Wed. Aug 10th, 2022

The murder of a man is still unsolved 30 years after his headless torso was found in a village in West Sussex.

Monday marks three decades since the human remains were discovered in the small village of Bolney, but police still do not know who the victim was.

Theories about the killing range from London gangsters to East German scammers to construction workers.

Police forensic scientists in 2009 at Haywards Heath Cemetery in Sussex, where the body of an unidentified man found murdered was exhumed by police
Police forensic scientists in 2009 at Haywards Heath Cemetery in Sussex, where the body was exhumed by police

The murder became even more confusing when police discovered that the body had been dressed after a dead shirt and pants belonging to another.

Penuel Ellis-Brown, who has lived in the village for 32 years, said it was “very sad” that no one has ever been brought to justice for the murder.

The mystery began on October 11, 1991, when a body was found in an undergrowth in Broxmead Lane.

The victim’s head and hands had been removed and police could only identify him as a white male with a small star-shaped mole on his right thigh and a protruding abdomen.

Words spread quickly through Bolney, where the murder provoked curiosity and shock among residents, Ms Ellis-Brown said.

She added: “In hindsight, I wonder if the person who disposed of the body knew it was a fairly quiet, off-the-beaten track area, so had been in the area before.

A view of Haywards Heath Cemetery, where the body was buried, then exhumed
A view of Haywards Heath Cemetery, where the body was buried, then exhumed

“It is very sad that no one was ever caught for the murder or that the body has never been identified.”

An initial murder investigation was led by then-Detective Inspector Peter Kennett, who would later become known for capturing Sarah Paynes killer, Roy Whiting.

In 2019, retired Mr Kennett said he had been leaving for a colleague’s retirement party when the phone rang to tell him about the discovery.

“I lived a short drive from Bolney and drove directly to the place. At this point it was dark and tipped it down with rain.

“Because of the terrible weather, there was not much to do but secure the place and wait for the morning.”

Mr Kennett had never before had to investigate a torso murder, as such things were uncommon in Britain at the time.

“Knowing who the victim’s identity is is a serious drawback of a homicide investigation,” he said.

“All we had was a corpse and a landfill in the middle of nowhere. No houses nearby. No traffic passing by. It was a miracle of luck that he was found so quickly.”

The case was re-investigated in 2008 and taken over by Andy Griffiths, who was in charge of Sussex Police’s largest crime team.

New analysis revealed that the victim was aged between 30 and 40 and was about 5ft 6in to 5ft 8in tall.

Police forensic pathologists at Haywards Heath Cemetery in Sussex
Police forensic pathologists at Haywards Heath Cemetery in Sussex

Using forensic tools not available in 1991, Griffiths’ team was also able to establish that the victim had a connection to Bavaria in Germany.

He and colleagues went to Germany and set up for information, but despite three trips to the country, the identity of the Bolney torso remained a mystery.

One possibility was that the killing was linked to East German criminals who had come from behind the Iron Curtain when the Berlin Wall fell, Griffiths said.

The body was found only about a mile away from a house rented by a German swindler.

However, the police confirmed that the widely publicized theory has never been resolved satisfactorily.

Without a positive identification for the murder victim, Mr Griffiths said the case may never be resolved.

“It’s soluble, but it needs that step forward,” he said.

Kennett said the Bolney torso is “one of those cases that never goes away”.

Sussex police said there has been no recent development in the 30-year-old mystery, but that the case is assessed every two years.

A spokesman for the force said: “This case has been exhaustively investigated for many years; there are no current lines of inquiry and no further investigation is taking place.

“Of course, we would always consider any new information that may lead to new lines of inquiry.”

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