The Mystery Of The Exmoor Body In A Bag
On the 13th of March 2002, something mysterious was found in Exmoor. It had been a chilly, windy Wednesday morning when a park ranger began his rounds of the Moorland national park. He soon came across a pile of bin bags that had been thrown close to the road. This was not unusual; however, people would often dump rubbish and sometimes animal remains along this stretch. The ranger got to his job of clearing up the bags and assumed they were the remains of some kind of pet. After completing his rounds, he proceeded to the Devon and Somerset Stag Hounds Kennels, where the bones were going to be safely incinerated. But once the bags were opened and searched, a worrying discovery was found – these were the severely decomposed remains of a human body. But who was this person? And how had they ended up there?
Kennel staff immediately called their find into the police. An analysis was done on the remains to try and recover any evidence that remained. They found that the body had been to be wrapped in a single duvet cover and a single green bed sheet, before being placed in the plastic bags. They also discovered underwear, Adidas shorts, and a gold necklace with a Quran verse engraved into it as well as a white pillowcase and a stereo wire. But other than those items, police had little to go on. They began the painstaking process of trying to piece the clues together and find out who this man or woman was and who had been reasonable for their suspected murder. This proved to be harder than many could have imagined and would end up leaving up with more questions than answers.
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Detective Chief Inspector Barrie Douglas took the lead in the investigation and revealed in the press interview regarding the case that the body had been identified as that belonging to a man between 20 and 30 years old, roughly 5’9 (1.75cm), and had dark hair. They also released the fact that despite the man having been found in March 2002, they believed he had been murdered in either 2000 or 1999. Police were quick to ask the public for assistance in the case and asked for any witnesses to come forward. They particularly appealed to horse riders or people who walked in the area. Police wanted people to think back from the months prior if they had seen anything of relevance or spotted any person or people acting strangely.
But to this day, his identity remains unknown. This has made an already difficult investigation near impossible. The police looked through 2366 missing persons on national and international databases and were able to discount 2357 of them. The remaining 9 people were investigated, but no solid leads came from them.
As for any witnesses, public statements discussing witness statements have been few and far between which makes it safe to assume they have been scarce. Potentially some people may have come forward to authorities, but that information has not been made public. Police continued to make multiple requests for appeals, unfortunately, they haven’t been given much to work with other than what they already knew. The investigation is believed to have cost around £120 000.
Forensics was able to link the white pillowcase to a linen hire service that provides linen to hotels all over the Southwest of England. They also theorized that the stereo wires may have been used to tie the man up. They have a full DNA profile of the man and were able to discover the necklace had been made in Pakistan. The verse engraved on it is known as one of the most important verses of the Quran. It references Allah being almighty. This verse is also sometimes used to ward off evil spirits. Forensics were also able to determine that the man’s body had been stored somewhere, potentially in a fridge or freezer, for the years after his death and before he was dumped in the moors.
Based on isotopic testing done on the remains the assumption can be made that the man may have lived in the local area for a few years prior, even up to 10 years before his murder. This pretty much rules out the theory that he was murdered out of the country and brought in (which was an initial theory). The following is a list of potential theories about who he was: The man may have been an illegal refugee working in the Exmoor area, maybe he even worked in the hospitality industry and had access to those linens himself. If a business knowingly hires illegal workers, they would be unlikely to report such a person missing. Maybe he was a shy man who enjoyed a solitary life and once he went missing, people just assumed he had moved on, but this seems slightly unlikely to me. He also could have been involved in some form of illegal activities in the area and was potentially a member of a gang, which again would have been a reason for him not having been reported missing.
Now onto the theories about what happened to him. The man may have gotten into a fight with someone at his workplace, which may have escalated to murder. Then his body was hidden in some sort of fridge or freezer and later moved and dumped on the moor. He could have been killed by a random attacker or in some sort of dispute and again stored somewhere. Some have theorized that maybe he was killed by a family member, potentially having something to do with their religious beliefs. This is by no means painting the Muslim faith as violent but there have been rare instances of ‘honor’ killings happening to family members.
As for theories of where the man came from, there is the possibility of him being a refugee. The Exmoor area does have direct coastal access, where refugee boats have been reported to have arrived. While this is not a certainty it would explain why he was never reported missing. But let’s say he was an English man who was born in the country and had been living in the area for a decent length of time like police believes, why was he not reported missing? Surely, he had friends who noticed his absence. This is one of the many mysteries in this case that makes it hard to wrap your head around.
Another thing to discuss is the necklace. There is the chance that it was not actually the man’s in the first place and it could have potentially been left with him by the killers, possibly as they were guilty about what had happened. The necklace points away from the murder being a robbery gone wrong as they wouldn’t have left valuable gold still on the man. Or maybe it was simply left to throw police off.
It is clear from the start that police believed that, while it may be tricky, they would find out who the man was. “There are a lot more forensic tests which need to take place and these will take days and weeks rather than hours. Our main priority now is to try to find out who he is and how he died. We are also trying to establish exactly how long the remains have been lying on that part of Exmoor.” said Detective Chief Inspector Barrie Douglas in March of 2002. In May of the same year, a reconstruction was released of what the man may have looked like based on his skull. Police hoped this would prompt someone to come forward who recognized the man. “We do feel that someone must know who he is. Someone can’t just die and be disposed of and have no family or friends that know he is missing,” said Barry Douglas. Sadly, no one ever came forward and as of January 2022 Exmoor’s mysterious ‘body in a bag’ remains a John Doe.