MOST of the memories shopkeeper Joyce Wade has of dead Suffolk prostitute Paula Clennell are good – except when she thinks back to the last time she saw the 24-year-old alive.
She had come into the Ipswich corner shop on Saturday, December 9 – the night she vanished – to buy a soft drink and a chocolate bar.
“But,” recalled Joyce. “She didn’t have enough money on her to buy the bar of chocolate she wanted so I suggested she get one that was 2p cheaper.
“I suppose if I wasn’t so busy I would have let it go but I was about to cash up after the day and close and didn’t want my till to be out.”
Paul – whose body was later found in the village of Levington on December 12 – had been coming to the shop since she was 16 and had grown close to the Scottish-born shopkeeper.
Up until two years ago, Clennell used to regularly visit the end of terrace shop on the edge of Ipswich’s red light district.
She used to bring her children with her – wheeling them in their prams through the narrow doorway – and herself and Joyce would chat about their lives and things going on in the area.
Paula – who gave a TV interview on December 5 in which she said she was still going to work on the streets despite the December 2 discovery of Gemma Adams’ body and on-going appeals at the time for information about missing prostitute Tania Nicol – also used to come into the shop with boyfriend Elton.
Methodist preacher’s daughter Joyce, 68, used to give the couple – who doted on their children – leaflets about events going on the local church.
She said: “I used to give them out to people who seemed like the sort of people interested in the church.
“They were a lovely couple but something happened about four or five years ago, they moved away from the area, and I never saw them with the children again.
“Although she would still come in a few times a year, I only ever saw him once again and like her, he had grown a lot thinner and they both just seemed to have lost their spark.
“She had always been a very cheery, smiling, lovely girl but I got the impression she might have lost her children.
“I was closer to her than most customers but I still didn’t think it was my place to pry and as she no longer talked about her children, I thought best not to ask.”
The night she died, Joyce – one of the last people to see her alive – warned her to be careful as at least one murder had already happened.
She said: “She seemed a bit distracted and subdued when she came in. She just walked up to the counter, said hello and asked for her favourite drink – a strawberry milkshake.
“While I went over and got it for her from the fridge, she pulled out a handful of change from her pocket and spread it over the counter.
“She counted out what she had and then asked for a chocolate Chomp bar, but as it was .2p more than she actually had left after paying for the milkshake, I suggested she get a Freddo bar instead for .15p.
“And as she collected up her drink and bar of chocolate, I told her to make sure she kept an eye out around her bearing in mind that Gemma Adams had been found dead and Tania Nicol was missing.
“I told her ‘You look after yourself and make sure you’re safe’. She just looked at me blankly, gave me a feint smile and said ‘All right’ and then just turned round, and left the shop.
“That is the last time I ever saw her and to this day, I wish I hadn’t been too bust trying to shut up my shop as it was near closing time.
“I wish I had stopped to talk to her, ask her more about how she was and where she was going that night. I also wish I’d given her the more expensive chocolate bar but after some customers failed to pay their slate with us, I just stopped giving anything away to people.”
Joyce – whose husband died weeks after being stabbed ten years ago by raiders in the shop and who has herself survived numerous knife and gun attacks as well as an arson attack which led to half her house being blown up – added: “I’ve seen a lot in my life over the years but it certainly sends a chill down you to realise you were the witness to the last hours in someone’s life.
“I feel so sorry for her and what she must have gone through. The whole business is just wretched.”