A dognapper was reportedly on the prowl in Kent weeks before PCSO Julia James was killed while walking her beloved pet in the same area.
The community officer, 53, was attacked while out with her Jack Russell terrier in woodland near her home in the hamlet of Snowdown on Tuesday.
Police have not yet made arrests or revealed a suspected motive – but it has now emerged that they were aware of a potential dognapping incident which happened weeks earlier.
According to a warning from the local force published in a parish magazine, a man thought to be in his 60s approached two dog-walkers in a threatening way.
He asked owners to exchange their pups for cigarettes as he drove between the lanes of Nonington and Aylesham in a black BMW, the notice said.
The note warned women not to be alone, carry a stick and an alarm because of the suspected dognapping attempts.
It read: “Dog owners are warned to be vigilant when your dog is outside the house. Your dog cannot be safely left unsupervised even in your own garden!
“The advice is not to be alone, if possible. Extra precautions should be taken such as walking with a stick, keeping your dog close on a lead, carrying an alarm and having your mobile phone on and fully charged at all times.
“Please can you report any such approaches to police, taking careful note of any car number plates and other identifying details.”
A source told The Sun that it was possible PCSO James’ killing was a dognapping plot “gone horribly wrong.”
The source said: “It’s possible the murderer was targeting her dog but it went horribly wrong.
“The killer is not going to want to take a chipped dog knowing he’s just committed a murder. He may have panicked and fled, leaving the dog.”
Julia’s body was tragically found in the woods with her loyal dog Toby who had reportedly stayed sitting by her side at around 4pm on Tuesday.
Police have not yet found a weapon and continue to search the area.
Today a Kent Police spokesperson told the Mirror Online: “We’re keeping an open mind in regards to all lines of enquiry.”
Yesterday, Julia’s uncle Michael Turnbull branded the killer a “monster” and urged investigators to catch them before they could strike again.
He said: “Julia has been taken from us by some worthless cowardly excuse for a human being for no other reason than his own sense of self-gratification to justify what he did, leaving behind a family full of broken hearts.
“Please find this monster before he causes more grief.”
Michael said his niece was “funny, kind, caring, always saw good in people and, most of all, full of love”.
Kent Police – where Julia worked in the domestic violence unit – vowed to leave no stone unturned.
She joined the force in 2008 and had been working from home – and was not in uniform.
A post-mortem revealed she suffered serious head injuries from blunt force.
Kent Police said they had not established any possible link to her role working with victims of domestic abuse in Canterbury.
And they refused to rule out if it was the result of a botched dognapping, robbery or sexual attack.
A bouquet from the force was among tributes placed on a village green mining memorial in Aylesham, close to Snowdown.
A note with the flowers said: “For our dear colleague Julia. A service so highly regarded. A precious life so tragically taken. We will leave no stone unturned. Your colleagues, Kent Police.”
Members of Julia’s family yesterday issued a fresh plea for answers.
One wrote on social media: “Somewhere out there is the person that did this.
“Walking amongst you and your communities. You think this could never happen to you.
“I’m afraid it can. Anything you may have seen, heard or had a gut feeling about. Maybe someone you’ve seen out and about. Please call it in.”
Julia’s son Patrick Davis, 23, earlier wrote an open letter online to his mum, who lived with electrician husband Paul, 57.
It said: “I love you to the moon and back, I’m in complete shock and still don’t even think this is real.”
Julia’s body was found just two miles from Chillenden, where Lin Russell, 45, and daughter Megan, six, were beaten to death with a hammer in 1996 as they walked their dog. .