31-year-old mother of two, Tracey Mertens was found clinging to life on the steps of Christ Church in Eaton, Cheshire, United Kingdom in 1994 after being set on fire by two unknown black males. She survived the attack long enough to tell police what happened. Her case remains unsolved.
About the Case
In 1994, Tracey Mertens, 31, was in a rocky relationship with her boyfriend, Joey Kavanagh. The pair had been together off and on since they were teenagers and had two children together, Daniel and Kelly.
During the summer of 1994, Tracey broke up with Joey and stayed with her sister for a couple of weeks.
In 2011, her sister, Sharon told Manchester Evening News, “She said she’d left Joey and didn’t want him to know where she was,” Sharon said. “She was acting really strangely. She taped up the letterbox, the glass windows and the curtains so they wouldn’t move.”
A few weeks later, Tracey got back together with Joey. In November, the couple moved from Cattells Grove, Nechells, Birmingham to Rochdale, about 100 miles north.
On December 22, 1994, Tracey drove back to Birmingham and stayed the night with her sister-in-law before heading to her old home, located at 10 Cattells Grove, the next day to retrieve a benefits book. Shortly before noon on December 23, someone knocked on the door. Tracey opened it to see two black males standing in the doorway.
“Where’s Joey? ” they demanded. The men grabbed Tracey, blindfolded her, and threw her in the back of a yellow Mark II Ford Escort parked outside. The car had a silver panel and a cuddly toy stuck on the back window.
The men drove Tracey about 60 miles north to Eaton, Cheshire and stopped at Christ Church. There, they doused her with gasoline and set her on fire. A passerby heard her screams around 4:10 p.m. and found Tracey barely clinging to life on the church grounds. A gas can sat on the ground nearby.
When police arrived on the scene, Tracey Mertens was still alive and able to describe her assailants and give some details as to what happened to her. Tracey said they were two black men in their early 30s, both overweight, and wearing brown leather caps and thigh-length leather jackets. They spoke with Birmingham accents but are also believed to have spoken Patois, a Jamaican dialect, according to Birmingham Live.
Tracey Mertens survived for 12 hours before succumbing to her burns, which covered 90% – 95% of her body. She died on Christmas Eve, 1994.
Detectives immediately began interviewing family and friends, including Joey Kavanagh, who admitted he was a habitual drug user and owed a substantial amount of money to dealers at that time. Joey has always denied he was the cause of Tracey’s murder.
During a search of Tracey and Joey’s Cattels Grove home, police found a tiny blood stain in or near the home.
Weeks before her murder, Tracy and Joey’s former home was broken into and the word ‘death’ smeared on a window. Police believed the break-in was related to the murder.
Police received a fresh lead when a couple came forward who owed money for drugs. They said they received a phone call from an unknown person telling them if they didn’t pay, they would “get what Tracey Mertens got”.
Law enforcement officials have no idea what happened to Tracey between the time she was abducted and the time she was found on the church grounds. It is only an hour’s drive from Birmingham to Eaton.
At the end of 2009, the case was reopened by Cheshire Police after they were able to get a DNA profile of the killer through advances in forensic technology.
Police have always believed Tracey Mertens was killed because of money Joey owed drug dealers.
A Birmingham man was later charged with conspiracy to murder but the case was dropped due to lack of evidence.
Tracey’s killers have never been found. There is a £30,000 for information leading to a conviction. Cheshire Police are still actively looking for Tracey’s killers.
True Crime Diva’s Thoughts
When I read about Tracey’s horrific murder, I was outraged, to be honest. This woman did absolutely nothing wrong other than live her life and she was brutally murdered. Why?
Well, I think it’s safe to say the only motive here is payback. It had to be Joey’s debt. It is unbelievable to me that he totally denies being the cause of her death. Her killers asked for him by name. Either he’s just in denial or he had more to do with this than we think.
What’s interesting here is that Joey and Tracey were not living in the Cattels Grove house at the time of her abduction. Her killers must have KNOWN she was going to be there. So, how did they know? Maybe Joey told them. Maybe they followed her from Rochdale to Birmingham – to her sister-in-laws and then finally to their old home. I think the latter is unlikely. It’s a two-hour drive from Rochdale to Brimingham. Then, Tracey went to her sister-in-law’s house where she stayed the night before heading to her former home the next day. At any moment between Rochdale and their old house, the men could have taken her.
I was reading about Jamaican drug dealers (Yardies) in Britain in the 1990s. Apparently they were one of the strongest gangs in the country and often resorted to extreme violence. They made their money exclusively through drug dealing and controlled most of the supply of crack cocaine in the cities of London, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Leeds and Bristol.
I don’t think it’s completely out of reach by saying the men who killed Tracey were Yardies. Joey owed money to dealers. The two men were Jamaicans. It makes the most sense. There is no way this was a random killing.
When Tracey broke up with Joey during the summer of 1994, she was terrified of someone or something. Maybe it was Joey. Maybe some really bad people were threatening her and Joey.
It is possible that Joey hired the two men to kill Tracey. Asking where Joey was could have been a plan to throw police off. Tracey’s relationship with Joey was rocky. Was he ever violent with her? Maybe she became a burden to him. I don’t think this scenario is likely because he owed dealers money, so I doubt he had any money to hire killers.
Like police, I’d like to know what happened to Tracey between noon and the time the passerby found her on the church grounds at 4:10 p.m.? Where did the men take her? Was she raped? Did they try to contact Joey? There is about 3 hours of unaccounted time. A lot can happen in a few hours.
I’m thinking they went to a place – someone’s home maybe – which is why there were no sightings of the car. A car like this one stands out. I bet they got rid of the car shortly after the murder.
Final thought: Why did the men choose to burn her on the grounds of a church? And why in Eaton? I thought that was interesting.