'This was hell' - The chilling story of the Newark woman who killed her mother-in-law in fire

A mother-of-four “did a wicked and terrible thing” by deliberately setting fire to her elderly mother-in-law’s bed to kill her for her money. Jailing Karen Vamplew for life, Judge Timothy Spencer KC said he was satisfied what she did to her 77-year-old relative was “a killing for gain” and that she “intended she should die”.

He said Elizabeth Vamplew, known as Anne, was “a cheery and bustling presence” in Newark before she suffered ill health and her mobility was reduced, something her killer knew when she started the blaze that took the much-loved grandmother’s life. Now she will spend at least 32 years behind bars before she will be eligible to apply for parole.

Jailing her, Judge Spencer said: "You did a wicked and terrible thing. You lit the bottom corner of the bed in which your mother-in-law was sleeping.

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“Her own home, her own bed. You had a plan and there was a significant degree of planning but that plan was doomed to end in disaster for everyone, yourself included. Anne Vamplew was 77 years of age, she was in poor health, she had undergone seven hip operations, she was unable to walk unaided and had suffered many falls in the preceding two years, a fact of which you were well aware.

“She was deaf and she must have woken to find her bed on fire. Flames, smoke, an inferno and she, unable to hear, (was) confused, terrified. This was hell.

“One of the fire officers described this as the hottest fire he had experienced in 17 years in the fire service. You murdered her, she was 77, she was a sister, a mother, an aunt, a neighbour and a friend to many.

“Until her mobility reduced she was well-known in Newark as a cheery and bustling presence. The impact of her passing has been all too palpable. It has been particularly devastating to her family who loved her dearly.

Photo of Elizabeth Vamplew, known as Anne, smiling in glasses and light blue dress
Elizabeth Vamplew, known as Anne, 'loved holidays and adored cruises', her family said -Credit:Nottinghamshire Police

“After the fire, you trapped yourself in a tangled web of lies. It is clear financial matters are inextricably linked to this, your debts were totally out of control.

“Unpaid council tax, Sky TV, gas bills, all unpaid and all with final demands. She had £27,000 in her current account and you milked that bank account to it having just £110.

“I am quite satisfied your conduct represents a gross breach of her trust. By the time of your half-baked plan, Anne was a burden to you. Your husband was in the dark about your financial position but you knew he would inherit half her estate enabling debts to be paid.

“I am satisfied you intended she should die. This was a killing for gain."

The fire was at a bungalow in Eton Court, Newark
The fire was at a bungalow in Eton Court, Newark -Credit:Google Maps

Following a four-week trial at Leicester Crown Court, a jury took a day and a half before unanimously finding 44-year-old Vamplew guilty of the murder of Anne. They heard how the defendant, of King Street, Newark, deliberately set the blaze at her relative’s address in Eton Court, also in the town, in the early hours of December 15, 2021.

Anne died from burns and smoke inhalation following the fire at her bungalow. In a statement last week, the victim’s family said: "Anne was a devoted mother, sister, grandmother, aunt, and friend to many. She married her husband Jess in 1968 and embarked on their journey together in Collingham. Their family grew with the arrival of Mark, and later, they moved to Newark, where Rachel completed their loving family circle.

"Together, they created cherished memories travelling in their caravan, often accompanied by Anne's sister Jean and their families. Anne and Jess found solace and joy in tending to their beloved garden, earning recognition with an award for Best Kept Garden. Christmas held a special place in Anne's heart, as it meant being surrounded by her beloved family, the true source of her happiness."

"Anne was happiest when time was spent with her three granddaughters - Leah, Jessie and Isla, all of whom she was immensely proud of. She loved her holidays and adored cruising. She would cruise at least twice a year with family and friends. She made many friends on these holidays as she loved to chat and get to know people. She will be greatly missed by her family and many friends."

During the trial, the jury heard from Anne's niece, Amanda Ennells, who said she was told by Vamplew that she had tried to save the victim by crawling into the burning room, but was told to get out by a 999 operator she was on the phone to. But Vamplew's pyjamas were clean when Amanda later saw her, which raised suspicions.

Vamplew also told friend Katie Joynes that she had tried to force the door at Anne's bungalow to get in, and that the blaze had been started by Anne smoking in bed. But this raised suspicions because Ms Joynes said Anne only smoked in the kitchen.

Andrew Vout KC, defending, said: "All cases of this type are awful but she is of previous good character and is a mother-of-four. Her eldest boys are now teenagers and live with their father and both were in touch with her throughout the trial."

"There was a complete lack of sophistication. This was a lady who was trying to juggle a difficult family life and was not living extravagantly.

Following sentence, Andrew Baxter from the CPS said: “Elizabeth Vamplew’s tragic death was caused by the greed of her own daughter in law. Karen Vamplew had been helping herself to her money and, once this was spent, she killed her in the most cynical and calculating way possible to get her hands on the inheritance.

“Vamplew had been posing as a dutiful, caring relative, but this trial had uncovered the reality, that Mrs Vamplew was a nuisance to her and she was just out for financial gain. I would like to offer my heartfelt sympathies to Mrs Vamplew’s extended family and loved ones who must feel the betrayal of one so close to them.”