The experts hoping to put names to Yorkshire’s unknown remains

Locations of the unidentified bodies discovered in Yorkshire. Below, the Yorkshire Evening Post report from March 11, 1974.
Locations of the unidentified bodies discovered in Yorkshire. Below, the Yorkshire Evening Post report from March 11, 1974.
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They are the bodies with no names, baffling detectives around Yorkshire for decades after being found in rivers, beaches and even the hold of a cargo vessel.

Each passing year means the chances of the 15 sets of remains ever being identified, and the families of the missing finding out what happened to their loved one, recede further into the distance.

But police - and the national team responsible for helping local forces solve such cases - say the evolution of technology and the use of cold-case reviews mean there is always hope of a breakthrough.

The National Crime Agency’s Missing Persons Bureau, based in London, which acts as “a hub for the exchange of information and expertise”, has 764 unidentified cases on its books and regularly encourages police around the country to look again at their unknown bodies.

Joe Apps, the bureau’s manager, said the standards of investigation in working out who the bodies are have improved a lot in the last couple of years and “are much higher than they used to be”.

He said: “I would like to think that is because of our interference, making sure the best work is done. We have done a lot of work with coroners, encouraging decisions to be consistent. We are able to give guidance and are able to take on cases ourselves.”

He added: “Most police forces will put a lot of effort into a found body until they find it is not suspicious and then it is placed with a junior member of staff, who will do their best to find out who the body is. Their time is limited because they are busy with other things, and there are things we can do on their behalf.”

Details of the unidentified bodies pulled from rivers and remote rural locations around the region have been published on the website of the Missing Persons Bureau in the hope someone will know who they are.

While in some of the cases facial reconstructions of the bodies have been carried out in a bid to discover their identity, others have virtually no marks or clothing that could help them be recognised.

They include a man in his 60s whose body was found in the River Humber at Keyingham in 1972 and another man, whose age could be anything from 21 to 100, washed ashore at Redcar on October 28.

It is feared that the longer ago the bodies were discovered, the less likely it is they will be identified, particularly if police decide that no crime has taken place.

But officials from the bureau say advances in technology mean “there is always hope that these cases can be solved”.

Sherri McAra, Tactical Analyst at the bureau, said: “We have a number of cases on the Missing Persons Bureau website featuring individuals that have been unidentified for a significant length of time.

“However, I believe that with the advances we are seeing in forensic technology, and forces running cold case investigations, there is always hope that these cases can be solved.

“Our positive relationship with international missing people charities is also assisting us as many of the unidentified bodies may be from outside the UK.

“Raising awareness of cases both within the UK and overseas allows us to increase our chances of a positive identification and provide some resolution to families who have spent years wondering what has happened to their loved one”.

One case offering a hopeful note to investigators is in North Wales, where police this month exhumed the unidentified remains of a woman at Llangwstenin Cemetery. It is believed the body may be that of Priscilla Berry, 39, who vanished from Mochdre, Conwy county, in 1978.

Not all unidentified bodies make it onto the bureau’s website, as generally only cases where the person found has a recognisable feature or item of clothing are given publicity.

Very often the mysterious remains can be matched up with the database of missing people from around the country, or abroad.

According to Mr Apps, the bureau’s ‘reconciliation rate’ of matching missing people to found bodies has gone from zero in 2008 to around 50 per cent.

Its experts, and officers from local forces, often have to speak to their counterparts abroad. In the case of the Oriental woman whose body was found in Horton-in-Ribblesdale in 2004, North Yorkshire Police’s investigation “spanned several countries” but has yet to identify her.

Mr Apps said: “My view would be that because of wide migration patterns some of the people we have on the website will be from Poland, Romania and other Baltic states.

“We will look at other forces and charities in this area to give publicity to find people abroad to make sure we are not missing an opportunity.”

He says the majority of its work involves dead bodies, though a small number of the unidentified are still alive. He said: “The most recent one was a London hospital case where a man didn’t want to disclose his identity either through amnesia or some other reason. There is a case in Scotland of a man who fell from a bridge and is still in a coma.”

He added: “I think realistically, the older the case is the more difficult it will be to resolve it. Some of the successful Thames Valley police cases have gone back to the 1970s but they are quite rare. With modern investigation techniques we are looking at cases from 2005 that have the best chance of reconciliation.”

Prior to 2008, the Missing Persons Bureau was housed within the Metropolitan Police and would only take cases submitted to them by police forces.

Mr Apps said: “Now every time a body is found we are straight on the phone to the police force to get details.”

Anyone who recognises one of the bodies should email missingpersonsbureau@nca.x.gsi.gov.uk or call 0845 000 5481.

THE 15 UNKNOWN BODIES THAT HAVE BAFFLED POLICE

- White male, aged 20 to 40, body found floating in the river at Syngenta Chemical Complex, Huddersfield on September 11, 2012. He is believed to have been in the water for 1 week. He has no teeth. Police say he had brown, receding hair, and a goatee.

- Oriental woman, aged 20 to 40, body found in stream at Horton-in-Ribblesdale on September 20, 2004. Believed to have been dead between 1 to 3 weeks. She had both ears pierced and a gap in her teeth.

- The decomposed bodies of two Afro-Caribbean men, aged 16 to 100, found on February 5, 2004, within the hold of the ‘Cec Delta’ merchant vessel which was carrying nuts from Takoradi, Ghana, that was docked at Hull. In one of their possessions was found a Liberian National ID card AA 1654953 - name of Aron Davis

- A ‘fat’ man aged between 50 and 70, whose skeletal remains were found at High Moor Tree Plantation, Rombalds Moor, Silsden, on November 2, 2003, and had been there for some time. The man was wearing a black ‘Carling Premiership’ t-shirt and blue Le Coq Sportif’ trousers.

- The body of a man, aged 40 to 60 was recovered from the River Ouse between Selby and York on September 12, 2003, after being in the water for up to two years. He was wearing blue striped trousers with a yellow or gold stripe down each leg with seven ‘umbro’ motif diamonds.

- The decomposed body of a thin man, aged 20 to 40, wearing a blue pin-striped suit and a pair of well-worn Moccasins was washed up on beach approximately 7km south of Withernsea on May 22, 1993, after being in the water for up to two months.

- A man whose body was found in the River Ouse at York on August 24, 1992, is believed to have been dead for four days. He was aged 45 to 65, white and of medium build.

- On May 8, 1982, a man’s body, aged 45 to 60, was found in the River Colne behind the sewage works in Deighton, near Huddersfield. had dark brown, greying hair, is believed to have been in the water for several months and his 3 front upper teeth were on a denture plate.

- The naked body of a thin white woman aged 35 to 45 was found near the side of a road in Thirsk on August 28, 1981. She is believed to have been dead for one year or more. She may have suffered back problems and is believed to have borne two or three children.

- A man’s body, aged 35 to 50, was pulled from the River Aire at Knottingley on December 13, 1978, after being in the water for four to six weeks. He had green William Dixon trousers on, two green socks on his left foot, and wore a chain with a crucifix.

- A decomposed body found in Ravensthorpe Woods in Scunthorpe on March 7, 1976, may belong to a Polish man aged 30 to 60. His remains were found in a dug out, and it is believed he had been using this as a house. He had dark brown, collar-length hair, wore a beige, khaki, open-necked shirt, and had in his possession a mantel clock in a brown wooden case, as well as copies of newspapers. Daily Record, printed in Glasgow 09/04/73 - pencilled writing ‘Maly palec prawy’, Sunday Mirror 08/07/73 - pencilled writing ‘Dy smolest elektryk’ & ‘skein on topf last’.

- The body of a ‘large’ man in his 50s was pulled out of the River Aire in Methley, Leeds, on March 10, 1974. He had straight brown hair, was wearing a light brown jumper and had a spectacle case inscribed with ‘opticians Sydney Goldwyn, Leeds’ and a bottle opener.

- On February 18, 1972, a decomposed body of a man in his 60s was found on the north bank of River Humber at Keyingham, having been in the water for six to eight weeks. He had brown, thinning hair, false teeth, and wore a light fawn colour woollen short sleeved with buttoned neck.

- The body of a man, aged 21 to 100, was found on October 28, 1970, after being washed ashore at Redcar. The teeth in his lower jaw had been extracted for some considerable time and there was no evidence of any injury.

One of the oldest unidentified body cases in Yorkshire is that of a man in his 50s pulled from the River Aire in the Methley area of Leeds more than 40 years ago.

The body of the ‘large’ man was found on March 10, 1974. He had straight brown hair, was wearing a light brown jumper, brown jacket and brown shoes, size 11.

His possessions listed on the Missing Persons Bureau website are: “Spectacle case inscribed with opticians Sydney Goldwyn, Leeds and bottle opener.”

According to Joe Apps, there are various enquiries that could have been made in the case, including checking for records at Sydney Goldwyn, now known as Goldwyn Opticians and with two branches in the city.

Newspapers could be checked to see if any missing people match the body’s description, and the coroner’s office may have photographs that could be used for identification purposes.

Detective Chief Inspector Peter Craig, West Yorkshire Police’s lead officer for missing persons, said police continued to review such cases and he hoped “someone may come forward with information.”

He said: “In the vast majority of missing persons cases the individuals are found in a short period of time. On the relatively rare occasions when that doesn’t happen it is now routine practice to obtain DNA samples that are held on a national database so they can be compared with any bodies that may be recovered at a later stage.

“Records of all missing persons are retained until that person is located or it can be established they are deceased. These records are also shared nationally.

“Clearly DNA techniques were in their infancy when this body was recovered and similarly the computerised recording of files has developed enormously since then and enhanced our procedures immeasurably.”

The 25-year-old mystery of a man who fell into the sea at Scarborough Harbour was finally solved earlier this month following DNA tests and a new police investigation.

North Yorkshire East Coroner, Michael Oakley, took the unusual step of re-opening an inquest originally held in 1989, after the new police inquiries identified the man as David Robin Michael Dawes, a teacher.

Mr Oakley, said an open verdict had originally been recorded on Mr Dawes, who had been pulled from the harbour in May 1989 but never identified despite nationwide inquiries. But the inquiry was re-opened by the police when new evidence came forward.

As a result the dead man was identified as David Robin Michael Dawes, a London-born teacher whose only known address was a guest house in Bury.

Mr Morris told the inquest that one of Mr Dawes’ two daughters had seen an image which she believed was her father. She said he was not from Scarborough but was fond of the town.

Dentists had been contacted in the past to find an identity without success.

But new DNA samples taken from Mr Dawes’ two daughters, Elizabeth and Lucy and his son, Harry, all from his first marriage, provided “very strong” evidence of his identity.