England’s unclaimed dead and the people trying to give them a name – BBC News

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Image copyright Laurence Cawley

Without a name, they are referred to by the clothes they died in or some other distinguishing feature. The lady in the Afghan coat and a woman who may have been a sex worker known as The Duchess are just two of the hundreds of unidentified body lawsuits reported to the National Crime Agency( NCA) each year. Half will be identified and reunited with their loved ones. But what happens to the rest?

“I feel I know her, I really do, because I know so much about her, ” says Det Insp Andy Guy.

He knows what she eat( a lot of seafood ), where she came from( probably Denmark ), that she was right-handed and “ve been given” birth.

What he does not know is her name, or the whereabouts of her head.

The unidentified girl, whose decapitated body was received bound and covered in a dustsheet off a rural route in Cockley Cley, Norfolk 41 years ago, is one of about 1,500 instances registered with the National Crime Agency.

Some are complete bodies, some simply body parts.

Sometimes the gender and a rough age of the remains can be determined, other days they cannot.

About 150 unidentified body lawsuits are reported per year.

Most are found by puppy walkers, joggers or mushroom foragers, and usually in autumn or late wintertime, when the foliage has died back.

Image copyright Laurence Cawley
Image caption Det Insp Andy Guy revisits the scene near Cockley Cley where the body of a headless woman was detected 41 years ago. She has never been identified

The oldest lawsuit on the NCA’s database is that of a man, maybe a drifter in his 40 s, whose decomposed body was found in a derelict house in east London.

This year is the 50 th anniversary of the discovery.

After London, the areas with the most unidentified people lawsuits are Sussex, with 52, Kent with 31, Essex, with 29 cases and Devon an Cornwall, with 28.

But why would Devon and Cornwall, an region with 1.65 m people, have three times as many unidentified lawsuits as somewhere such as West Yorkshire, with its population of 2.2 m?

The answer, says Louise Vesely-Shore at the NCA, is the coastline. Bodies not only wash up on the shore, she says, but they also tend to be harder to identify because of the effects of sea water.

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“We aim to reconcile 50% of the 120 to 150 lawsuits that come in each year, ” says Ms Vesely-Shore.

A significant number of unidentified body examples pertain either to people who have lost contact with family – and are hence not reported missing – or foreign nationals who die on UK soil.

Roughly one in ten, says the NCA, is crime related.

Coroners decide what happens to the bodies and although most are interred, some are kept in morgues.

The importance of DNA profiles

Image copyright Hana’s Gift
Image caption The headstone for a stillborn newborn – known as Baby Peter – that was paid for by the charity Hana’s Gift

The body of a newborn baby was found in a water-filled cavity at Weasenham St Peter in Norfolk in June 1988.

For more than a one-quarter of a century , nobody knew who the baby’s mom was or the circumstances of his death.

But in April 2014 the body was exhumed and a DNA profile was taken.

Using that profile, Norfolk Police managed to track down the infant’s mom. What emerged was a sad story of a young lady who had hidden her pregnancy from family and friends and who delivered a stillborn newborn alone.

Initially arrested on mistrust of infanticide, the woman – whose identity has not been disclosed – was later released without charge.

Det Insp Guy said of the case: “One can only feel for the dame involved who has had to carry this enormous burden in secret for all this time.”

Ms Vesely-Shore said there were no currently agreed procedures dictating what should happen when a body is found.

She said the NCA “encourages” police and coroners to take samples, fingerprints and DNA, record dental datum, and bury in a marked single grave, in case exhumation is needed in future.

In the situations in which the bodies have been cremated, she said , no DNA profile will ever be gleaned. And bodies buried in multiple tombs induce seeing the “right” body “challenging”.

Some of these cases, she cautions, will now never be solved.

Media captionLeading anatomist shows how facial reconstructions are done from human skulls .

“It is sad. And because we have linked with households who are searching, we can see the impact it has on them. Families do not stop searching.”

And nor do those officers tasked with trying to solve what are sometimes seemingly impossible cases.

Det Insp Guy, of Norfolk Police’s cold example unit, took over the Cockley Cley occurrence in 2007.

Having reviewed the original investigation he brought modern forensic techniques to bear on the occurrence. These exposed she had devoured water found in an area of Scotland and feed a diet heavy in fish and crab. Armed with her DNA profile, they managed to rule out 555 of the 590 active missing women cases.

One line of investigation being pursued came from a truck driver about a woman known merely as The Duchess.

She is understood to have worked as an escort around the Great Yarmouth docks region in the mid 1970 s. Her clients were often truck drivers.

She was in her late 20 s or early 30 s, came from Denmark and travelled repeatedly across the North Sea between East Anglia and Denmark.

Could the Cockley Cley body have been The Duchess? Norfolk Police hope to find out.

Image copyright Laurence Cawley
Image caption Mick Flavin, of Hertfordshire Police Cold case team, says he still hopes to solve the case of a woman whose body was found on the A1 at Baldock in 1975

Not all breakthroughs yield results.

Hertfordshire Police are continuing to investigate the case of a young woman who suffered horrific injuries on the A1 in February 1975.

Wearing no shoes, she was hitch-hiking for a lift into London and spoke to both a lorry driver and a milkman, taking a yogurt from the rear of the latter’s float.

She wore an Afghan-style coat and spoke with a “foreign accent”.

A short while afterwards the woman, aged between 23 and 25 and about 5ft 4in tall( 1.62 m ), was run over by a number of vehicles.

In 2010, the force’s cold lawsuit team garnered her DNA profile and commissioned the University of Dundee to create a post-mortem depiction of how she probably looked.

Image copyright Hertfordshire Police
Image caption The Afghan-style coat the woman was wearing at the time of her demise in Baldock

The image was seen by a family in Stotfold, Bedfordshire, who believed she could be a young lady who had remained with them for a few months during the course of its mid 1970 s to analyze English.

Her name, though the spelling is uncertain, was Odile Ludic.

The cold suit unit focused in on Ms Ludic and found that she drank locally in Stotfold and had worked for a local company.

They also learned she was most likely from northern Paris. But then the trail ran cold. A man believed to have been her former boyfriend is now dead.

“So far it( the suggested name) hasn’t actually taken us anywhere, ” acknowledges Mick Flavin, from the force’s cold example unit.

“But we do still hope to solve this case.”

Inside Out will be broadcast on BBC One in the east of England at 19:30 GMT on Monday and available on iPlayer afterwards

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