In the third part of a series to mark the 25th anniversary of Ann Heron's death, Chris Webber joined her daughter as she returned to the house where she was murdered

THE tears start in the driveway as we walk to the house that was, long ago, the home Ann-Marie Cockburn shared with her mother, Ann Heron, the dream home where Ann was found dead, her throat cut, at the age of just 44.

"All the animals here now," says Ann-Marie, forcing a smile, as we hear dogs barking, "she'd have loved it. It's what mum would have done herself, if she could, she loved animals, children, old people, anyone she could look after, anyone or anything she could love."

The Northern Echo: Ann Marie Cockburn, daughter of murdered Ann Heron returns to the house, Aeolian House on Yarm Road near Darlington where the incident took place 25 years to the day. Picture: CHRIS BOOTH
Ann Marie Cockburn, daughter of Ann Heron, at Aeolian House, where her mother was murdered 25 years ago to the day. Picture: CHRIS BOOTH

Aoelian House, the large detached home on the outskirts of Darlington, is a happy place now, a working kennels and cattery as well as a family home, full of children and noise.

A happy home very different from the place of horror it was exactly 25 years ago, when Ann Heron was murdered in what is Durham Police's only unsolved murder in more than 60 years.

We meet the owners, a highly sympathetic couple, eager to help an upset Ms Cockburn, who has travelled down from her native Scotland, in any way they possibly can. Coffees are made and we sit at a table in the very living room where her mother was found, face down, in a pool of blood by her husband at about 6pm on August 3, 1990.

"It was hard to come here today," says Mrs Cockburn, a mother herself now to two boys, aged 14 and 17, who will never know their grandmother. "I didn't know if I could do it. You start imagining all sorts of things my mum went through, those last minutes. One time the police told me something about how she died. It was horrible but it it was better than all the things you imagine. She must have been terrified. You want it to be have been quick, you just hope it was quick."

She says that she wants to explain what the murder of her mother has meant to her and all her family in an effort to, perhaps, prick the conscience of anyone who may know who the killer was, anyone who has had niggling doubts at their back of their mind down the years, to at last come forward.

Now 50 years old, Ms Cockburn, whose first job was at The Northern Echo, explains she lived at Aoelian House with her mother and her mum's new husband, Peter, from the age of 17 for about six or seven years when she went back home to Scotland to move in with her boyfriend. She had got on well with Mr Heron, but was extremely close to her mum. The two would go out together to the pub, hang out in the day, best friends.

She stresses her mother had no enemies and was loved by all who knew her. "Police went through her background with a fine tooth comb and she was whiter than white. She was not, absolutely not the having an affair, or anything like that. I mean the police went through absolutely everything."

The tears come again. She talks of her grandmother who has since died never knowing what happened. Her little brother, Michael, then just 14 and living with his father, who also died never knowing. The effect on her big brother, Ralph, then a CID policeman, was also traumatic and he ended up leaving his successful police career.

The Northern Echo: Ann Marie Cockburn, daughter of murdered Ann Heron returns to the house, Aeolian House on Yarm Road near Darlington where the incident took place 25 years to the day. Picture: CHRIS BOOTH

By the time of the murder Mrs Cockburn was living with her boyfriend back in Scotland and it was Ralph who knocked her door at midnight with the news their mother was dead. "I felt as thought the whole world had fallen apart," she says. "It was total disbelief. The next day we had to tell Michael."

Unusually her mother had been trying to get in touch with her father in the weeks previously and Ms Cockburn says she felt "something wasn't right," with her mum in that period. At the time she put it down to possible arthritis her mother was developing that was disconcerting her.

She returned to the house once while Mr Heron was there to collect her mum's things in the months after her death, "I cried all the way home," but she has been back twice more since Mr Heron sold it about 14 years ago.

She also returned to the region after Mr Heron was charged with Ann's murder, ten years ago. "I was in the court room (at Newton Aycliffe magistrates) with my brothers," she says. "I could see Debbie (Mr Heron's daughter, Debbie Simpson) and the others. My heart went to them. I feel for them. Anybody would do the same as Debbie, campaigning for her father."

What she really wants to talk about is her "warm, fantastic mum," who told a fib to Mr Heron that a cat had turned up at door so she could have a pet and whose dog, Heidi, was never the same again after the murder. "Heidi wouldn't leave my side when I came down, it was heartbreaking," she says. "I don't get to talk about my mother much. It is to stop the embarrassment of the other person. You say your mother died and then they ask how. It's so difficult to say 'murder.'"

The Northern Echo:
UNSOLVED: The murder of Ann Heron has gone unsolved for 25 years

Finally, sat close to the spot her mother was murdered, Ms Cockburn, makes the appeal she has come to make, the reason she is putting herself through this pain. "I don't expect the guilty person to come forward, not now after all those years, but if there's anyone who has heard anything from someone they know that didn't sound quite right, if there's any information at all, please, please come forward, please tell the police."

The tears have dried, she expresses surprise that she doesn't feel too uncomfortable in the radically altered room, and she tells of how she feels close to her beloved mum

"I used to dream about mum all the time," she reveals. "I would be sitting at the bottom of the garden. I wouldn't know what was going on inside the house, but I couldn't get anywhere near, it was horrible. Then, one night I was in bed, I must have been dreaming, and there was mum. She walked to the bottom of the bed and gave me a hug and I never dreamed of her again. But I don't want to die, like gran and my little brother, not knowing. We deserve closure."

Anyone with information should call Durham Police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800555111