In February last year, detectives descended on a small village after the body of a woman was found in a flat above an Indian restaurant.
Twelve months after the unexplained death, with the woman’s identity still a mystery and a police investigation into the murder ongoing, we have sent a reporter Rhys Griffiths back on stage.
Arriving in Lyminge on a chilly winter afternoon, village life goes on as normal all around.
Cars and the 17 bus to Canterbury pass Station Road, a woman stops to drop mail into a letterbox, the sound of a Fleetwood Mac song drifts from a builder’s radio as he works in a house overlooking the main road.
As you approach what used to be the Spicy Touch Indian restaurant, you can see that its panels have been removed, the windows are shielded from prying eyes on the pavement, a “for sale” sign sits outside, and the door is closed. entrance is full of unopened mail.
A fairly dull and depressing scene, but absolutely nothing to tell the passerby that on Valentine’s Day a year earlier, the place was crawling with police and forensic investigators following the discovery of a woman’s body. in the apartment above the takeaway.
Shortly after the gruesome discovery, detectives revealed that a 36-year-old man from Deal had been arrested on suspicion of her murder. However, he was later released without charge, pending further investigations.
“Is everyone supposed to just say nothing about it and just pretend it’s okay?”
Since then, the case has lost mainstream attention – but for people living locally, it remains a topic of discussion and cause for concern.
Before returning to the scene of the unexplained death, I spoke with a community member who, wishing to remain anonymous, said, “I just don’t like the idea of nothing being said.”
With many family members living locally, they have expressed concern that the police do not appear to have solved the case.
“I know a lot of people in the village who were worried because it was just downstairs from their homes,” they added.
“I think someone just mentions these things again or is everyone supposed to say nothing about it and just pretend it didn’t happen?
“I find that a bit strange compared to the fact that nothing more was ever said about it. I don’t think that’s fair.
“It’s almost like he’s been swept under the rug.”
The facade of the building where the body was found offers few clues as to what happened here a year earlier, but the hope was that someone here would be able to shed some light on the story.
Towards the rear of the property, past a bus stop and public toilets, there is a rear door which is open to the garden of the building which housed both the now closed restaurant and the apartment where the body of the woman was found.
A side door is wide open and inside much of the old kitchen that once served take-out food is still in place.
Although the premises are listed online as being for sale for an asking price of £399,950, there are sounds from inside that indicate someone lives here.
After knocking loudly on the open door, a man appears from inside, dressed in a gray polo shirt and tracksuit bottoms, with a few stubble on his face.
Speaking in a Yorkshire accent, he explains to me that he was previously homeless but was moved to lower living quarters by the local authorities and has been living here since shortly after the murder presumed.
He is unable to share any information about the identity of the woman who once lived in the rooms above his, and says any information he has was gleaned from newspaper articles at the time.
From his description of his life in Lyminge, it seems there is something transient in nature for those housed here at 15 Station Road.
“The man who was previously arrested on suspicion of murder has been released, pending further investigation…”
Describing the noises and people moving upstairs, I assume he is referring to the other tenants of the property.
But in a hurry, the young man expresses the rather unexpected point of view that some sort of spirit still inhabits the apartment upstairs. A bizarre notion, and the point at which the conversation is brought to an end.
Prior to this property visit, we asked Kent Police if – with a year gone by and no resolution – they could provide an update on the status of the investigation.
They told us they couldn’t provide anything more substantial than the following short statement: “There are no updates available at this time.
“The investigation is continuing and the man who was previously arrested on suspicion of murder has been released, pending further investigation.”
It was unsatisfactory. Surely, after a woman was found dead in the center of a small village, was there a good reason to give more than that to the community?
Our ongoing investigations have uncovered a surname, which we suspect to be that of the victim, but cannot report at this stage without proper verification.
Armed with bits of information, we approached the coroner’s office to try to find out if an inquest had been opened into the death of a person with that name in February 2021.
The case had been referred for investigation, but no investigation has yet been opened in the year that has passed since the discovery of his body.
Back in Lyminge, I cross Station Road and enter the China China restaurant. Here, unsurprisingly, no one seems to know much about the mysterious death other than that it happened and little has been said since.
Suspecting the chances of discovering anything resembling a breakthrough are slim, the last call is the Coach and Horses pub.
It’s lunch time and the bar is relatively quiet. A few locals pop in for a quick pint or light bite, while the staff in the kitchen and behind the mill bar are happy, greeting each of their regulars by name.
Everyone seems happy to discuss the case – but no one has any idea who the dead woman was.
In fact, it seems many residents had no idea the apartment she was found in was even occupied. Some suggest that she had only moved to the village shortly before her untimely death, and therefore no one there seems to know who she was or how she came to be when she died.
My final roll of the dice is to contact the owner of the property where she was found a year ago.
Searches at the Land Registry and Companies House allow me to trace the owner of the now closed Indian takeaway and the flat above it to a business address in Dartford.
He was surprised to receive the call and explained that he did not know the identity of the tenant found dead in his apartment.
The property was rented by a third party, but he was called to allow police access to the apartment and was present when the body was found. But since then he has tried to put the memories of that traumatic experience behind him.
Thus, a year later, the identity of a woman found dead in the center of a small village remains unknown.
His death, at this point, is still just a statistic.
Do you have any information on the case? Did you know the victim? Contact journalist Rhys Griffiths confidentially at [email protected]