Did the church-going osteopath’s fascination with DEMONS ultimately drive her to murder?
Amid the fevered congregation which gathered for divine healing at a North London church in spring 2018, one woman stood out above all others.
Making her way to the front of the rented hall in Hampstead Garden Suburb, Jemma Mitchell, a softly-spoken former osteopath, announced to the 300 or so evangelical Christians present that she wanted to be exorcised of her demons.
As the pastor leading the service placed his hands on her head, she began to shake and cry, then scream hysterically before falling dramatically to the floor.
‘It was like something out of a horror film,’ recalls Keren Gjuretek, a former close friend, who was there that day. ‘What I saw completely freaked me out. She asked for everyone to pray for her and heal her but when she started screaming, people were shocked.’
Three years later, in June 2021, those demons would drive Mitchell to kill another friend, Deborah Chong, at her home in North London. In what is surely among the most gruesome crimes ever committed by a woman in the UK, Mitchell cut off her 67-year-old victim’s head, stuffed her body in a suitcase and, two weeks later, dumped her decomposing remains 250 miles away in the upmarket seaside resort of Salcombe in Devon.
And the motive for this gruesome killing? Money. When police arrested Mitchell at the ramshackle North London house where her family has lived for more than half a century, they found a falsified will making her the main beneficiary of Deborah’s estate.
Mitchell needed the cash to pay for an unfinished extension to her home, having been left living in squalor without a roof or heating by cowboy builders.
Last week, at the Old Bailey, the 38-year-old murderess was jailed for life but, having refused to give evidence or even to acknowledge her guilt, the events leading up to her wicked and yet baffling crime have so far remained untold.
How does a highly-educated, apparently kind woman, who dedicated her professional life to healing others, turn into an evil killer?
This week the Mail spoke to those who know Mitchell, including a former boyfriend, in a bid to uncover the truth about the ‘demons’ that drove her to commit cold-blooded murder. In doing so, a picture has emerged of her extraordinary descent from an apparently gregarious, happy-go-lucky woman with a bright future to a reclusive and deeply troubled religious fanatic.
And while Mitchell’s desperate money problems were undoubtedly the ultimate trigger for her crime, there were, as the Mail has discovered, other, darker and more troubling, forces at play in her life, many of them stretching back to her early childhood in Australia.
‘The Jemma I knew would never have done anything like this,’ says the ex-boyfriend — who doesn’t want to be named — speaking exclusively to the Mail this week. ‘I am absolutely convinced that she has developed some kind of personality disorder.’
The girlfriend he knew was ‘absolutely beautiful’ and gregarious. ‘Her smile really did light up a room,’ he says.
And while she was highly intelligent, with ‘a very inquisitive mind’ and enjoyed visiting museums and galleries, she also enjoyed nightclubs, dancing to trance music and going to festivals. She even appeared as an extra in a video for the upbeat 2007 pop song Big Girl by Mika.
But Mitchell, he observed, was in some ways also quite ‘childlike’.
‘She was naive about people. She expected everyone to be nice to each other,’ he says. ‘If she became close to someone and they said something she didn’t agree with or did something which in her head wasn’t the right thing to do, she would be really disturbed by that.
‘She would be really gregarious, happy, bubbly, outgoing and then her personality would suddenly flip. She would emotionally shut down. She would stare into the distance, her face became a blank canvas. You couldn’t communicate with her, as if she was somewhere else, and then suddenly she would come back into the room.’ This behaviour was most often displayed during visits to her family home where Jemma lived in a self-contained apartment converted from the former garage.
Her mother, Hilary, and older sister lived on the rest of the ground floor and, until her death in 2016, Mitchell’s grandmother Iris and husband lived on the upper floor. While living together, each unit was separated by locked doors.
The set-up was ‘odd’ says the ex-boyfriend. ‘The atmosphere was tense. There were a lot of rows, particularly involving her sister.
‘It was like Jemma was walking on eggshells. She was always trying to help her sister and she loved her grandmother but I always felt like she was seeking her mother’s love and approval. Jemma wanted to impress her. She was always reaching out to her, wanting to be close to her. She was very tactile. When she hugged her mother, it was like she wanted to absorb her.’
Perhaps the clearest pointer to the siblings’ troubled relationship is the non-molestation order Annette once secured against her younger sister for harassment. Details are sparse, but in 2016 Mitchell was hauled before Willesden Magistrates for breaching the order.
Another odd thing the ex-boyfriend noticed about Mitchell was that she would cry without making a sound. ‘There was no emotion. She would have a blank face.
‘Her eyes would be streaming with tears but she’d be staring into space. There was no sobbing or uneven breathing. It was like she’d conditioned herself to do it.’
Mitchell’s parents married in London in 1979 and moved to Australia where their youngest daughter, Jemma Nicole, was born in July 1984, two years after her sister. According to the ex-boyfriend, when Mitchell was two, her mother returned to the UK with her daughters, moving back into the house in Brondesbury Park bought by Mitchell’s maternal grandmother Iris and her third husband, Lawrence, in the mid 1960s.
During the years that followed, Mitchell’s mother, who was employed at the Foreign Office, often worked abroad. She took her daughters with her during a posting to Iran where they attended an international school but at other times they went to boarding school in the UK.
An unhappy child, Mitchell dreamed of returning to Australia where she hoped to find the father she had never really known. ‘She went through her entire life knowing she had a father but not knowing anything about him or where he was. She’d had no father figure in her life,’ says the ex-boyfriend.
Academically, she excelled: after A-levels, Mitchell studied human sciences at King’s College, London where, ironically, given her later crime, she dissected human cadavers. Her brilliance was recognised with a first-class degree and the prestigious Hamilton Prize for ‘anatomical excellence’.
She continued her studies at the British School of Osteopathy before pursing her dream of moving to Melbourne in Australia.
Offering an ‘in-depth, novel, hands-on solution’ to pain, she set up her osteopathy practice in a former funeral parlour where the word ‘embalming’ is still written on the front facade.
It is not known if Mitchell ever contacted her father, but the six years she spent in Australia were not happy ones.
Sources say Mitchell’s behaviour became increasingly erratic and, on occasions, threatening. There are reports too of alleged thefts and contact with the police before she returned to the UK in 2015.
The following year, five months after celebrating her 100th birthday, Mitchell’s beloved grandmother Iris died. Land Registry records show that two years after her grandmother’s death in 2016, the family home, now worth at least £1 million and with no mortgage, passed into Mitchell’s sole name. By 2018, Keren Gjuretek, now 20, had become friends with Mitchell through the church and would regularly stay over at the Brondesbury house when visiting her boyfriend in London. ‘There were Bibles everywhere, even in the bathroom,’ she recalls.
Mitchell’s only interests, she says, were praying, Bible readings, her cats and her plants.
Her appearance had become dishevelled, she wore her greasy hair in a messy bun and wore baggy, scruffy clothes.
‘It didn’t seem like she showered very often,’ says Keren. ‘She didn’t care about her appearance and she didn’t like that I took selfies and put them on Instagram.
‘All she wanted to do was talk about Jesus and the devil. She was obsessed with the Bible. She wanted to read it to me all the time or for me to read it to her.’ She was drawn to Mitchell’s apparent kindness but says her ‘sweetness’ became strange and overbearing. She would describe her mother and sister as ‘evil’ for not following God and said she wanted to be free of the demons from her childhood.
Keren says: ‘It was intense. It started to freak me out. She was always calling me sweetheart and her voice was childish. It was like a ten-year-old was speaking to me. It got creepy.’
Ultimately, she ended the friendship after Mitchell — whom she describes as ‘sick in the head’ —began interfering in Keren’s relationship with her boyfriend, telling lies about each of them to the other and then pretending to act as a peacemaker. In a final message. Mitchell wrote: ‘I had your best intentions at heart. Fake is not a word for me.’
The last time the ex-boyfriend was in touch with her was in 2019, via Facebook. While there was no hint of the evangelical Christianity she had embraced, she did, however, allude to the ongoing crisis which would ultimately drive her to kill.
Mitchell was having problems with cowboy builders who had ripped her off, leaving an extension project, which was meant to have added an extra floor to the house, unfinished.
In the last message they shared in October that year, she wrote: ‘I’m definitely learning from my mistakes. Lol.
‘The plan was to have a lovely warm house! No one warns you these bad builders exist. Why?’
By 2020 Mitchell had a new friend in her life: Malaysian-born Mee Kuen Chong, known as Deborah. The pair met via one of several North London prayer groups they both attended.
Deborah, who came to the UK in the 1970s to study, married a British businessman in her early 20s. When he died, she inherited a substantial portfolio of rental properties.
A family source told the Mail that while she didn’t care about the money, she lived and breathed the Gospel and saw her financial good fortune as a way of serving God.
One of her former lodgers has told the Mail that she was ‘very, very kind’ with her money.
Deborah’s devout faith was evident to anyone who visited her Wembley home where two crosses were carved into the stone above the front door along with the words: ‘Agape selfless love for all’. Agape is a Greco-Christian word referring to God’s unconditional love.
She opened up her home to fellow Christians, holding prayer meetings and offering rooms to those who needed a helping hand.
So it was that Jemma Mitchell came into her life, desperate for help with the disastrous building project. At first Deborah appears to have offered to pay the £200,000 Mitchell needed, on the condition that the house was used for Christian purposes.
Text messages sent by Mitchell to Deborah around this time, talking about God’s plan, show how manipulative she had become. ‘I have a passion for healing, homeless people and the elderly . . . you are the only one that wants to help me to the bits that matter, practical stuff that shows love . . . you are truly of God.’
In another message she wrote: ‘You are beautiful inside and out.’
Later, Deborah, who was frail and had been prescribed medication for schizophrenia, changed her mind, urging Mitchell to solve her financial woes by selling the house. ‘Sell it, enjoy the money, life is too short. Enjoy the moment . . . more construction will cost more money you don’t have.’
Finally, on June 8 last year, she told Mitchell: ‘Until you sold house, I won’t want you come to me or my house. I’m stressed to the core.’
Three days later, Mitchell set off from her home with an empty blue suitcase, arriving at Deborah’s at around 8am.
The horrific events which followed have been well documented. During Mitchell’s highly publicised Old Bailey trial there was a plethora of evidence against her — not least the images of her driving in a hire car 50 metres from the spot in Salcombe where Deborah’s body was later found by holidaymakers.
When police arrested her at the house that drove her to kill — and where she is believed to have stored Deborah’s body for two weeks before driving it to Devon — it was full of hoarded rubbish and rotting food. It took 50 police officers several weeks to sift through it all.
Mitchell still refuses to admit her guilt, replying ‘no comment’ during police interviews and refusing to enter the witness box.
She shook her head as Judge Richard Marks described her as ‘extremely devious’.
Sentencing her, he said: ‘You have shown no remorse and it appears you are in complete denial about what you did.’
Her ex-boyfriend says: ‘Jemma has been portrayed as an evil, devious woman but what she did to that poor woman says to me that she was at absolute breaking point. I think Jemma has snapped psychologically. She has lost all sense of reality.’
Others, no doubt, will argue that Mitchell is simply a wicked woman guilty of a heinous crime. And the only way to be rid of the demons inside her, is to tell the truth about what she did.