Throughout her life, Bennylyn Burke always had a wide group of friends.
Socialising and playing an active role in the community is a central pillar of Filipino society and the devoted mum loved to spend time with her friends.
Bennylyn had a conventional upbringing in the Philippines – some 6,700 miles from Dundee – and was popular in school.
But things started to change towards the end of her high-school years.
While her pals worked towards their ambition of university, Bennylyn was left behind, as she wasn’t able to finish high school and go onto further education due to family commitments.
Though Bennylyn had support from family, she wasn’t able to see her friends as often, as they focused on work and studying.
Bennylyn’s closest friend at the time was Marjorie Lebatigue.
The pair grew up together and celebrated their teenage rights of passage: birthdays, leaving school and family occasions.
Marjorie spoke of the time Bennylyn told her she had met an English man online – Lexington Burke, now 65.
Marjorie said: “They spoke online initially and then he visited her in the Philippines, which is the norm.”
Marjorie was referring to the pattern of western men seeking a partner and turning to dating sites like Filipino Cupid to find a south-east Asian woman, believing it will be easier than conventional dating.
This is because Filipina women can often be charmed by men who promise them lifelong financial security.
Marjorie said Bennylyn and Mr Burke met in Manilla around 2015 and hit it off.
“Bennylyn got pregnant with Jellica with Lexington. And then they got engaged to marry.”
Moving to Bristol
Despite her reservations, Marjorie was happy for her friend, especially after Bennylyn gave birth to her daughter Jellica.
Bennylyn and Mr Burke announced they were moving to Bristol in August 2019, so Marjorie arranged a send-off – a Filipino tradition known as “despidida”, meaning “farewell party”.
Four of her closest friends met for a meal at a restaurant, laughing and joking at old times and dreaming of a bright future.
Marjorie said: “We had despidida before Bennylyn’s flight to the UK.
“It was a happy occasion and we all wished her all well.”
After Bennylyn started her new life in the UK, Marjorie started to hear from her less.
She took that as a sign that everything was working out well, and knew Bennylyn would have regular video calls with her sister Shela.
After moving to Bristol, Bennylyn put Jellica at the centre of everything.
They went on family days out to scores of locations, including Buckingham Palace, Gloucester Cathedral and a petting zoo.
Bennylyn would take Jellica to play out in Bristol too and they struck up friendships with other children, while Bennylyn made friends with their parents.
Their favourite spot was Brandon Hill Park in Bristol, with its 105ft tower offering panoramic views of the city and countryside. They would hold family picnics there.
But then everything changed.
In November 2020, Bennylyn suddenly moved out of the family home she shared with Mr Burke and moved to a different part of Bristol after she accused Mr Burke of domestic violence – an allegation he rejects.
However, they did stay in touch so they could arrange for Jellica to see her dad on weekends.
When Mr Burke heard nothing from Bennylyn on February 19 when he was supposed to be seeing Jellica, he became concerned – and that concern later grew when social services contacted him to say they had not seen her either.
Then came the worst news possible.
‘I will never forget them’
Councillor Ian Boulton, who was among those who had introduced Bennylyn to life in Bristol as her ward councillor, said that when he heard Bennylyn and Jellica had been murdered, it knocked him for six.
Writing in a Facebook community group he added: “I’m sure that there are other members of this group who also knew them, who must be feeling equally shocked.”
One of those was Bennylyn’s friend Ana Jayme, who said: “I am still struggling to understand what has happened and I think about her and poor Jellica every day.
“The cruelty of what has happened is overwhelming.
“Two such beautiful lives snatched away far too soon. I will never forget them and they will always remain in my heart.”
‘We have lost a good friend’
Such was the outpouring of grief in Bristol, Bennylyn’s friends held a memorial event in April 2021 – fittingly held at Brandon Hill Park, on the grass below Cabot Tower.
Those who attended fixed white balloons to a tree, accompanied with a message that read: ‘You are loved, you are missed, you are remembered’.
Guests placed a red blanket on the ground and adorned it with photographs of Bennylyn and Jellica along with a teddy bear and signs in her memory.
Among them was Lyn Vowle, who had known Bennylyn since she first moved to Bristol from the Philippines.
She said: “She was a loving mum, a beautiful woman and a good friend. She will be sadly missed.”
There was also a tribute from another of Bennylyn’s friends Lyn Desoyo, who acknowledged the impact the horrific double murder had had on the Dundee community, where it happened.
She said: “I’m very grateful for the messages of support we have received from those in Dundee.
“As a mother myself this has affected me. I can’t imagine what they have been through.
“We have lost a good friend.”