Appeal for memories of ‘Duchess’ who went missing at time of murder

The pink nightdress worn by a woman whose headless body was found at Cockley Cley in 1974

The pink nightdress worn by a woman whose headless body was found at Cockley Cley in 1974

Detectives are focusing on the disappearance of a Great Yarmouth woman more than 40 years to solve a grisly cold case murder.

The victim was found headless and wearing only a pink Marks and Spencer nightdress, on heathland off Swaffham Road in Cockley Cley, near Swaffham, on August 27, 1974. She has never been identified or her killer caught.

She was probably a mother and throught to be aged between 23 and 35.

At around the same time, an escort, known as The Duchess who worked near the docks, disappeared.

DCI Andy Guy, from Norfolk and Suffolk’s Major Investigation Team, said tests on her remains had revealed the woman, whose identity remains a mystery, had probably given birth to a child or children.

He said: “With the advances we have made in recent years in science and technology, we are now able to look at the case in more microscopic detail and as a consequence of the work carried out so far we now have her full DNA profile.

“The second post mortem examination also showed her pelvic girdle had widened which is a bodily change in expectant mothers to allow childbirth to take place.”

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He added: “As part of our investigations we employed two scientists to study the victim’s isotopic make up. This resulted in both experts believing that the victim had spent time in an area defined central Europe this would encompass Denmark, Germany, Austria and northern Italy.

“Another interesting feature was her diet appeared to be predominately fish/shellfish. This led us to one report of a woman known as The Duchess, who lived and worked around Yarmouth docks and was thought to be from Denmark.

“She was known to people in the Great Yarmouth area around 1973/74 but one day just disappeared. It may be that The Duchess has nothing to do with this enquiry but we would very much like to be able to eliminate her as the victim at Cockley Cley.

“If anyone does have any knowledge of who the The Duchess may have been or has any information about the victim at Cockley Cley we would be very pleased to speak to them in confidence if necessary.”

It is a possible police could use the DNA recovered to link the woman to a living family member which could provide the breakthrough in the case. with DCI Guy adding: “I believe if we identify the victim we can identify her murderer.”

The body was covered with material marked with NCR, the logo for National Cash Registers and was, as later found out, quite a rare cover. Rope used to tie the victim up was unusual as it contained an non-standard make up which would indicate a particular use. Enquiries revealed the type of rope was predominantly used in agricultural businesses.

The victim had been bound and concealed under the dust sheet. The first post-mortem examination, conducted the same day, suggested she was in her 20s or 30s and about 5ft 2ins tall. Despite inquiries and nationwide appeals in the year after the discovery, neither the woman nor her killer were ever identified.

DCI Guy said: “The task of finding someone who has decided not to be found should not be under estimated, this often presents ethical dilemmas as the missing person may not want the family to know where she is.”

He believes the woman was murdered in the first or second week of August 1974 and he is asking members of the public if there is a female relative, friend, neighbour or colleague who disappeared about this time and has not been seen since. This applies even if they were reported missing to the police at the time.

Anyone with information to the case or believes they have may know the victim should contact the investigation team on 01953 424520.