Friend of 'murdered' Claire Knights had a 'sixth sense' she was dead

Heartbroken friend of missing mother ‘murdered’ while walking the dog had a ‘sixth sense’ her friend was dead and said ‘I just knew she wasn’t alive’ after not hearing from beloved pal

  • Claire Knights, 54, vanished on Wednesday in Kent walking the dog
  • Helen Wilde has now said she had a ‘sixth sense’ that her friend was dead

A heartbroken friend of the missing mother who investigators believe was murdered while walking the dog says she had a ‘sixth sense’ that her friend was dead after she didn’t hear from her.

Helen Wilde, who has known missing Claire Knights for 20 years, said she knew something was wrong when the sculptor’s partner texted her to ask if she’d seen her on Wednesday. 

‘I just knew that she wasn’t alive, I just had a sixth sense,’ she said. ‘The day that it happened, I woke up in the middle of the night with a feeling she was gone.’

Sculptor and mother-of-one Ms Knights, 54, vanished on Wednesday in Kent, sparking a police appeal but police searching for her say a body of a woman was found on Friday evening.

Now, following a post-mortem examination, police have launched a murder investigation although formal identification is yet to take place.

A man in his 20s was arrested on suspicion of murder on Thursday and has since been detained for assessment by medical professionals.

Claire Knights, 54, (pictured) vanished on Wednesday sparking a police appeal but police searching for her say a body of a woman was found on Friday evening. Formal identification is yet to take place

Helen Wilde, who has known Claire Knights (pictured) for 20 years, said she knew something was wrong when the sculptor’s partner texted her to ask if she’d seen her on Wednesday

Ms Wilde, who owns One New Street Gallery in Herne Bay – where one of Claire’s sculptures is currently on display – said the artist had been planning to applying for fellowships before her death.

Speaking today, she said: ‘I’m absolutely devastated. It’s knocked me for six. Last time I saw her she was talking about applying for fellowships and art placements.

‘She was such a talented artist who never went with the grain. That’s what I loved about her. She made the most amazing sculptures that were difficult to create.’

Ms Wilde is hoping to run an exhibition of Ms Knights’ work in the gallery as a tribute to her in the coming weeks.

She said: ‘I couldn’t face opening the gallery on Saturday, but we’ve had to today.

‘I want to put a tribute up to her in the gallery. Somewhere people can come to think about her.’

Police searches on a remote country footpath intensified today after officers launched a murder investigation following the discovery of a body in connection with Ms Knights’ disappearance.

Uniformed officers sealed off a mile-long public footpath as scenes of crime officers continued to scour for clues in countryside outside the pretty village of Birchington, Kent popular with retirees and beach day trippers.

The footpath links Shuart Lane – close to where Ms Knights’ parked silver Suzuki car was found – through woodland and open fields to the seafront at Minnis Bay.

Police tape cordoned off the lane at both ends. Ms Knights’ Spaniel dog Zebulon was found wandering on its own by police officers on the seafront at Minnis Bay on Wednesday.

The final footsteps of Claire, who detectives believe was ‘murdered’ in Kent while walking her dog, have been released by police

Her white-and-brown spaniel called Zebulon (pictured) was also found wandering around on the beach on its own by police on Wednesday

There was a heavy police presence today along the bridleway between Shuart Lane in the village of St Nicholas-at-Wade, where her car was found parked, and Minnis Bay.

A stream and irrigation channels cross the fields between the seafront and the woodland inland. There are also two large man-made ponds close to the sealed off path and bridleway close to farm buildings.

READ MORE HERE: Police find body in hunt for missing sculptor, 54, last seen wearing a bikini after man in his 20s was arrested on suspicion of her murder 

The public footpath, which the sculptor is understood to have walked along with her white-and-brown Spaniel, has been cordoned off with tape – with three marked police cars and an unmarked vehicle guarding the site.

A further two police vans and three cars were parked at other end of the footpath, which comes out onto the seafront.

Missing posters asking the public to ‘please, please help’ in the search for the artist remained pinned up in Birchington.

One woman, who owns a beach hut along the Minnis Bay promenade, said Ms Knights was a familiar face to locals, as she regularly walked her dog in the area.

She said: ‘Lots of people round here recognised the dog from the photo the police put out. Apparently it’s quite a lively dog. I understand Claire was a regular around here.’

The pensioner, who asked not to be named, added: ‘I was here on Wednesday myself and it was very very busy.

‘It’s just bizarre that the last time she was apparently seen was along the promenade, wearing a bikini, yet nobody I know saw her.

‘I went swimming that day and I just keep thinking, while I was in the water, she was being murdered. It’s a horrible thought.’

Pictured, a missing persons poster put up to try and find Claire Knights, who went missing on Wednesday

A dogwalker from Birmingham who has a holiday home in St Nicholas-at-Wade and was passing the footpath, said: ‘We do the circular walk to Minnis Bay with the dog whenever we’re down here.

‘We were meant to go along the footpath to the beach today, but it’s sealed off and there’s a big police presence around there at the moment.

‘I’d heard a lady went missing last week and as soon as I saw how many police officers there were, I knew she wouldn’t be found alive. It’s so sad.

‘You hardly hear about any murder cases around here – you get the odd mugging but that’s about it.

‘It’s such a remote area. It’s in the middle of nowhere, it just doesn’t make sense.

‘It’s going to be even more frightening for women walking by themselves now. It’s just horrible.’

Neville Hudson, chairman of Birchington Parish Council said the quiet seaside village had been shocked by the murder.

He said: ‘There’s still a lot of police activity here.

‘We are deeply saddened that this has happened in our community and we feel very sorry for the family of the deceased.

‘We are deeply shocked. It’s incredulous that something like this should happen in such a quiet and peaceful place like that.’

Pictured, police tape near railroad tracks and right next to a missing persons poster for Claire Knights

A Kent Police spokesperson said on Sunday: ‘Kent Police has commenced a murder investigation after a woman was found deceased near Birchington. Shortly after 7pm on Friday 25 August 2023, officers attended the scene between St Nicholas At Wade and Minnis Bay.

‘Formal identification has not yet taken place, however, the family of Claire Knights, a 54-year-old woman reported missing from Upstreet on Wednesday 23 August, are aware.

‘A post mortem examination has been completed and Kent Police’s Major Crime Department has now launched a murder investigation.

‘Claire’s vehicle, a silver Suzuki car, was recovered from Shuart Lane, St Nicholas At Wade. She is believed to have walked from there to the Minnis Bay area of Birchington, where she is reported to have been seen later that afternoon.

‘There will be an increased police presence in the area as searches by specialist officers and enquiries by a team of detectives continue.

‘On Thursday August 24, a man in his 20s from Margate was arrested on suspicion of murder. He has since been detained for assessment by medical professionals.’

Police are appealing for anyone with CCTV or dashcam footage to come forward.

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