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Cold cases examined in North Yorkshire


10:40am 18th November 2011

North Yorkshire Police are carrying out eight cold case reviews into previous investigations where a body or human remains have been found but have not been identified.

Unidentified Body at Sutton Bank, Thirsk,

An anonymous male caller telephoned North Yorkshire Police providing the exact location for police officers to search. On Friday 28th August 1981 Police officers attended the described location,  a lay by on the unclassified road leading from Sutton Bank to the villages of Scawton and Rievaulx. The location is a quiet road used by local people and occasional caravaners heading to a nearby site. The rural area consists mainly of arable and pasture farmland with occasional conifer plantations. It was to the side of this road and between two small plantations that officers found the skeletal remains of an unknown female laid in undergrowth. This discovery marked the start of an 18month police investigation led by Detective Chief Superintendent Strickland Maunsel Carter to establisher her identity and why she was there. 

A forensic examination of the naked body revealed no jewellery or personal effects laid nearby that may assist in establishing who she was. A Home Office pathologist estimated she may have laid at that place situ for up to two years due to plant growth and state of the body. The post mortem did not establish a cause of death.

What could be established was that body was that of a female, 5’ 2” in height, aged between thirty five and forty and may have been a mother. The deceased appeared to have short dark coloured hair. There was evidence of an old fracture to the right ankle but nothing conclusive to provide an identification.

During the 18month police investigation extensive enquires were conducted  and a number of people were identified as possible matches for the deceased but none could be positively identified as the deceased.

A line of enquiry reported on at the time related to a female prisoner that had escaped from Askham Grange open prison almost two years earlier but has not been seen since or spoken to by police. 

Thirty years later the same questions remain. The anonymous male caller that started this 30 years police investigation may have the answer to the other questions – who is this lady left undiscovered at the top of Sutton Bank?,  what was she doing there? and how did she die.

The thirty years that have elapsed since the discovery of this lady has seen significant developments in police technology that are used in current police investigations, and possibly viewed as normal enquiries.

At the time a three-dimensional wax reconstruction of her head, which was first such reconstruction,  indicated the investigators were keen to use new technology. It was a positive actions as the circulations of this image generated significant interest and possible identities but these  failed to provide the identification required.

We need to recognise that at the time of her discovery the Police National Computer that holds vehicle and person details was in its infancy, The Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) had not been invented and the first mobile telephone call to be made in the UK would not take place for another three and half years.

Although the passage of time has changed police technology, North Yorkshire Police’s commitment to finding the answers to these questions remains the same, so that her family can have the answers they deserve.  For this reason if you know the identity of the lady or the male caller please make contact.  

Unidentified Body Part

On 14th February 2008 fishermen returned to Whitby Harbour with a skull they had landed whilst fishing in the North Sea near to Hartlepool.

The examination of this suggested it was that of a western European male aged 20 to 50 years of age and the Forensic examination allowed for the recovery of a DNA profile. At this time the identity of the male is not known. 

The identification of bodies is difficult and in cases where it is a body part the difficulty can increase. The key to making any identification or elimination is having two sets of information that can be compared. The first set being information obtained from the recovered body that could include a photograph, jewellery, a mark scar or tattoo, fingerprints, dental impressions or DNA and the second being that which relates to the missing person.

Additional difficulties arise if the body was found too long ago due as advances in science such as DNA that would not have been considered, reducing the potential for a conclusive match.

The information relating to missing persons can also have significant gaps due to the fact not all missing people are reported to the police, the degree of detail retained historically by the police varies meaning a comprehensive data set is not always available, again reducing the potential for a conclusive match. In situations where the deceased appears to be from another country compounds these issues.

Unidentified person or body reports may not relate to a missing from home and could potentially be the remains of murder victim. The identification of the victim would then provide lines of enquiry to the offender emphasizing the need to obtain a positive identification.

In the case of this skull there are several hypothesises as to its origin -   it could be that of a serviceman killed during the war, a burial at sea, a person swept out to sea or something else.

In an attempt to improve this National situation and increase the number of body identifications the Missing Person Bureau was re launched in 2008 managed by the National Police Improvement Agency. They introduced standard protocols relating to the collections and sharing of the Missing From Home information. This included a requirement for DNA to be obtained if the individual remained missing 28 days after being reported to the police. The DNA profile would then placed on the National Missing Persons DNA Database maintained by the National Police Improvement Agency. This then allows the profile to be checked against any DNA profiles available from unidentified bodies, remains or people found.

The searches of the databases then provide information regarding this missing person to determine if there are any possible unidentified person or body reports which may be of interest to the missing from home investigation, or visa versa.

The National Police Improvement Agency also provide investigative advice and case reviews to police forces in an attempt to identify further lines of enquiry in support of the missing from home investigation or body identification, a service utilised by North Yorkshire Police.

Fully aware that not all persons are reported as missing from home, officers responsible for these investigations consider numerous other methods for circulating the details to obtain a potential identity that may lead to a subsequent identification.  These include facial reconstructions and artists impressions for circulation in the media or feature on programmes such as Crime watch. Dissemination to other police forces is completed as the person could have lived in another force area, or as in the case of the skull found near to their area. If the examination suggest that the person may have originated from other countries Interpol and Embassy’s are also included to achieve maximum circulation. The answer often lies with the public.   

In cases where the body may have an unusual medical condition or distinctive dental charting the details could also be circulated to health care providers and dental surgeries.

There are numerous charities including British Red Cross, Salvation Army, YMCA and Shelter that provide help and support to people searching for family members, or individuals living rough. For these reasons they too could be contacted in the course of an investigation.

Whitby Skull final no hair

Whitby skull final with hair

Lendal Bridge Body

On 24th August 1992 the body of a male was recovered near to Lendal bridge over the River Ouse, York. It is believed the man had been dead for about 4 days. An examination revealed that this was the body of white European male of medium build, 183 centimetres high with shoulder length grey hair. His age was estimated to be 45 to 65 years of age. He was wearing slip on brown shoes, blue checked trousers, a dark Gainsborough jacket, a crew neck multicoloured jumpers, bright red shirt. He was also in possession of  plain black shoulder bag with a white NIKE tick emblem.

Following the discovery of this male a comprehensive investigation was completed towards establishing his identification but this still remains unknown.  A review of this case has been completed and there is now potential for DNA elimination.

North Yorkshire Police is committed to identifying all eight unidentified bodies  which have been discovered between 1981 and 2008 so that their families can have the answers they deserve as to the whereabouts of their father, mother or child. This commitment will continue until positive identifications are made.

Burythorpe Bridge Baby

About 11.15am on Friday 30th April 1999 a member of the public reported to North Yorkshire Police that he had found what he believed to be the body of a baby.

Police and Forensic Pathologists attended the scene known locally as Burythorpe Bridge which is on the unclassified road between Norton and Stamford bridge.  From that location the body of a baby wrapped in plastic bags was recovered for further examination.

The post mortem indicated that the body was that of a baby boy of about 34 weeks gestation. There was significant decomposition although no signs of injury. Due to the condition of the baby boy, it was not possible to confirm if he had been born alive and a cause of death could not be established.

Further forensic examination suggest that the boy had died about January of that year.

Extensive enquiries were completed locally by detectives that included a road check on the Norton to Stamford bridge road during which 600 vehicles were stopped and the drivers spoken to. No witnesses were traced who could throw light on how the body of the baby came to be there.

Nationally enquiries identified possible identities of the baby however these were all eliminated by DNA comparison or other methods of investigations.

All lines of enquiry to identify this little boy were completed but the identity of his mother and father were not established.

On 24th January 2001 The Coroner recorded an open verdict into the death of this unidentified baby who was later buried with a graveside service.

The mother of this baby boy would have needed medical assistance following the birth of her son and critically further support at his death.  Twelve years on this support is still available and will be equally important.

There are a several hypothesises that could have led to the baby boy being abandoned at Burythorpe Bridge or why his mother was unable to come forward at the time.  North Yorkshire Police will continue to review this incident and would like to hear from this boys mother and anybody that could provide information as to the  boys or mothers identity. 

They would stress that the mother would be handed in a compassionate and caring manner.

Naburn – unidentified body.

About 8.30am on Friday 12 September 2003 the body of a badly decomposed body was found floating in the river Ouse near to Naburn Selby.

North Yorkshire Police attended this report and recovered the remained of an  unidentified body.

The subsequent post mortem examination revealed that this was the body of  a white male described as being 5’6” to 5’9” in height. It is believed the body had been in the water for several months and as a result his age could only be estimated between 20 and 70 years of age.

The dental examination indicated the male to have below average dental hygiene but was able to narrow the age scales to between 40 – 60 years of aged based upon tooth wear. The recorded dental charts have been  submitted for checking against reported missing people in addition to the  DNA profile obtained. These all remain on file and are check regularly for matches towards achieving a positive identification.

The deceased was wearing a pair of tracksuit bottoms with zip pockets, 32-35 inch waist with a yellow or gold stripe down each leg made up of 7 Umbro motif diamonds over a pair of BHS blue and white striped underpants. He also wore red knee length football socks and black Adidas trainers size 10. There was no property on the body or in the pockets.

Forensic Toxicology indicated the presence of Amitriptyline a drug that is used in the treatment of depression and other mental health conditions.

North Yorkshire Police enquiries identified many people who had been reported as missing nationally although through further investigation these have either been traced or eliminated from this enquiry.

Experts from the Department of Forensic Pathology at Sheffield University were able to conduct a facial reconstruction of the deceased. This model has  appeared on the television program “Crimewatch” during 2004. Despite many calls and suggestions a positive identification was not made.

Detective Inspector Allan Harder, who is now reviewing the investigation, said:

‘The post mortem examination did not identity any signs of trauma and all indications show that the cause of death was drowning. The answer to this man’s identify lies with the public and I hope that this can be established so that his family can be informed”.

Naburn body facial reconstruction

Unknown female Pen-y-ghent

On 20 September 2004 the body of an unknown female was found by a group of walkers on the Pennine Way from Pen-y-ghent towards Horton In Ribblesdale. They saw the body when they stopped near to Sell Gill Pot, where a mountain stream enters a pothole.

Initial enquiries suggested that she may have come to rest near the pothole entrance after being washed down stream.

Post mortem examination suggested that she had been dead between a week and three weeks putting her death between 31 August and 13 September 2004. The cause of death was not yet clear.

The deceased is of oriental ethnicity aged between 20 and 40 years. She was  4’ 11” and weighed about ten stone and had shoulder length dark brown hair.

She was wearing a pair of  green Marks and Spencer size 12 jeans, light-coloured socks, a white bra and black pants size 10-12. A turquoise and white horizontally striped tee-shirt, size 10-12, was found nearby.

On her third finger on her left hand she wore a 22 carat gold ring that had been manufactured in Thailand, was 4mm wide, and lady’s ring size L. The ring appeared to be well worn and very old.

Although she had both ears were pierced she did not have earrings.

There was no sign of any footwear, jacket or baggage with her or at the scene.

Dental examination revealed no evidence of tooth staining but she did have a gap between her front lower teeth that would have been noticeable when she smiled. Evidence from toothbrush use suggests that she was probably right-handed.

The woman had a coil fitted and had had a pregnancy in the past.

There is an indication that when she was young her growth was arrested because of a childhood disease such as measles.

The original investigating officer Detective Inspector Pete Martin said: “We owe it to her to find her name and to notify her family. She must have a family, friends, perhaps a partner - maybe even a child - and we need to find them. She has a name and an identity, and I need someone to come forward and restore them to this unfortunate lady.”

Since 2004 the file has remained open and North Yorkshire Police have completed regular reviews of the enquiry.

The Police operation has included physical searches of the location, enquiries from the Dales to half-way round the world with assistance from Foreign embassies, advice from specialist advisors, whilst DNA and fingerprints have been taken for checking against Missing people. Despite the extensive enquiries the true identity and how this lady came to be where is was found remains unknown.  

Pen y Ghent body facial sketch

Male floating in Scarborough harbour.

About 6.15am on Tuesday 2nd May 1989 the body of a white male was found floating in the harbour at Scarborough.

Examination of the body suggested the person was aged between 40 and 50 years of age, 5ft 10in tall with brown eyes. He had a full head of black collar length hair that was turning grey and possibly combed into a centre parting. There were no tattoos on the body although there was a scar on his left leg. The scar may have resulted in this man walking with a limp. His teeth were natural but with some porcelain jackets and gold capping.

The examination indicated he had been in the water for a matter of hours with a cause of death of drowning.

When found he was wearing a green anorak with a hood zipped into the collar, brown trousers, a beige shirt and a pair of size 8.5 slip-on shoes.

He possessed little property with the exception of a Greater Manchester Police property bag containing toiletries, a Barclays bank cheque stub and book cover, newspaper, a used rail ticket from Blackburn to Todmordon and railway timetable.  Due to the location it is believed the deceased has connections to these areas.

Police enquiries identified that the man had stayed at a hotel in Scarborough for two nights leaving on Monday 1st May 1989, however he was last seen alive early that evening.

On 23rd November 1989 The Coroner, recorded an open verdict into the death of this man. Further police enquiries at the time did not result in the identity of this person being established. At the time the investigation was carried out DNA was not available to police investigators and no other methods identified him. On 10th January 1990 the unidentified body was cremated at Scarborough Cemetery. 

For over twenty years North Yorkshire Police have continued to try and identify the unknown male. Enquiries to identify missing persons from that time have proved difficult due to many Police forces and organisations moving from paper record systems to electronic systems which have been upgrade resulting in old records being weeded or deleted.

Despite these obstacles detectives have continued to try and establish the identity so that family members can be located and informed.

An artists impression, based on a photo of the deceased, has been produced and circulated in North Yorkshire, Blackburn, Todmordon and Machester areas. People have come forwarded stating they recognise the man but unable to provide a full name.  Based on partial names, locations and description, several people have been classed as a potential match to the deceased. Through elimination criteria these people have been located and subsequently eliminated by detectives.

The artists impression and dental charts taken from the deceased have been sent to several dental surgeries requesting comparison against archived records hoping that a dentist in Blackburn or Todmorden may have been in practice long enough to remember this man. The dental hygiene of the deceased male is  described as generally good and it is obvious that he did take care of his teeth and had undergone quite substantial dental work including porcelain and gold capping.  

“If this man were still alive, he would be about 70 years old meaning his children, family and friends may still be alive and able to identify him. If the description or circumstance are familiar with a missing relative or friend please contact North Yorkshire Police”

Scarborough body facial sketch
Scarbro body rail ticket

Identity of the unknown man Colsterdale

On May 25th 1997 a decomposed body was found by a gamekeeper on moorland at  Thorny Grange Moor, ten miles west of Masham close to Colsterdale.

The body had not been buried but appeared to have fallen onto the heather and during the passage of time had become covered by peat from the adjacent drainage ditch. 

A forensic examination of the remains suggested that the deceased was a white male in his sixties who may have died some 20 years earlier. This would suggest that the man had died about 1977.

The clothing worn by this man included a grey suit, a red jumper over which was worn a white shirt with a brown and orange tie.

Items of property were recovered at the scene and included a 1958 shilling, a decimal penny dated 1971, a mortice key in a tobacco tin, a brown comb and black leather case containing a small portable radio. Subsequent research shows that the decimal penny was first issued 15/02/71.

There was nothing with the body to suggest the identity. A  team of detectives investigating the discovery of the unknown remains completed numerous enquiries, circulations and media appeals which failed to identify the true identity of the body that came to be called the ‘Colsterdale Man’.

A three-dimensional reconstruction of the man's face was also made and the images circulated, but no positive identification was made. (See below)

Six years after the discovery of the remains  and following extensive police enquiries, on Wednesday 15th October 2003 The Coroner, Mr Fell , recorded an open verdict into the death of this man. It was recognised that despite North Yorkshire Police’s best effort the deceased identity could not be established.

DNA material has been obtained although no match has been found at this time to assist in this man's identification".

Three years later a funeral service was held at Stonefall cemetery, Harrogate attended only by the funeral director, two pallbearers and the North Yorkshire Police’s coroners officer.

Although the inquest has been held and the Colsterdale Man cremated, North Yorkshire Police continue to try and identify the male although opportunities for positive identification reduce due to the passage of time.

The forensic examination suggest the Colsterdale Man was in his sixties at the time of his death. If still alive he would be about 90 years old meaning the people that knew him and are able to assist will be also be thirty years older.

It is interesting to note that this gentleman had a number of old bone fractures. These included his left collar bone, two left ribs, both heels and one of the bones in his spine. Combined with him suffering from mild arthritis may have affected his walking.

Despite the problems associated with the passage of time police have been able to identify the shoes he wore. These have been traced as being manufactured by George Ward Boot company.  The shoes themselves are manufactured with a vulcanised rubber sole with a leather inside lining that was aimed at the military and agricultural sector through specialist stockists, manufactured between 1965 and 1980. 

The small portable radio in the black leather case is believed to be a Cadaux 600 A transistor radio mass produced in Hong Kong. The brand name is thought to be CBC or GBG  or a combination of these.

Detective Inspector Allan Harder, who is in charge of the investigation, said:

‘One hypothesis has been that the Colsterdale man was a tramp but this is uncertain. What is certain is that this man was somebody’s son, husband, father or brother. I hope that the images of the facial reconstruction, details of property and further request for information combined with a growing interest in tracing family members will prompt someone's memory so that we can finally identify the mystery of the “Colsterdale Man".’


Colsterdale man facial reconstruction




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