On the morning of Friday the 28th of August, 1981, police in Sutton Bank, North Yorkshire, England, received a phone call from a very well-spoken man who informed them: “Near Scawton Moor House, you will find a decomposed body.” The man refused to give his name, citing “national security.”1
The man gave police details of where exactly the woman’s body could be found. When they arrived at the scene, they came to discover that the man who had placed the call was certainly telling the truth. Tangled among the 6 foot herbs that the caller had described, they found the remains of a woman between two small conifer plantations just to the side of a road leading from Sutton Bank to the villages of Scawton and Rievaulx.2
The woman was around five feet two inches tall and estimated to be between 35-years-old and 40-years-old. She had short, dark hair and there was evidence to show that she had broken her right ankle at some point in the past. Her toenails were painted a pale pink and she would have been a size four shoe. Based on the staining of her teeth, it was speculated that she was a heavy smoker and heavy drinker.3 An autopsy would conclude that the woman had been at the location where she was found for around two years. Experts would also theorise that the woman had been a mother and had given birth possibly two or three times.
Investigators would appeal to the public for information about the woman or about the murder. When no leads or tips came in, around three months later, medical students would produce a waxwork of what the woman could have looked like while alive in the hopes that it would generate some useful information. As a matter of fact, it was the first time that British police had ever used a wax facial reconstruction.
The investigation led to 164 missing women being traced but nobody could offer any insight into the unidentified woman. With a lack of identity, she became known as the “Nude in the Nettles.” Her cause of death would be recorded by the Home Office as “unexplained incident” but investigators were working on the theory that she had been murdered. However, her cause of death could not be determined due to the fact her body had been victim to the elements for around two years. Early on in the investigation, there was much speculation that she was an escaped prisoner from Askham Grange open prison but this would be disproved.4
The “Nude of the Nettles” would be buried in Malton, North Yorks in 1983.
In August of 2011, investigators would make a fresh appeal for the 30-year-old unsolved murder and announce that they were re-opening their investigation. “Somebody, somewhere must know this woman’s name. It is possible that over the years, a relationship between someone who was suspicious about a friend or relative has changed. Now is the time to come forward and allow this woman to rest in peace,” said a North Yorkshire Police spokesman.
The appeal for information didn’t generate any tips but the following year, it would be announced that the remains of the woman were going to be exhumed from Malton Cemetery in a bid to obtain a DNA sample which could one day lead to her being identified and could even lead to a cause of death. The decision had been made after several families came forward with the belief that the unidentified woman could be one of their relatives.5
DNA material would be collected from the unidentified woman’s thighbone and her teeth. After the DNA was collected, the woman was re-buried in Malton Cemetery as a minister performed a short service and the investigators working on the case lay down a wreath. Rev. Rudkin said that it was the first time he had ever conducted such a service: “God loves her even if we don’t know who she was,” he said. “It may give closure to one family if and when the body is identified.”
Forensic experts would be successful in obtaining a full DNA profile of the unidentified woman. The next point of action would be for investigators to compare the DNA to the DNA of the families that had come forward with the belief they could be related to the unidentified woman. If none of them were a match then they would be checking it against the national DNA database. Investigators also made a fresh appeal to the caller who had informed them of the deceased woman all those years ago.
Tragically, however, the DNA would not be matched to any of the people who had come forward and she did not match any missing persons in the national DNA database. Her DNA was entered into the DNA database so that a match could hopefully be made in the future. Shortly thereafter, a retired policeman would come forward with the belief that the unidentified woman could have been a victim of the infamous “Yorkshire Ripper.” Ex-detective, Chris Clark, theorised that the serial killer could have been responsible for up to 17 unsolved murders.6
To this day, the identified of the “Nude of the Nettles” still remains a mystery, along with the identity of her killer.
- The Daily Telegraph, 10 January, 2012 – “Police to Exhume Body in Nude in the Nettles Case”
- Yorkshire Post, 9 January, 2012 – “Nude in Nettles’ Woman’s Body to be Exhumed for DNA Tests”
- York Press, 23 January, 2012 – “Fifth New Lead in Nude in the Nettles Case”
- Yorkshire Post, 26 January, 2012 – “Poignant Second Funeral for Nude in the Nettles”
- Yorkshire Post, 16 January, 2012 – “Cold-Case Mystery Body to be Exhumed Next Week”
- York Press, 25 November, 2013 – “Ex-Cop Links Yorkshire Ripper to Unsolved Moors Murder”