Police bid to end 30-year mystery

Pictures show the scene at Malton cemetery before last night's exhumation. 120410a
Pictures show the scene at Malton cemetery before last night's exhumation. 120410a

THE exhumation of the body of a mystery woman at Malton Cemetery has taken place overnight.

The woman’s naked body was discovered in undergrowth at the top of Sutton Bank, near Thirsk, in 1981 but, in spite of an extensive 18-month investigation launched at the time of the discovery and numerous subsequent appeals, the identity of the body remains unknown.

Sutton Bank Body exhumation at Malton cemetary. Superintendent Lewis Raw with Detective Allan Harder near the tent where the exhumation will take place.''120401a

Sutton Bank Body exhumation at Malton cemetary. Superintendent Lewis Raw with Detective Allan Harder near the tent where the exhumation will take place.''120401a

The case was officially recorded as an “unexplained incident” by the Home Office in 1981 but it is understood detectives are investigating the possibility she may have been murdered.

The cemetery was closed to the public throughout the operation from the early hours of yesterday and is expected to reopen tomorrow afternoon.

A graveside blessing was carried out by the Force Chaplain, the Rev Simon Rudkin, before the work started and a local undertaker was due to transport the remains to a designated mortuary this morning.

Around 20 people were involved in the operation including detectives, a Home Office Pathologist, a Forensic Archaeologist, Crime Scene Investigators, Force Chaplain and officers from Malton Safer Neighbourhood Team.

View of Exhumation area in the tent at Malton Cemetary.Picture Richard Ponter.120410e

View of Exhumation area in the tent at Malton Cemetary.Picture Richard Ponter.120410e

DNA was extracted from the teeth and femur, which will now be sent to the Forensic Science Services at Wetherby for analysis. Police expect to have the results within four weeks.

The Sutton Bank mystery became known as the Nude in the Nettles and began on Friday August 28 1981 when police at Ripon received a call from a well-spoken man who would not give his name but told them where they would find a body.

The body of the 5ft 2in woman, aged between 35 and 40, was later found to the side of an unclassified road between Scawton and Riveaulx and a Home Office pathologist estimated it had been there for around two years.

Despite numerous appeals and the help of scientists and a TV company’s make-up department to create a wax reconstruction of her head she was never named and she was buried in 1983.

It is being re-investigated as part of North Yorkshire Police’s cold case reviews of unidentified bodies, and is one of eight unnamed bodies found between 1981 and 2008 in the county including a man found dead in Scarborough harbour almost 23 years ago.

The middle-aged man was found at 6.15am on May 4 1989 – but has never been identified. In 1989 his age was estimated at between 30 and 60. He was described as clean shaven, about 12st, 5ft 10in tall and had brown eyes.