The Unsolved 1999 Murder Of Britain's TV Darling, Jill Dando

Among the television shows that BBC journalist and presenter Jill Dando hosted in the 1990s was "Crimewatch," which looked into unsolved murders. Her own murder on April 26, 1999, would eventually become an episode, according to Vice. Dando was born in Somerset in 1961 and began her journalism career at a local newspaper. By the 1990s, she was a household name in the U.K., per University College London.

At around 11:30 a.m. on April 26, 1999, Dando was murdered with a single pistol shot to her head. The killer came up behind her as she was about to enter her London home, grabbed her by the arm, and shoved her to the ground before placing the gun on her temple and firing, according to The Guardian. More than 20 years on, Dando's murder remains unsolved even after police conducted thousands of interviews and culled through thousands of potential suspects. "Other than terror-related inquiries, I know of no other investigation with anything like the volume," an unnamed former police detective told Vice in 2019.

An acquittal

In May 2000, the police arrested Barry George, a local man with developmental disabilities, based on scant evidence alleging he'd committed the murder, according to the Independent. George had earlier convictions — including one for attempted rape and indecent assault — and police, after finding multiple copies of a magazine featuring Jill Dando in George's apartment, believed he was obsessed with her. A key piece of evidence was a microscopic particle found in George's coat pocket believed to be gunshot residue, which was later thrown out of court.

A jury convicted George the next year and the court sentenced him to life in prison. After several attempts, George's conviction was overturned in 2007 and he went free the next year after serving eight years in prison, according to the Manchester Evening News. With George's acquittal and release from prison, the police were back to square one with who was behind the murder of "the golden girl of British TV." Many theories continue to circulate as to who was behind the killing.

A Serbian or Russian hitman?

Two theories involve European hitmen. At the time of Jill Dando's murder, NATO was in the midst of a bombing campaign against Serbian forces responsible for ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. Just days before, the U.S. and the U.K. had bombed the Radio Television Serbia building in Belgrade killing 16 employees, according to the Independent. The family of the Serbian president at the time, Slobodan Milošević, owned the station. Dando had recently made an on-air appeal for aid for Kosovo-Albanian refugees, which raised a massive amount of money, and some believe Milošević sought revenge by sending a hitman to kill her since she was the face of the BBC.

A more recent theory involved the former head of Elite Model Management, Gérald Marie, who allegedly hired a Russian hitman who mistakenly murdered Dando instead of Lisa Brinkworth, another BBC journalist who had exposed Marie's alleged sex crimes, per the Daily Mail. Marie strenuously denied the allegations.

The London underworld

There was still another theory involving a hitman, this one from inside England. In 2015, Mark Williams-Thomas, a television journalist and retired police detective, floated the idea that Dando's murder could have been a hit put out by someone in the London underworld in retribution for her work on "Crimewatch," according to the Independent. Four years later, Williams-Thomas interviewed an unnamed hitman who told the journalist he believed he knew who the killer was but refused to say for fear of retribution, per Hello!

"There are some very nasty horrible people out there — criminals — and the crucial element, from their point of view, is that they may perceive that 'Crimewatch' puts criminals away, therefore putting their friends and colleagues away, and I think that was the reason," Williams-Thomas told "This Morning" in 2019 (via Hello!). The police looked into this angle, but after investigating 30 potential suspects and interviewing known underworld hitmen in prison, they found no conclusive evidence to support the theory.

Still unsolved

Perhaps the most disputed theory is that someone murdered Jill Dando to keep her from revealing what she'd uncovered about an alleged pedophile ring involving the BBC. According to the Daily Express, a former BBC worker said Dando spoke out about the purported sexual abuse at the network. "I don't recall the names of all the stars now and don't want to implicate anyone, but Jill said they were surprisingly big names," the anonymous source said. "I think she was quite shocked when told about images of children and that information on how to join this horrible pedophile ring was freely available." Speaking to Piers Morgan (via YouTube), former Dando colleague Nick Ross pushed back against "silly conspiracy theories" — including those pointing to a pedophile — and called them "saloon bar gossip."

Jill Dando's brother believes his sister's murder was a "random act of brutality." "My personal feeling is it was somebody looking for a kick and for notoriety," he told Bristol Live. "Jill was in the wrong place at the wrong time." To this day the case remains open and is officially listed as unsolved. In 2022, The Mirror reported that a Metropolitan Police spokesman previously told them, "The investigation into the murder of Ms. Dando remains open, as with all murder investigations. We will always explore any new information which may become available." Hamish Campbell, who was the chief investigating officer on the Dando case, suggested in BBC's 2019 "The Murder of Jill Dando" that the case will remain cold. "Do I think somebody will come back to court? Probably not, no," he said.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).