Police believe a young woman whose body was found in a burning car may have arranged to meet her killer in the isolated spot where the grisly discovery was made.
Officers revealed the line of enquiry last night after they had identified the body as that of Catherine Wells-Burr, from Chard, Somerset.
The 23-year-old was found in a red Ford Focus which had been abandoned in a field by the side of a road in Ashill, near Illminster.
As reported in yesterday’s Western Daily Press, police were called to the vehicle at 6.30am on Wednesday after drivers spotted the blazing wreckage off the A358.
Firefighters extinguished the inferno and discovered the body of first class graduate Catherine inside the car.
Miss Wells-Burr, who lives with her family in the South Somerset town, achieved a first class degree in Business Management at Bath Spa University.
She went on to work as a business analyst at manufacturing firm Numatic International – best known for their iconic Henry range of vacuum cleaners – at their Chard site.
Detective Chief Inspector Simon Crisp, who is leading the investigation, said yesterday: “Did she know her killer is the question that we’re asking ourselves. Did she arrange to meet somebody at the location where she met her death?
“These are the things we are seriously considering. Please don’t leave it to others to tell us, call us immediately.”
Officers are not searching for anyone in particular at this stage but they do not believe it was a random attack.
DCI Crisp added: “At this moment there is not a specific person we are looking for. We are working on the theory that she possibly knew the attacker. We do not think this is a random attack but we are not ruling it out.”
Officers are trying to build a picture of Miss Wells-Burr’s social life and are appealing for information.
In a press conference outside Taunton Police Station, he said: “I am making a double appeal today. Firstly for those people that may have witnessed Catherine and her red Ford Focus arriving at the scene which is alongside the A358 near Ilminster.
“Did anybody see that car arrive? Did anybody see suspicious people arrive or leave the scene at about 6am to 6.30am on a busy road? We need you to call us. The second part of the appeal is to help us understand Catherine’s private and social life.”
The post mortem has yet to take place and detectives are not able to confirm whether Miss Wells-Burr died before or after the fire, he added.
A mysterious final post on her Facebook page – uploaded on August 25 – showed a photograph of a woman reading a book in bed. Text to the right hand side of the picture reads: “You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.”
It was ‘liked’ by two of her Facebook friends, including her mother Jayne Wells-Burr.
A friend of Miss Wells-Burr’s, who did not wish to be named, said: “I found out this morning and I feel sick, I can’t concentrate and I can’t work.
“I’ve known her for years and she was a lovely girl. Really sweet. I only spoke to her the other day. Everyone seems to be feeling down about it. This sort of thing shouldn’t happen to anyone, especially not her, she was the nicest girl. Whoever did this was evil, pure and simple.”
She was a member of dating website and said she was looking for ‘dating and friendship’.
Tributes to Catherine poured in yesterday as news of her death spread among her friends.
The headteacher of her former school described her as “friendly and gregarious”.
Maurice Hicks, head of Holyrood Academy in Chard, said: “We are deeply saddened and shocked to hear the news about Catherine.
“She is warmly remembered as a very friendly young person, gregarious and with a great sense of humour. Catherine always had a smile and a positive outlook.
“She was very popular with the other students and had lots of friends. Our sincere condolences go to her family and friends at this difficult time.”
Friend Jodie Watson tweeted: “Lost for words. RIP Catherine, such a lovely young lady <3 :(”
Lauren Chubb wrote on Facebook: “R.I.P Catherine Wells Burr..you will be sadly missed she was a really lovely person who would look after me at school and was a good friend..x x x”
Friend Becky Brake tweeted: “It’s bad that it takes a death in the family to realise how important friends&family really are. Never take advantage of anyone! :( #ripcatherine. Sick to my stomach.”
Georga May Down wrote: “Today is one of those days where I’m counting my blessings and appreciating my life & family & life generally. Rest in peace Catherine. Xx”
DCI Crisp added: “This is a tragic and brutal incident in which a young woman has needlessly lost her life.
“We are working to establish what happened in the early hours of yesterday morning that led to this car being set ablaze.
“I would like to appeal to anyone with any information about this incident to get in touch with us no matter how small you think that piece of information may be.”
Shocked colleagues at the company yesterday confirmed Ms Wells-Burr had been reported missing but said they had not been informed of her death.
The red Ford Focus was still burning when police and fire crews rushed to public footpath just yards from the busy A358 road after being altered by a horrified passer-by.
Two forensic tents were erected over the crime scene, which is situated in a small wood by the side of the busy A358.