An expert in body dissection murdered a woman and cut her head off after they argued about money, The Old Bailey heard today.
Property developer Jemma Mitchell, 38, is accused of killing 67-year-old Mee Kuen Chong and drove more than 250 miles to Devon to dump her body. She denies murder.
The Malaysian national, who lived in Wembley for more than 30 years, was reported missing on 11 June last year, and her headless body was discovered in a woodland near Salcombe by a holidaying family 16 days later.
The court heard Ms Chong had promised to invest £200,000 in Mitchell’s home, before changing her mind – leading to a disagreement between the women.
Mitchell studied Human Sciences at Kings College London from where she graduated with a first-class degree in 2004.
‘During her degree course, she completed a module called the Structural Basis of Human Function in which she was taught how to dissect the entire human body, with the exception of the head and neck,’ said prosecutor Deanna Heer.
‘She also completed an additional special study course in Experimental Anatomy.
Jemma Mitchell, 38, (left) studied Human Sciences at Kings College London where ‘she was taught how to dissect the entire human body’, the prosecution said. The body of Mee Keun Chong (right) was found in June last year
Ms Chong’s body was found in woodlands near the chic seaside town of Salcombe in South Devon
‘Such was her aptitude for anatomy, she was awarded the Hamilton Prize for anatomical excellence.’
On Sunday 27 June 2021 Charlotte Rollings was out for a walk with her family in Salcombe on the south Devon coast.
‘As they walked back to their holiday cottage from the beach, they made a gruesome discovery; the headless body of a woman,’ the prosecutor said.
The body had been lying at the bottom of some steps on a public footpath.
Mrs Rollings called the police and officers attended and cordoned off the area.
Days later, on 1 July, the head was discovered ten or so metres from the body beneath some undergrowth, the court heard.
A post-mortem examination found that the woman had been dead for some days by the time her body was found.
It is said the head had been detached from the body between vertebrae in the neck.
‘The skin…had a very clean appearance as if it had been cut,’ Ms Heer said.
There were also signs of assault in a fractured skull, the jury heard.
Jurors heard that Mitchell was in Salcombe on 26 June last year, having travelled there in a rented grey Volvo with a large blue suitcase
Ms Chong went missing on June 11 2021 and her body was found hundreds of miles away 16 days later
‘The body was that of Mee Kuen Chong, a 67-year-old woman who lived over 200 miles away from Salcombe in Wembley, here in London, and who had been reported missing on the evening of 11 June 2021.
‘The defendant, Jemma Mitchell, who lived in Willesden, knew Mee Kuen Chong and had visited her address on that very day.
‘Although they had been friendly, the evidence suggests that they had recently fallen out over money.
‘Shortly after 1pm on 11 June the defendant was captured on CCTV footage walking away from the deceased’s house in possession of two suitcases, a large blue suitcase and a smaller red and blue suitcase.
‘The larger of the two was obviously very heavy and difficult to manoeuvre.
‘It is the prosecution case that it contained the body of Mee Kuen Chong.’
Jurors heard that Mitchell was in Salcombe on 26 June last year, having travelled there in a rented grey Volvo with a large blue suitcase.
CCTV captured her car driving towards the woodland area where Ms Kuen Chong’s body was to be found, the court was told.
The Old Bailey heard the two women were both devoutly Christian and met at church in 2020
Mee Kuen Chong was said to be a vulnerable person and prone to erratic behaviour. She is said to have been discussing financial dealings with Mitchell before she died
‘It is the prosecution case that she assaulted and killed the deceased and then transported her body to Salcombe in that large blue suitcase where she attempted to dispose of it in the woods next to Bennett Road,’ Ms Heer said.
The prosecutor continued: ‘Jemma Mitchell was born on the 22nd July 1984. Her mother worked for the Foreign Office and she was born in Australia where her parents were living at the time.
‘When their marriage broke down, she moved back to the UK with her mother and her sister.
‘In 2004 she began studying Human Sciences at Kings College London from where she graduated with a first-class honours degree.
‘During her degree course, she completed a module called the Structural Basis of Human Function in which she was taught how to dissect the entire human body, with the exception of the head and neck. She also completed an additional special study course in Experimental Anatomy.
‘Such was her aptitude for anatomy, she was awarded the Hamilton Prize for anatomical excellence.
‘In 2009 she completed a degree course in osteopathy at the British School of Osteopathy which included modules on the anatomy, biomechanics and pathophysiology of the human body.’
The prosecutor saud she returned to Australia where she practised as an osteopath.
‘Her website stated that as result of her training, she was ‘attuned to subjects in neuroanatomy, genetics, [and] dissection of human cadavers’.
Having practised as an osteopath for about seven years she returned to the UK in 2015, since when she has not worked, jurors heard.
The court heard Mitchell killed Ms Chong when she refused to give her the money to pay for a property development scheme on her own home which had become a financial disaster.
Mitchell had lived on the first floor of her family home in Brondesbury Park with her mother on the ground floor. The house had been in her family for generations.
‘The house was in a state of disrepair. In about 2016 the defendant’s mother decided to have an additional floor, a third floor added to the top of the house,’ Mr Heer said.
‘The defendant managed the project on her behalf but although work started on the property the work was never completed.’
She paid £130,000 to one builder – but they went bankrupt.
A second firm quoted £500,000 to finish the job. Mitchell gave them £100,000 but the remainder was never paid and in 2019, the builders stopped work.
‘Hillary Collard [Mitchell’s mother] describes her daughter working morning, noon and night to try to sort the situation out but, despite her efforts, the house remained without a roof and covered in scaffolding until the events that we are concerned with in 2021,’ the prosecutor said.
Ms Chong, known to her friends as Deborah, lived in Wembley with her lodger, crane operator David Klein.
‘The deceased was somewhat vulnerable,’ said the prosecutor.
‘She suffered with mental health difficulties and had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
‘Her behaviour could be erratic and sometimes verbally aggressive. She appears to have been very open about her financial affairs. She had a habit of offering to leave her home to others after her death and offering people money.
‘Many refused, some did not.
‘In 2021 her mental state appears to have been deteriorating. In March 2021 she was referred the local Community Mental Health Team because she kept sending letters to Prince Charles and Boris Johnson. They contained nothing alarming but were sufficiently bizarre to suggest that she might be suffering a relapse.
‘As a result, in May 2021 she was treated with an injection of anti-psychotic medication
‘Both the defendant and the deceased were devout Christians who met through the Church. They had known each other since about August 2020.
‘Within a short period of time, the deceased was speaking to the defendant about her financial affairs.
‘Messages exchanged between the two women in September 2020 were subsequently recovered from the defendant’s computer and from their mobile telephones in which they discussed the deceased’s will and who would inherit her home.
‘In one email, the deceased told the defendant, “I am honoured to have you as my sister, accept me as your friend and advise me…”
‘The advice she was seeking was about leaving her home to charity in order to avoid inheritance tax.
‘She suggests that she might form a charity with David to do so. It seems, however, that David had refused to get involved.
‘On 19 September 2020 the defendant responded saying, “I would like to join the charity with you if David is reluctant to change his ways. I like accounting. Or you could transfer the house to me and pay into the charity each month…”
‘Messages exchanged between the deceased and the defendant show that they had been discussing the work to the defendant’s house since about November 2020, with the deceased suggesting different builders and offering to pay for repairs to be carried out.’
A message found on the victim’s telephone on December 2020 confirms she wanted to meet Ms Collard because she was investing a lot of money in the house for her.
‘About six months prior to her death the deceased met Hillary Collard and agreed to give them £200,000 as a gift upon condition that the house was used for Christian worship,’ said the prosecutor.
‘This is reflected in messages sent by the deceased in May 2021 suggesting that the house could be used for Christian ministry.’
‘Subsequently, however, she was to change her mind.’
Ms Heer said the victim was captured on CCTV footage ‘out and about, alive and well’ in her local area on 8 and 9 June and she spoke to her neighbour.
Telephone messages were exchanged between Mitchell and Ms Chong during this time showing the victim ‘had a change of heart’.
Ms Heer said the victim sent a message to Mitchell at 1am on 8 June 2021 which said: ‘Until you sold house, I won’t want you to come to me or my house I am stress to the core’.
Mitchell responded, ‘Peace to you’ then, ‘God has a plan and purpose for this dwelling… Apologies if answering your question about the quotes caused you any uncertainty about your decision.’
‘Further messages exchanged suggested Ms Chong was urging Mitchell to ‘Let go of the house and the past…’ and sell the house to which the defendant responded that she was unable to do so, ‘We have prayed on that option extensively and even brought estate agents in but it is not in God’s plan…’
Ms Heer said: ‘On 10 June 2021 a social worker telephoned and spoke to her and to her lodger, David Klein. That was the last day that the deceased is known to have been alive.’
The next morning Mr Klein went to work returning to Ms Chong’s house that evening.
‘At 22.48 he contacted the police and reported her missing, telling them that he had not seen the deceased since the evening of the 10th June 2021 and that the deceased had left her mobile telephone and her glasses behind.
‘At 06.23 the defendant left her home address at 9 Brondesbury Park, Willesden. CCTV footage filmed by a camera situated opposite the house shows that she had with her a large blue wheeled suitcase. Although it is large, it does not appear to be particularly heavy.
‘She is able to lift it off the ground with one hand and walks away from the house with it without difficulty and at a relatively quick pace in the general direction of Brondesbury Park station.
‘It appears that she had travelled to Stonebridge Park station using her mother’s Freedom Pass.
‘By 07.58 she had reached Chaplin Road where she was filmed walking in the direction of the deceased’s house along the pavement opposite.
‘At 08.01 she was captured by a camera situated a little further along Chaplin Road at number 184. She had crossed over the road and was walking in the direction of the deceased’s house.’
Ms Chong was described as vulnerable and prone to erratic behaviour. Last year, her mental state deteriorated and she was referred to the local community mental health team because she kept sending letters to the then-Prince Charles and Boris Johnson, jurors heard.
Devout Christian Mitchell had allegedly discussed with the victim her will and who would inherit her house.
It is claimed the victim agreed to hand over £200,000 to help with Mitchell’s house repairs but later had a change of heart.
Mitchell, of Brondesbury Park, northwest London, denies murder.
The trial continues.