Mystery of the naked and chained woman washed up on a beach

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The Independent Online

As yet, the police have no name to go with the woman's body.

As yet, the police have no name to go with the woman's body.

They don't know her precise age, where she was from or even how long she had been in the sea.

They certainly have no idea of the circumstances that led to her - naked and laden with chains and gym weights - jumping or being thrown into the grey green waters of the North Sea. Murder or suicide, no one yet knows.

The woman's body was found at 7.30am on Thursday by a woman walking her alsatian along the sandy beach at Kessingland, a village popular with summer holidaymakers, eight miles south of Lowestoft, Suffolk. It had been washed up with the high tide 100 metres from an old people's housing development.

"I saw something that looked strange floating by the waterside about 50 yards away and I went closer to see what it was," the dog-walker said yesterday, asking not to be named. "I was sick on the spot. It was an extremely unpleasant experience that I shall not forget in a hurry."

Yesterday police confirmed that a post-mortem examination conducted by the Home Office pathologist Dr David Harrison showed the woman had died in the water. But the tests have failed to reveal whether the woman had been a victim of any assault before she entered the sea. Further tests are being carried out.

"The post-mortem examination was inconclusive as to whether foul play was involved," Detective Superintendent Adrian Braddy said.

"There are some bruises to the body which occurred prior to death, but at this time we are unable to say whether they are a result of her being struck or as a result of her striking something while in the water or prior to her entering the water. There is certainly no evidence that she was subject to a significant violent attack before her death."

If the woman did commit suicide, the circumstances were certainly strange. Detectives said the body had been weighed down by a length of chain made up of heavy-gauge links each measuring 3cm by 1.5cm and weighing a total of 3kg. The chain itself had been threaded through three circular gym weights each weighing 2.5kg and attached by two locked padlocks.

"It would certainly have been possible for her to have padlocked the weights and chain herself - but I have never come across a suicide like this before," said Det Supt Braddy.

As part of their inquiries police have circulated the woman's details to every force in Britain to check whether her description - possibly aged about 40, white, slim, 5ft 9in tall, with brown collar-length hair, a pierced left ear and an appendix operation scar - matches that of any missing person. They are also checking the records of previous murders to see if they can find any similarities.

In the meantime the team of 10 officers are trying to locate the woman's clothing. So far, none of her clothes or possessions have been found.

One of the problems confronting officers is that in addition to not knowing how long she had been in the water - they believe it was a matter of days rather than weeks - they do not know where she entered the sea.

Coastguards have told detectives that recent strong south-westerly winds, resulting in higher-than-normal tides, could have led to the body being moved some distance despite being weighed down. The coastguards at Great Yarmouth said it would be impossible to say where she had entered the water until it was known how long she had been in the sea.

"We cannot rule out that she might have gone into the sea in outlying waters away from the coast, possibly from a boat or ship," said Det Supt Braddy, who said inquiries may have to be spread to the Continent. The discovery of the body has, naturally enough, shocked people in the nearby village who have been passing on tips to police as to the possible identity of the woman. No two names have been the same.

It has also been pointed out that the circumstances are similar to the plot in a 1989 thriller by the crime writer P D James - the Conservative peer Baroness James of Holland Park - who owns a holiday home at nearby Southwold. In the novel Devices and Desires, the fictional detective Commander Adam Dalgliesh is called to investigate the death of a woman whose body is washed ashore on the same stretch of the Suffolk coast.

But that is no help to the real-life detectives trying to solve this case. "We are continuing to treat this death as suspicious," Det Supt Braddy, said yesterday, "and identifying her is likely to hold the key to this mystery."