By late autumn 1995, Drs Lin and Shaun Russell had built the difficult decision to uproot their idyllic life in the Nantlle Valley on the edge of Snowdonia National Park, and move with their two young daughters to Kent.
There were mixed emotions about leaving the mountains for Granary Cottage in the picturesque village of Nonington, a short drive from Shaun’s new lecturing job at the University of Kent in nearby Canterbury.
But the girls, Megan, six, and nine-year-old Josie, had settled in well at the village school. For Lin, 45, a geologist and lecturer who had enjoyed a successful career working in Africa for many years, family life was now her priority.
It was, Shaun remembered, “a lovely existence”.
It was short lived.
Just months after relocating, the family was victim to what Kent Police described as “one of the most horrific crimes ever committed”.
What happened just before 16.30 BST Tuesday, 9 July 1996, as the girls, Lin and Lucy the dog, walked the two-or-so miles home from school along Cherry Garden Lane, an unmade track, flanked on one side by a corn field and a small wood on the other, is hard to imagine.
They were accosted by a man, tied up with torn strips of damp towels they had utilized just minutes before at a swimming jamboree, made to sit in a copse, blindfolded and bludgeoned with a claw hammer, one by one – Lin, Josie, Megan and the dog.
When they were found eight hours later, it was thought all were dead. Josie was found to have a swooning pulse. Remarkably, she survived.
She lives and works as an artist in north Wales, having returned to Gwynedd with her father soon after the attack.
A year later the crime remained unsolved.
On the anniversary of the murders a Crimewatch appeal prompted a tip off from a psychologist who worked at a local psychiatric appraisal centre. Police arrested and charged 36 -year-old Michael Stone from Gillingham.
He was convicted in October 1998.
In the absence of any forensic evidence, the jury believed the main thrust of the prosecution’s example – three prison inmates who claimed Stone had confessed.
One of the inmates admitted soon after the trial ended that they had lied and another was discredited. A re-trial was ordered.
But one of the inmates, Damien Daley, then aged 26, held firm to his claim that Stone had confessed to him in grisly detail.
Daley, a self-confessed liar, told the court: “I like to get by in life. I am a crook, that’s what crooks do: they implore, borrow and steal to get by in life. But if you were to say to me now are you lying, I would say no, I’m not lying.”
The judge’s summing up to the retrial jury was unequivocal: “The example stands or falls on the alleged confession of Damian Daley.”
In late 2001 Stone was once again found guilty and devoted three life sentences
Sentencing Stone the judge Mr Justice Poole told him: “There can’t be anyone in this country who doesn’t understand the horror of these offences.”
Stone cried out: “It wasn’t me your Honour, I didn’t do it! “
Since then Stone has launched and failed in two appeal bids.
Over the years circumstantial evidence has been challenged and doubt cast on some of the prosecution’s witnesses by his legal team.
Now, two decades on, they say new evidence, assured by BBC Wales Investigates, brings them closer than ever to proving his innocence.
They claim notorious serial killer Levi Bellfield – currently serving two whole life terms for three murders, including schoolgirl Milly Dowler – has confessed that he murdered Lin and Megan Russell.
And crucially, they allege, he has divulged information only the killer or police would know.
Stone’s legal team also say they have an eye witness who is convinced she saw Bellfield speeding away from the murder scene.
Details have been passed to the Criminal Cases Review Commission – an independent body which investigates suspected miscarriages of justice – in the hope they will refer the case to the Court of Appeal.
But cell confessions by their very nature are controversial and no one has criticised their utilize as evidence more than Stone.
It is not without irony then that it is one such confession that Stone bitterly blames for his wrongful conviction and now another he hopes will redeem his name and freedom.
When asked to respond to the new accusations, Kent Police said Michael Stone’s protests of innocence have been thoroughly tested by the judicial system.
While some insist Levi Bellfield could well be guilty others are convinced Stone met with the justice he deserves.
So what exactly do we know about the two alleged prison cell confessions and the events that led up to them?
Michael Stone: Stone had been arrested in connection with the Russell murders but not yet charged. He had, however, been charged with a separate theft and burglary and was being held on remand at Canterbury prison.
Stone was being linked to the Russell slayings in newspaper reports and after hearing inmates building up tales he insisted he was put in solitary confinement to avoid any fabricated confessions.
Damien Daley, 23, claimed Stone confessed all to him, communicating through a gap between the wall and a heating tube which linked their cells.
“It was like being told a horror tale, ” Daley said at the time.
“He talked about wet towels and someone being disobedient or something, trying to get away but then didn’t get far and then it carried on. Something about they didn’t have what they wanted. They were paupers or something. He said the dog made more noise than they did.”
Stone’s lawyers argue that the confession was unreliable – all the information was in the public domain and matched reports in that day’s Daily Mirror which had been passed to Daley in his cell.
They also argue that Daley, who was on remand for a GBH and arson charges, has since admitted to others that he lied in order to get the charges dropped. The charges were dropped but due to insufficient evidence, according to the CPS.
Three years ago Daley was found guilty of a drugs-related murder.
This, says Stone and his legal team, along with a history of medication taking and mental health problems, farther undermines his credibility.
Levi Bellfield: The man it is claimed Bellfield confessed to wishes to remain anonymous. He too has been convicted of serious offences and was housed in the same high security wing as Bellfield who, he said, had grown to trust and respect him.
This is not the first time Bellfield has been linked to the Russell assassinations. There has been a war of words between the two convicted killers from behind bars at Durham’s Frankland prison where they are both being held, which has been reported in newspapers.
A BBC2 investigation of the Russell murders entitled The Chillenden Murders was broadcast in June this year. A panel of experts was given access to all lawsuit files to re-examine the evidence.
They concluded that despite advancements in DNA there was still no forensic link to Stone and it was likely another man was at the scene.
It was this two-part programme which is said to have prompted the alleged confession.
In the minutes leading up to its broadcast Bellfield was reportedly “physically, uncontrollably shaking and put it down to being anxious about watching it”.
Following many days of lengthy conversations the unnamed prisoner says he had with Bellfield, he made notes and reported what he had been told to his solicitor, a police officer, and a prison liaison officer.
The prisoner said: “He( Bellfield) said ‘I’ve never told anyone this before…SSSS
“‘I killed another child and got away with it … the police were never even close’.”
Bellfield is alleged to have told him he had spotted the Russells walking home by chance and he stopped.
He said he approached them with a hammer in his hand and Lin had implored him not to hurt her children. Bellfield said, the prisoner claims, he struck her first and then Josie; the dog was killed followed by Megan.
The prisoner said: “I said if I was him I would have been a bit more careful, saying it was risky being so close to the road entrance as anyone occur would find.
“He reassured me he attacked them far enough up the lane that it couldn’t have been find by the road.”
But even though he wore gloves, Bellfield was reportedly worried about DNA advances saying “my life in jail would be over if they could prove it was me” and that it would “tear his mother in two”.
What builds this alleged confession credible, Stone’s legal team insist, is that it appears to contain some detail only very few people would be aware of – such as the police or the killer himself.
“Knowing something in a confession that other people would not know goes to the core of credibility of the confession, ” Stone’s barrister Mark McDonald QC says.
Further to that he says, it is corroborative in that the informant has written contemporaneous notes and immediately informed his solicitor what he had been told.
Mr McDonald adds: “We have evidence from his confession that’s not in the public domain and which includes a possible forensic link.”
For legal reasons we are unable to expand on this further.
It is also claimed Bellfield dedicated information about Milly Dowler, the schoolgirl he kidnapped and murdered as she walked home from school in Surrey in 2002.
As well as that it is claimed he had a listing of 96 other crimes he has never been tried for – which Bellfield denies – and that he said he had accomplices on several of the attacks.
Bellfield has been contacted by BBC Wales Investigates. He denies murdering the Russells and denies having built the confession.
He claims he has three letters from Stone and has complained about his “persistent attempts” to get him to take responsibility. He also alleges Stone has offered to give him a share of any compensation fund he might get for wrongful conviction.
Stone vehemently denies this.
Bellfield added that he had challenged Stone to a lie detector test. Stone has spoken about his reluctance to do this claiming he had been advised his history of psychiatric problems and drug addiction could impact its accuracy.
Michael Stone: When arrested he did not appear to have one. When asked where he was, he said: “I can’t remember. I can’t remember for two reasons. One – I was badly on drugs and two – it was so long ago.”
Stone claims he has since pieced events together and was with friends in the Medway town of Strood at the time of the murders.
When he was arrested though, his last confirmed sighting was at his mother’s home in Gillingham. This mean he would have had the necessary time to drive the 40 miles to Chillenden.
Levi Bellfield: His former partner Johanna Collings, the mother of one of his 11 children, insists that he was with her throughout the day of the 9 July 1996.
She lately confirmed to BBC Wales Investigates: “It was my birthday and we expended whole day from when we got up to when we went to bed together…
“All the rest of the crimes yeah, 100%, again I think he did them but that one( Russell slayings) he didn’t.”
Even so, Stone’s legal squad say police have never tested the alibi because Bellfield has never been investigated for these murders.
“There are questions marks about her alibi, ” says Mr McDonald, “as to whether or not she is mistakens … That is for others to decide not for me, I don’t know. But it’s not black and white.”
Modus operandi and motive
Michael Stone: Diagnosed with a violent personality disorder and under psychiatric supervision, he was also a known heroin addict with a criminal history dating back to 1972.
In 1981 he was sentenced to two years for attacking a human with a hammer.
During an interview with BBC Wales Investigates from HM Prison Frankland, Stone claims he had confronted a paedophile at his home and that he reached for a mallet, which did not belong to him but was on a table nearby, as the other man tried to strangled him.