The definitive account of the only case of its kind in Northern Ireland, the ongoing campaign for justice and a tribute to the victim of a tragedy still unsolved after 31 years
By Keeley Moss
PART 22 - CONTENTS Chapter 59: The City of Dreaming Spires Chapter 60: Heading on to Headington Chapter 61: Late in the Day Acknowledgements for Part 22
Chapter 59: The City of Dreaming Spires
And she will always carry on
Something is lost
Something is found
They will keep on speaking her name
Some things change
Some stay the same
Keep beckoning to me
From behind that closed door
The Pretenders – ‘Hymn to Her’
After arriving in London in the early morning I made my way from Gatwick Airport onto the rail network and from there across the city to King’s Cross where I switched onto the London Underground. After exiting the byzantine maze of the underground network and spending a few hours exploring the Baron’s Court and Charing Cross areas it began raining more and more heavily until it became a full-on torrential rainstorm. By this point it was now dark, and I realised it was time to leave the capital and head for where I hoped to stay for the night: Oxford, where I had booked to stay in the youth hostel. Just as Inga had on the night she was here, April 4th 1988.
But London is so big, and its rail network so sprawling, that to get to Oxford from the part of London I was in would require going from Baron’s Court tube station to Earls Court on the Piccadilly Line before having to cross over onto the District and Circle Line and then take a tube to Paddington tube station before exiting the underground again and leaving behind the quizzical looks from the staff at my Interrail pass and following a short walk through Westminster, entering the mainline rail network at London Paddington from where I would catch the evening train to Oxford, passing through the Berkshire towns of Slough and Reading en route.
It had been a whistle-stop day, and all on precisely zero sleep the night before, but I had never felt more alive, nor flooded with more energy and purpose. However at the same time a sad-eyed sense of melancholia was never far from my heart. I knew why I was here. Retracing her steps, thirty years on. So far the trip had been a case of grappling with very conflicting emotions. On the one hand, excitement at being in new and unfamiliar places. And doing so alone only heightened the sense of adventure, of having to live on my wits and rely on no one else as I attempted to navigate the complex maze of rail links and transport connections unique to London that is so unlike my native Dublin with its mere two railway lines by comparison. On the other hand, everywhere I went in London the air seemed to hang heavy with poignancy. But was it something I tuned into because Inga’s case and untold story is something I’ve been living day and night for the past few years? Or was I mistaken due to being so wrapped up in this and am I possibly now incapable of perceiving anything through an Inga-less prism? I wasn’t sure. Thirty years had passed since 1988, the world has changed in so many ways during that time, and yet… As the saying goes, ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same’. Justice in this case remains a frustratingly-elusive pursuit, for a number of years now it’s been in the PSNI’s words “Tantalisingly close” – and indeed a resolution is currently closer than ever before but still at the time of writing it remains one step beyond.
As I stood in the vast expanse of Paddington station where Inga had herself stood on a bright spring day in 1988 blissfully-oblivious to the horror that hovered ever closer, I felt a combination of sorrow and hope flow through my bones. I don’t consider myself a particularly spiritual person, and perhaps my sleepless state was making me a tad more delirious than usual, but I’d had a feeling all day that was simply indescribable. I couldn’t be sure what it meant, if anything. I’ve followed my heart with this ever since I first came across Inga’s case and was drawn to it like the fabled moth to a flame, and the subsequent bewildering odyssey has been as much of a journey of discovery for me as it has been for the readers of this blog. Where it’s going to end up, I don’t know. I hope, with justice for Inga, like we all do. But as I wrote at the close of Part 21, if the last week of Inga’s life was all about journeys, and her incredibly-complex and remarkably-enduring unsolved case has been a journey in every sense, then this is a journey that needs a final destination.
My own destination as I left London that evening in the process of retracing Inga’s steps was the place Victorian poet Matthew Arnold had termed “The city of dreaming spires” after the architecture of its university buildings. Oxford, with its famous postcode as namechecked in the song ‘OX4’ by the group Ride. Oxford, home town of the mighty Radiohead, Supergrass and the aforementioned Ride. Suddenly after ninety minutes or so the train began to slow to a stop. The doors opened and I stepped onto the platform of the same station Inga had arrived at on April 4th 1988. For a few moments I stood there blinking under the harsh sparkle of the sodium lights while trying to picture her arrival at this same station all those years ago. When she stepped off the train here, she was at her most ebullient, having just spent a joyously lighthearted few days sightseeing and exploring London and Cambridge. For a free spirit such as Inga the first flush of real independence that her backpacking trip involved provided precisely the sort of adventure she had yearned for back in Haidhausen.
I left the platform and made my way through Oxford station. With every motion, in every moment she was there at the back of my mind, hovering in my thoughts. Every step I took was accompanied by the awareness that she had strode the same steps. Except where she had done so unconsciously, purely concerned with getting from A to B, I was doing so with the incessant presence of her memory casting its inescapable shadow. I walked through the exit of the train station and made my way towards the youth hostel which was situated approximately five minutes away on foot.
YHA Oxford. Here it was. Here I was. I went inside and checked in. I was led to a dormitory that I was to share with three other women, all of whom it turned out were older than me. Having been the last of them to make my booking there, there was only the top bunk bed remaining but I didn’t mind. This was a spiritual mission during which any comfort would be a luxury. I would have slept anywhere. I was anticipating literally sleeping anywhere the next night, if at all, when I would have to take the sleeper train to Inverness. So I was not fazed by the prospect of sleeping in a bunk bed in a dormitory with three strangers. I was intent on doing whatever it took to research my book to the fullest extent and in the process honour the spirit of Inga’s 1988 backpacking trip.
I made my introductions and soon fell into conversation with the other women in the dorm. The oldest of them in particular had an interesting backstory. She was in the process of taking her ex-husband to court to try to win a large proportion of the assets that had been accrued during the time they were married and while she was waiting for the case to reach court she was living in the youth hostel. This woman had seemingly spent much of her life living in hostels and knew a great deal about the history of Oxford youth hostels in particular. When I explained to her why I was staying there, that I was retracing the steps of a special person who had been murdered thirty years before and who I had spent the previous three years writing about and campaigning on behalf of her unsolved case, she informed me that while the YHA was the original youth hostel that had been in existence since the 1930s the actual location had changed a number of times over the years. When I enquired specifically as to where it had been located in 1988, she was able to tell me not only where it was located, but that she herself had stayed there that very year. She had no recollection of Inga however, who like myself had only stayed for one night at Oxford YHA. But this woman directed me to the staff on duty at the hostel, two women named Belen and Noemi who were so helpful in providing me with key information that revealed the history of the YHA replete with photographs of the building as it looked in the 1980s and the name of the hostel manager who presided over it at the time Inga stayed there.
The next morning I rose soon after dawn in order to catch breakfast in time which as is typical for hostels and hotels was set to finish very early in the morning. I chose a number of items from the buffet and sat down beside a large group of students from whose accents I could tell just happened to be from Germany of all countries. I soon struck up a conversation with several of them. I couldn’t resist asking if they were from Munich (they weren’t) and mentioning the reason I was there. But none of them had ever heard of Inga. Mindful as I was that I would be on the road, and rails, all day and due to having to embark on a succession of rail journeys that would take me from the Thames Valley to the Scottish Highlands I might not get a chance to eat for many hours, I resolved to avail of as much food as I could from the breakfast buffet. To be honest I went back and forth to the buffet several times and by the time the canteen had emptied I had stuffed myself. It was just then that I remembered the words Inga had written in her diary in the same youth hostel in the same city thirty years earlier: “Went to Oxford. Stayed at the youth hostel. Ate too much!” And here I was in the very same place doing exactly the same thing without even realising it. What was going on here?
After breakfast I decided to spend some time in the library that was situated near the canteen. There was no one else in there so I had the place to myself. When I approached the book shelves to browse the titles available, I was struck by the sight of several books and travel guides written in German. It seemed that everywhere I turned there was some reminder of Inga. Always absent, and yet somehow present.
Soon I was back in the dorm, packing my backpack and bidding the staff farewell before stepping out into the drizzle that fell from the slate-grey skies above. That morning in Oxford I felt such an odd combination of feelings, something that would persist and gradually intensify over the course of the four days I spent retracing Inga’s steps. Excited. Haunted. Determined. Melancholy. Accompanied by a lingering longing. It all made for a heady brew of emotional elixirs.
Next I visited a mall in the city centre where I bought various toiletries such as dry shampoo in an ill-fated attempt to control my ever-troublesome hair which the wind and rain would play havoc with over much of my ensuing time in the UK. Then I paid a trip to the city library, all the while wondering if Inga had done likewise during her stay in the same city. As much as I know about her movements there are some things she didn’t elaborate on very much in either her diary or the postcards she sent to friends and her parents where her journeys were concerned. “Went to Oxford. Stayed at the youth hostel. Ate too much!” That was it. Those eleven words were the sum total of all I had to go on where trying to trace her movements in “The city of dreaming spires” was concerned. But those eleven words would have to do. And indeed they would do. After all, they had taken me this far – and the remaining words she had written while she was in the UK would take me a lot further.
Chapter 60: Heading on to Headington
Where did you go?
Well she’s gone to meet her maker
Back to where she came from
She took her life within her hands
She took her life within her own two hands
And I believe in you
I believe in you
Eurythmics – ‘Angel’
From Oxford I travelled to Headington, a large residential area several kilometres to the east of the city. With my backpack on my shoulders I ran to catch the number 8 bus in the centre of Oxford bound for New Marston, hopping on board seconds before it took off. During the journey I gazed out the window at the streets and suburbs, the fields and the foliage, as droplets of rain trickled down the window pane, all the while conscious of where I was going and why. I’d asked the bus driver to let me know when we reached New Marston as I didn’t have a clue where I was going and thankfully she remembered to holler just in time for me to heed her call. And so it was that I stepped onto the rain-soaked soil of New Marston on this grey and rainy afternoon in Oxfordshire. From there I walked a short distance before arriving in Headington, and from there it was only another short walk until I found myself at the bottom of Jack Straw’s Lane. The relevance of this location to Inga has never been disclosed before. But it is here, at the very top of this long street where 32 Jack Straw’s Lane is situated. And it was here where Inga had slept in a bed for the very last time, on the night of Monday April 4th 1988. From 1936 until 2001 this was the location of the Oxford YHA (youth hostel). Nowadays the building is divided into two sections, one section of which is a day nursery run by the University of Oxford. When I reached the building, I spoke with staff in both sections of the building, none of whom were aware of Inga’s case let alone that the building in which they were now working had a poignant connection to a special person who had been murdered only a couple of nights after she’d stayed there thirty years ago.
Standing outside the building I had a clear view of the rooms on the second floor that had in 1988 been dormitories, one of which Inga had stayed in. It was a very emotional moment. I was struck by the thought that when she stayed here, and slept here, and possibly dreamed here, she was in the midst of the happiest time of her life. But that that would come shuddering to a grinding halt a mere two nights later when what her mother Almut had described as “Her greatest dream” would give way to what is any woman’s worst nightmare. And now here I was thirty years on, in possession of all of the hindsight but hamstrung by the inability to go back in time. It was intensely frustrating to stand there, in the same spot she had once stood, armed with the knowledge that could have altered the course of her life and the lives of many others but it being an impossible task to act on that knowledge due to the fact it concerned events that had occurred so long ago. I stood looking up at those windows for some time.
The rain was falling more heavily now so after one last look I turned to leave. As sad and ultimately frustrating as it had felt to be there, I was glad I had come. I was going to do it right, or not at all. Walking back down Jack Straw’s Lane towards New Marston was an eerie and intense experience. You see, I knew she had taken these same steps thirty years ago. It’s a one-way lane so there was no other way to reach the bus stop that would take her back into Oxford and towards the train station. At the outset of this trip I had resolved to “retrace her footsteps” but even at that point I did not envisage myself literally retracing her exact steps. At that moment I was again struck by a feeling that was simply indescribable. It was beginning to dawn on me that this day and the subsequent days and journeys were probably going to be on a whole different emotional level than even the three previous tumultuous years I had spent working on Inga’s case and my gradually discovering and communicating her untold story to the wider world.
Chapter 61: Late in the Day
This night these memories lost and found
Are taking over me
I could see your picture and hear the sound
Of the song you sung to me
You gotta feel and take every chance
You did the right thing
A road a thousand miles away
Out of trace and in another time
You did the wrong thing
Why’s life so unkind?
For always and ever it’s getting better
I feel your steps with mine
I’m moving on like it said in the letter
Another place, another time
Ride – ‘1000 Miles’
Arriving back in Oxford city centre, I headed straight for the train station. Drifting through the station building as the hordes swarmed around, I saw a sea of people wading through the day on their way to wherever it was they’d be found. Once again with my brain beset by visions of her walking through this same place in 1988, a blur of blonde hair and blue jeans with a head full of dreams.
My next destination was Bath, which would necessitate a change of trains at Didcot Parkway. To fill time while I waited for the train, I sought out a couple of rail staff and once I had established their familiarity with the working practises at Oxford station in the relevant time period of 1988, I conducted an impromptu interview there and then. From them I learned that the subway where Inga had entered from the platform in order to make her way from Oxford station to the high street had since been boarded up and had only a few months prior to my arrival been filled in with concrete. The location of the former subway entrance however was still visible and is situated directly behind the staircase of the bridge that had been erected to replace the subway Inga had walked through. After finishing the interview I thanked them both and passed through the barrier with the aid of my trusty Interrail pass. What happens now?
I stood there on the platform listening to music. My train was due to arrive in a few minutes. Then all of a sudden I started crying. It was the first time during the retracing of Inga’s steps that this had happened. Why was it happening here, and why now? It was such a nondescript scene. A railway platform in south central England on a grey, wet afternoon. But she had stood here, and she’d gotten off and on a train here. This station formed a link in the fateful and ultimately fatal sequence of events that followed.
And it was here that even after all these years I could sense a trace of sorrow and longing hanging in the Oxfordshire air.
May 28th 1969 – April 6th 1988. Never forgotten.
Copyright: Keeley Moss ℗&©2019. All rights reserved.
Acknowledgements for Part 22
Hymn to Her written by Meg Keene. Published by Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC ©1986
Angel written by Stewart/Lennox Published by D ‘n’ A Ltd./BMG Music Publishing Ltd. ©1989
1000 Miles written by Mark Gardener. Published by Ride Music LLP/EMI Music ©1994
Thanks to Noemi Sanchez and Belen Campos at YHA Oxford for going above and beyond the call of duty.