MISSING – Have you seen this girl? Nineteen-year-old Leila Hawkins was last seen on 24 June, 1994, when she left her parents’ anniversary party early and ran into the stormy night wearing her twin sister Stella’s long red coat. She was never seen again.
I wrap my arms around the tree trunk, pressing my cheek against it until the bark digs in and the missing poster is finally secured. I try not to look at the photograph on it. At the features so similar to mine. Perhaps this will be the year someone comes forward.
Were crucial mistakes made by detectives from the very beginning?
Could the pressure of living two lives have led my sister to run away – or even end it?
Or did someone in her tight circle of friends and family have reason to want her gone?
Someone out there must know something.
But the last thing I ever expect is a direct response from the person who took Leila. Wracked with guilt and completely alone in the world without the other half of me, I have no choice but to agree to his strange request: private, intimate details of my life in return for answers.
As the final moments of my sister’s life play out before me, I feel closer to her than I ever dreamed I’d be again. So close, it could almost be happening to me. But when I finally realise who is behind this terrifying tragedy, will I make it out alive?
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY OF THE GIRL IN THE MISSING POSTER
Two years ago, I was watching a lot of true crime documentaries. A lot. Square eyes amounts. Six months prior to that I’d fallen ill, and the consequent chronic fatigue that struck was so profound I couldn’t walk sometimes; I didn’t have the strength to stand beneath the shower, I had to sit; I couldn’t concentrate enough to read a book let alone write one. By February 2018, I’d improved enough to actually read! I could even watch TV that required more than two brain cells, and that’s how my true crime documentary addiction started. Right near the end of one about TV presenter Jill Dando’s murder, her brother, Nigel, said something that instantly hit a nerve with me:
‘I just wish someone could explain to me – or a judge and jury – and tell me why they killed her. It makes no sense to me. It will never make sense to me.’
I rewound it, grabbed a notebook and jotted it down. I was struck by the incredible sadness of never knowing and couldn’t help thinking: What if the killer is watching this programme too? What if s/he got in touch and tried to explain? What then? It was like someone had thrown open a window in my brain and scenes and scenarios flooded in…
I started writing immediately, even though all I could manage was a couple of paragraphs a day, at best. I got frustrated often, remembering the person I used to be and wishing I could work and think like before. Sometimes it felt like it would never be finished – yet somehow I reached the end, growing stronger with each month that passed. Now, pretty much two years to the day after I was first struck by the idea, The Other Twin has been published. There is a sort of symmetry to that which I think would please Stella Hawkins.
And that line from Nigel Dando? It’s been used in the book in full as a little tribute and thanks. I hope one day his sister’s mystery is solved.