How the ‘Frog Murderer’ killed her husband and got away with it

How the ‘Frog Murderer’ killed her husband and got away with it

Lee Ann Sabine murdered her husband John with a stone frog then hid his body for 18 years
(Picture: Juliet Eden Photography/Vanessa Redmond/Athena Picture Agency)

When Juliet Eden was offered £30 in 2014 to photograph a woman in the Welsh village of Beddau, she wondered if it was worth it.

The cash would just about cover petrol for the round-trip from the town of Bridgend where she lived at the time, 30 minutes away. But, after speaking to the eccentric woman – known locally as ‘Mad Lee’ – on the phone, she decided to go for it.

Little did Juliet know, her photos would go on to be featured under headlines, on news bulletins and across the pages of magazines. That was because Mad Lee – real name Lee Anne Sabine – had murdered her husband. However, the crime was only discovered when she died aged 74 in 2015; 18 years after the killing took place.

‘I’ve asked around, and people who knew Lee are convinced she wanted professional pictures taken because she wanted to look good when she was dead and infamous,’ Juliet tells Metro.

Since her photos went viral, she has written a book, Frog Murderer, which revisits her experience with Sabine.

In it, Juliet mentions how ‘some people are like onions’. 

‘They have good layers, bad layers and evil layers, and they show you the one they want you to see,’ she explains.

Juliet took this picture of Lee a year before she died, when John’s body was likely stashed under the bed (Picture: Juliet Eden Photography)

Sabine’s husband John, a 67-year-old accountant, vanished from the couple’s home at the Trem-Y-Cwm flats in Beddau in 1997. The disappearance wasn’t reported to police as his wife claimed he had upped and left of his own accord.

In reality Sabine had savagely murdered John with an ornamental stone frog kept by their bed. She then wrapped his body in layers of plastic and shopping bags – essentially mummifying him – and hid him under a bed, later moving his remains to a garden shed then, to her attic. The pensioner then collected her dead husband’s pension for the next 18 years.

Sabine died of brain cancer on October 30, 2015. A few weeks later, her friend Michelle was sorting through her belongings in the attic. There’ she came across a large package. Unaware of the contents, Michelle cut into it and found John’s mummified corpse. 

Michelle later told the Mirror how she ‘completely lost the plot’ due to the shocking discovery and, amid the confusion, was briefly arrested by police on suspicion of attempted murder.

When the story reached the press, so did the countless photos of John’s killer that Juliet had taken. In each one, the photographer recalls, Sabine was posing confidently as she stared down the lens, dressed like a ‘seventies biker chick’, in a black figure-hugging outfit. 

By the time news of the grizzly find broke in 2015, Juliet had moved to Cheltenham in Gloucestershire. A hair salon owner in Wales called her to explain what had happened, leaving the photographer ‘shocked and traumatised.’ 

Lee (right) told friends that John (left) had been violent and unfaithful (Picture PA/Wales News Service)

Soon detectives from South Wales Police were visiting Juliet’s home to scour her photos for any trace of the murder weapon. The injuries to John’s skull – his death was determined to be caused by blunt force trauma – matched perfectly to a frog-shaped ornament’s protrusions. The frog was later found in a box of trinkets Sabine had left to her friend Michelle.

Several of her photographs were taken in Sabine’s bedroom. Here, it is suspected John was stashed beneath the bed. Juliet believes this hiding place gave Sabine easy access to repeatedly wrap her dead husband’s body in new layers of plastic.

Detectives also took away memoirs Sabine had previously given Juliet to see if they contained a confession – they did not – and to also swab the pages for fingerprints. 

Initially, Juliet declined to talk about her involvement with the killer and tried to move on from the experience. However, as the 10 year anniversary of Sabine’s death approaches, she has now decided to tell the story in own words and reveal to the world the complexities of Mad Lee. 

Juliet had been 49 when she first met 72-year-old Sabine. They took photos at the older woman’s flat and a local hair salon. At one point, Sabine read Juliet’s tarot cars and predicted she would become famous, and that Juliet would write a book based on Sabine’s life.

On the day of the shoot, Juliet and her 21-year-old assistant Robert* had taken pictures of Sabine at a hair salon then at her flat. In both locations, they were fed lie after lie. 

An inquest found Lee had used the heavy stone frog to hit John’s head with the ‘force of a hammer'(Picture: Wales News Service)

Sabine, in a peculiar accent which danced between Welsh and Kiwi, claimed she had been a former cabaret singer and a top fashion model who appeared in countless ‘big’ magazines. 

Juliet recalls: ‘I like to think that people are honest, but the more Lee spoke I thought “this can’t be true.” I just went along with things because she was interesting and work was quiet. It was more fun to sit there and be entertained by an eccentric old lady full of stories than it was to sit at home and watch telly. 

‘Lee was highly intelligent, very confident and really quite mad,’ Juliet continues. She called everyone “darling” and hid her secrets behind a crazy, flamboyant demeanour. I always found that puzzling; if people have something they want to hide, usually they stay quiet and tuck themselves away in a corner. But Lee was the opposite, she hid in plain sight.’

Sabine’s true past came out at the inquest into her death in 2015. It emerged she had been brought up in the Welsh village of Gelli; the daughter of Ronald, a coal miner, and Margaret, who abandoned the family when she was young.

As a result, Sabine had been passed between relatives, an orphanage and foster homes. She met John in London after she moved to the city aged 17 to work at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington as a nurse. The pair had five children together.

In the sixties, the family emigrated to New Zealand. Here, in a story which was reported extensively in local media but not in the UK, Sabine and John abandoned their children to start a new life in Australia. Both hit headlines as the ‘child dumping’ couple. Sabine and John returned to Wales in 1997, the latter vanished a matter of weeks after they settled in Beddeau.

Juliet (right) had no idea that Sabine was hiding a body in the flat where she had photographed her (Picture: Juliet Eden Photography)

Fast forward to 2024, and Juliet is still coming to terms with the fact she survived an encounter with a secret killer.

‘When I was writing Frog Murderer, I realised how much of a dark place I’d reached,’ she explains. One night I woke up after a nightmare where Lee had been standing by my curtains surrounded by fire. It was really scary.’

While Juliet’s photos have painted a picture of what Sabine was like, she has one huge regret from her time at the photoshoot. The photographer had taken video footage of the older woman, in the hope she could create some sort of fly-on-the-wall style reality show to pitch to television channels. But the clips were too disjointed, Sabine’s comments to camera seemed too ‘forced’, so Juliet deleted them.

Juliet, who now lives in Barry, Wales, adds: ‘I feel embarrassed saying it, but I actually liked Lee when I met her. I thought I had a good gut instinct at the time, but I didn’t feel anything from her. didn’t think she was evil.

‘You never truly know a person and a person can be nice to you and you’ll never have a problem with them, but then a person can be quite nasty as well – but don’t go through life frightened and think everybody is bad, because I don’t think they are.’ 

Buy Frog Murderer here

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