A man on trial accused of murdering a guest house landlady and raping another woman at knifepoint has been found dead in prison.
John Heald, 53, sparked a manhunt across Doncaster and the Dearne Valley when he went on the run after he was accused of stabbing to death landlady Bei Carter and raping a woman in Sheffield.
He was on trial at Hull Crown Court and awaiting the jury to return their verdict.
But Judge Jeremy Richardson QC told the jury today that Heald was found dead at Hull Prison.
The jury in the nine-day trial retired to consider its verdict yesterday afternoon. Judge Richardson discharged the eight men and four women this afternoon.
He told them: “Ladies and gentlemen, I am now in a position to put you fully in the picture. The defendant committed suicide last night. I was advised this morning and I have heard some evidence about it in your absence to confirm that he is deceased.
“You are thus discharged of course from any further deliberation in this case and an appropriate order will be made. I can see from your faces that comes as quite a shock. It came as a shock to me this morning.”
Heald went on the run after the alleged offences and was spotted in the B & M store in Mexborough High Street. Police were also called out amid claims he was at a party in Church Road, Denaby. He had also been staying at a friend’s flat in Denaby before he was finally captured a week later in Parkgate.
He was charged with stabbing to death mum-of-two Mrs Carter, 49, at the Morayland Hotel she ran in Bridlington, on July 18 last year.
Her husband Terry had told the trial how he found his ‘perfect’ wife’s body locked in a bedroom covered in blood.
The incident came five days after Heald had allegedly raped a woman and threatened her with a knife in Sheffield.
Heald, of Foljambe Road, Dalton, Rotherham, denied murder and three counts of rape.
He admitted being responsible for Mrs Carter’s death but told the trial it was an accident. Heald had claimed he heard some men had seen on Facebook he was accused of rape and visited his hotel.
He told the jury earlier this week he was drunk and panicking and was standing outside his room with a knife when Mrs Carter tapped him on the shoulder and he accidentally stabbed her during a “pulling and tugging on the knife.”
He also claimed he had consensual sex with the rape complainant in Sheffield, five days before Mrs Carter’s death, and only picked up a knife to offer her a sandwich after they had intercourse.
* Read background to the case: