At 6pm on Saturday, Bobbi-Anne McLeod took the short walk up the hill from her family’s terraced home in the Leigham area of Plymouth to a bus stop. She was due to catch the number 50 into the city centre and then stroll about eight minutes to her boyfriend’s home. She never got there.
A passing driver, Stuart Fullard, 54, said he saw McLeod sitting on a metal rail at the bus stop. He noticed her because she was dressed distinctively in ripped jeans with fishnet tights underneath and because she looked so young – the 18-year-old was less than 5ft and could have been mistaken for someone much younger. Fullard has a daughter himself and said he felt nervous for her in the drizzly dark. “But she didn’t look as if she had a care in the world.”
The alarm was raised when McLeod did not arrive at her destination, and her family quickly became deeply concerned because it was so out of character for her to disappear. Her brother Lee said her phone went to voicemail for a while and then began ringing out with no answer.
Police were called and began to try to track McLeod’s phone but could not pin down her whereabouts. By Monday morning the search was being ramped up and police asked for help finding her. They released a description: McLeod was 4ft 11ins, of slight build with brown, straight, shoulder-length hair, green eyes and ear piercings. They also asked her to get in touch if she could.
Police searched local woodland and gardens. A Facebook group was created to encourage friends and neighbours to join the search. Scores of local people combed the neighbourhood.
The most worrying find was at the bus stop: McLeod’s headphones and her tobacco. The theory that she had been abducted began to gain credence.
Lee McLeod posted on Facebook: “I’m begging everyone single person in Plymouth help me search everywhere search everything. Someone has my sister. My sister’s phone has been tracked by police, however due to the phone being off, they’ve managed to know she’s still in the Plymouth area but don’t know her actual location.”
On Tuesday evening the family’s fears were realised. A body was located near Bovisand, in South Hams on the south coast of Devon, after information was passed to the police. The spot, close to a golf course and a beach popular with young people in Plymouth, is seven miles from the family home – a 19-minute drive.
Before the body was formally identified, it was clear it was McLeod’s and police informed her family.
Tributes poured in for her on Wednesday. Graham Roser, the headteacher of Tor Bridge High secondary school, said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Bobbi-Anne who was a student here from 2014 until July 2019. Bobbi-Anne had many friends and is fondly remembered by staff and students alike. We are all shocked by the news and will make support available for members of the school community who are affected by this incredibly sad news.”
There was a sense of fear in the city. A woman who lives close to the McLeods said it was “disgusting” that a woman from the neighbourhood had been killed. The resident, who asked not to be named, said: “They’ve got to do more to make women safer. It feels dark and dangerous here at night. How can it be that a woman can be taken from here and killed?”
A 19-year-old former schoolfriend said she was too afraid to board a bus on Wednesday after McLeod’s body was discovered, and paid for a taxi to work instead. The friend described McLeod as “the nicest person. She just used to light up the room, she always knew how to make you laugh. She was sweet – and she was so tiny.”
Amanda Issacs, 34, a close family friend and neighbour, said: “She was such a lovely little girl and what happened to her has affected the whole of Plymouth. The family are so upset, they just need some time to grieve. Their lives have all just been turned right upside down. She was only 18 and had her whole life ahead of her.
“I have known her for nine years since I moved here. Me and her mum have been best friends since and our children were brought up together. It is not just us, the whole community is in mourning. It is every parent’s worst nightmare. When we were searching we still had hope, but sadly this is beyond our worst fears. We heard when the police came to the door. It is so hard for the children as well. It is so difficult to take it all in. The whole neighbourhood will never be the same again.”