016 in the Bury St Edmunds area of Suffolk, England. Before disappearing, he worked as a Royal Air Force Regiment gunner.
McKeague was last seen on town centre CCTV footage, entering a cul-de-sac which contained a number of wheelie bins. His mobile phone was tracked by masts along a route between Bury St Edmunds and a landfill site near Barton Mills. Suffolk Constabulary were initially reluctant to search the site for McKeague’s remains.
Whilst McKeague’s disappearance remains under investigation and the case continues to attract widespread publicity, the belief by authorities and the family, is that McKeague was crushed to death by the bin lorry and his remains are at the Barton Mills landfill.
Suffolk Constabulary have spent more than £2.1 million investigating McKeague’s disappearance, making it one of the most expensive missing persons investigations that the force has conducted and in the words of Suffolk police, brought unique pressures on the force. The search for McKeague was stood down in March 2018.
McKeague joined the RAF Regiment in 2013 and was posted to No. II Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment based at RAF Honington after his initial Regiment training at the same base. McKeague is a Senior Aircraftman gunner and medic on the squadron.
In January 2017, April Oliver, aged 21, announced that she was pregnant with McKeague’s baby. Neither she nor McKeague were aware of the pregnancy at the time of his disappearance. They had been dating for 5 months. Miss Oliver was on a holiday in America when McKeague disappeared, but cut the holiday short to return to the UK.
On the night of 23 September 2016, McKeague was out drinking with friends in Bury St Edmunds. He had driven himself to the town with the intention of leaving his car overnight. He separated from his friends in the early hours of 24 September, after leaving the Flex nightclub on St Andrews Street South. The doorman at Flex recalls asking McKeague to leave because he was too drunk to stay. He remarked that McKeague was ‘no trouble’ whatsoever and that they chatted afterwards on the street outside. McKeague was in the Mama Mia’s takeaway restaurant, reportedly his usual takeaway restaurant, between 1:15 am and 1:30 am. The last known sighting of McKeague was on CCTV at 3:25 am on Brentgovel Street, walking into the “horseshoe area” where there were a number of wheelie bins. There was no footage of him ever emerging. CCTV footage also suggested that McKeague had slept briefly in a doorway before waking up and moving on. It is not believed that he intended to walk back to his base, RAF Honington, which is 10 miles (16 km) north east of the town.
Nicola Urquhart, his mother, has stated that her son has never walked back to Honington on any previous occasions. However, leaving on his own, getting food and sleeping for a short time have all been cited by his friends and his mother as something McKeague has done in the past.
McKeague was not reported missing until the 26 September (the following Monday) when he failed to report for work. Since he was reported missing, the Suffolk Lowland Search and Rescue team (SULSAR) have been involved with the police in searching the area around Bury St Edmunds and Honington alongside the RAF’s own search and rescue teams which have been bolstered by searches involving police helicopters.
On the morning of McKeague’s disappearance, his Nokia Lumia mobile phone had moved from Bury St Edmunds to Barton Mills, some 12 miles (19 km) to the north west, along the corridor of the A1101 road. Phone data indicated that this journey took 28 minutes, which meant that it could not have been carried the distance by someone walking on foot. In October, Suffolk Constabulary seized a bin lorry that was said to have contained his mobile but the line of enquiry led to nothing. It was noted that the bin lorry seized was only carrying a weight of 15 kilograms (33 lb) and so could not have been carrying McKeague himself[ as he weighs around 90 kilograms (200 lb). This led to searches being carried out along the lorry’s route between the two towns. The mobile phone was either switched off at 8:00 am, ran out of battery power or was damaged and it was not found.
One focus of the investigation has been whether or not someone gave a lift to McKeague as he was walking back to his base. His mother stated that Corrie would have accepted a lift if offered to him, as he would offer a lift if he was driving and saw someone walking on their own. She also appealed for anyone who might have given him a lift to come forward, even if something untoward had happened. Police believed that McKeague was not in Bury St Edmunds.
The investigation also covered parts of the Hollow Road Industrial Estate in Bury St Edmunds and Great Livermere, a small village close to RAF Honington on McKeague’s supposed route back to his base. Along with the British Transport Police, the Suffolk Constabulary searched along railway lines in the area and some of the roads were closed to enable thorough searches.
In November 2016, it was revealed that in the two hours between 3:00 am and 5:00 am on the morning of 24 September 2016, 39 people could be seen on the same CCTV camera as the last one to record McKeague’s last movements. Despite repeated inquiries and appeals, 23 of these people could not be identified.
Urquhart statement and mobile phone
In December 2016, Urquhart publicly went on record as saying that Suffolk Constabulary were not properly investigating her son’s disappearance. The appeal fund raised in Corrie’s name had attracted funds of more than £50,000 by the end of December 2016 and Urquhart was considering hiring a private investigator to pursue lines of enquiry which she believed the police had failed to follow.
In January 2017, the back of a mobile phone was found close to where the last signal from McKeague’s phone was detected. However, as the part contained “no essential components”, such as a SIM card or any electronic parts, the police said it would be impossible to link it with the disappearance and that no further analysis would be performed. However, police announced they were examining McKeague’s activities on swinger websites. His family had provided Suffolk Constabulary with his username for at least one site.
In February 2017, police started searching the landfill previously identified as being the last place his mobile phone was located when it connected to a tower. This was in the belief that McKeague had slept in a bin in the horseshoe area and had been crushed to death when the bin lorry collected the contents of the bin and transported them to the landfill site. Whilst Suffolk Police stated that McKeague had gone and slept in a bin in the Horseshoe area, his family said that they did not believe this version of events. They point to the fact that he was proud of his appearance and if necessary, he could have gone and slept in his car which wasn’t very far away.
The search was planned to cover 1,100 square yards (920 m2) to a depth of 25 feet (7.6 m) and was expected to take ten weeks. By May, they had sifted through 3,000 tonnes of waste.
On 5 June, it was announced that police were finding “items from the right time” and place of McKeague’s disappearance. About 4,430 tonnes of waste had been searched.
On 21 July 2017, 20 weeks into the landfill search, Detective Superintendent Katie Elliott, of Suffolk Constabulary, announced at a press conference, that the search of the landfill had come to an end with no positive results on McKeague. A human skull was found at the site in April 2017, but was found to be from a female and dated back to before 1945. Police managed to trace the person who had sent it to landfill and they deemed there to be no suspicious circumstances.
Between February and July, the police had sifted through 6,500 tonnes of waste at the landfill site. The search will now focus on incinerated waste and the police will also initiate a comprehensive review of the investigation. Nicola Urquhart also publicly acknowledged the possibility that McKeague may never be found but has criticised the police’s decision to hand the landfill site back to the owners and sought an injunction to prevent the area where his remains are believed to be from being disturbed. Police were criticized for not continuing the search as they had stated that it was not about the money being spent on the landfill dig. A former police officer stated that if it was not about the money, then there was no reason to not go searching. Dr. Stuart Hamilton, a forensic pathologist, stated that if McKeague’s body had been in the bin lorry and it was crushed, then the rate of decomposition would have been faster than normal for a human body.
In August 2017, it was revealed that police were also sifting through “incinerated material” that was transferred from the landfill site. Occasionally, waste from the landfill is taken to Red Lodge transfer station and then on to an incinerator at Great Blakenham near Ipswich.
Release of CCTV images
On 21 September 2017, Suffolk Police released four CCTV images of people who they said could have been witnesses to McKeague’s disappearance twelve months previously.
Second landfill search
In October 2017, Suffolk Police announced another search would be started at the landfill site at Milton in Cambridgeshire. This search would focus on an area adjacent to the previous search area, but believed to contain waste taken to the site around the time that McKeague disappeared. A review of the investigation into McKeague’s disappearance by a specialist police unit based in the East Midlands, supports Suffolk Police’s theory that McKeague climbed into a bin in the ‘Horseshoe’ area of Bury St Edmunds and was brought by a bin truck to the landfill site at Milton.
Suffolk Police announced on 26 March 2018 that the search for the missing airman would be stood down as there were “no realistic lines of enquiry left”. The day after the Suffolk Polices’ winding down of the case, McKeague’s mother and brothers appeared on the Victoria Derbyshire show to highlight what they cite as “inconsistencies” with the raw data referring to the weight carried in the bin lorry. McKeague’s mother stated that either the data was manipulated or “someone is lying to police”.
In April 2018, Corrie McKeague’s father, Martin, acknowledged that his son was probably dead and that he hoped to hold a memorial service in the summer of 2018.
His father later released a statement on social media that said McKeague was in the Suffolk waste disposal system somewhere but that “his remains are essentially irretrievable”. Martin McKeague acknowledged that his son was prone to sleeping in and on top of bins and that he was in the bin that the bin truck delivered to the waste site on the morning of 24 September 2016.
A retired senior Metropolitan Police detective, Colin Sutton, went on record stating that McKeague’s disappearance had not been intentional, as making preparations always leaves a digital footprint. Sutton also said that McKeague was shown walking into a cul-de-sac that was blocked off by a high wall and a fence and that there was no CCTV of him leaving it. He doubted whether McKeague would have been aware of where the CCTV cameras were located which, Sutton said, was also indicative of not leaving intentionally. The CCTV cameras, operated by the town council, did not provide 100% coverage. Even after a review of privately operated CCTV recordings, there were no further sightings of McKeague. McKeague’s uncle, Tony Wringe, said that the area off Brentgovel Street that McKeague was shown walking into on CCTV, had been physically tested and it was shown to be impossible for him not to have been recorded on CCTV if he had left on foot. Sutton said that his guess was that there was another person, or other people, involved in McKeague’s disappearance.
In November 2016, the family issued a statement on Facebook saying that they were unhappy with the police investigation. McKeague’s uncle, Tony Wringe, said that “This is a Major Investigation Team in name not function”. The family also said that a decision not to search a landfill in the Barton Mills area for McKeague’s phone had been wrong.
By December 2017, Suffolk Police revealed that the inquiry had cost more than £1.2 million as of July 2017, more than 1,400 tonnes of earth and waste had been sorted in the second search at the landfill and that they had assessed over 2,000 hours of CCTV imagery. By January 2018, the total cost of the search was £2.1 million; with Suffolk Police having an annual budget of £122 million.