It has now been almost 40 years since a decomposed body was pulled out of the city docks in Bristol – and police are still no closer to finding its identity.
It is the oldest of seven unidentified bodies found in our area and has been shrouded in mystery since it was discovered in 1982 in the River Avon.
What is known is that the body is that of a 5ft 8ins tall European white man, of large build, aged between 45 and 60.
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He had been in the water for several days.
He was wearing a bronze chain with a medallion bearing male and female heads, and inscribed with “Duke Of Edinburgh and Grand Duchess Marie of Russia, married 1874”.
The man had a scar on his abdomen and was clad in a brown duffle coat, brown v-neck jumper grey checked trousers and brown boots.
The body is just one of hundreds recovered from across Britain which remain unidentified, with the mystery stretching back decades in many cases.
Avon and Somerset Police alone have a total of 17 cases of unidentified bodies on their books.
The most recent unidentified body found in the Bristol area was a decomposed body found under the cliff edge on the beach at Redcliffe Bay, Portishead, on June 20, 2002.
It was of a white European man, aged between 20 and 30, who was wearing only grey checked boxer shorts and black socks when found.
The oldest case dates back to 1982, when the body of a white European man, aged between 40 and 50, was found in Bristol docks on August 7.
Police are yet to identify a decomposed body found on the foreshore of Redcliffe Bay on February 24, 1988. He was a white European man, of medium build, and about 5ft 1ins tall.
The identity of a White European male, aged between 25 and 35, found on the bank of the River Avon, on May 19, 1996 is still unkown. He was 6ft tall, with blue eyes and was wearing a black leather jacket.
In 1997, a man was found at the base of the seawall at Clifton, on August 9. He had a moustache, grey eyes and was aged between 30 and 35.
Whenever a body is found by police which cannot be identified, the details are published by The UK Missing Persons Unit within 48 hours – provided the investigating force agrees information should be shared publicly.
DNA is now routinely taken from unidentified remains and is uploaded onto the Missing Persons DNA Database (MPDD), to be checked against DNA profiles of missing people already uploaded onto the MPDD.
Dental records can also be used where there is no DNA available, for example if skeletal remains are found and DNA cannot be obtained.
Every effort is made to extract DNA which is kept on record until a match is found. However in older cases, before DNA was routinely taken, bodies may have been buried, making it unlikely they will ever be identified.
What happens to unidentified bodies depends on the police force. Some bury them, while others keep the bodies for a certain amount of time before making a decision to bury or cremate the remains.
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As of March 31, 2020, police forces across the whole of the UK held a total of 643 bodies, and a further 149 partial remains of bodies.
That was an increase of 10 bodies and eight partial remains from the previous year.
In addition, the UK Missing Persons Unit held details of 56 living people whose identity could not be traced.
The oldest case dates back to October 23, 1966, when a decomposed body was found in a derelict house in East Smithfield, London.
It is believed the 41-year-old man, who was 5ft 6ins tall, of a large build and with a number of missing teeth, may have been a vagrant.
The most recent was a body found on the Bank of River Dutch at Goole, Humberside, on March 20 of this year.
It is believed the 30 to 50-year-old man, who was 5ft 10ins tall, had black hair and was wearing a black Airwalk jacket and a black Lonsdale jumper, had been dead for three to five weeks.
A spokesperson for the National Crime Agency said: “The UK Missing Persons Unit (UKMPU), part of the National Crime Agency, is the national and international point of contact for missing-person and unidentified-body cases.
“UKMPU provides specialist support and advice to police forces to resolve missing-person cases and assist in the identification of bodies and remains, and also maintains a central national database of missing persons and unidentified cases.
“Our database provides a unique function enabling details of outstanding missing people cases and unidentified remains to be matched and is accessible to the public should they wish to submit details that may help find an identity.
“This work provides an essential service to forces and can help resolve cases that may otherwise remain outstanding.”