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Is headless corpse Yarmouth's

PUBLISHED: 19:05 11 March 2010 | UPDATED: 17:01 30 June 2010

Liz Coates

A WOMAN known only as the Duchess who mingled with Great Yarmouth's dockworkers in the 1970s could hold the key to one of Norfolk's longest running murder mysteries.

A WOMAN known only as the Duchess who mingled with Great Yarmouth's dockworkers in the 1970s could hold the key to one of Norfolk's longest running murder mysteries.

The painstaking work of cold case detectives hoping to identify the body of a young woman who was found bound, dumped and decapitated in an isolated spot at Cockley Cley, near Swaffham, has brought them to the bustling port area where they hope to find answers that will help them discover who the woman was, and finally trap the killer.

Police reopened the investigation into the August 1974 discovery just over two years ago and exhumed the body in the hope that advances in DNA could at last identify the nameless young woman, who wore nothing but a pink Marks and Spencer nightdress and was wrapped in a National Cash Registers sheet, one of only six ever made.

Over the years there have been many theories but few certainties. But having disappeared apparently unnoticed her seeming lack of concerned friends or family points to a solitary existence, corresponding to what is known about the drifting Duchess.

The new lead is one of several being followed up as a result of the BBC's Crimewatch programme 18 months ago when 30 calls provided 12 names of women.

Since then, piecing together the life and times of a woman who lived on the margins of society has not been easy but officers have been able to establish that she arrived in Yarmouth in 1973/1974, her age loosely estimated at between 30 and 40.

She was nicknamed the Duchess by the dockers and was very secretive about her personal details.

It is believed she arrived on the Esbjerg Ferry from Denmark. She lived for four to five months during 1973/74 in the dockers' hut on Ocean terminal.

The Duchess would reportedly use the roll on roll off ferries in the company of lorry drivers running between Esbjerg and Yarmouth. She would also accompany drivers on deliveries in the UK. She was well known by dock workers and lorry drivers who were employed on the quayside in the 1970s.

Investigators from the cold case team have heard from several witnesses who met the Duchess but there are conflicting reports about her accent, ranging from Danish/German to English. It is agreed however that she spoke fluent English.

In 1973/74 the Duchess disappeared leaving all her belongings in the dockers' hut. She never returned to collect them.

Investigators are keen to identify this woman, and if it is a false lead and she is still alive, eliminate her from the inquiry.

Det Insp Andy Guy said: “To date, the inquiry team working on the case have identified 555 women that are of interest to the enquiry. Some of these females were reported missing in the 1970s and are still missing today. Others were not officially reported to the Police and came into the inquiry by other means.

“This inquiry is not restricted to the UK and we are also looking at women who disappeared from other European countries. So far, 416 women have been identified and ruled out of the enquiry. “

“I am keen to talk to anyone who may have knowledge of the murder, especially family or friends of a female aged between 23-35 years old and 5ft2 tall who disappeared in the summer of 1974.This woman would have had friends, neighbours and possibly work colleagues, somebody must have noticed she had disappeared.

“I would ask that anyone who was aware of a young woman going missing in 1974 to contact the team. It maybe that you were told or became aware of a story that didn't sound credible at the time, such as your neighbour or friend had left the family home or run off with another man or perhaps gone back to her mother.

“It maybe that you felt this sounded odd at the time but have never reported it. If that is the case please call us on 01953 424548.

“It is possible that this lady may not have been local to Norfolk and we are not confining our inquiry to the local area”

DID you know The Duchess? Email editor anne.edwards@archant.co.uk.

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