South East Wales

Man in plastic unlawfully killed 'with stone frog'

John Sabine and Leigh Ann Sabine Image copyright Family picture

A man found wrapped in plastic in his Rhondda Cynon Taff garden was unlawfully killed, a coroner has concluded.

The body of John Henry Sabine was found at the rear of flats at Trem-y-Cwm, Beddau, on 24 November. The cause of death was blunt force head trauma.

Mr Sabine's wife Leigh Ann, who died last October, is the main suspect.

His inquest in Aberdare was told she admitted killing her husband with a stone frog in a phone call to a friend.

South Wales Central Coroner Andrew Barkley said it was "beyond doubt in my mind that foul play was the cause of his death".

He said the cause was blunt force injury to the head, with the evidence about the stone frog fitting with this.

Image copyright South Wales Police
Image caption It is thought this ornamental frog was used to kill John Sabine

Mr Sabine, who had not been seen for 18 years, would have been 85 when his body was uncovered - it is still not known when he died.

His decomposed body was found wearing Marks & Spencer pyjamas and was wrapped in many layers of heavy-duty material, such as roofing felt, as well as shopping bags and bin bags tied with green string.

It was relatively well-preserved because of a process known as "chemical mummification", which can persist for years or even centuries.

The coroner said there was no recorded history of domestic violence or that Mrs Sabine acted in self defence and he was satisfied her husband was unlawfully killed.

"Precisely what happened and the circumstances will sadly never totally be known," he added.

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Media captionNeighbour Michelle James described finding John Sabine's remains

The hearing was told Mr Sabine's wife admitted killing her husband during a phone call to Valerie Chalkley in 1997.

In written evidence to Aberdare Coroner's Court, Mrs Chalkley said she had been friends with the couple.

In 1997, after she moved to Hull, she had a call from Mrs Sabine and joked: "I thought you two would have killed each other by now."

Later in the conversation, Mrs Sabine said: "You know what you just said about killing him. I've killed him with a stone frog I kept by the side of the bed."

Mrs Chalkley added: "The problem with Ann was you never knew if she was telling the truth or not."

Mrs Sabine described her husband as jealous and possessive and told her his behaviour "drove her mad", Mrs Chalkley added.

Forensic pathologist Dr Richard Jones said a single blow from the 1.1kg (2.4lbs), 14cm (5.5in) object could account for all of the fractures.

The inquest heard that, before Mrs Sabine's death in October, she had asked a neighbour to move a "medical skeleton" from her garden, bought while she was training to be a nurse.

Image copyright Handout
Image caption Leigh Ann Sabine died before her husband's body was discovered

Neighbour Michelle James described how, after Mrs Sabine had died, a few people decided to play a joke with the purported medical skeleton by pretending it was a new boyfriend for one of her friends.

They took a knife and tried to cut open the packaging around it, when they made the grim discovery.

"I started screaming: 'It's a dead body, it's a dead body'. I went inside and was saying: 'Don't think I'm nuts but there's a dead body in the garden'," she said.

Police Community Support Officer Gareth Bishop said he was called to the house after the discovery of the skeleton and described "a strong rotting smell, like from a compost bin".

Mary West, a street pastor and executor of Mrs Sabine's will, said in written evidence Mrs Sabine "span a myth about her life", with stories of winning a modelling contract in Australia, a glamorous singing career and tales of her husband's affairs.

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