Grace Millane: What happened in the last hours of British backpacker’s life

It is impossible to imagine how terrified Grace Millane must have been in her last moments alive.

A pathologist who explained how she died told a jury she was strangled and had bruises on her arms and chest “consistent” with being pinned down.

Dr Simon Stables said considerable force would have been required, and the pressure on her neck must have lasted between four and five minutes to be enough to kill her.

Jesse Kempson: Grace Millane’s killer convicted of raping and attacking other women

She had no chance. Her killer, Jesse Kempson, was heavily built and had a history of engaging in violent sex.

She had no idea that, eight months before, Kempson had brutally raped another British tourist.

Grace, far from home, about to celebrate her 22nd birthday, had willingly gone to his hotel room. Until she entered the lift to his apartment, she appeared to have been enjoying her night.

Hours earlier she had messaged her friend, during a Tinder date with the killer, telling her: “I click with him so well.”

It would be the last communication she would have with the friends and family she had left behind in Britain, those who loved her so much.

Hours earlier, all the signs were she felt nothing other than excitement and optimism.

Leaving the Base Backpackers hostel in Auckland, she strode out into the city centre streets dressed in a neat knee-length black dress, clutching a small handbag, just as the rain that day was coming to an end.

It was Saturday night – time for a fun evening of laughter and conversation with someone who had caught her eye on a dating app popular with many young people.

She had been in New Zealand for two weeks, the second leg of a solo world trip she had been looking forward to for months.

At the end of September 2018 – just over two months before she died – she wrote on Twitter: “Less than a month and counting”, as she ticked off the days before her big trip began.

Emojis on her social media feed hinted at her trepidation and excitement as she posted a gif subtitled “I’m going on an adventure!” on the day she headed out, first to Peru.

After moving on to New Zealand, with Christmas approaching, she set off to meet a man for a fun night out in the country’s capital city on 1 December.

Kempson had had a busy few weeks and months on Tinder.

He had shared a number of conversations with women on the app, in which he told one he liked “feet, dominating and strangulation”.

He boasted to another Tinder date that he was the cousin of an All Blacks star before they engaged in a sex act during which she had to fight for her life.

Then, days before he met Grace, he hooked up with a waitress which led to a night of what she described as “rough sex”, during which he put his hand round her throat, after she asked him to.

As he prepared to join Grace on their night out, Kempson dropped into his local bar, the Bluestone Room, right next to the CityLife Hotel where he was living.

CCTV shows him downing four bottles of beer in the half hour before their arranged meeting, cutting a lonely figure in a drinking house well off the main drag.

Grace, meanwhile, was at the base of the Sky Tower early.

More video images showed her taking a photo on her phone of a Christmas tree to send to her parents, one of the many festive displays on show to get Aucklanders in the spirit for the coming weeks ahead.

The spot where they agreed to meet is very well known in New Zealand’s biggest city. The Sky Tower is one of the most obvious icons on the city’s sky line, visible for miles around and the focus of many events.

Most importantly, it was highly public and the sort of location where Grace should have felt safe to meet someone.

As Kempson arrived, the pair recognised each other almost immediately, and he gave her a hug as she smiled and moved towards him.

Their first stop was a burger restaurant and bar on the first floor of the adjacent Sky City complex.

Their entire time together at Sky City was caught on camera and the footage shown to the jury shows them chatting as they go up on an escalator to Andy’s Burger and Bar, where they order cocktails from a barman and move on to a table to talk.

At some point, they must have discussed payment, as Kempson makes sure he is the one who uses a card to purchase the drinks.

An hour-and-a-half later, they leave the bar and head back outside and on to a restaurant less than a block away, the Mexican Cafe.

After another hour-and-a-quarter – two jugs of margarita and one of sangria later – the killer again arranges himself so he can pay the bill as they leave the café and head to the Bluestone Room, where he had been drinking alone earlier.

Another camera inside the bar catches them seating themselves at a table after apparently ordering drinks, chatting to a doorman and then continuing to talk.

Kempson appears completely relaxed. It is obvious he is comfortable as he puts his arm around the man who goes on to serve drinks.

Grace too, seems very happy. She has been talking rapidly, appearing to be explaining something keenly to her date, smiling constantly and using her hands to emphasise what she is saying.

At 8.40pm, Kempson puts his hand behind Grace’s head and pulls it towards his, kissing her for a second or so.

Over the next hour, they kiss several times more, only stopping briefly while first Kempson walks out of shot and Grace checks her phone – as it turned out, sending her final message to her friend. Then Grace walks out of shot, as he checks his phone.

In fact, it was this one act that led police right to him. He had gone on to his phone to post a message on her Facebook page.

Soon after 9.30pm, the footage shows them leaving and heading to the lobby of the CityLife Hotel, where they enter the lift, the killer fumbling for his keycard as they head towards Room 308.

Exactly what happened in the room after the couple arrived isn’t known – apart from the fact that Kempson murdered Grace.

What is known is that he didn’t call anyone and ask for help when she died. There was no call to the emergency services.

Instead, at 1.30am on Sunday, as Grace lay dead in his room, Kempson carried out a number of internet searches which indicate not just how unconcerned he was about her death, but how he was actively plotting to conceal it.

Using his mobile phone, he looked up “hottest fire” and “Waitakere ranges” – the location where he would later try to bury Grace in a shallow grave.

Then the killer trawled a pornography website called Porn Hub for videos to watch.

He also took seven intimate photographs of Grace’s dead body, including close ups, manipulating her body to get the shots he wanted.

The following morning, with Grace still lying dead in Room 308, he texted another woman he had met on Tinder, trying to arrange a date for later that day.

Shortly after, he was again caught on CCTV, buying a suitcase.

In police pictures, released during the trial, a grey suitcase identical to the one he bought to remove her body can be seen in a nondescript modern hotel room with an unkempt bed.

Footage shows him going from his room to a leisure store to buy an identical suitcase, then to a supermarket to buy some cleaning products and then to a car hire firm.

Another picture shown in the trial was his room carpet stained by luminol, a chemical used by officers to reveal blood stains which have previously been cleaned up.

He rented a red Toyota hatchback car and, as Grace lay dead in his hotel room, headed out in the afternoon to meet up with the woman he had been texting earlier in the day at a bar in the trendy Auckland suburb of Ponsonby.

The woman, a former journalist who can’t be named, but who like the killer was 27, found her date “very intense, quite calm though”.

Soon after meeting her in a bar called Revelry he told her that all his friends were police officers and his closest friend was coming to New Zealand to be a Crown prosecutor.

As they discussed a murder trial she had once attended, he told her: “It’s crazy how guys can make one wrong move and go to jail for the rest of their life.”

He then went on to say that he had heard about a guy who asked his girlfriend to have rough sex but it had gone wrong and she had died in the process.

The prosecution in his trial said they believed he was testing out the story he planned to peddle, on her, to see how it played out.

She said: “I think he was in his own world telling this story. I think I just felt a bit uncomfortable. I changed the topic to travelling in the south island.”

He continued to tell a number of lies in the course of their conversation and she became increasingly uneasy.

When she left the bar, she said she avoided walking directly back to her car.

Despite her anxiety, he later texted her asking for another date, which she turned down.

After he got back to his room, at about 5.45pm on 2 December, he hired a machine called a Rug Doctor with the aim of cleaning the carpet thoroughly, telling the shop he got it from it was to remove a red wine stain.

Then, he parked his rental car outside the hotel, picked up a trolley from the reception, went upstairs and returned with the trolley, which was now carrying two large suitcases, one of which was the same as the one he bought earlier. He loaded the cases into the car and moved it to a nearby car park.

Throughout the day, the CCTV reveals he changed his clothes repeatedly.

Early the next day, at about 6.15am, Kempson is filmed leaving the hotel and driving off in his car, stopping only to buy a shovel at a store out of town.

Days later, after Grace was reported missing by her parents and a huge hunt got under way, Kempson was interviewed for the first time.

He had been identified by a detective as a person of interest after she spotted that he had left a message on her Facebook page at 9.29pm on 1 December – just 11 minutes before they left the Bluestone Room and went to his room.

He wrote “Beautiful, very radiant” under Grace’s updated profile picture.

Detective Diana Levinson sent him a message and asked him to get in touch.

They spoke the next morning and the killer told her he had met Grace but they parted at 10pm on the Saturday and that was the last time he saw.

When another detective rang him to arrange a meeting, he said he would come in to give a formal statement later that day.

But, before he came in, he was spotted by another officer at the CityLife Hotel.

Officers had not expected to see him there and became suspicious. They ran after him and found him in a shop nearby, hauling him in for his first interview.

He described the night they had spent together but stuck to his claim that he had left her at 10.

In the meantime, police acquired the CCTV from the hotel which proved he was lying.

By the time of his second interview, he had no choice but to admit killing Grace, relying instead on the excuse that she had died during sex by accident, after she asked him to choke her in an attempt to make sex more pleasurable.

The jury rejected his claim and found him guilty.

During his trial he was described as a “sociopath”, who made some of the women he met or communicated with on Tinder highly uncomfortable.

It later emerged that he took another British tourist out on a Tinder date before bringing her back to his Auckland motel room, eight months before he killed Grace.

Kempson raped the tourist, then 21, while she lay on the bed crying and frozen with fear after she refused to have sex with him.

She kept the attack secret until she recognised Kempson from media coverage the day he was charged with Grace’s murder.

She later told a court that for a long time she had woken up “crying and screaming” with flashbacks and nightmares, terrified that her attacker would track her down.

She said: “Every time I went to sleep, I’d see your eyes popping out of your head, staring at me in anger.”

Another of the women he communicated with on the internet, who was wary of actually meeting him but shared a series of messages in which he detailed his sexual preferences, said he had admitted to her why he enjoyed doing what he did.

The witness, whose identity is protected, said: “He said it was because it made him feel more superior and in control.”

It was this desire for domination, as the prosecution asserted, which brought about Grace’s death.

In another trial, he was convicted of terrorising his live-in girlfriend over a period of months.

He subjected her to violent assaults, threatened her with a butcher’s knife and forced her into humiliating sex acts after telling her he had been sent by the CIA to kill her.

Kempson was unwilling to accept what he had done and showed no remorse, shouting at a judge in one of his three trials: “You have no reason to convict me. You’re full of s*** mate.”

For many months his identity was protected by the justice process in New Zealand, but that was finally removed when he lost an appeal against his conviction and sentence for murdering Grace.

He was jailed for 17 years, to run concurrently with the other two sentences of 11 years.

He continues, however, to appeal against his other two convictions.

“Grace was taken away from us in the most brutal fashion a year ago and our lives have been ripped apart,” her father David Millane said after the verdict in her murder trial, fighting back tears.

“She did not deserve to be murdered in such a barbaric way during her gap year.

“Grace was our sunshine and she will be missed forever.”

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