The remains of more than 800 unidentified bodies are to be re-examined as part of the police inquiry to find the missing estate agent Suzy Lamplugh.
DNA is being recovered from tissue removed from victims' organs, blood samples and bodies kept in morgues, going back 15 years. The results, apart from helping the inquiry, will also form the basis of a national DNA database of the unknown corpses.
Detectives believe the body of Ms Lamplugh, who disappeared 15 years ago, aged 25, after meeting a man posing as a house buyer in south-west London, may be among the hundreds of unidentified people who have been discovered in Britain since 1986.
The police are using a DNA profile taken from Diana and Paul Lamplugh, Suzy's parents, to compare with the genetic material recovered from the mystery body parts.
As a result of the ground-breaking investigation the police and Forensic Science Service (FSS) is starting to develop the first DNA database of unidentified bodies, which will be used in the future to help identify victims and link crimes.
Detective Chief Inspector Jim Dickie, one of the senior officers on the Suzy Lamplugh murder inquiry, said: "We are looking at every body that has been found in the UK for the last 15 years that has not been identified, including possible suicides, bodies washed up on the shore, found in rivers or in undergrowth, or died in the street."
Forensic scientists are obtaining the DNA from most of the 800 unidentified men and women by testing tissues samples taken from organs such as the brain and liver, which have been kept in storage. In other cases, frozen blood samples are being re-examined and in more recent incidents unidentified bodies that are still kept in morgues will have their genetic "fingerprint" of DNA recovered and placed on a database.
In some cases it is not possible to tell whether the missing person is a man or a woman, such as when only a tiny forensic sample has been kept, the body is badly mutilated or records are incomplete.
The FSS is looking for cases involving unidentified female bodies found in suspicious circumstances. DNA samples are to be taken from the bodies and compared with the Suzy Lamplugh sample. The database is expected to take several years to complete.
Chief Insp Dickie said: "It is a massive task – we are now moving towards a national database. There's some good that has come out of evil."
Being able to identify a body not only helps relatives grieve for their loved ones, but can also enable the police to spot serial killings and link crimes.
In the case of Ms Lamplugh the police want to find her body so they can discover how the young woman died and recover possible clues to the identity of the murderer.
The mystery of Ms Lamplugh's disappearance is one of Britain's most enduring and high-profile unsolved murders. Days before the 15th anniversary of her disappearance Scotland Yard disclosed that it may have found a new witness who saw a murder suspect in Somerset close to where the estate agent's body is thought to have been left.
Ms Lamplugh disappeared at lunchtime on 28 July 1986, after meeting a man known as Mr Kipper to show him a property near to her office in Fulham, south-west London.
The inquiry was reopened last year after a new witness came forward claiming to have seen Ms Lamplugh alive shortly after her abduction. The witness reported seeing Ms Lamplugh being driven in her Ford Fiesta car shortly after she had been taken from a house.
The unlocked white car was discovered abandoned about a mile away in Stevenage Road, Fulham, with the handbrake off. It contained Ms Lamplugh's purse.
In May this year search teams scoured dense woodland and dug in the Quantock Hills near Taunton, Somerset, responding to information about the possible burial site of Ms Lamplugh's body. The search took place close to where a woman was found battered to death in 1988, but was called off after about a week.
Police have also previously searched countryside close to the former Norton Army barracks in Worcestershire.
The Metropolitan Police disclosed yesterday that a woman had phoned an unnamed agency at the time of the Somerset dig and left a message saying she had seen a suspect in a car driving in the area shortly after the murder. The police want the woman, who called herself Mrs Butterworth, to contact the incident room on 0207 321 9251.
Since fresh appeals last year several witnesses have contacted the police. Potential witnesses are understood to have been shown a 15-year-old video clip of a suspect leaving a lonely hearts advert with a dating agency. The witnesses have been asked whether they recognise the man in the video, who claims to be a successful businessman.
Detectives say they are making good progress in the case and have appealed for witnesses to come forward.Reuse content