IT WAS a poignant moment that mirrored a simple funeral service conducted three decades ago, but one enduring question remains unanswered.
The identity of a woman whose naked body was found in undergrowth in the North York Moors National Park has baffled detectives since the grim discovery was made in the late summer of 1981.
The woman’s remains were once again laid to rest yesterday after the body had been exhumed in the early hours of Tuesday in the hope that advances in DNA technology will solve the mystery which has spanned a generation.
And officers from North Yorkshire Police were at the woman’s graveside in Malton Cemetery for the ceremony conducted by the force’s chaplain, the Rev Simon Rudkin.
Prayers were said to “comfort those who still grieve for this woman with no knowledge of her end” as the woman’s remains were buried in a new coffin with the plaque from the original casket.
The woman, who became known as the Nude in the Nettles, was originally laid to rest in the cemetery in 1983 after an 18-month investigation failed to establish her identity or the cause of her death.
She had been dead for up to two years when her skeleton was found after a well-spoken man called North Yorkshire Police but refused to give his name on the grounds of “national security”.
The Rev Rudkin, 60, admitted yesterday that it was the first time he had led such a service, and added: “God loves her even if we don’t know who she was. It may give closure to one family if and when the body is identified.
“It’s a mixed blessing because the family will know a loved one has died. But at least is brings closure rather than hoping that they will one day reappear.”
The service was held inside the forensic tent where the exhumation took place, and police officers laid a wreath which simply said: “May you rest in peace.”
During the service, the Rev Rudkin said: “At her funeral this woman was commended into the hands of almighty God. Today as we recommit her remains to the earth we entrust ourselves and all who love God to his loving care.
“In your great mercy, comfort those who still grieve for this woman with no knowledge of her end.”
The Yorkshire Post revealed earlier this month that detectives had been given permission to exhume the woman’s body to carry out the DNA tests.
Before the body was returned to the cemetery, it was taken to a mortuary where samples were taken from the thigh bone and the ankle bone.
Samples have been sent to the Forensic Science Service at Wetherby for analysis to obtain a DNA profile and results are expected in about four weeks.
A police spokeswoman confirmed more than 10 calls had been received following coverage of the exhumation from families who believe the deceased may be their relative or members of the public offering information.
She stressed detectives still needed to find the anonymous caller who contacted police on August 28, 1981, to report the body.
The head of North Yorkshire Police’s major crime unit, Detective Superintendent Lewis Raw, claimed the exhumation had been carried out “efficiently and with dignity”. He thanked relatives whose loved ones are buried in neighbouring graves in the cemetery along with Malton’s residents for their understanding.
Det Supt Raw added: “The exhumation and examination of the remains went ahead as planned and we hope the results will lead us to the identification of the woman and, subsequently, any criminal offences which led to her death.”
Officers discovered the skeletal remains in undergrowth at the top of Sutton Bank, between the villages of Scawton and Rievaulx, after receiving the tip-off.
A pathologist estimated the body could have been there for up to two years, but a post-mortem examination failed to establish a cause of death. Further examinations revealed the woman was about 5ft 2ins, aged between 35 and 40, with short, dark-coloured hair.
She had an old fracture to her right ankle, and no jewellery or personal belongings were found.
A three-dimensional wax reconstruction of the woman’s head was produced at the time – the first of its kind – but her identity remained a mystery.
It was thought she was an escaped prisoner from Askham Grange open prison, but this later disproved.