As part of North Yorkshire Police’s cold case reviews of unidentified bodies, permission has been granted for the exhumation of the body of a woman know as “the Sutton Bank body”.
The woman’s body was buried in Malton cemetery (off Pasture Lane) and police have been given permission to exhume her remains to extract DNA material in the hope that it will lead to the identity of the woman.
Thirty years ago on an unclassified road between Sutton Bank and the rural villages of Scawton and Rievaulx, officers made a grim discovery.
Laying in the undergrowth beside the quiet road used by locals and the occasional caravan were the skeletal remains of a woman’s body.
North Yorkshire Police had received an anonymous call tipping them off about the body on 28 August 1981. To this day, the identity of the caller is still unknown as is the identity of the dead woman.
The discovery of the woman’s remains sparked an 18-month investigation, led by Detective Chief Superintendent Strickland Carter, who needed to establish who she was and what she was doing there.
A forensic examination of the body was inconclusive as was the post mortem, which failed to establish a cause of death.
No jewellery or personal belongings were found on or nearby the body which could help to identify her and a Home Office pathologist estimated that she may have lain in the undergrowth for up to two years due to the state of the body and the level of plant growth around her.
Further examinations of the mystery woman’s remains established that she was around 5ft 2in tall, aged between 35 and 40, with short, dark-coloured hair.
Pathologists also found an old fracture to her right ankle . Unfortunately, the physical characteristics of the body were not conclusive enough to secure an identification.
During the enquiry, extensive investigations were conducted and a number of people were put forward as the deceased, however it was not possible to identify a positive match.
One line of enquiry was the possibility that the woman was an escaped prisoner from Askham Grange open prison. However, this line of enquiry was not progressed as proof of life was sent in the form of two thumb prints with a signature from the Republic of Ireland.
The road from the A170 to Scorton and Rievaulx where the body was found as it looks today
At the time of the initial investigation, a three-dimensional wax reconstruction of the woman’s head (ashown above) was produced. It was the first of its kind and demonstrated that police were keen to use new technology to get to the bottom of the mystery which faced them.
In the decades that have elapsed since the discovery of the body, there have been significant developments in the technology available to the police, yet still the woman remains unidentified.
Thirty years on the same questions remain. Who was the anonymous caller that sparked the investigation and could hold all the answers? Who was the woman found at the side of a country road at the top of Sutton Bank? What was she doing there? How did she die?
Despite the long passage of time since the mystery woman’s body was discovered, North Yorkshire Police’s commitment to finding the answers to these questions remains unchanged. Her family deserve answers.