In reality, none of those occupations panned out quite the way she spun them. But, as she grew sick with cancer, she revealed she had a final trump card to play: Sabine told her hairdresser that the spotlight was coming, as Wales Online reported, “because of the body.” No one gave that claim much credence, either. What body?
In October, Sabine died of brain cancer at age 74, her talk of “the body” still a mystery.
Perhaps it makes sense in hindsight. It certainly did at the coroner’s inquest that took place this week.
Her husband, John, had gone missing in 1997. For what reason, nobody seemed to know. There were theories but few answers.
John and Leigh Ann Sabine’s romance had lasted for nearly four decades. Their relationship kindled when Leigh was a 17-year-old nurse and John was a 28-year-old married man with two children, according to the Bristol Post. When Leigh became pregnant, John’s first wife threw him out. The rocky start was an ill portent of things to come.
The couple married in 1960. John, a veteran of the Korean War, worked as an accountant while Leigh raised their children. Their early years of British domesticity were fleeting, a half-decade spent in southwest England. The family vanished in 1965, facing accusations that John had defrauded his company on the order of $6,000.
“Prior to their disappearance we saw John burning lots of A4 papers in the garden,” a neighbor told the Bristol Post, “and after the Easter a detective told me that it was sure to have been papers relating to his frauds.”
The Sabines surfaced in New Zealand with their five children, aged 2 to 11. But just as swiftly as they had fled Britain, the family uprooted once again. This time, however, John and Leigh divested themselves of their children. All five, the BBC reported, were abandoned at an Auckland nursery in 1969.
Now alone with her partner, Leigh made her way across Australia and New Zealand, according to news reports. But not until the mid-’80s did Leigh and John — going under the assumed last name Martin — attempt to contact their children.
It was there — in 1997 — where the last accounts of John Sabine take place. It was as if he evaporated. But after he disappeared, no one filed a missing person report. Leigh told some of her friends that her husband was a “womanizer,” according to Wales Online, and he had simply run away with a new flame.
The same year John disappeared, during an out-of-the-blue call to an old acquaintance, Leigh said the strangest thing. The friend, Valerie Chalkley, commented that it had been such a long time since she’d heard from the Sabines that one of them must have killed the other. “t’s funny you should say that,” Sabine replied, according to Chalkley’s recollection to the Daily Mail. “I’ve killed him. I’ve battered him with a stone frog which was at the side of the bed. He was just driving me mad. Every night he would get into bed crying and weeping, saying you don’t fancy me.”
Chalkley took none of this seriously. Who would? As Wales Online described the inquest testimony, Chalkley “said she put the comment down to Mrs Sabine making it up, because she had heard nothing on the news which would tally with what she had said during their conversation.” After the telephone call, Chalkley said that death by stone amphibian — “Watch out or I will frog you” — became something of an inside joke among her family members.
Sabine began to tell stories of a body in a bag, a skeleton in her home. It was fake skeleton — a medical tool for training to be a nurse, Sabine told her neighbor, 45-year-old Michelle James. According to evidence presented at the inquest, Sabine “had mentioned to a number of people there was a skeleton in the communal garden area which she wanted moving.”
One day, Sabine asked a woman named Lynne Williams, who cared for Sabine while she was sick in the hospital, to move the skeleton. It was in her shed, in a communal garden shared with neighbors, according to testimony at the inquest, and Sabine wanted it in the attic.
Williams said she hoped it wasn’t actually a body.
“‘You never know,'” Williams said Sabine replied, “and wagged her finger at me with a smile.”
Sabine died in October.
A few weeks later her neighbor, Michelle James, thought the medical skeleton would be the perfect prop for a prank. She went looking for it and found it, wrapped in layers of tin foil, plastic wrap, old bags and roofing material.
Out tumbled not a fake skeleton, however, but the 18-year-old remains of Sabine’s husband, smothering James’s hands in partially decomposed gristle. “I was screaming,” she told the BBC. “I was shouting, ‘It’s a dead body! It’s a dead body!'”
It was indeed a dead body, or what was left of it. Police Constable Joy Nicholls told the inquest she remembered a “very strong smell of rotting waste,” according to Wales Online.
On Nov. 24, 2015, the police began their investigation. John, whose identity was confirmed by DNA analysis, was still wearing Marks & Spencer pajamas. Under all the wrapping, his body had “chemically mummified,” according to the coroner, Andrew Barkley, who released his assessment on Thursday at the conclusion of the inquest.
The blow to John’s skull left a curious outline, which matched a specific object: the 2.5-pound ornamental frog from Leigh’s garden. There were a number of skull fractures, pathologist Richard Jones told the inquest, and any could have caused his death. The pattern, he said, was consistent with assault using the green ceramic frog, with its bulging eye and leg.
“It is my view that Leigh Sabine probably killed John Sabine and wrapped up his body,” said detective chief inspector Gareth Morgan, as reported by the Guardian. “There was no evidence to suggest anyone else knew of his death.”
“It is beyond doubt in my mind,” Barkley concluded Thursday, “that foul play was at the cause of his death.”
It was an end that fit the way Sabine lived. “She liked to create attention,” Barkley said. “She liked to be theatrical.”