Sister of missing Natalie Putt who left her 11-week-old baby behind when she vanished in 2003 says she’s desperate for the truth and urges anyone with even seemingly ‘insignificant’ information to come forward in fresh appeal
- Natalie Putt was 17 when she left her home in Dudley, West Midlands in 2003
- Left behind her 11-week-old baby Rhys – despite searches she wasn’t seen again
- Ex-boyfriend Kevin McCallum was arrested in 2003 but released without charge
- A blood-stained T-shirt which matched Natalie’s DNA was found in their loft
- Half sister Rebecca Coggins always believed ‘something horrific’ happened
The sister of a young mother who disappeared 17 years ago after popping to the shops and leaving her 11-week-old baby behind has urged anyone with even seemingly ‘insignificant’ information to come forward in a fresh appeal.
Natalie Putt was just 17 when she left her home in Dudley in the West Midlands on September 1, 2003 but was never seen again.
On the day she disappeared, she had just been dropped off at home by her new boyfriend Chris Millard having broken up with the father of her son, Kevin McCallum, weeks earlier.
Despite extensive searches no concrete evidence has ever emerged in the case and an inquest held in 2019 concluded that Natalie was likely murdered, though how, and by whom remains unknown, as does her final resting place.
Speaking on the Missing Podcast, Natalie’s half-sister Rebecca Coggins told how she is still looking to get justice for her sister.
‘Natalie was the sort of person, I know it sounds cliche, but would be a friend to anybody,’ explained Rebecca – who had a nine-and-a-half-year age gap to her half sister. ‘She was one of the most kindest people I know. She had a bit of an edge to her and could certainly handle her own, but mainly she was this very vivacious person you just didn’t forget.’
Natalie Putt was just 17 when she left her home in Dudley in the West Midlands on September 1, 2003 but was never seen again. Despite never finding her body, West Midlands Police are treating her disappearance as murder. Pictured, Natalie aged 17, in 2003)
On the day she disappeared, Natalie (left) had just been dropped off at home by her new boyfriend having broken up with the father of her son, Kevin McCallum, weeks earlier
Natalie’s half-sister Rebecca Coggins (pictured) told that her thought all the way through was that ‘something horrific’ happened to Natalie that day
While Natalie may have been a rebel at school, after a turbulent childhood and custody battle between her mum and dad, she craved a family of her own. So, when she found out she was pregnant she ‘really really changed and settled,’ according to Rebecca.
Then, in June 2003, Natalie gave birth to her son, Rhys, who she was ‘besotted by.’
Rhys’s dad was Kevin McCallum – a man who Natalie had been in a relationship with for a year and had met after they’d both been excluded from school.
And Rebecca had plenty of reservations about her sister’s choice of partner and the relationship they had.
‘I’d describe their relationship as tempestuous,’ she explained. ‘She did say to me that there were times when she gave as good as she got.’
Before Rhys arrived, Rebecca suspected that Natalie was unhappy and rarely spoke about Kevin when they met up – but it seemed the pregnancy may have changed things.
On the day she disappeared, Natalie had just been dropped off at home by her new boyfriend having broken up with the father of her son, Kevin McCallum (right), weeks earlier
‘I do think had she not got pregnant, how long would it have been before that relationship would’ve fizzled out?’ Rebecca added.
And Rebecca’s suspicions proved correct and not long after Rhys was born, Natalie told Kevin she wanted to go on a break and needed to make a change in her life – but whatever change she had in mind, what followed was unexpected.
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Rebecca explained: ‘When I got back in the house, I was confronted with a hysterical younger sister. “Becky, I don’t know how to tell you this but I’ve had a phone call from the police and they’ve said Natalie has been reported as a missing person.’
Natalie had been reported missing on Monday, and it was now Friday – a whole five days where Rebecca had been left completely in the dark about her sister’s disappearance.
‘I was just frantic,’ said Rebecca. ‘ I didn’t know what to do. I genuinely stood there looking around thinking, what am I going to do? I need to do something? So I rang her mobile – and of course it was off. I thought, “it’s got to be a mistake, she wouldn’t go missing. She wouldn’t leave Rhys behind.”‘
The police filled Rebecca and her family in on what they knew so far – that Natalie had been with Kevin before going missing.
‘They had been told by Kevin that they’d met up because they wanted to discuss the state of their relationship with the view of potentially ending it and that there’d be no argument,’ she explained.
Kevin told the police that Natalie had put baby Rhys in his cot to sleep and then said: ‘I’ll be back in a bit. I’m literally going to the shop and back – and that she never returned.’
As a young woman with a young baby navigating a potential break up, police had questions about Natalie’s mental health – but Rebecca insisted her half-sister did not have post-natal depression and was determined to rule it out.
As the weeks passed, various sighting trickled in, giving fuel to the thought Natalie was out there – but many ended up not being Natalie.
It has since been 17 years since Natalie’s disappearance and Rebecca has never wavered in her belief that Natalie wouldn’t have left Rhys behind willingly. Her adamant assertion that Natalie had come to harm surprised even the police. They reminded Rebecca this was a missing person’s investigation – not a murder inquiry.
Since her disappearance, officers have also searched land near to her home, including underwater searches of rivers and lakes
‘My thought all the way through is that something horrific happened to Natalie that day,’ she explained. ‘Everybody kept saying to me you’re wrong, there’s no evidence to suggest she’s been murdered. All I ever knew was that she went out to the shop and never came home.’
The investigation evolved in fits and starts over the next decades. There were arrests, searches, appeals and sightings.
Then, in December 2018 – 15 years after Natalie’s disappearance – there was a hearing and inquest into her presumed death – something which was illuminating to Rebecca for all of the wrong reasons.
‘I would say the majority of the information I now know was found out via that inquest,’ explained Rebecca. ‘The way that investigation was handled, the information they had, the evidence that they had, was the most shocking. It was the stuff that now I am immensely angry, immensely sad about.’
The details which emerged at Natalie’s inquest were a catalog of bizarre actions, reactions, dead ends, chilling clues and shocking evidence.
Kevin McCallum denied killing Miss Putt at an inquest in January 2019
Kevin McCallum was quizzed by police on several occasions and arrested on suspicion of murder in March 2004 before being released without charge.
Mr McCallum, of Dudley, gave evidence at her inquest in Oldbury, West Midlands and again protested his innocence.
Black Country Coroner Zafar Siddique asked him: ‘Did you play any part in the disappearance of Natalie Putt?’ Mr McCallum, 32, replied: ‘No’.
He told the inquest how he met Natalie at a training course in the summer of 2002.
He said: ‘She was happy, lovely, bubbly and a bit feisty. Our relationship kicked off really quickly – I was 16 or 17-year-old at the time. We would see each other every day.
‘I started going to her house, our relationship was fine and normal. I would go on lads’ night outs and she wouldn’t be happy about that. I was training to be a brick layer at some point.
‘We didn’t make any plans for the future – the baby was born in June. When the baby was born I stayed over at hers a few times to do some nappy changes and feeds.
‘I didn’t know what their relationship was between Natalie and Chris. When she started to see him we were on a break.
‘I wasn’t too happy, I wanted to know who this man was spending time with my son. She felt she needed some space, time on her own.
‘I wasn’t happy with it, we would have phone calls over the break about our relationship. We didn’t have any heated arguments.’
Describing the day she disappeared, Mr McCallum said: ‘We went upstairs to talk about the relationship. We were smoking at the time.
‘Then she said she was going to get some more cigarettes. I didn’t see her leave the front door. I went back to feeding the baby. It had taken 45 minutes to feed him and then I went down stairs. Later that evening I saw her phone was on the side.’
The inquest heard a taxi driver told police he had been called to the house and a man came out carrying a baby and holding four or five black bin bags.
During the police investigation, bin bags were recovered from the loft as well as a blood-stained T-shirt which matched Natalie’s DNA.
Mr McCallum denied putting bags in the taxi. He told the inquest: ‘I never said I didn’t get a taxi, I’m saying the taxi driver is a liar. I want to make sure the truth comes out. I didn’t put anything into the taxi.
‘I was arrested on suspicion of her murder. I was a released on bail. I had various interviews over the years. I didn’t play any part in Natalie’s disappearance. I was never shown this bag of clothing.’
Mr Millard, 32, told the hearing he had dropped Natalie off at her home on the day she disappeared in a car he changed a week later.
He said: ‘In 2003 I was living with my nan. I was about 17-years-old. I met Natalie through the horses and I think her dad had a horse off me.
‘It started off as friends and grew into a bit of a relationship but nothing serious. It happened a month before she went missing.
‘She was crazy, fun, always up for a laugh, always wanting to be the centre of attention. I was aware of her relationship with Kevin, they had just broken up.
‘She wanted sometime away, she was fed up with things – she just wasn’t happy with things. She was with me on that Sunday night -August 31, 2003.
‘She used to laugh at one of my vehicles as it reminded her of one of the cars from Barbie and Ken. The baby was with us too.
‘On the day she went missing I dropped her off at home in the morning about 8am and Kevin was waiting for her at the house.
‘I went off to work, she was never without her phone. I was told she was missing either later that day or the next day.
‘I remember sending her a few messages – it would be ‘give me a call when you’re free. You usually would have a reply sooner than later. I was 99 per cent sure Kevin was at the house.
‘David Putt (Natalie’s dad) phoned me to ask if I had seen her and I hadn’t. The police came and asked me a couple of questions and I told them what I knew.
‘I changing my car a week later as I would change them all the time.
‘To be honest the reason why I didn’t look for her was because I wouldn’t know where to start looking for her. She didn’t have any concerns about Mr McCallum
‘She, her dad, her baby and the horse were her all.’
Her father Mr Putt last saw his daughter the day before she disappeared when he gave her a lift home.
He said: ‘She had left vouchers for child income support and benefits.
‘I found that strange in my opinion if I was going to do a runner I would take every penny I had but she didn’t. My property was searched, we had to leave and stay in a hotel.
‘I was told after about the T-shirt found in the loft. I don’t know how it got there. Rubbish would usually be kept in the loft.’
Detective Sergeant Angela Baggott, of West Midlands Police, told the inquest: ‘There doesn’t appear to have been any reason for her to go missing.
‘There didn’t appear to be any disturbance at the address.
‘Bin liners from the loft of the property were recovered and a T-shirt had a couple of blood spots on it were found. The DNA matched that of Natalie’s.’
Describing the claims that a taxi had been called to the address days after she disappeared, she said: ‘A man came out with four or five black plastic bags, and then came out with a baby.
‘A pram, black plastic bags were put in the back of the taxi. The taxi driver made a statement in November 2003.
‘This was put to Kevin and he denied using the taxi company. We have evidence that his phone was used to make the call to the taxi firm. The taxi driver attended a line up and failed to pick anyone out.’
Recording an open verdict, Mr Siddique said: ‘The medical case of death is going to remain ascertained.
‘I’m satisfied she is deceased. It is unclear as to how 17-year-old Natalie Putts had died. From extensive police inquires and proof of life enquires pointed to the fact that she is deceased. For those reasons I am going to leave an open conclusion.’
Police reopened the cold case after ‘The Missing People Choir’ featured Natalie in one of their performances on Britain’s Got Talent in 2017.
Following the appeal, police searched a graveyard in Upper Gornal after receiving ‘crucial information’ from a mystery caller.
Four graves were exhumed in Ruiton Cemetery near to her home but nothing was found.
Since her disappearance, officers have also searched land near to her home, including underwater searches of rivers and lakes.
Officers also searched farmland in Wombourne, where she kept her horses after a member of the public remembered seeing a man digging nearby.
Police scoured land hear the stables in South Staffordshire but again nothing significant was found.
Despite refusing to ever escalate Natalie’s case into a murder investigation, during the hearing, police said they believed she had been killed.
Rebecca discovered some more information about a man who had not long been in Natalie’s life who had clearly played an important role.
‘The main things I found out was that she was actually in a relationship,’ said Rebecca. ‘They’d probably been seeing each other a month, six weeks.’
One of Natalie’s favourite things was horses, and she’d kept a pony on some local land by a man called Chris Millard – and they’d started spending more time together. His demeanor at the inquest, was of a heartbroken man.
‘I went into that inquest suspicious, and came out of that thing thinking Chris was totally in love with her,’ said Rebecca.
Chris Millard, 32, told the hearing he had dropped Natalie off at her home on the day she disappeared in a car he changed a week later
Chris played a pivotal role in the events leading up to Natalie’s appearance because on the 31st August – the day before she disappeared – Natalie had attended a horse fair with him, her dad and a group of friends.
At the end of the day, the group went to the pub and then Natalie told her dad she and Rhys were going to stay at Chris’ that night – and she also said she was planning to speak to her ex Kevin the very next day and needed to tell him it was over for good.
On the morning of 1 September, it was actually Chris who dropped Natalie and baby Rhys at home – and when they pulled up in the car, Kevin was there, waiting. A few hours later, around midday, Natalie allegedly went to the shop for cigarettes, and never came back.
And in the wake of Natalie’s disappearance, police were told something which shaped the entire investigation.
‘There was a voice message that was left to Chris from Natalie, that’d been left about 2 o’clock in the morning of the 2nd or 3rd September,’ explained Rebecca. ‘It said she’d gone to Coventry, and that she’d had enough and we could all do one.’
At the time, Rebecca, flabbergasted, asked to hear the voicemail, only to learn it’d been wiped after five days. It was this voicemail that stopped the police – despite Rebecca’s insistence – from converting the case from a missing person’s inquiry into a murder investigation.
During the inquest, Chris was asked about the voicemail in question, and made a startling revelation.
‘The last time I heard from your sister was when I left her when she went into the house,’ he said, according to Rebecca. ‘I was expecting her to phone me later – and she didn’t.’
Rebecca added: ‘It didn’t exist – he never received a voicemail from Natalie.’
Then, in the first few months after Natalie’s disappearance, a taxi driver came forward with some evidence about a fair of his which he’d picked up on the 2nd September – the day after Natalie’s disappearance.
‘I’d found out that Kevin had ordered a taxi,’ explained Rebecca. ‘He’d asked for it to be a larger vehicle. It was from his number at my sister’s address.
‘When the taxi arrived, they beeped the horn outside, he beckoned the driver down the drive to Natalie’s – he came out and put Rhys and a pushchair in the front part of the chair and placed four bin bags in.’
The taxi driver reportedly noticed the strength which Kevin used to hoist the bin bags into the car using both hands and exerting himself. He also refused any help lifting them. After a short drive, Kevin unloaded the bags at his mother’s house.
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‘So what we’re saying, is he ran that taxi about 9am or 9.30am, the police went around that afternoon and then started the missing person’s report. So potentially Natalie was already out of the house, and wherever by then.’
Kevin categorically denied ever phoning a taxi and it’s a claim which remains unproven. Importantly, later, the taxi driver who claimed to have driven Kevin as his passenger failed to pick him out of an identity line up.
But police did have some physical evidence they’d found in Natalie’s lost nine days after her disappearance – a t-shirt with her blood on it.
‘The pathologist had said it was her blood with his DNA but it wasn’t significant enough to suggest a pattern,’ explained Rebecca. ‘It was two spots of blood, but there was something else as well which they didn’t go into.’
Rebecca has her theories on what happened to Natalie, but she also believes the police did ‘too little, too late.’
‘The taxi driver gave them a statement and the vehicle, they never searched it,’ explained Rebecca. ‘It was just heartbreaking to find that they’d had it all there, and they just let it go.’
She also recalled the events of December 16, 2003, when detectives dug up the former home of Kevin.
After the search took place, an arrest took place on suspicious of murder.
‘They arrested Kevin in the January,’ explained Rebecca. . He was held for 72 hours – although he was released with no charge, there must’ve been a reason for holding somebody for 72 hours.’
Kevin was released without charge and has never been charged with anything to do with Natalie’s disappearance.
At the end of the inquest, the coroner ruled Natalie had died within her home address or within the vicinity of the home on 1 September 2003 – but he didn’t name who he thought was responsible for her death.
‘My legs went,’ added Rebecca. ‘She didn’t deserve that. Everyone has got to die, but at 17?
I know what happened to her and I know now that I;, not going to get all of her back, but unless people have been through it, comparing my loss to a loss of their dog or the loss of their grandma, it’s not really comparable to the pain that people in my situation feel. As much as people mean well, ambiguous loss is very different.’
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