March 3, 2010 started as a normal Wednesday morning for Donavan van Lill.

The South African was due to go to work at the Olympiad gym in Chippenham.

But when he didn’t turn up, the alarm was raised.

Police never found a body, a murder weapon or a crime scene – but charged a man with his murder.

He was later acquitted by a jury.

Swindon Advertiser: Donavan van Lill has been missing for 12 years.Donavan van Lill has been missing for 12 years.

The murder probe is one of four investigations still unsolved at Wiltshire Police – with one dating back to the mid-90s.

In part two of our Wiltshire’s Unsolved Murders series, we look back at Donavan’s disappearance and the police’s quest for answers.

Extensive searches prove fruitless

Originally from Durban, Donavan moved to the UK in 2003. He lived in Pewsham, Chippenham and at the time was dating Slovakian waitress Radka Paulovicova, possibly the last person to see him alive that morning before she went on holiday.

An extensive search by police, which even included closing part of the M4 for a fingertip search of the embankment, yielded no results.

Crimewatch appeals and an internet campaign similarly failed in their attempts to trace the missing person.

But despite never finding the dad’s body, they charged Stanton St Quintin man Martin Sugden with his murder.

Swindon Advertiser: Donovan van Lill, left, on holiday with Martin Sugden in South AfricaDonovan van Lill, left, on holiday with Martin Sugden in South Africa

Jurors unconvinced

Bristol Crown Court was told during the month-long trial that the pair had gone on holiday, alongside a friend Mark Rodgers, in South Africa in 2006, and had fallen out.

Mr Rodgers had said that Donavan filmed a youth being beaten up and that Mr Sugden was upset by this.

Jurors were told that Sugden told his friend Jerard McKay about the incident, without naming Donavan, and that he wanted to kill him.

Swindon Advertiser: Ex-marine Martin Sugden was acquitted of Donavan van Lill's murder.Ex-marine Martin Sugden was acquitted of Donavan van Lill's murder.

Seven days after Donavan’s disappearance, Mr McKay said he received a call from Mr Sugden saying that he had “done it”.

It was also heard that the defendant had written what was called a “rudimentary shopping list or planning list or agenda for the murder of Donavan van Lill”.

But Mr Sugden said that it was a “fantasy” and that he had “no intention of killing anyone”.

Jurors deliberated for 12 hours and found Mr Sugden not guilty of murder.

The ex-marine spent a year in jail awaiting trial before his acquittal.

Police pledge to continue investigations

Speaking outside court, Wiltshire Police pledged to keep investigating the disappearance of the Corsham rugby player.

Now chief constable Kier Pritchard said the force would “continue to explore all appropriate lines of inquiry including information that may lead us to the discovery of Donavan and finally allow his family, friends and loved ones the closure they desire so much”.

Swindon Advertiser: Keir Pritchard, now chief constable of Wiltshire Police, investigated the disappearance.Keir Pritchard, now chief constable of Wiltshire Police, investigated the disappearance.

"Our first thoughts are with Donavan's family and friends who we will continue to offer support as they come to terms with the impact of today's verdict.

"The CPS will continue to work closely with the police should further evidence come to light."

Case has gone cold

Wiltshire Police said that Donavan’s death and the other three unsolved murders are cold cases.

The probes have been fully investigated and are either unable to meet the criminal threshold to charge a suspect, or the person charged has been acquitted.

But the force said it never closes murder investigations and it conducts regular reviews.

Head of the Major Crime Investigation Unit, Detective Chief Inspector Phil Walker, said: “It is important to state that none of these cases are closed and will remain open until they are solved.

“We regularly review these cases in order to identify any potential new lines of enquiry, any advances in technology which may assist us or consider any renewed witness appeals.

“We will, of course, respond to any new information which is reported to us linked to any of this cases. On this basis, we would always encourage people to share information with us if they feel this might be relevant to any open investigation.

“You can contact us via 101, report the information via our website or through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 where information can be left anonymously if preferred.”

Next weekend, we will be looking at another one of Wiltshire’s unsolved murders.

If you’re a friend or family member of Donavan and would like to talk about the incident or the past few years, please get in touch by emailing