As murder is finally solved, friend shares memories of tragic victim

editorial image

A great-grandmother from Chorley, who was close friends with tragic murder victim Joan Harrison revealed she felt ‘numb’ after her killer had finally been found.

Pensioner Eunice Dale, 68, spoke as violent womaniser Chris Smith was revealed as Joan’s killer – ending more than 35 years of speculation.

'SHE WAS SO BUBBLY': Eunice Dale at the grave of murder victim Joan Harrison (below)

'SHE WAS SO BUBBLY': Eunice Dale at the grave of murder victim Joan Harrison (below)

There had even been a theory Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe may have been behind her death.

The mum-of-two was found bludgeoned to death in a derelict garage in Preston in November 1975.

A DNA stain from Smith, left on Joan’s semi-naked body, gave detectives the breakthrough they needed when he was arrested for drink-driving in 2008, and had to provide a saliva swab. This month, scientists confirmed they matched the sample.

However, he will never face justice as he died six days after his arrest, penning a note seen as a confession to his daughter the day before.

Eunice, who lives in a flat on Gloucester Road, Chorley, with her nine cats, said Joan treated her as a big sister.

She first encountered the ‘bubbly and vibrant’ six-year-old Joan when she started work as an apprentice confectioner for Joan’s dad, Gilbert Riding, at his bakery in Railway Road, Chorley, 50 years ago.

Eunice, who was 18 at the time, said: “ I knew the police had new clues but it was still a shock to find out her killer is known.

“I just felt numb as it has gone on for so long, and her family have had no closure until now. It has been dreadful for them.”

Recalling Joan as a youngster, Eunice said: “She would come into the bakery before school and at lunchtime on her break.

“You just couldn’t help but laugh when she was there, it was infectious.

“The place lit up. She had a couple of friends on the street she would play with.

“She would tell me girly things that she couldn’t tell her brother and sister – it was like I was her big sister.

“She was 10 when I left to go and work at another bakery. The next time I saw her, things had changed massively for me.

“I was married with three children and had gone into the working men’s club in Chorley with my husband. She was in there, under-age, with her friends, and came over to see me.”

From then, Joan’s life changed too. She moved to Preston with her first husband, with whom she had two daughters, Maxine and Denise.

But the mother-of-two’s life spiralled out of control as she became addicted to cough mixture and alcohol.

Life at the family home turned sour, the marriage broke up and her husband died shortly after.

She began a short-lived relationship with Wilf Roach. Soon after, she fell behind on her mortgage payments on the Miles Street house and lost the property.

She married carpet fitter Paul Harrison, of Burholme Road, but he stopped living with Joan due to her heavy drinking and drug use.

By the time she was murdered, she spent much of her time in pubs and clubs. Detectives believe she may have met Smith in a hostel for recently-released convicts and homeless people on St Mary’s Street, Preston.

Eunice last saw Joan in April 1975, seven months before her brutal murder. Both were being treated in the Sharoe Green Hospital in Fulwood, Preston.

She said: “I was shocked. She came over to me and asked if I remembered her and I did not recognise her.

“She looked bloated and obviously was not well.

“Her parents came to see her, and that was the last time I saw all of them alive.

“When I think of her, it is that haunted face I see, not the six- year-old I once knew.

“It’s sad there’s still no justice, because he won’t be punished for what he’s done.”