Wiping his pale and tear-streaked face, 45-year-old Garry Malone walked into the glare of the TV lights and took his seat alongside his father-in-law Harry Cinch. It was a month before Christmas 1999, but neither man was giving a thought to the festive season.
They were desperate for information about the whereabouts of an attractive 29-year-old woman who seemed to have vanished as completely as if she had stepped off the planet.
Sharon Malone had met Garry when she was only 17 and he was a karate instructor at her school. They had married in 1993 and had two children. Sharon had given up a career as a research scientist to train as a teacher so that she would have the school holidays to look after her children. They bought a house in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, and settled down to a life of what appeared to be happy domesticity, but as a friend remarked: "Sharon was the bright one. Garry never really settled to anything. It was Sharon's salary that kept things going."
Then at the end of November 1999, Sharon vanished. There were no farewell letters or phone-calls. No one saw her leave home. She didn't tell her two young sons or other close relatives that she was going away.
Two days later, her car was found abandoned and police recovered her mobile phone. But it yielded no information and the car contained no forensic clues.
A few days later when police asked Garry and his father-in-law whether they would make a national TV appeal for information they both immediately agreed but when they appeared, Garry Malone appeared distraught with grief.
As he tried to speak to the cameras and appeal for information he broke down in tears. "Sharon," he said, his voice breaking with emotion, "We are missing you so much. The boys are always asking where you are. Please come back to us. Just let us know where you are and put our minds at rest..."
The broadcast went out on nation-wide TV but there was no response. Sharon did not make contact with her frantically worried familial and no one reported seeing her.
The mystery continued and then suddenly the plot took a dramatic and unexpected twist: it was no longer just Sharon who was missing. Gary Malone disappeared too — along with his two sons aged four and two.
A fortnight later Sharon's father, Harry Cinch, received a postcard from Garry. He said he was "under pressure and needed to sort things out. The boys are having a great time in the sunshine and send their love. We will be back soon." The card was postmarked Spain.
A few days later Garry wrote to a neighbour: "Sharon owed some nasty people some money. I really feel that the boys' and my life are in danger. I couldn't cope with the strain. When Sharon returns I hope we can return, too."
But everyone who heard about the letter dismissed it as ridiculous. One teaching colleague of Sharon remarked: "It makes her sound like some sort of underworld figure.
"In fact her friends are members of the local church and badminton clubs. They were hardly drug-dealers or thugs. This is crazy. Sharon is just an ordinary girl. As far as I know she didn't owe anyone a penny." Detectives looking for Sharon Malone were now anxious to talk to her husband. Interpol was alerted and Spanish police were now very actively looking for him.
Then four months after her disappearance the case still technically regarded as a missing person incident became a murder hunt. Sharon's body was found hidden in a dried-up stream only five miles from her home.
She was dressed in a nightdress, as if she had been getting ready for bed and had been killed by two violent blows to the head with a blunt instrument.
Now the hunt for Garry Malone started in earnest and police got help from an unexpected source: Paula Fiddes 34, another trainee teacher and a childhood friend of Sharon's, walked into a local police station and said that she had been with Sharon on the night she disappeared and that she had decided to leave Garry and start a new li