Riddle of Dales body unsolved seven years on

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It began with a shocking discovery near a hill stream in the Dales and grew into a major international investigation centred on the Far East.

But today, seven years to the day that a woman‘s body was found close to a popular walking route, one of Yorkshire’s most unusual cases remains unsolved.

On September 20, 2004, a group of walkers were following the Pennine Way from Pen-y-ghent towards Horton in Ribblesdale when they stopped near to Sell Gill Pot.

There, where a stream enters a pothole, they saw the dead woman. She was of Oriental origin and how she died is still unclear.

North Yorkshire Police were called, and so began an investigation led by Detective Inspector Pete Martin which has remained open and been subject to regular reviews.

“We owe it to her to find her name and to notify her family,” Det Insp Martin said. “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.”

Initial police enquiries suggested that the woman may have come to rest near the pothole entrance after being washed downstream.

A post mortem showed she had been dead for one to three weeks, which meant she died some time between August 31 and September 13, 2004.

She was aged between 20 and 40, was 4ft 11in tall, weighed about 10 stone and had shoulder-length dark brown hair.

She was wearing green Marks and Spencer size 12 jeans, light-coloured socks, a white bra and black size 10-12 pants.

A turquoise and white horizontally striped size 10-12 tee-shirt was found nearby, but there was no sign of any footwear, a jacket or bags.

A 22-carat gold ring on the third finger of the woman’s left hand had been made in Thailand, police discovered. Seemingly very old and well worn, it was 4mm wide, a ladies’ size L.

The woman had both ears pierced but was not wearing earrings when her body was found.

Dental checks revealed the woman’s teeth were not stained, but she did have a gap between her lower front teeth that would have been noticeable when she smiled.

By studying the teeth, experts were able to determine how she used her toothbrush and could conclude that she was probably right-handed.

She had a coil fitted and had been pregnant in the past, and there was evidence that a childhood disease such as measles had stunted her growth.

Police began their search for clues by combing areas within a two-mile radius of where the body was found. The operation included examining parts of an underground cave system only accessible to skilled diver-potholers.

During the first year of the inquiry, police also made house-to-house enquiries in Dales villages and sent written appeals in various languages to guests staying in hotels and B&Bs.

Extensive enquiries were conducted in London’s China Town, and appeals were issued in Chinese language newspapers and broadcast on cable television.

A North Yorkshire officer sent to work in Thailand in the wake of the 2004 Asian tsunami was also asked to help by making enquiries.

As the case gained publicity, several theories were suggested to explain how the woman had got to the Dales.

Police have considered the possibility that she travelled to the area by train, perhaps via Lancaster or Leeds, but this hypothesis, like so many others, has failed to yield a breakthrough.

The strange circumstances surrounding the woman’s death were described at an inquest in May 2007, when the coroner recorded an open verdict.

In September that year, the woman was given a funeral at Horton in Ribblesdale Parish Church.

After a short non-denominational service, held by the Reverend Roger Wood, she was buried in a plot provided by the local parish council.

Detectives hope that one day her full story will be told.

Do you have information that could help solve these mysteries? Call Crime Correspondent Rob Preece on 0113 238 8135 or North Yorkshire Police on 0845 6060247.