‘She was a lovely woman’ - Friends of Thai mother-of-three who sparked 15-year Lady of the Hills mystery speak out

Lamduan Seekanya's body was found in the Yorkshire Dales in 2004 but she was only formally identified this year.
Lamduan Seekanya's body was found in the Yorkshire Dales in 2004 but she was only formally identified this year.
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After ‘The Lady of the Hills’ whose body was discovered in the Dales in 2004 was finally identified last month, Ben Fishwick speaks to some of those that knew the Thai mother-of-three.

The discovery of an unidentified woman’s body on a Yorkshire hillside more than a decade ago sparked a mystery that still remains unsolved. For 15 years her remains, found as a hill walker posed for a photo in the Yorkshire Dales in 2004, had no name – after being later buried in an anonymous grave with a headstone that reads ‘The Lady of the Hills’.

Lamduan Armitage nee Seekanya.

Lamduan Armitage nee Seekanya.

But last month, North Yorkshire Police – who previously said they believed the mystery woman had been murdered following a cold case review – revealed that after extensive enquiries and DNA testing that the woman is Lamduan Armitage née Seekanya, a mother-of-three from north-east Thailand who had lived in several places in the UK between 1991 and 2004, including Portsmouth, Rugby and Preston.

The news of her identity being discovered has sparked a new wave of interest in the tragic case and members of the close-knit Thai community in Portsmouth have now opened up about their grief after learning of Lamduan’s mystery death.

When she was found in a stream on a remote location on the Pennine Way between Pen-y-ghent and Horton in Ribblesdale, more than a mile away from the nearest road, she was wearing a gold wedding band, green jeans and socks.

She was married to British lecturer David Armitage, her second husband, in her native Thailand before moving to Portsmouth in 1991.

At the 36-year-old’s funeral in September 2007, the Vicar of Langcliffe, Stainforth and Horton-in-Ribblesdale, the Rev Roger Wood, said: “Although we knew so little about her, it’s an honour and a privilege to tell the world that in this corner of the Yorkshire Dales, folks do not die unnoticed or uncared for.”

Now those who knew in Portsmouth have told of a family-oriented restaurant worker who loved her children – and who would never have left them. They say she had mentioned moving to Yorkshire in the months before her death.

Lamduan, who was 36 when she died in 2004, was believed to have been going through ‘family problems’ while living in Portsmouth. She sought advice from Sue Mayne, one of the more established Thai women in the city who was then running the Bangkok Restaurant in Albert Road, Southsea. Recollecting the time while sitting in a cafe just yards away from her restaurant, the 74-year-old chef said Lamduan came to her to discuss the problems and get advice.

Sue, who is from the same region in Thailand as Lamduan and spoke the same dialect, says: “I knew her only when she was in Portsmouth. She came to see me in that time but I couldn’t advise her much.”

Sue, who now leases out the Bangkok Restaurant, believes this was around 2002 to 2004.

It has been reported Lamduan lived in Portsmouth between 1991 and 2003. The Sun last week tracked down Mr Armitage, who is originally from Rugby, and he told the newspaper: “I didn’t kill my wife. Absolutely not.”

There is no suggestion he is a suspect in the death. Police have not made any arrests in the case.

The pair had met in Chiang Mai while Mr Armitage was teaching English at Kanchanaburi Rajabhat University. The Bangkok Post reported he is still teaching in the country.

Sue adds: “In that time only I can advise her go back home and talk to him. And last time she came to see me and said her husband had found a job in Yorkshire and moved away from Portsmouth.

“Since then I lost contact until I read the news about her.”

North Yorkshire Police asked the nation’s press to help publicise an appeal for anyone who knew her to come forward when they revealed her identity last month.

“No matter how small or seemingly insignificant you think the information is, it could prove to be very important to help us establish details about Lamduan’s life and the circumstances surrounding her death,” a North Yorkshire Police spokeswoman said in an appeal.

Detectives believe she lived in Rugby, in Warwickshire, and Preston, in Lancashire, after leaving Hampshire. She travelled to Thailand between 2003 and 2004, but it is not known where she went while there.

Hill walker Malcolm Pearce and another walker found her half-naked body on September 20, 2004. How she came to be there, and how she died, have remained a mystery ever since her discovery.

Several members of the Thai community in the Portsmouth area have been contacted by detectives trying to find out more about Lamduan, who had been dead for between one to three weeks when she was found.

According to those who knew her, she lived in Portsmouth without a job for a time before then commuting to nearby Petersfield for work in the kitchen at the River Kwai in Dragon Street, Petersfield.

Sucheera Meredith, 61, was Lamduan’s supervisor when she worked at the Thai restaurant.

Sucheera says: “I feel sorry for her, I remember she had three children, I’ll never forget her. She was a lovely woman to her children, she wouldn’t have hurt her children or left her children. I know she had problems before they were moving – family problems.

“She was a lovely girl and she was working and loved her family and children. She was working with me. Sometimes she would come in really sad or miserable with her problems. When she had a problem with family she would become really upset at work and talk a bit.

“I was really shocked and I feel sad because she was so nice – I did not expect that to happen to her. I don’t know where they went when they moved away. When she’d gone she didn’t contact us so I don’t know.”

Joomsri and Buasa, Lamduan’s parents, contacted police in Britain after reading a BBC report about the case in January this year.

Detectives have previously said they believed Lamduan, who is from Udon Thani province, was a ‘Thai bride’. She had been previously married to a Thai man and they had a child together.

Advances in DNA techniques allowed police to compare samples, including Lamduan’s fingerprints from her family home abroad, with the couple in Thailand and publicly confirm the Lady of the Hills was their daughter.

More than £6,000 has been raised to exhume Lamduan’s remains from St Oswald’s Church in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, where an annual memorial service is held, and for a funeral in Thailand.

Buathong Trimble, a cousin of Lamduan, recently visited her grave in Yorkshire following the confirmation that she was the person who died.

She wept, held the ground and said: “You’re going home, your mum and dad are waiting for you.”

Appeal to repatriate body

The Thai Women Network in the UK is fundraising to exhume and repatriate Lamduan’s remains in line with her family’s wishes.

Kanittaya Graham, from the organisation, says she understood the Lady of the Hills to be mother-of-three Lamduan since December - but had to wait for police to prove this.

She adds: “When we found out it was Lamduan, everyone still hoped it’s not her but when it was her everybody felt sad she had been unknown for 15 years.”

To donate, visit justgiving.com/crowdfunding/kanittaya-graham-2

Anyone who may have information about the case is asked to call police on 01609 643147 or e-mail ColdCaseReviewUnit@northyorkshire.pnn.police.uk.