My mum was burned alive 30 years ago - her killers are still free

The daughter of a murder victim has spoken for the first time about her mum's brutal death in a bid to find the murderers 30 years on. Kelly Hill, 40, revealed new details about the days before her mum Tracy Mertens, 30, was abducted, doused in petrol, set on fire and left to die in Eaton churchyard, near Congleton.

She suffered burns on 96 per cent of her body - and died in hospital on Christmas Eve, 12 hours later. Dinnerlady Tracy managed to tell police about her ordeal in her final hours.

But despite extensive and exhaustive enquiries over the years, nobody has ever been convicted in connection with her death. But Kelly has bravely decided to speak out in a bid to find justice and answers - and remains hopeful someone will be caught in her lifetime.

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She revealed a chilling bit of advice her mum gave her the day before she died. The hairdressing student said: “I can’t imagine what my mum would’ve felt when she was burning alive - I hope I get to see justice in my lifetime.

“Yes, she’s got a pretty headstone on her grave - but in 30 years all we’ve got to show for her murder is an inactive investigation. It’s like she’s been forgotten about.”

Tracy Mertens -Credit:SWNS
Tracy Mertens -Credit:SWNS

Tracy 'doted' on Kelly and her older brother, Daniel, 41. Kelly describes her mum as quiet - mostly keeping herself to herself, and doesn’t remember her ever going out with friends.

“The night before she died, she said to me, ‘if something ever happens to me, go to nana’s or aunty Sharon’s',” Kelly said. “I didn’t think anything of it at the time.

“But as an adult, I do wonder whether she knew something was going to happen to her.”

On the morning of December 21, 1994, Tracy left her home in Rochdale to travel to Birmingham and collect her benefit books. Despite the family moving out of their previous home weeks prior, Tracy still had a key - and would regularly collect her post from the old address.

Tracy Mertens. -Credit:Kelly Hill/SWNS
Tracy Mertens. -Credit:Kelly Hill/SWNS

Kelly remembers the last time she ever saw her mum - as she turned to wave at her from the driveway.

She said: “The morning she went - we were all asleep, and she set off about 8am. I remember hearing the door close - I ran to the window and looked out at her.

“She saw me, turned around, and waved. That was the last time I ever saw her.”

It is believed she initially intended to return the same day but instead ended up staying overnight at her sister's home - Tina, now 56.

Tracy Mertens -Credit:Kelly Hill/SWNS
Tracy Mertens -Credit:Kelly Hill/SWNS

She went to her old home the next day, December 23, and when she answered a knock at the door she was confronted by two men who asked: "Where is Joey?"

She’d been blindfolded and bundled into a Ford Escort parked outside her old house and driven 60 miles.

“She was taken to Congleton, and they had petrol cans in the car,” Kelly added. “They took her to a church - and at some point during the afternoon, they set fire to her.”

Despite a passer-by spotting Tracy and calling an ambulance - she died at 4pm on Christmas Eve. Kelly remembers her dad Joey telling her and Daniel that Tracy had been injured in a car accident.

She said: “Two days after mum went, we got a knock on the door. It was really late, about 10pm. My dad answered. Daniel and I were in the front room, and my dad was taken into a police car.

Tracey Merten's headstone -Credit:Kelly Hill/SWNS
Tracey Merten's headstone -Credit:Kelly Hill/SWNS

“That’s where they told him. He came back into the room and said, ‘your mum’s been in a car accident’.”

Kelly and Daniel were then taken to Mary's house while Joey visited Tracy in hospital After Tracy died, the pair were sent back to their dad’s - and Kelly says she had to 'grow up in an instant' - at 11 years old.

“We didn’t have any Christmas presents,” she added. “My childhood ended in that moment. I didn’t know what to do to fill the mum role - when my dad asked me to make him a brew, I put five sugars in.

“I used to have to scrub mine and Daniel’s school uniforms with a toothbrush, because we didn’t have a washing machine. I had no-one to talk to about periods."

Tracy Mertens -Credit:Kelly Hill/SWNS
Tracy Mertens -Credit:Kelly Hill/SWNS

After two years of living with Joey, Daniel and Kelly ran away to live with other relatives.

She said: "I was passed around from pillar-to-post because I couldn't handle the way we were being brought up, and at 15 I ended up pregnant.”

The 30-year police investigation - spanning a documentary, countless appeals and a Crimewatch reconstruction - was last renewed in 2019. Joey died on June 6, 2020 - after doctors found a blood clot in his heart.

Now, Kelly just wants to build her life back up again - while fighting for justice. She said: “At 40 years old, I thought I would’ve been able to handle things better.

“I’m doing alright for myself now - I’m married, and I’m studying to become a hairdresser. I’ve been hospitalised eight-or-nine times in the past - because I just want to be with my mum.

“I still want to get these people brought to justice - we can only do that if we keep talking about it and keeping her name alive.

"If anyone's got any information, can you please speak up and help bring mum to justice."

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