Body found in suitcase bound with artists' tape

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Adhesive giftwrap tape designed by the controversial artists Gilbert and George was used to bind and gag a woman whose body was dumped in a suitcase and left in a ditch, police said yesterday.

Detectives investigating the murder said they hoped the distinctive tape will provide a clue to the identity of the victim and her killer. The partially-clothed body of the woman, of Asian or Oriental origin, was discovered in the suitcase by a roadside hedge near the village of Askham Richard, north Yorkshire, on 18 November.

Photographs of the colourful adhesive tape, which is sold at only the four Tate art galleries – Tate Modern and Tate Britain in London, and galleries in St Ives, Cornwall, and Liverpool – were published yesterday. Only 1,500 rolls of the two inch-wide tape, which bears a pattern of the two London-based artists' faces on a blue background and costs £4.50, have been sold since it went into production in September last year.

Detective Inspector Jon Reed, who is heading the murder inquiry, said: "One of those 1,500 rolls is critical to this investigation, and we would appeal to anyone who is or was in possession of a roll of this tape to contact us."

Detectives are investigating about 50 names of missing women reported by relatives and the police who match the description of the victim. The police are examining details of the possible victims and may take DNA samples if they find a close match with the body.

North Yorkshire police said the identity of the woman and the cause of death were still a mystery but said the suitcase in which the body was found, originated from the South Korean capital of Seoul.

The rigid silver-grey case, which measured 29cm by 50cm by 72cm, was sold only in South Korea and Lebanon. Detectives said they could not yet say whether the origin of the suitcase indicated the murdered woman was Korean.

Police said a cause of death had not yet been established and that the results of toxicology tests could take several weeks. There were no obvious signs of injury or sexual assault. The tape had been used to bind her wrists and cover her mouth. Police refused to disclose what the woman was wearing and whether her hands were tied behind her back.

The victim is aged between 20 and 40, and was 5ft tall. She was slender, with brown eyes and shoulder-length dark hair.

Her decomposing body was discovered next to a thorn hedge in a country lane off the busy A64 dual carriageway between Leeds and York.

A man had noticed the suitcase on 2 November but did not report it to the police. It was not until 16 days later that another man saw the case and attempted to open it. He became suspicious and called the police after he felt the weight of the case and was unable to open it. The locked case was taken to a mortuary the following day and opened.