The prime suspect in Leah Croucher’s murder phoned a pal while on the run to whine “I can’t go back to prison”.
Convicted rapist Neil Maxwell was wanted by police over another sex attack when he made the panicked call just weeks before Leah, 19, vanished.
The pal said: “He rang me out of the blue and insisted he hadn’t done what the police were saying.
“He said he was scared. He couldn’t face going back inside.”
Police were looking for Maxwell following an attack in Newport Pagnell, Bucks, in November 2018.
Finance firm worker Leah vanished in February 2019. Maxwell, 49, killed himself two months later.
He worked as a handyman at a four-bed house in Milton Keynes, Bucks, where remains thought to be Leah’s have been found.
He is understood to have been the only person with keys.
Detectives, who named him their main suspect, have admitted the ex-con evaded arrest 18 times on the run.
The Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner has requested a review into Leah’s case.
Police are investigating whether Maxwell held the teen captive at the house she would pass walking to work.
Today his ex-neighbour said: “He gave off a bad vibe. He was creepy. I avoided him.”
Leah was reported missing by dad John, 56, and mum Claire, 55, on February 14, 2019.
Nine months later her half-brother Haydon Croucher, 24, tortured by her disappearance, took his own life.
Asked if they believed Maxwell murdered Leah, his pal said: “I only ever saw the nice Neil, but he had done bad things in the past. I don’t know what to believe.”