The Disappearance of Patrick Warren and David Spencer (The Milk Carton Kids)

Hello and welcome back to another unsolved mystery! Today, we're talking about the case of Patrick Warren and David Spencer. It's actually not one that I'd ever heard about before so I asked a few people if they were familiar with it and they hadn't heard of it either, which I found quite shocking. I guess it just didn't get that much media coverage so I thought it was important to do a post and video on the case.

Patrick Warren, aged 11 and David Spencer, aged 13 were two British schoolboys that disappeared without a trace 21 years ago and have never be heard from again...

"Patrick aka Paddy was one of seven siblings from an Irish family. He played football, liked noodles and used to 'rib' his mum about her Irish accent when she lost her temper. His mother said: "He was a bit on the wild side, there's no point saying he was an angel because he wasn't. I would say he was cheeky. But other kids' mothers used to say, 'Paddy is a terrific little lad', even his teachers said he was a good lad."

"David, a keen boxer, was remembered by his mother Christine O'Toole as adorable, a lovely lad but he also had a troubled side. Petty misdemeanours had landed him in and out of youth court and he was eventually excluded from mainstream schooling, aged 12. He didn't like discipline, you couldn't tell him what to do, he was aggressive; if someone caused him grief, he took the law into his own hands and used force to keep them off his back, which was unacceptable."

The story starts on Boxing Day (December 26th) 1996. Patrick Warren and his friend, David Spencer had spent the day together, playing nearby their homes in Chelmsley Wood, Solihull; which is roughly around 8 miles east of Birmingham's City Centre. They were also spotted with a group of children playing in Meriden Park and a police officer had warned them of the dangers of playing on a frozen lake. Shortly before midnight, the pair returned home and told their parents that they were going to stay the night at Patrick's brother's house, which was only a short walk away. But instead of walking straight there, they decided to stay out and play a little longer... Patrick was on his brand new red apollo laser bicycle that he'd received as a Christmas present and David was on foot. 

The last time they were seen alive was at around 00:45 GMT. They had gone to the local petrol station, Shell and explained that they were hungry and asked if they could have some biscuits. The attendant gave them the biscuits and stated that he saw them both walking towards the shopping centre. 

In the early hours on the 27th December, 1996, Patrick's family realised that the boys never arrived at the brother's house so another one of Patrick's brothers, Derek went and searched for the boys in all the places he thought they might be, but unfortunately, he couldn't find anything; so they had no choice but to report them as missing to the police. 

The initial investigation was described as a normal missing persons inquiry. The police went door to door asking for information, they searched buildings and all the places where they used to play. They made appeals in the local paper, urging them to return home. It was said that they were concerned for their welfare but also emphasized that the boys were "streetwise". They also said that there was no reason to believe that the boys had come to any harm. It was thought that they might just be playing a "big game" and staying with friends. The general consensus was that they hadn't fallen prey to any harm, they were just runaways and it would be only a matter of time until they returned home and a £500 reward was offered for any information on who they might be staying with.

Patrick's red bike was found abandoned by the bins, behind the back of the petrol station where they were last seen. It was actually found on the 27th December 1996 but the connection to the case wasn't made for several weeks. In late January of 1997, police held a press conference where the mother's of the missing boys - Bridget Warren and Christine O'Toole made an emotional appeal for their safe return of their sons.

In April, Patrick and David became the first children in the UK to appear on four-pint milk cartons in 770 Iceland stores, as a part of a campaign by the National Missing Persons Helpline. The charity hoped the scheme would be as successful as its American counterpart, but the appeal failed to bring any major leads or gain the attention of the national media. However, ever since the appeal, the boys would then be known as the "Milk Carton Kids" 

And then it seems to all go a bit quiet, but I guess without any major leads or information to go on, there's not anything you can really report. Prof David Wilson, a criminologist at Birmingham City University, who has studied the case in-depth said: "They were made out to be much more adult. There was a great deal of attention on describing them as not being good at school, one of them chain-smoking. There was a sense that they weren't really children, when in fact they were. Culturally, how you approach the first 48 hours in this type of case is either with urgency or 'they'll turn up because they're runaways'. If it had been two boys from [middle class] Solihull that went missing, that case would've been treated initially very differently. And it's about that word we're never allowed to use, class - this was about a class judgement that was made which was prepared to see them as runaways, as opposed to vulnerable." 

It has also been said that this case quickly became overshadowed due to the fact 17-year-old Nicola Dixon was raped and murdered only a few days after the boys' disappearance. One of the leading officers, Det Ch Insp Mick Treble said: "The killing of a middle-class girl in a graveyard on New Year's Eve dominated not just regional and national news, but police resources. There was always a feeling that the Nicola Dixon case, understandably, sucked up resources. The difference is remarkable if you compare the two cases - the resources and effort put into her murder case and that of two young boys going missing. When you looked back, there did seem to be a divide."

age progression images

In 2003, an arrest was made. It was confirmed that West-Midlands police had received an anonymous letter, 18 months before that stated that both, Patrick and David were buried in Woodgate Valley, Birmingham. An extensive search was carried out but sadly, nothing was found. Finally, they had traced who the letter was from and they arrested a 37-year-old local man but he was soon released on bail and was never charged, the letter had apparently been a hoax. 

2006 marked officially 10 years since the boys had been gone and the police began to review the case as " a no body murder" and they even said "they were closer than ever to solving the mystery" A full forensic investigation was conducted of the boys' houses but nothing of note was found. They also searched the nearby lake, the fields on the edge of Chelmsley Wood and the nearby mineshafts; Checks were also made on the sex offenders register, which didn't exist when the boys first went missing. This allowed officers to check which known paedophiles were living in the area around the time of their disappearance so they could interview them, to rule them out.

It was found that at the time of the boys' disappearance, convicted child killer Brian Field lived only a few miles from Chelmsley Wood and also worked locally as a landscape gardener and a "man with a van" doing odd jobs, which potentially means he was able to dispose of things discreetly. Brian had previously served a prison sentence for kidnapping two boys (aged 13 and 16) in the 1980s. In 2001, he was jailed for life for the 1968 rape and murder of 14-year-old Roy Tutill. A DNA sample was taken when he had been arrested for drunk driving and resulted in him being convicted, finally.

In 2006, he was interviewed regarding Patrick and David but he denied any involvement. Police searched wastelands where Brian had been known to dump materials, in the hopes of finding some evidence but they found nothing. Without a confession or strong evidence, they couldn't take it any further, however, he still remains a person of interest and the police do strongly believe he's the culprit. If you'd like to learn more about Brian Field, watch this Real Crime Documentary. They briefly mention this case at the end. I found it very interesting and it gave me a real insight into who he really is.

This is the part where I usually write some theories but I think this is a case where there aren't many...

With any disappearance, there's always the one of "what if they went to start a new life??" and I guess in some cases it could be plausible but I find it really odd that an 11-year-old boy would choose to leave his brand new bike behind, especially if he was running away. Officers that know the case think it's completely impossible for them to still be alive, due to the fact that it's been over 20-years without showing any trace of them once in NHS system. 

I'm not sure if this is a fair comment to make but I feel like missing person cases are always taken a lot more seriously when the victim is a female. When it happens to males, it always feels less urgent?? With this case, for example, they kept calling them runaways for a very long time and stating how they'll turn up when they get bored. They said they were streetsmart so they'll be okay, but they're still just vulnerable children, especially when the oldest was only THIRTEEN! I guess it's also important to remember that this happened in 1996, which was a completely different time, before social media and the police would have also had very limited methods but I do believe there was so much more that could have been done nevertheless.

"Had police investigated properly, they would have gone to Field's accommodation, they would have gone to his place of work, they would have spoken to the person in the petrol station and asked them if they had seen [Field] speaking to those boys." - Prof. Wilson

The police seem to strongly believe that Brian Field is the culprit but they also think he's not likely to admit to anything unless they can find some solid evidence. I believe this theory too. I don't believe coincidences this big exist. From what I've seen of him in the documentary, I also don't believe he will admit to anything unless he's got no way out. He doesn't seem remorseful for the things he's done. My heart absolutely breaks for both families. All they want is to know where the bodies are so they can finally lay them to rest and have a place where they can go and pay their respects from time to time. I just really hope that one day the truth is known. 


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