Mother murdered at £1.6m home in Midsomer country: Artist was house-sitting for friends at Christmas

  • Valerie Graves died after serious head injury in Bosham, West Sussex
  • Police appeal for any witnesses after the woman was found dead yesterday
  • There have not been any arrests in connection with the murder
  • Neighbours say owners are in U.S. and had people staying at their home
  • Bolsham's riverside location was used as backdrop for Midsomer Murders
  • Mrs Graves had moved to the area from Scotland to care for her mother

Valerie Graves, who died after serious head injury in Bosham, West Sussex

A mother of two has been found murdered at a £1.6million seaside home where she was house-sitting for wealthy friends.

Artist Valerie Graves suffered fatal head injuries less than a week after celebrating her 55th birthday on Christmas Day.

The savage attack happened in Bosham, West Sussex, which once featured in the popular ITV crime drama Midsomer  Murders.

She was found by a member of her family who then rang the emergency services.

Scenes filmed in the village were used in the episode Written in Blood, in which the male victim was found naked and bludgeoned to death in his bedroom.

Yesterday, police questioned three family members who were staying with Miss Graves in the home when she died.  Sources said her two grown-up children were not among them.

Detectives have ‘strong suspicions’ that the divorcee was killed by someone she knew.

But as forensic inquiries continued last night, they had not completely ruled out the possibility that she disturbed a burglar or that the owners of the property were the killer’s real targets.

Detective Superintendent Nick May said:  ‘Valerie and some members of her family were housesitting at the address.

'They had arrived shortly before Christmas. The people who own the house are abroad on holiday. They are aware of what is going on.’

He added: 'This is a significant event for the area and traumatic for Valerie's family, who are being supported by specially trained officers.

'At this stage we are keeping an open mind as to the motive but we are appealing for witnesses who may have seen anyone acting suspiciously or anything unusual in the area from late afternoon on Sunday 29 December to around 10am on Monday 30 December.

'Please call us if you know anything, no matter how insignificant you might think it is. It could be important to the investigation.

'We are looking at different lines of enquiry as we are still in the early stages of the investigation. We are carrying out house-to-house enquiries, forensic searches and speaking to people who knew the victim.'

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Police forensic experts working at the scene

Police are investigating an advert on a well-known sex website, which suggests that the property in Bosham, West Sussex, could have been used as a venue for 'casual sex' and a 'discreet relationship'

The detective would not confirm whether there were any signs of a break-in – or if any murder weapon had been found.

He said that the cause of death had not been established and a post-mortem examination would be carried out today.

An ambulance was called to the property at 9.50am on Monday. Miss Graves was found dead inside.

A police van and a forensic support van were yesterday parked outside the six-bedroom property, which has its own swimming pool and a jetty.

Searches were being carried out in nearby gardens.

Investigation: Police were seen searching nearby streams

A Sussex Police team searches around a tree in the garden of the property

Some boats stored near the property. The area is popular with with leisure yachting enthusiasts and tourists

A police van was this morning parked outside the house, which is called Hove To, with a forensic support van parked outside.

Police officers were also carrying out searches of drains and small streams close to the home.

Officers were also searching the home Miss Graves shared with her 87-year-old mother Eileen in nearby Bracklesham Bay.

The London-born artist, a graduate of the London Metropolitan University, had recently moved to the south coast from Scotland to look after her frail mother.

Before the move, she had run a craft studio and gallery called Fin Taw at the Harestanes Countryside Visitor Centre in Roxburghshire.

The waterside home, which has its own pool house and a jetty, is owned by 66-year-old millionaire entrepreneur and company director Malcolm Chamberlain and his wife Caroline, 63

Victim: The 55-year-old woman was found in this mansion on Monday with a severe head injury

Crime scene: The large property, which has its own jetty on Furzefield Creek and is owned by a couple believed to have twins

Detailed search: Police forensics arrive at a house in Smuggler's Lane, Bosham, West Sussex, where a 55-year-old woman was found murdered

Her speciality was making toy hares from fibres and she held workshops to help other budding artists learn the craft.

Miss Graves’ 34-year-old daughter Jemima Harrison and her husband were too upset to comment at the flat they share in South East London.

Press Conference: Detective Superintendent Nick May said today the exact cause of death was not confirmed, and the owners of the house have been contacted abroad

Her son, company director Tim Wood, 31, could not be reached for comment.

The house where she was murdered, called Hove To, is on the outskirts of Bosham. An Oscar-winning actress and rock legend have properties in the area.

The property was last sold in June 2000 for £745,000 and is now valued at around £1.6million.

It is listed on the electoral register as being occupied by a Malcolm and Caroline Chamberlain, aged 66 and 63. According to a neighbour, they have twin girls.

Reports said the Chamberlains are directors of an electronic component manufacturing company.

Miss Graves’ sister Janet and her partner Nigel, an architect, bought their home in Weybridge, Surrey, from the Chamberlains.

A neighbour living near the house, who did not wish to be named, said: ‘They (the owners) have people staying in the house while they are away for the holidays.

'There were cars parked in the drive. They were entirely well-behaved. They came gently and went gently.

'We heard absolutely nothing. You can’t imagine coming back from holiday to this, it must be just horrendous.’

Shocked: Neighbours said today they could not believe what had happened in this quiet corner of West Sussex

Idyllic: The waterside house sits on an exclusive and expensive lane in Bosham close to Chichester

Crime drama: An episode of Midsomer Murders, called Written in Blood, was filmed in Bosham and starred John Nettles (left) and Daniel Casey (right)

Builder Ernie Mears, 80, who has known Miss Graves for years, spoke of his shock on hearing the news a few days after visiting the house.

‘I am still reeling from what has happened,’ he said. ‘Valerie was not at home when I spent Boxing Day at Bosham. We had a small falling out a while back and she chose to go out for the day.

‘I was at the house from about 1pm until around 8pm or 9pm and there was no atmosphere or tensions.

'Everyone there on that day was getting on just fine.’ Neighbours claimed Miss Graves had a grandchild but this could not be confirmed last night.

Police refused to discuss the ages of the relatives who were at the property when she died.

The village of Bosham – pronounced ‘Bossum’ – sits on a small peninsula between two tidal creeks.

The peaceful community at the eastern end of Chichester harbour is popular with leisure yachting enthusiasts and tourists.

It is also of historical importance.King Harold sailed for Normandy from Bosham Quay Meadow in 1064 – two years before the Battle of Hastings.