Cockley Cley: Police exhume headless body

NORFOLK Police's Major Investigation Team has re-opened the headless body murder case at Cockley Cley and exhumed the woman victim's remains 34 years after the original inquiry.

A current four-strong "cold case" team, headed by Detective Inspector Andy Guy, yesterday launched a fresh appeal for help in identifying the woman – and hopefully put them on the killer's trail.

The new investigation has been welcomed by Andrew Head, the tractor driver who found the woman's trussed-up body in undergrowth off a lovers' lane on Tuesday, August 27, 1974, and Sir Sam Roberts, whose late father, Sir Peter, owned the farmland, near Swaffham, where it was discovered.

Read also: Cockley Cley: Murder hunt draws a blank

DI Guy, who is based at Norfolk Police headquarters, said that the original extensive police investigation failed to establish who the victim was, and was wound up in 1975.

"Although there have been subsequent investigations when pieces of information came in, they still failed to find out who she is and who murdered her," he said. "We really need the public's help.

"Somewhere out there someone is missing a daughter, mother, sister, next-door neighbour or colleague and these days we can quickly eliminate them by simple DNA and other forensic techniques."

DI Guy said permission was obtained from Greater Norfolk coroner William Armstrong to exhume the woman's remains from Swaffham cemetery, and this was carried out at 4.30am on Wednesday, April 16.

Later that day, Home Office pathologist Dr Nat Carey carried out a second post mortem at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

The new team has also been helped by a forensic anthropologist from Cambridge University, who has studied the bones and remains and been able to give them further information about the victim not available in 1974.

"We believe the woman was between 23 and 35. She went missing sometime in August, 1974, and was found on August 27 that year. We think she had been dead two to three weeks by the state of her," DI Guy said.

"Her arms and legs were bound to her body, she had been beheaded and she was wearing a Marks and Spencer nightdress. She was covered in a big National Cash Register tarpaulin."

He said the team had spoken to officers involved in the original case, a forensic scientist and the senior investigating officer, Detective Superintendent Ivan Mead, then deputy head of Norfolk CID.

DI Guy said 109 missing people were traced during the original inquiry when they did not have central databases to help.

Yesterday, the Lynn News spoke to Mr Head (52), who was 19 and walking alone when he made the gruesome discovery. He still lives in the Swaffham area.

He recalled: "I lifted one corner of the cover over the body and that was enough – I could see what it was. I went home and phoned the police."

Sir Sam, owner of Cockley Cley estate, was a 26-year-old barrister in London then but remembered police "cramming all over the place" when he returned to the hall at the weekend.

"They checked my father's Land Rover after seeing blood in it – but it was rabbit's blood from when he had been shooting," he said.

"A few years ago, someone thought they found a skull in a wood nearby and I had a quick look, but couldn't find it," he added.

Mr Head hoped the latest police inquiry would be more successful, and Sir Sam said: "I would like to think there could be a positive conclusion."

Two MIT phone hotlines have been set up for anyone with information about women who went missing in the summer of 1974. They are 01953 424529 or 424533.