A mother-of-five has turned detective in her bid to track down her husband’s killers after she was cleared of murdering him 20 years ago.
Julie Mehdi, 54, said her life was ‘destroyed forever’ when police charged her with murdering her ‘soulmate’ Zafar Mehdi after luring her to the station by pretending they wanted her to make a Crimewatch appeal.
Zafar, 44, was battered with a wooden club before a screwdriver was plunged in his heart during an attack at his home in Oldbury, West Midlands, in June 2000.
Julie was forced to watch the murder after two men burst in and she was pinned up against the kitchen sink as their baby girl screamed from the living room.
But police believed she was the murderer after reviewing her 999 call where they thought they heard Zafar saying ‘why did you do this to me’ as he lay dying.
She had to endure a two week trial for murder but was acquitted at Wolverhampton Crown Court after an acoustics expert dismissed the evidence.
Julie went on to raise five children alone – while her husband’s killers remain free.
Now, 20 years on, she is determined to track down the men she saw kill Zafar, and wants to raise a £10,000 reward for information to help police catch those responsible for killing her taxi driving husband.
Talking from the home where she watched the brutal murder, Julie said she still suffers nightmares about the murder where she screams in her sleep – causing a permanent croak in her voice.
Julie added: ‘The real killers are out there and they are dangerous. I still see the men’s faces in my sleep all the time and I have PTSD. They are in my dreams like Freddie Kreuger.
‘I can’t rely on the police because they’ve had 20 years to do this so I have to do the police work myself. I walk around in a T-shirt with his name on the front and the word justice on the back to try and jog someone’s memory.
‘I’ve knocked on people’s doors in the community asking for information and I’m trying everything I can to raise the £10,000 to give people an incentive to come forward.
‘All I want is justice. These men committed the perfect crime and are still enjoying their freedom 20 years later.’
Julie said she can never abandon the house she shared with Zafar despite once being branded a murderer by her own community.
‘I wasn’t the real killer, but I didn’t know who would believe me,’ she said. ‘I was wrongly accused and felt utterly alone.
‘Some close friends stuck by me but I was alienated in the community and had to accept getting suspicious looks from people when I went out to get food.
‘At the time I felt like I was suffocating – like I was being burned alive and there was nobody to turn to.
‘I’ve never been able to move on from that.
‘The reason I came back and still live here is people leave flowers at the site of a lost one’s death – be it a road or a tree. But this was the last place Zafar was and I can’t let that go. This is how I keep him alive. I have a garden full of blooms for him.’
Julie met her husband aged 18 when they both worked at a taxi firm where she managed the radio and driver Zafar would take her calls.
They married soon after in 1986 and went on to have five kids – Madonna, 33, Tasleem, 27, Jasmine, 24, Maria, 22, and Shahbaz, 32.
‘He was my first serious boyfriend,’ Julie said. ‘He was just such a nice person and so friendly and easy to get on with.
‘We always used to crack jokes that we would grow old together and sit on a park bench near our home.
‘Every time we walked by the bench we would say ‘that will be us one day, a pair of oldies’ and we would giggle. But obviously that never happened.’
She said the day of his death was ‘like any other’ before she says two intruders forced their way into their home uninvited.
Julie was out gardening just before 2pm when she says two men pulled up in a car and made their way towards her – a fact corroborated by eyewitnesses who reported seeing two intruders pulling up outside the family’s house in a white Vauxhall Astra or Cavalier.
She recalled: ‘Zafar was asleep upstairs. He had been up driving all night. His taxi friends were always coming in unannounced and I thought they were probably friends.
‘We were having such a normal day. I had taken the kids to school that morning. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon.
‘I was getting the driveway ready to lay slabs. Zafar had mentioned he might need to take his car to the garage so I thought these two men might be here to help with that.
‘They came up to me and just said “where’s Zaf” so I went inside and called him and said he had visitors. Zafar came downstairs and as soon as he saw them he tried to shut the door quickly but they barged through and completely overpowered him.
‘One man pushed me aside and my baby was asleep next door. I was in complete shock and was just praying my baby would be okay.
‘I could hear them demanding money from Zafar and I started screaming. They hit him over the head three times with a wooden club. I couldn’t move because I was pinned up against the sink.
‘I then saw one of the men stick a screwdriver in his heart, withdraw it, before pushing it in again. They ran away and I was hysterical and helpless. It happened so fast.
‘I tried to help Zafar up and he reached the living room but he collapsed and was deteriorating before my eyes. I could hear my 14-month-old baby screaming.
‘I called 999 and I was screaming down the phone. Zafar was on the floor but I couldn’t hear if he was talking because I was screaming hysterically and then he lost consciousness.
‘I cradled my baby and ran outside into the garden and out on the street. I was hysterical.’
Julie said she gave a description of the men – two Afro-Caribbean people with the one who pinned her to the sink looking like ‘Paul Trueman from Eastenders’ while the killer had a bald head and sleepy eyes – to police who were first to arrive.
Her husband was taken to Sandwell General Hospital where he was pronounced dead. The family now believes Zafar was killed over a possible gambling dispute in the nearby George pub weeks before his death.
Julie has spent hours visiting his old drinking spots for information from pub goers who knew her husband.
West Midlands Police went on to arrest 11 suspects – but nobody was charged and the family says they’ve never been given answers as to why the crime hasn’t been solved.
But things took a shocking twist on the first anniversary of the death in 2001 when Julie was arrested.
She said: ‘Police told me to come to the station for a reconstruction for Crimewatch. I wanted to do it and got excited because I was convinced this would jog someone’s memory. I was convinced we would get justice and it was only a matter of time.
‘I had hoped that whole year that police would find the killer. The trust I had in them was so strong and all of a sudden they arrested and charged me.
‘I arrived and they invited me into an interview room and asked me if I was the only one in the house when I made the 999 call.
‘Apart from my baby I was and that’s when they arrested and charged me with murder. I sat there utterly gobsmacked and began shaking uncontrollably.
‘I thought I was going to the station to help the police get justice, but it turned out my life was destroyed forever.’
Julie spent a ‘crushing’ year on bail where she was labelled a murderer on the street and feared leaving her home. She was living in a bail hostel away from her children before she was allowed back to the murder scene a month after being charged.
‘People even cut my Christmas lights and dumped rubbish on the lawn and threw things at my window,’ she said.
However, in 2002, jurors unanimously found her not guilty after a specialist acoustic phonetics expert was called in.
Police believed the 999 call picked up Zafar saying ‘why did you do this to me’ but the specialist believed this was a wrong interpretation. The family are now convinced their loved one’s last words were ‘Jazz did to me’.
After the verdict, Julie put her head in her hands and wept with relief.
She said: ‘Throughout the trial I just tried to keep my sanity. I kept telling myself I have five kids and I can’t cave in. I have to prove my innocence.
‘When I left the courtroom I was happy and sad. I could have been sentenced to 13 years in jail without the possibility of appeal.
‘I just wanted the real killers caught and I thought it was going to be so easy to get it sorted now I was free.’
But police didn’t find the killer and Julie, who never remarried, failed to move on with her life.
She says: ‘Every anniversary I sit in my house and I think police will knock on my door and say ‘Julie we have solved it’ but the knock never comes.
‘I feel so let down. I miss my husband so much. I’ve never felt safe knowing the killers are still out there and I won’t rest until I see them in the dock. I’ve never had closure. People still whisper things on the street to this day about the murder.
‘Some families let go when their loved one is murdered because they have nothing to go on but I have his dying words and I can’t forget that.
‘I could still identify the killer’s face and I gave the description and the time and I will never forget it. I’m more determined now than ever. I will keep fighting for justice until the day I die.’
Julie’s son, Shahbaz, who was 12 when his dad was killed, is helping his mother to raise the £10,000 reward. The supermarket worker says his father deserves justice and the family won’t rest until they get it.
‘We need to highlight this 20 years on,’ he said. ‘We really want to raise this reward, and buy the information of the person out there that knows something.
‘They can go off into the sunset, but please speak out and give us the missing link. Someone in our community knows something.
‘I’m 32 now and have spent 20 years without a dad and that’s a huge void. We were very close. It’s affected my standing in the Pakistani community, my education, marriage prospects, everything.’
Shahbaz was playing cricket on the day his father died and remembers a policeman coming onto the field.
He says: ‘I scored four wickets and I remember thinking that I couldn’t wait to get home to tell him. But a police officer, a family member and a family friend greeted me who was crying. I already knew he was dead.
‘When they accused my mum I was so angry and when she was acquitted it was bitter sweet. My father’s killers must have been having a laugh thinking this woman’s got the blame for something we’ve done and we’ve got away with it.
‘The trial was a farce. Jazz is an Indian name possibly shortened for Jaswant or Jaswinder. The answers may have been there since day one. We believe that was the name of the person who sent the two men.
‘I’m so angry even now.’
Detective Inspector Justin Mason-Spanner, from force CID, said: ‘The pain of losing a loved one never goes away, and it is all the more devastating for Mr Mehdi ‘s family as no one has been brought to justice.
‘Although there are no fresh, active lines of investigation we review unsolved murders on a periodic basis to see if policing advancements can assist a case.
‘As always, if any new information or fresh evidential opportunities emerge they will be investigated.’