Best pal of Scots mum found dead in Crete fears he will be made suspect for second time
Peter Verschueren says his life was turned upside down following Jean’s mystery death and a new probe has been ordered following a TV documentary.
The best friend of a mum of three whose mystery death in Crete is the subject of a new murder probe has told how he fears being made a suspect for the second time.
Peter Verschueren says his life was turned upside down during the original investigation following the discovery of 53-year-old Jean Hanlon’s body in the Aegean Sea 10 years ago.
Greek detectives established the Belgian was the last person Jean contacted before her death.
His relationship with the bar worker was the focus of their inquiry before it hit a dead end. Now Peter fears officers will target him again after getting a breakthrough in the case.
The new probe was ordered following a TV documentary about the unsolved death.
Dumfries-born Jean left Scotland to start a new life abroad in 2005.
She spoke to Peter on the phone and sent him a desperate text message which said “help” hours before she vanished in Heraklion in March 2009.
Landscaper Peter, 56, who still lives on the holiday island, said: “It was a very bad situation.
“I spoke with her and then she was missing, I got the blame. I hope I’m not a suspect again. It’s horrible being accused when it was such a good friend.
“It was a very bad time being accused.
“I just want that all to be behind me, all to be the end. I don’t want to be blamed again.”
Police initially wrote off Jean’s death as an accidental drowning but a coroner’s report found she suffered injuries consistent with a struggle which included shattered ribs, a punctured lung and facial wounds.
The police investigation was shut down but now the case will be re-examined following a campaign by Jean’s family and a Channel 5 documentary called Murdered in Paradise: The Killing of Jean Hanlon. It retraced her steps the day before she went missing.
The show revealed she met a fellow expat who later told police Jean claimed a car had been following her.
She had a job interview at a taverna and spent the evening with a Greek man in a city cafe where she called Peter.
He told officers that his friend sounded “drugged” during the conversation.
Phone records show an hour later Jean sent Peter a one-word text saying “help”.
In an interview with the Sunday Mail, he said it was possible Jean might not have been drugged but was drunk.
Peter, who insists he does not know the identity of Jean’s companion that night, said: “She said she was out in Heraklion.
“I don’t remember her telling me why she was out or how she got there.
“She had drank wine and was a little bit tipsy but she was okay.
“Jean said she was with a man and that she was in the marina. She sounded happy. She phoned again and this time she sounded really drunk. Maybe it was drugs, maybe she slept somewhere, maybe the man put some drugs in her cocktail – I don’t know. You never know what happened to her.
“Jean didn’t speak Greek, she only spoke English so I don’t know how she had a conversation with the man.”
Peter added: “He spoke to me on the phone in Greek, he was a Greek man.
“We didn’t talk about anything in particular, nothing important. He didn’t sound drunk.”
Peter, who is known to Jean’s three sons, was asked by police to identify Jean’s body after it was found floating in Heraklion Port. He revealed: “After a few days they found a body. It was a very bad day. You go in to shock.
“I couldn’t recognise her for the first time when I went to identify her.
From Crete move to documentary: Jean’s timeline
● 2003 – Jean goes on her first holiday to Crete with friends. She falls in love with the island, telling her family: “The sun didn’t stop shining and the people are so happy.”
● 2005 – The mum announces to her sons that she has decided to move to the Greek island permanently. She hopes for a new start in life there after landing a job as a holiday rep.
● 2008 – Jean decides to spend her first winter on the island and doesn’t return to Scotland for Christmas. She stays at her home in the town of Gouves, on the outskirts of Heraklion.
● 2009 – Jean is found dead in Heraklion Port, four days after going missing. Her friend Peter Verschueren told police she was in a taverna with an unidentified Greek man the night she vanished.
● 2016 – Police revive the probe into her death after receiving a new lead but fail to make any arrests.
● 2018 – The fresh probe into Jean’s death is archived by the prosecutor in Heraklion due to a lack of evidence. Jean’s sons contact lawyer Apostolos Xiritakis in a desperate bid to keep the case open.
● 2019 – Jean’s family set up a memorial website and start an online petition to put pressure on Greek authorities to reopen the probe. The petition last night had 5164 signatures. Channel Five documentary Murdered in Paradise: The Killing of Jean Hanlon leads to new information and fresh hope for her sons after police relaunch their investigation.
“She was all swollen and you have to be 100 per cent sure because there are so many tourists here.
“The clothes were very similar and it was so horrible. I’ll never forget that day. I didn’t expect it to be her, I didn’t want it to be her.
“We met around 2005 in a bar where we danced and became friends. We were really close. I miss her.
“I don’t know what happened. I’m happy the case has been reopened.
“I don’t know why no one knows what happened to her after all these years.
“It is very important for the family this case is investigated and they find out the circumstances.
“I was thinking a few months ago how her sons cope when they don’t know what happened to their mother.
“It must be very difficult –they must be happy the case is open again and hopefully they will get answers.
“Maybe they will find out it was murder or maybe it was an accident and Jean was alone and fell into the sea.
“If they find somebody responsible and can close the case, that will be good. If they can prove what happened, that will be better.”
The case was reopened in 2016 after fresh evidence emerged but no arrests were made and it was closed down last year.
Jean’s son Michael Porter, who lives in London, described the case being investigated for a third time as “phenomenal”.
He added: “These new findings are being investigated by the prosecutor.
“It’s going to take a lot of determination, hard work and planning to make sure the case stays open until every question is answered.
“That said, this is a massive step in the right direction. Since the documentary, we have been bombarded by messages of support and people offering bits of information.
“A certain piece of information has triggered the lawyer, a piece of information that tied in with an old suspicion but more detailed, and he has gone to the prosecutor with this.
“The fact the documentary brought forward new information just gives you hope that no matter how long the passage of time, people might still be holding on to things or maybe allegiances have changed or friendships have changed and people can speak a bit more now.”
Jean’s family lawyer: “New information could solve mystery”
The lawyer acting for Jean’s desperate family believe police are a step closer to establishing how she died.
Solicitor Apostolos Xiritakis said a new piece of information could prove vital to solving the mystery that has haunted her sons Michael, Robert and David.
He said police were going back to the start of their investigation after the Channel Five show Murdered in Paradise.
Xiritakis told the Sunday Mail: “The documentary woke some memories in some people.
“We now have something that has to be reconsidered and researched again.
“There were some old suspicions and we now have more clues about them.
“I can’t tell if the suspicion is in relation to an old suspect. But I can tell you that the clue is about a search around a person.
“It’s best not to say what we are targeting.
“This is a good step forward for the case, for me it is big.
“This clue is now more than a suspicion, it confirms a suspicion. This could help close the case.”
The lawyer claimed Greek police are working tirelessly on the case.
He added: “Officers are searching everything they are ordered to search. They are working hard.”
Jean’s diary is being analysed for new clues. Her last entry was on the day she vanished, March 9, 2009.
Michael added: “Mum’s diary is the voice of Jean.
“It’s the words of our mum and there are certain statements and things the police just haven’t matched together and haven’t used for their questioning.
“The information is there – there are things that need to be picked up and now is the time.”
Michael, who will travel to Heraklion next month to mark the 10th anniversary of Jean’s death, said his family wanted to “re-establish” a connection with Peter. He said: “Peter is very friendly and I spoke with him on the phone a few times when I called mum.
“He was released so we have to believe his story is right.
“We are trying to rebuild a connection with Peter which is difficult, he’s been upset and hurt a lot.
“He’s been accused of murdering his best friend and I think he feels like we’re blaming him so we need to re-establish that connection.
“He helped us out quite a lot. He drove us around mapping out mum’s day. There are still questions, though.
“The conversation he had with the man mum was with.
“No one knows who this man is, we need to identify him.
“Why has this man not come forward? We need to know this.”