Angel of the Meadow

In 2010, skeletal remains of a murdered (and likely assaulted) woman were found in Manchester, UK. Will the UK permit advanced DNA testing to identify her?

In January 2010, construction workers near the site of an abandon parking lot, found the skeletalized remains of a woman, wrapped in a blue carpet. The unknown woman eventually became known as the “Angel of the Meadow”, as she was found near an area called “Angel Meadows”. This was in the Manchester City Centre, a high traffic business district in Manchester, UK. However, the spot at which the woman and carpet were found was not a highly visible area (by a fence in the parking lot) and so its hard to know how long the woman’s body had been there.

What we do know is that investigators estimate that the woman was a Caucasian female, around the ages of 16-30, at the time of her death. She had distinctive dental features including multiple filing in her teeth and a missing first upper-right pre-molar. The best guess is that she was born between 1950 and 1954, and that she likely died between 1975 and 1988. Perhaps the most clear fact is that the unknown woman was the victim of a brutal assault and homicide. Evidence suggests she was badly beaten with fractures to the jaw, neck, and clavicle. She was stripped at the waist suggesting sexual assault.

In 2011, a facial reconstruction was developed to generate leads to the woman’s identity. In parallel, DNA testing was used to rule-out more than 400 missing women. To this date, there has been no genetic match and her facial reconstruction has not produced leads to her identity. In 2015, the “Angel of the Meadow” was laid to rest in an unmarked grave.

It is usually at this point in the story that I would tell you about how my company, Othram, got involved in the case. We routinely develop advanced DNA profiles from evidence (especially older skeletal remains) that has failed testing with other methods or has been deemed “unsuitable” by other labs. To give you an idea of what “older” might be, we helped NCMEC solve their oldest announced case: a girl who drowned in a hotel pool in 1966. Before that we helped BODE Technology and the Porchlight Project identify a woman who died in 1881.

Unfortunately, this is a different kind of story. There is no ending and the “Angel of the Meadow” remains unidentified, not because of scientific limitation but because the UK is still working to develop a position on genealogical search for law enforcement investigations. Much like in the United States, there are so many unidentified victims in the UK and much like in the United States, these unidentified persons will often not be identified using traditional forensic testing alone. The UK allows “familial search”, but these comparisons are based on STRs. They utilize very few markers and can generally only detect an exact match, parent-child relationship, or sibling relationship. Investigators compared 400 missing persons without a match and this is a time-consuming and costly venture. I can only hope that in the future, there will be a chance to deploy modern DNA testing to help identify this woman and connect her back to family. In the meantime, we teamed up with online advocate Al Ka and the Othram team helped fund a proper headstone for this unknown woman. The headstone was completed just recently, this year.

Credit belongs to Al Ka for keeping the story of this woman alive and for coordinating the effort to properly honor the memory of the “Angel of the Meadow”. As a final point, its important to remember for these cold cases that there is almost always someone waiting for answers. There is a family out there for this woman and in an old case like this, there is urgency to provide answers. Family and friends will not be around forever.

While we wait to see how things develop in the UK, there are, of course, a couple hundred thousands cold cases to work here in the United States. Anyone can make a difference by helping spread the word about these cases, by helping fund cases that have no funding, and by contributing your DNA data to help identify the next unknown person at a crime scene. To learn more about how you can personally get involved, visits our DNASolves site. To specifically see cases that need funding support, follow this link for unfunded cases. You can even sort the cases to see which are geographically closest to you.

If you want to learn more about the case, here are some great links: