Detectives hunting the killer of nightclubber Melanie Hall 17 years ago have seized a sporty white car in a major breakthrough in the case.
Blonde Melanie, 25, disappeared on a night out in Bath, Somerset, in June 1996 and her remains were found dumped alongside a nearby motorway four years ago.
Her body was wrapped in black bin bags and bound with blue rope and she had been battered around the head.
Police today said the long-running investigation had been boosted by two new significant developments.
They have recently received information about a distinctive white Volkswagen Golf GTi cabriolet which has been recovered and is now being forensically examined.
The ageing car has a white soft top and an A-registration, which means it dates from 1983-84.
Police believe the car was being used in the Bath area in 1996 when Melanie was murdered.
They are now in the process of identifying and tracing its owners around the relevant time.
The Golf, which is almost 30 years old, was tracked down in Gloucestershire where it was still being used by its current owner.
Police say the current keeper is nothing to do with what happened historically.
Detectives refuse to say what makes the car suspicious but describe the information they have received about it as “very interesting and significant”.
The second breakthrough relates to the origin of the blue rope used to tie up Melanie’s body.
Although it was mass-produced and commonly used police say they now have ‘a credible account’ of where it came from.
Detective Superintendent Mike Courtiour said: “This new information encourages me that we may be very close to catching the killer or killers of Melanie.
“This has been a difficult case and it has never been closed.”
He added: “Over the past four years we have received information, intelligence and names that we have taken seriously, researched and thoroughly investigated.
“We have recently received information concerning the origin of the blue rope that was used to tie up Melanie’s body.
“It is significant information and we are actively working on that line of inquiry.
“We are working with forensic scientists in relation to the rope and the circumstances of where that particular length of rope came from.
“Also, we have recently found and recovered a car that may be relevant to events in 1996 when Melanie disappeared.
“It is a white A-registered Mark 1 Volkswagen Golf GTI cabriolet which is currently being examined by forensic scientists.
“At this stage we do not know if it is connected with the case, but it is a very interesting and possibly significant line of inquiry.”
Officers say the VW is not connected to a set of keys found near Melanie’s body four years ago, which were for a Ford.
Det Supt Courtiour added: “If anyone has any information about the circumstances of Melanie’s disappearance and her murder or can connect that car to what happened to her in 1996, please contact us and tell us what you know.”
Melanie was a hospital worker who lived with her parents Steve and Pat at Bradford Leigh, nr Bradford-on-Avon, Wilts.
She disappeared from Cadillacs nightclub in Bath in the early hours of June 9, 1996.
Her body was found dumped in undergrowth by a sliproad at Junction 14 on the M5 at Thornbury outside Bristol on October 5, 2009.
Her family welcomed the latest developments and said they remain hopeful that the killer will one day be caught.
Mr Hall said: “Gradually it seems that the bits of the jigsaw are being put together and each day the police are getting closer to finding out what happened to Melanie.
“And of all those bits of evidence, this may be the stage where they find that final piece of the jigsaw.
“We always knew it was going to be a long time, but these new pieces are a major breakthrough.”
Melanie’s elder sister Dominique, 45, said: “We have always been hopeful that someone would be brought to justice and that we would find out the details of what happened to Melanie.
“It won’t make the future any different – there will never be closure for our family.
“But it would be a great consolation if someone would search their conscience and come forward to police with that vital information we need.”
Mr Hall also appealed for anyone who knew anything about Melanie’s death to come forward now.
He said: “Enough is enough. It is time to find that strength of character and bring this to an end.”
Anyone with information can contact, in confidence, the murder incident room on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.