Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Police Dig Up Garden in Search for Body; Officers Erect Tent on Spot Where Missing Man's Son Was Building a Greenhouse

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Police Dig Up Garden in Search for Body; Officers Erect Tent on Spot Where Missing Man's Son Was Building a Greenhouse

Article excerpt

Byline: SOPHIE DOUGHTY

THE hunt for a missing pensioner took a grim twist as police began searching for a body in his garden.

Frail 85-year-old Francis Willis has not been seen since he vanished from his home more than two weeks ago.

And last night the house where he has lived for more than 50 years, on Gateshead's Leam Lane estate, became the scene of a police probe.

Stunned neighbours watched as a tent was erected in the back garden over the spot where Mr Willis's son, also called Francis, had been building a greenhouse.

And as detectives revealed that Francis Jnr, 62, had been charged with murder, families who have lived alongside his dad for years told of their shock at hearing their gentle neighbour could be dead.

Lillian Harker, 73, who has lived just doors away from Mr Willis on Staindrop for more than 40 years, said: "I just feel so sorry for him.

"He didn't deserve this. He was a lovely, hard-working man.

"It's really sad. I can't sleep for thinking about it."

Parkinson's disease sufferer Mr Willis vanished sometime after August 15.

Mrs Harker said that when her husband asked Francis Jnr on Friday where he was, he was told he was on holiday in Great Yarmouth.

But police had issued a missing person's appeal on Wednesday night, saying they were concerned about Mr Willis because of his age and poor health.

Yesterday afternoon detectives confirmed that their missing person's inquiry had turned into a murder investigation. A stretch of the street was cordoned off with police tape and officers wearing white overalls got to work.

It is believed Mr Willis had lived at the house for more than 50 years.

He and wife Jean, who passed away around 20 years ago, had two sons - Francis, who is now in his 60s and married with two children, and Brian, who passed away from motor neurone disease several years ago.

Mrs Harker said: "I have known them all my life and they were a very nice family. He was a fine man and Jean was a lovely woman.

"When Brian passed away it was very sad for him. I used to go and see him all the time. Over the last few years all he has talked about was Brian. …

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