A rapist and fugitive sex attacker was today named as the prime suspect in the murder of missing teen Leah Croucher.
Heavily convicted Neil Maxwell – jailed in 2009 for rape – was unmasked as the main focus of the probe into 19-year-old Leah’s gruesome death.
Police revealed the deviant was wanted for another serious sexual assault when he took his own life on April 20, 2019, just weeks after Leah vanished in February 2019.
Maxwell was working as a handyman at a £500,000 property where the admin assistant’s remains were discovered on Monday. He was the only one to have keys for the property.
Now exclusive interviews obtained by the Daily Mirror reveal Maxwell has a long history of offending – with cops warned more than a decade ago that he would carry out murder.
One former boss said he told detectives in 2009: “He is one evil f*, he’s going to kill someone.”
During a press conference today officers confirmed they were actively hunting Maxwell over a sex attack in Newport Pagnell, Bucks, on November 29, 2018.
They went to his home the following day – less than three months before Leah disappeared – but he wasn’t home.
It sparked a nationwide search in which Maxwell used an alias, changed his cars and used burner phones to evade capture.
Det Chief Supt Ian Hunter said today: “Today, I am able to confirm that we have nominated a suspect in this case. His name is Neil Maxwell.
“However, Maxwell was found dead on April 20, 2019 having taken his own life.
“It is unusual to name a suspect, but we have also learned this week that during the time when Leah went missing, and whilst the owner of the property was not in the UK, Maxwell was the only person to have keys to the property.
“Maxwell had been employed by the home owner to carry out some property maintenance at the house. We now know that Maxwell had keys to this property from November 2018.
“Whilst Maxwell has been nominated as a suspect, this does not mean he is guilty of any offence.
“We will keep an open mind, and our detailed investigation will seek to gather sufficient evidence to establish the truth. This may or may not implicate or exonerate Maxwell or any other persons from the investigation.
“Maxwell has previous convictions for sexual offences against females and was wanted in connection with a sexual assault in Newport Pagnell in November 2018.
“The sexual assault was reported to Bedfordshire Police on 29 November 2018 and the case was transferred to Thames Valley Police the same day.
“We first attempted to arrest Maxwell in connection with the sexual assault the following day, 30 November 2018, at an address in central Milton Keynes, but Maxwell was not present.
“During this time, we established that Maxwell was at an unknown location in Scotland at one stage, but further arrest attempts were continually made throughout the UK at various different addresses.
“Maxwell knew he was wanted in connection with the sexual assault and was travelling across the UK and making concerted efforts to evade arrest, including using false names and changing his mobile phone and vehicles.
“He is likely to have known that he would be returning to prison if he was arrested and convicted.”
Leah vanished on February 15, 2019 as she made her way to work at 8.15am. It sparked a huge search operation as officers carried out 4,000 house-to-house enquiries.
On Monday – more than three years after she went missing – Leah’s bag and personal belongings were reported to have been found inside a £500,000 four-bedroom house on Loxbeare Drive, Milton Keynes, Bucks.
The property is half a mile from where she had lived with her parents.
But cops have admitted that during their inquiries they never entered the property – despite the house sitting empty for three years and being once occupied by a man previously jailed for sexual offences against two teenagers.
It is understood the convicted man was not living in the property at the time of Leah’s disappearance.
This week, the convicted paedophile’s father told The Times that the family moved out of the property years before Leah went missing in 2019, but still lived in the area and were aware of the case.
He said they rented the house, worth around £500,000, from an owner based in Dubai. His mother said that she had “not seen him for years”.
Today police confirmed they visited the property TWICE – but simply knocked and left a leaflet at the address when no-one came to the door.
Now the Daily Mirror can reveal that Maxwell’s former boss was so worried about his behaviour he warned cops more than a decade ago that he would carry out murder.
The business owner took Maxwell on as a mechanic for “a few years” before he was jailed for rape in 2009.
Maxwell appeared at Reading Crown Court where he pleaded guilty and was jailed for four and a half years for raping a woman in her late teens during the early hours of New Years Day.
His former boss told how he welcomed CID detectives into his office and said: “He is one evil f***er, he can’t control his urges for sex and he’s going to kill someone.”
In an exclusive interview, the business owner told how he saw Maxwell’s probation report from a previous conviction and said experts labelled him a “dangerous man”.
And he claimed Maxwell was always helpful when he worked as a mechanic – but said he was aware he had carried out a string of attacks.
The business boss – who did not want to be named – said: “I feel terrible for Leah and all those girls – this is a complete failure of the system, he should never have been free.
“Neil Maxwell was a nasty, bad piece of work. I told the police that at the time in 2009.
“I said to them, ‘One day he’s going to end up killing someone’. His urges were getting worse and worse and worse.
“I argued with the police. He raped a young girl and the police did nothing. They treated it like they were issuing a parking ticket.
“I found his probation report. He had been on every course there was. He passed them all but it didn’t make a blind bit of difference. The report said he was a dangerous man.”
He added: “I can’t stand the guy, I was fuming with the police. He liked young girls, he was a rapist, a dangerous man. They have let the system down – that man should have been locked up for life.
“Unbeknown to me, when he started working for me, he had just come out of prison.
“The probation service knew I had young daughters but they still let him come work for me.”
The business owner said: “He couldn’t help you enough, always helping you all the time, ‘No don’t worry, I’ll sort that, I’ll do that’.
“But it was all a masquerade. He had 500 sim cards in his possession – who has that many sim cards?”
Meanwhile Maxwell’s former girlfriend told the Mirror today: “I always knew he was a wrong ‘un.”
The woman, who does not want to be named, dated the pervert when he was in his mid-20s and she was underage.
She said: “Back then I was a rebellious teenager and didn’t think there was anything strange about his behaviour.
“But now, looking back on things, it’s clear he had an unhealthy interest in children.
“Why else would a bloke in his 20s be hanging around a young schoolgirl? He was very controlling and forced me to do things. He groomed me and took advantage of me. He was well known in the area for trying to pin down girls and force himself on them.
“Eventually everyone sussed him out and kept away from him. He was a deeply sinister character. It’s horrible that he did this to Leah but, to be honest, I’m not surprised in the slightest.”
Maxwell divided his time between his mum Jill’s home in Conniburrow, Milton Keynes, and his dad’s house in Kelso, Scotland.