'My mum was torched in a churchyard - all we have is a pretty gravestone'

The daughter of a murder victim Tracy Mertens says she's still looking for justice 30 years on - and her life has been wrecked by the crime. -Credit:Courtesy of Kelly Hill / SWNS

The heartbroken daughter of a murder victim snatched in Birmingham and torched in a churchyard has revealed her mother's haunting words hours before she was abducted. Kelly Hill said her mum Tracy Mertens told her to contact her grandmother or aunt if anything happened to her.

The following day, the 31-year-old school canteen worker was kidnapped from her former home in Cattells Grove, Nechells, driven 60 miles to Congleton in Cheshire, doused in petrol and set ablaze. She died 12 hours later with burns covering 94 per cent of her body after giving police a description of the men responsible - two large, overweight black men in their 30s with 'Jamaican accents'.

But 30 years on, her killers have never been found despite regular police appeals on landmark anniversaries. Kelly, now 40, said the tragedy wrecked her life and she had been in hospital herself several times since because she "just wanted to be with her mum", reports the Mirror.

READ MORE: Birmingham dad 'headbutted' on way home from Grand National

In a new appeal for help, she said: "I can't imagine what my mum would have 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."

Tracy, her partner Joey Kavanagh, and their two children, Kelly and Daniel, now 41, had settled into their new life in Rochdale after moving from Birmingham in December 1994. Kelly fondly recalled how her mother was always attentive and caring towards her and her brother, describing her as a reserved person who rarely socialised outside the family circle.

On the eve of her tragic disappearance, Kelly remembered her mother imparting a haunting piece of advice. "The night before she died, she said to me, 'If something ever happens to me, go to Nana's or Aunty Sharon's'."

At the time, the comment didn't seem significant, but Kelly said she could not help but wonder if her mum had a premonition about the events that were about to unfold. Tracy embarked on a journey to Birmingham on the morning of December 21 to collect her benefit books from their previous home.

Kelly pictured with her dad Joey
Kelly Hill with her father Joey. -Credit:Courtesy of Kelly Hill / SWNS

Although they had moved weeks earlier, Tracy still had a key and would routinely stop by to gather any remaining post. Kelly said she vividly remembered the morning of her mother's departure. "The morning she went, we were all asleep and she set off about 8am," she recounted.

"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 was believed that Tracy planned to return home on the same day, but circumstances led her to spend the night at her sister Tina's house, who is now 56. The following day, December 23, while at her former home, Tracey responded to a knock at the door to be met by two men inquiring about Joey's whereabouts.

She was blindfolded and forced into a Ford Escort. "She was taken to Congleton and they had petrol cans in the car," Kelly said.

"They took her to a church and at some point during the afternoon, they set fire to her."

Tracey Mertens' headstone. -Credit:Courtesy of Kelly Hill / SWNS

Despite a passerby's quick action in calling an ambulance, Tracy died on Christmas Eve at 4pm. Kelly recalled the heart-wrenching moment her father broke the news of their mum's 'car accident' to her and Daniel.

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. That's where they told him. He came back into the room and said, 'Your mum's been in a car accident'."

At just 11, Kelly felt her childhood slip away. "My childhood ended in that moment. I didn't know what to do to fill the mum role," she said. "We didn't have any Christmas presents. 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."

After enduring two years with their father, Kelly and Daniel fled to other family members. Kelly explained: "I was passed from pillar to post because I couldn't handle the way we were being brought up, and at 15, I ended up pregnant."

Tragedy struck again when Joey died on June 6, 2020, due to a blood clot in his heart. Kelly said she was now determined to rebuild her life and seek justice. "At 40, I thought I would have been able to handle things better," she confessed.

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

"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."

The police investigation, which has lasted 30 years and included a documentary, numerous appeals and a Crimewatch reconstruction, was last renewed in 2019. Det Insp Kate Tomlinson, from Cheshire Police, said on the 25th anniversary of Tracy's death: "Tracy met a violent and horrific death at the hands of her killers.

"She was so brave and told detectives as much as she could before she died. That information was vital for the investigation team at the time, and numerous lines of enquiry were pursued.

"Over the years we have renewed our appeal and a number of people have come forward with information - I would like to thank them for their assistance. However, despite extensive enquiries, nobody has ever been charged with Tracy's murder.

"I appreciate it is a long time ago but I am sure that if you witnessed something you would still remember this now. I would urge anyone with any information to come forward and help us with our investigation."

Anyone with information should contact Cheshire Police's Operation Eaton investigation team on 101 or Crimestoppers, in confidence, on 0800 555 111.