Episode 36 - Murder Of Heather Barnett

48-year-old Heather Barnett was described as a very proud mother of two who always put her children first and ensured they didn’t miss out. Her profession as a seamstress allowed Heather to work from home, where she made curtains, cushions, tablecloths and clothing pieces for her clients around Dorset. As a single mother, Heather’s resources were limited, but she loved the life her little family lived. 

 That life, however, was changed forever on Tuesday, November 12, 2002, by a brutal crime that would forever link two women together by their stolen lives, and stolen hair—despite nearly 20 years and over 5000 miles between them. 

Born on August 29, 1954, Heather Barnett was raised in the town of Sturminster Newton, Dorset County. The once shy and quiet girl grew up to be a feisty young woman with a sense of humour that her many friends loved. During the years in her hometown, Heather often worked in her ironmonger father’s shop, before eventually moving to the coastal resort town of Bournemouth. In her early adulthood, Heather spent time working in veterinary surgery and later in France as an au pair. After returning to England, Heather looked for her place in the world, first working at Knoll House as a waitress and then in a jeweller’s shop before undertaking a curtain-making course and becoming a seamstress. 

Eventually, Heather met a man named David Marsh. The two quickly fell in love, married and welcomed their first child, Terry, in 1987. Four years later, in 1991, a daughter, Caitlin, was born. Heather and David’s marriage, however, was not made to last, and soon after the birth of their second child, the couple separated. Following the divorce, Heather, Terry and Caitlin moved into a ground-floor flat on Capstone Road. 

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On Tuesday, November 12, 2002, Heather woke up early like she always did and prepared breakfast for 14-year-old Terry and 11-year-old Caitlin before dropping them off at school. Heather returned home at about 8:30 AM to begin what should have been a typical day in her seaming business with sewing and calls to clients. 

Terry and Caitlin arrived home at 4 PM that afternoon, expecting their mother to meet them at the door with hugs and kisses. But oddly, Heather was nowhere to be seen even though her car was in the driveway. Terry and Caitlin also found the front door unlocked, which was unusual—even when Heather was at home, she took care of safety measures. The two siblings stepped inside the home, calling for their mother but received no answer. Caitlin and Terry noticed that Heather’s sewing machine had been knocked over, which definitely wasn’t a good sign. Still, nothing could have prepared them for what they were about to witness. As they didn’t find their mother anywhere else in the small flat, Caitlin eventually knocked on the closed bathroom door. Again, there was no response but the door was unlocked, so Caitlin opened it slightly—it was then that Terry heard her sister’s blood-curdling scream. 

Heather was lying on her back on the bathroom floor in a pool of blood. In fact, there was blood absolutely everywhere—there was no question whether or not she was dead. While Caitlin “went absolutely ballistic” after seeing her mother’s body, Terry picked up the phone and called 999: 

Terry: I need an ambulance. I need police. 

Operator: I’ve got officers on route. What’s happened? 

Terry: My mom has just been murdered. This is not a joke. 

Operator: Right. Is that your mom I can hear in the background? 

Terry: That’s my blooming sister. 

Operator: So where is your mother then? 

Terry: She’s lying in the bathroom on her back. 

Operator: And what’s happened to her? 

Terry: She’s bloody had pieces cut off her for God’s sake. 

Operator: Right, now who’s done that? 

Terry: I don’t know! 

After the call, the sibling ran out of the house in a panic, looking for help. Luckily, there across the street neighbours, Danilo Restivo and his wife Fiamma Marsango were just pulling up to their house. As soon as they understood what the distraught teenagers were saying, Danilo and Fiamma led Terry and Caitlin into their home, assuring them they were safe there while they waited for the police. 


When the investigators arrived at the family home, they found no signs of forced entry, indicating that 48-year-old Heather may have known her killer. Based on a trail of blood, it was believed the mother of two had been attacked in her sewing room before being dragged to the bathroom. Post-mortem examination identified 10 separate wounds to Heather’s head caused by a heavy instrument, some of which penetrated through the skull, revealing brain tissue. Her throat was also cut from ear to ear in addition to a shallow 24 cm cut vertically down the front of her abdomen. Heather’s shirt had been pulled to the level of her breast, her bar cut between the cups and her jeans slightly pulled down. Both of Heather’s breasts had been removed with a sharp object and carefully placed on the floor by the side of her head. As the mutilations and cuts were caused with a “degree of care and control” and these wounds lacked bleeding, it was believed they were inflicted after Heather was already dead. Estimation of the time of death suggested Heather had met her killer shortly after dropping her children off at school and returning home. This was supported by phone records, which showed four unanswered calls to the family home between 10:56 AM and 4:15 PM. Curiously, the investigators discovered strands of hair in Heather’s hands—her own hair and the hair of someone unknown, possibly her killer. 

Luminol tests showed a trail of bloody shoe-prints from size 9 to 11 Nike men’s sneakers from the bathroom toward Heather’s sewing room before they suddenly stopped at the hall beside the front door—it seemed that the killer had removed their shoes before leaving the flat. The search of the family home revealed nothing had been stolen, excluding robbery as a motive. Instead, the police came to the conclusion Heather’s murder was a premeditated ritualistic attack with possible sexual motivation. The killer had been very careful, likely using gloves and bringing a change of clothes and fresh pair of shoes with him. Not much evidence was left behind, no fingerprints and no murder weapon—but the investigators found a green hand towel on a chair in Heather’s sewing room. The towel was stained with Heather’s blood and was placed in the room by the killer after the attack. It was possible that the killer brought the towel with them and used it to clean his hands and other body parts from the blood before exiting the apartment. 

There were no immediate suspects, so the police checked all registered sex offenders in the area and carried out door-to-door inquiries. All the known offenders were cleared out and nobody who had been at home around the time of Heather’s murder reported seeing or hearing anything abnormal. Due to the fact it seemed that Heather knew her killer and willingly let them inside her home, the police had some suspicion of her ex-husband, David, but he was quickly ruled out. The investigators had hoped DNA tests on the hair strands found in Heather’s hand would lead them to a suspect, as it was believed she had ripped them off her killer’s head. However, as the results came back, it was revealed the hair strands had actually been neatly cut and belonged to another woman. At this point, the police could only speculate the meaning of the hair strands and whether or not this woman was still alive or also a victim. 

One of the most important clues in the early investigation came from 14-year-old Terry. During an interview, the teenager told the police Heather’s keys had gone missing a week before her death. As she was afraid someone would find the keys or had taken them, Heather changed the locks of the family home. Terry recalled the keys had disappeared after one of their neighbours had paid a visit to talk with Heather about a curtain order. That neighbour was the very same person who had let Terry and Caitlin in his home after their gruesome discovery—an Italian man named Danilo Restivo. 

Four days after the murder, investigators went to speak with Danilo during the door-to-door inquiries. When asked about the shoes he was wearing on the day Heather was killed, Danilo showed the detective sergeant a pair of Nike trainers lying in the bath. While Danilo explained his shoes had been dirty and needed cleaning, the investigators couldn’t help but feel suspicious about the timing of him bleaching his shoes. The trainers were taken by the police for further examination but no connection was made to the bloody footprints. Nevertheless, Danilo was taken to Bournemouth Police station on the evening of November 12 where he was questioned along with his wife, Fiamma, who also served as a translator as Danilo spoke very little English. When asked about his whereabouts at the time of Heather’s murder, Danilo explained he had gone to a computer course. A bus ticket with a timestamp of 8:44 AM seemed to support the alibi and so did the records from the education facility, which confirmed Danilo had signed in for his computer classes at 9 AM. With no concrete evidence to link Danilo to Heather’s brutal death, he was let go, but he was placed firmly on the radar as a probable suspect. Despite all the strange details, Danilo Restivo was seen just as the “local bumbling idiot”—it was hard to see him as a cold-blooded, methodical killer. Like Det Supt, Phil James described Heather’s murderer: 

You realise it’s a man that has planned to do this. It’s a man who brought with him his own hammer, a man who brought with him his own knife, potentially a scalpel to undertake the mutilation. It’s a man who brought with him head hair. It’s a man that brought with him a change of clothing and a change of shoes so he could change out of his blood spattered clothes and shoes before he left.” 

So the investigators were back to the drawing board. With very few leads to go by, the police appealed to the public for any information relating to Heather’s murder offering a £10,000 reward from Crimestoppers. By early 2003, over 100 people had been interviewed, but nothing major was uncovered. It was then that the police decided they should learn more about Danilo Restivo, the only person besides Heather’s ex-husband that had been considered a suspect. The internet search results on Danilo’s name definitely didn’t reduce police’s suspicions—quite the contrary. What they learned made this man the chief suspect. 


Danilo Restivo was born in Sicily on April 3, 1972. At the age of 21, he was living with his parents and his elder sister in the city of Potenza, in Basilicata. While the Restivo family was well-known and highly respected within the community, Danilo was a somewhat social outcast. He had very few friends growing up and was often bullied by other children. It was also believed that at the age of 14, Danilo was involved in an incident where two younger boys were tied up and cut with a knife in the courtyard outside a library. As he grew older, Danilo began harassing girls in the neighbourhood, attempting to arrange dates with them claiming he had presents for them. Those who rejected him received strange phone calls in which Danilo would play a soundtrack to Profondo Rosso—a movie about a serial killer. Danilo often wrote about his issues with women and relationships overall in his diary and was concluded to have a strange attitude towards sex by military doctors who performed routine medical and psychological examinations. In the end, Danilo’s behaviour was so alarming, he was prohibited from enlisting. 

But there were two things in particular that worried the Dorset police. The name Danilo Restivo was known to Italian authorities because he was suspected of having a habit of cutting women’s hair on public transport. Many of these women noticed the missing strands of hair just when they returned home, so it was difficult to pinpoint who was behind the non-consensual cutting. If Danilo really had a thing for women’s hair, it could explain the hair strand in Heather Barnett’s hands. Even more shocking discovery was the fact that Danilo Restivo had been the prime suspect in the disappearance and possible murder of a young woman, 16-year-old Elisa Claps. 

Elisa was the youngest of three children of her tobacconist and clerk parents. She was in her third year of high school in Potenza with ambitions of becoming a physician and working with Médecins Sans Frontières. That dream, however, would never become a reality, as Elisa vanished without a trace one beautiful Sunday morning in September 1993. 

Elisa was one of those numerous women Danilo asked for a date. The two weren’t close, but Elisa knew Danilo well enough to know he was lonely and rather depressed. Elisa even wrote in her diary about Danilo’s strange behaviour, it seemed like the teenager felt sorry for the older man as she eventually agreed to meet with him. Danilo actually called Elisa saying he now had a crush on the teenager’s friend and asking to see Elisa so they could discuss pursuing tactics.  

On September 12, Elisa had plans to eat lunch with her family at the Claps’ country house—she would just quickly meet Danilo outside the Church of Holy Trinity at about 11:30 AM. But as time passed and Elisa still hadn’t arrived for lunch, her brother Gildo, who knew about her sister’s plans, called Danilo’s family residence. Strangely, he was told that Danilo was out of town and had no knowledge of Elisa’s whereabouts. When Gildo then headed to the church, he learned that the priest in charge, Domenico Sabia had suddenly left, taking the only key to the upper storey of the church building with him. And Domenico happened to be a close friend of the Restivo family. 

Elisa’s disappearance was reported to the police but nobody really took the situation seriously. It took several days for the officers to finally question Danilo, who claimed Elisa had left the church while he stayed to pray. He also said Elisa “had been harassed by a boy before entering the church”. Danilo continued by saying he had then gone to Naples where he attended university. The officers found it strange that Danilo mentioned he had hurt his hand falling while crossing a building site, but the cut that he claimed was caused by scrap metal looked more like a cut from a knife. 

In the end, the Church of the Holy Trinity was searched three times but nothing was found. But the officers also didn’t check every single room of the building, only the ones where Danilo said he had been with Elisa. Some witnesses said they had seen Danilo’s clothes soaked in blood, but by the time police got their hands in them, they were already washed. While Danilo was seen as a prime suspect in Elisa’s disappearance, no evidence was found to prove his involvement. Soon the case went cold. 

Then, in 1996, Danilo was tried for giving false information to the police about his movements on the day of Elisa’s disappearance. He was sentenced to 20 months imprisonment—but because sentences of less than 2 years are automatically suspended, Danilo never spent a day in prison. Six years later, in May 2002, Danilo Restivo moved to England. 

After learning about Elisa Claps’ case, Dorset police placed Danilo under around-the-clock surveillance in 2004. The officers observed him stalking women in a park, wearing clothing that wasn’t really suitable for the warm days such as a thick sweater, waterproof over-trousers and gloves. Once, Danilo was stopped and searched by the police—they found a change of clothing, a filleting knife, scissors, a balaclava and gloves in his car. While this looked like a murder kit, it was no reason for the police to arrest Danilo and he was let go. 

Over the next four years, a schoolgirl identified Danilo Restivo as the man who had cut her hair on a bus and investigators found a lock of hair during a home search, in addition to a pair of trainers with traces of blood inside them. Still, they didn’t have enough to charge Danilo Restivo with Heather’s murder—the blood inside the shoes couldn’t be identified because the trainers had been soaked in bleach. It didn’t even matter that forensic scientists were able to extract Danilo’s DNA in 2006 from the green towel found in Heather’s sewing room. He simply explained he had left the towel in his neighbour’s home on November 6 when he visited Heather to speak about the curtains. It wasn’t until a breakthrough in Elisa Claps’ case that the murder of Heather Barnett would finally be solved. 

Nearly 20 years after her disappearance, Elisa Claps’s remains were discovered in the attic of the Church of the Holy Trinity in March 2010 by roof builders. A strand of the young woman’s hair had been cut and placed near her hands—Elisa’s body had also been mutilated. After Italian police contacted the British police, the prosecutor finally decided that the evidence against Danilo Restivo was sufficient for prosecution.  

During the trial that took place in the town of Winchester, England in May 2010, it was proved Danilo’s initial alibi wasn’t as airtight as it was first thought. Digital forensics experts showed to the jury there was no user activity on his computer between 9:08 and 10:10 AM. The jury also got to hear evidence against Danilo in the case of Elisa Claps and the similarities between the two murders including the hair fetish aspect. DNA recovered from Elisa’s clothes matched Danilo. 

In the end, after five hours of deliberation, Danilo Restivo was found guilty of murdering Heather Barnett. He was initially sentenced to life in prison, but after an appeal, the minimum sentence was altered to 40 years—still, it’s more than likely that Danilo Restivo will never be released. As the judge said: 

“You are not to come out of prison again. You are a recidivist, a vicious, cold, and calculating murderer who killed Heather in the same way as you killed Elisa Claps. You deserve to be in prison for life…” 

To this day, the question remains: why wasn’t the Church of Holy Trinity thoroughly searched when Elisa first disappeared? If her case had been solved back then, Heather Barnett would not have lost her life in such a horrific way. Instead, it took 20 years, the murder of another woman and pure luck to finally bring Danilo Restivo to justice.

Episode Credits: 

Host – Rhiannon Doe 

Voiceover – Kwesi  

Website layout & design – Fran Howard 


Pathologists evidence on Heather Barnett’s death 

Heather Barnett: a proud mum who loved life 

Heather Barnett murder: ‘Face-to-face with mum’s killer’ 

Heather Barnett murder: Danilo Restivo ‘would kill again’ fears 

‘Hair in hand’ case: Danilo Restivo guilty of Heather Barnett murder 

Man with hair fetish murdered and mutilated his neighbour, court hears 

Heather Barnett killer guilty of second murder 

Danilo Restivo guilty of Heather Barnett murder 

Sick ‘hair fetishist’ hacks mum to death then leaves children to find her body