THE ‘NUDE IN THE NETTLES’
28 AUGUST 1981
It was 8.00am when the telephone rang in a Yorkshire police station and which led to a mystery that remains unsolved to this day. Just who was the ‘Nude in the Nettles’ and who was the caller?
FRIDAY 28th AUGUST 1981
It was 8am – the start of a hot summer’s day – when PC John Jeffries picked up the receiver at Ripon Police Station. At the other end of the line was a well spoken man who said: “Near Scawton Moor House, you will find a decomposed body among the willow herbs.” When PC Jeffries asked the caller for his details, he refused to give them for “reasons of national security” and the call abruptly ended.
The man has never been traced.
The local PC was passed the information and, knowing the area well, initially went to take a look. There was no immediate sign of a body but after a painstaking search he unearthed what he thought was part of a human skull. He notified the local CID and so a team of detectives, headed by Det Chief Supt Strickland Carter, arrived at the scene. After chopping down tall nettles and flowers and undertaking a meticulous finger search of the area, detectives carefully exposed the badly decomposed body of a woman lain between two small conifer plantations.
Interestingly, Det Chief Supt Carter concluded that the body had not been found by chance after police noticed three fresh tracks – suggesting someone had been searching the location before police had been given the tip-off.
Scawton Moor House Farm is one part of an area that makes up The Hambleton Estate in North Yorkshire. By the entrance stood the concrete foundations of a former building that was used for holding milk churns in the days the farm was a busy working environment. From the entrance onwards grew the tall and dense rosebay willow herbs which obscured anything that may lay in and amongst them. These lay on the side of the road leading from Sutton Bank to Skawton and Rievaulx.
The concrete foundation was used by families as a place to park their cars and have a picnic, a popular area for courting couples and also frequented by shooting parties. The police found it bizarre that nobody had ever discovered a body that lay just feet away.
Frustratingly for police, one person almost did discovered it two years previously. A jockey from a local racing stable was exercising the horses along that stretch of road when he noticed a foul smell emanating from the area where the body was later discovered. He never reported it.
Once the team of detectives had discovered the body, the Forensic Pathologist, Dr Michael Green, examined the body in situ. By 4:30pm, all the fingertip investigations and photographs had taken place and findings carefully placed in bags and catalogued. Underneath the woman’s body, the police discovered a yoghurt top which gave them their first vital clue – the body had been there for around 2 years. The position of the body also indicated she had been dumped there in a hurry. Unfortunately, that’s where the clues ended and, just like the caller, her identity has never been discovered.
Three months after her body was discovered, medical students and a television make up department joined forces to create a waxwork reconstruction of her head. Despite this being shared via the press, nobody ever came forward to identify her.
The investigation lasted 18 months before all avenues were exhausted, with the Home Office pathologist concluding she had lain there for around two years and her death was recorded as an ‘Unexplained Incident’ when the actual cause could not be ascertained in the post mortem. The only real success the police could claim was to have traced 164 missing women during their investigation.
It ended with a simple burial in a Malton cemetery in 1983, with just a handful of police officers present, and a coffin with the inscription: ‘Name Unknown, Died 28th August 1981’. Her grave is marked by just a number.
On the thirtieth anniversary of the discovery of her body, police once again made a fresh appeal for evidence with the Yorkshire Post covering it as part of their ‘Forgotten Victims’ series that September.
Five families came forward to ask if the unidentified woman was a family member, and in 2012 a old case review was undertaken on a number of unsolved murders in the area led by Det Supt Lewis Raw, who then applied to the local coroner, Michael Oakley, for permission to exhume her body to gain DNA samples. Permission was granted and at midnight on Tuesday 24th January 2012, police began the grim job of exhuming her body along with Rev Simon Rudkin, who was in attendance throughout, until it was removed a local mortuary at 7:45am.
The Forensic Science Service (FSS) managed to obtain a full DNA profile using the thigh bone, ankle and teeth and the body was reinterred on 25th January 2012 following a short service by Rev Rudkin, and the laying of a wreath by local police.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT HER?
The DNA was tested against the five families who had come forward, as well as information contained within the national DNA database, but no match was found. However, it did manage to provide a much more detailed description of the woman.
- She was around 35-40 years old;
- Approximately 5ft2″ tall;
- Slender build;
- Her hair was naturally dark brown and worn in a ‘pageboy’ style;
- She had a deviated septum between her nostrils (possible from birth, or caused by trauma to the nose);
- There was evidence she had previously broken her ankle years before death;
- May have had 2-3 children;
- Due to an abnormality in her neck vertebrae, she would have suffered from a bad back;
- All her upper teeth were missing;
- She had an upper dental plate fitted;
- Just 6 lower teeth remained, but were very stained, suggesting she was a smoker and heavy drinker who, the police felt, did not pay much attention to herself;
- However, in contrast, she was wearing pink nail varnish on her toenails from the Max Factor Maxi range, and that along with having her hair cut, suggests she must have taken some pride in her appearance;
- Wore a size 4 (UK) shoe.
No clothing, personal belongings or jewellery were found.
AND WHO WAS HE?
So who was the mysterious and well-spoken caller?
Was there any person of note living in or around the area at the time?
Is it an area that is generally known about or known moreso by locals?
Is that a busy road?
Did locals every have suspicions or hear rumours?
A number of suggestions have been made, all of which have been discounted including one former female prison absconder who apparently sent police a copy of her thumb prints from Ireland as proof! Suggestions of the involvement of the Yorkshire Ripper have also been discounted due to the lack of pattern with all his other victims.
- yorkpress.co.uk, 23 Aug 2011
- gazetteherald.co.uk, 14 March 2012
- Murder and Mysteries of the North York Moors