The mysterious vanishing of Nicola Bulley

Nicola is a 45 year old woman from Lancashire in England.  Her family have said that her nickname is Nikki.

Nicola’s parents are Ernest and Dot and she has a sister, Louise.  Nicolas was born in Essex but moved to Lancashire around 25 years ago.   Nicola’s partner is Paul Ansell.  They met 12 years ago, after Nicola’s first marriage fell apart.  They have two daughters together – Harriet, 9, and Sophia, 6.

Nicola posted a lot on social media.  Just weeks before she vanished, the family went on a holiday to Center Parcs.  She posted some pics of Elf on the Shelf antics from their holiday.  

Nicola was working as a self-employed mortgage and protection adviser at the time she disappeared.  The family also have a Springer Spaniel dog, Willow.

You can view Nicola’s Facebook pages here and here:

The day Nicola disappeared was January 27, 2023, a Friday.

There is a pretty comprehensive timeline of her last confirmed movements.

Nicola left home at 8.26am.  She dropped children off at school and had a chat with another parent for around 15 minutes.  At 8.43am, she went for a walk on path by the River Wyre.

Nicola apparently used to talk this route for a walk regularly.  On average, it’d take her about 30 minutes to complete the loop and return to her car, which her family say she parked in the same spot about ‘1000 times over’ through the years.

She had actually made a social media post from the same area in November 2022.

8:50am (approximately) – A dog-walker – somebody who knows Nicola – saw her walking around the lower field with her dog. Their two dogs interacted briefly before the witness left the field via the river path

8.53am – Nicola sent an email to her boss

At 9.01am – Nicola logged into a Teams call.  She had her camera off and audio muted.

9.10am (approximately) – A witness – somebody who knows Nicola – saw her on the upper field walking Willow. 

9.30am – The Teams call ended but Nicola stayed logged on.

Just five minutes later, at approximately 9.35, Nicola’s mobile (cell) phone was found by another dogwalker on a bench (see below) by the river.  Willow was also nearby.    The phone was still connected to the Teams call and Willow’s leash and harness were nearby.

I have read that the dogwalker recognized Willow but wasn’t sure who her owner was.  This person called her own daughter who knew the dog belonged to Nicola.  They then called Nicola’s partner Paul to let him know of the situation.  I believe this was at around 10.50am. 

‘I got a call from the school regarding somebody who had found Willow, Nikki’s phone and the dog lead and harness on the bench,’ Paul said.

‘We take the kids to school and take the dog down there – either myself or Nikki – nearly every day.’

When no trace of Nicola could be found, police started searching for her that day.

It was confirmed quickly that Willow was dry when she was found (indicating she hadn’t fallen into the river) and also that Nicola could swim.  

Nicola’s family have said that she was in good spirits at the time.  She had recently secured a new client at work and was excited about that.  She had spoken to her sister the night before she disappeared about a spa visit they had coming up.  They had discussed what treatments they were going to get.

The following day, January 28, Lancashire Constabulary started using drones, helicopters and police search dogs to search for Nicola.  

A mountain search and rescue team, as well as an underwater search team were also engaged. 

There was a seemingly abandoned house in the area that was also searched to no avail.

On January 29, local residents held a meeting at the village hall around 10.30am to organise searches, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  Over 100 people turned up to help, including Nicola’s partner Paul.

Police urged volunteers to exercise caution, describing the river and its banks as “extremely dangerous” and saying that activity in these areas presented “a genuine risk to the public”.

Volunteer searchers were told to move up river, while professionals moved downstream.

Again, no trace of Nicola was found.

On January 30, Superintendent Sally Riley from Lancashire Constabulary said police were “keeping a really open mind about what could have happened.’  They said at this point that they were not treating Nicola’s disappearance as suspicious and that there no signs of foul play.  

Supt Riley said there was no evidence of any criminal activity or that Nicola has been attacked.

On January 31, police spoke to a witness who had also been walking his dog in the area at the time.  He is understood to have lived locally and been a regular on the route, but had not seen Nicola on the day she vanished.

Her family released a statement saying they had been “overwhelmed by the support” in their community, and that her daughters were “desperate to have their mummy back home safe”.

On February 1, Nicola’s parents spoke to the media about the horrific situation.  Her father said: “We just dread to think we will never see her again, if the worst came to the worst and she was never found, how will we deal with that for the rest of our lives.”

They said they had urged the police to reconsider whether Nicola may have been abducted or attacked, but were told this was unlikely.

On February 2, Lancashire Constabulary spoke with a second witness who they had identified with the help of the public using CCTV but they told police they did not have any further information to aid their inquiry.

Police kept searching the water and the area where Nicola’s phone was found.  

Nicola’s family were interviewed on TV, with her sister appealing for anyone with information to come forward and “get my sister back”.

On February 3, police confirmed that their main theory was that Nicola had fallen into the water.  Supt Riley said it was “possible” that an “issue” with her dog may have led her to the water’s edge and urged the public to look out for Nicola’s clothing.

This would possibly explain why Nicola left her phone on the bench.  Maybe the dog was yelping for example and she put it down to go and see what was happening, and she fell into the river.

The following day, Nicola’s sister made a post about that possibility.  She urged the public “keep an open mind” as there is “no evidence whatsoever” Nicola went in the water.

Police also appealed for a person who was seen pushing a buggy/pram to come forward as they believed she may be a key witness.

On February 5, that person came forward. Police said that they were “very much being treated as a witness” as it warned against “totally unacceptable” speculation and abuse on social media.

Private underwater forensics firm Specialist Group International (SGI) offered their services free of charge after speaking to Nicola’s family.

The police agreed to draft them in to start the following week – February 5 was a Sunday.

The SGI search started February 6, Monday.  SGI chief Peter Faulding told the Mirror his high tech sonar equipment would find Nicola in under an hour if she fell into the water by the bench.  Nothing was found.

Police gave another update on February 7.  Superintendent Sally Riley said river searchers were now spreading out towards the sea at Morecambe, but reiterated that police do not believe there was any foul play involved in the disappearance.

She said despite over 500 pieces of information currently being reviewed, investigators are yet to find anything conclusive.

On February 8, SGI pulled out of the search for Nicola. They said they were “100 percent” confident that she is not in the immediate stretch of water from the bench after trawling several miles over two days.  

Mr Faulding said the case is “baffling” but was glad his team hadn’t found a body as it meant Nicola may still be alive somewhere.

The search for Nicola continued on February 9 in the sea at Morecambe.  The police said there are currently no further press conferences scheduled as things stand.

An article about a ‘tatty red van’ in the area came out on this day.  This info is from the Mirror:

It has now emerged that a concerned resident spotted a suspicious-looking vehicle, believed to be a Renault, outside a barn in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, on January 27.

The witness contacted the police to report a suspicious “red van” parked in the village close to where Bulley went missing.

The 55-year-old witness, who had not been named, told the Times they saw the “tatty red van in Hall Lane outside a barn”.

“I didn’t think anything at the time, but when I saw Nicola had gone missing, I called 101 and spoke to an operator.

“I contacted the police again on Friday and spoke to a police officer. It could have been a Renault van.”

The St Michaels on Wyre resident said the vehicle was the “sort of van you can live in”.

A second witness – who happens to work in in search and rescue in the south of the country – revealed to The Sun that they had seen a red van which “looked suspicious” at 9.40am that morning.

The man, who requested not to be named, said they had called the police three days after she was revealed missing when they realised that the vehicle “might be significant” in their inquiries.

“They thanked me and asked if I had any dashcam footage and told me they were taking my information seriously”, he added.

Lancashire Police have since come out though and said there is “nothing to suggest” the red van is suspicious.

Along the same lines as the van sighting, locals reported seeing two fishermen who were acting strangely around the time Nicola vanished.  A witness has told police he saw two men acting suspiciously near the route that Nicola went walking on.  He said  they were “trying to hide their faces”.

“It was very strange. It made me uneasy,” the witness told The Sun.

Nicola went missing with her car keys and a water bottle.  Neither have been found.  Her partner Paul apparently asked Mercedes if her keys could be tracked.

“Paul has been clear about Nikki’s keys being missing from the get go,” a source told the media. “In the local searches he specifically asked people to keep their eyes open for them and even organised for people to go out with metal detectors. One of the first things he did was to contact Mercedes to see if they could be tracked.”

Paul has said that Nicola would have had the keys in her coat pocket. He described them as “a couple of Mercedes keyrings on it, one black and one blue, a round wooden key ring with paw prints on it, and a couple of normal keys”.

Police have since said there is a gap in the timeline for this case that they cannot fill in.  Substantial CCTV in the surrounding areas has ruled out that Nicola left the park via the majority of the gates. The path leading to Garstang Lane, however, has proven to be a black spot.

Police have said: “We can say with confidence that by reviewing CCTV, Nicola has not left the field during the key times via Rowanwater, either through the site itself or via the piece of land at the side.

“Also, we can say that she did not return from the fields along Allotment Lane or via the path at the rear of the Grapes pub onto Garstang Road.”

Nicola was last seen by a witness at 9.10 and her phone was found at 9.35.  The Teams call ended at 9.20.  I wonder if she said goodbye or if she had already vanished by then?

By mid February, police said they had opened 500 lines of inquiry in the case and were looking to talk to more than 700 drivers seen in the local area.

On February 15, Lancashire Constabulary gave an update on the case. They reiterated that they believe Nicola went into the river. They also said that they classed her as high risk and that she had vulnerabilities. They also gave the information that Nicola may have been struggling with an alcohol addiction.

On February 19, Nicola’s body was pulled from the River Wyre, around 1 mile from where she is thought to have disappeared.



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