The mystery of ‘Fred’ and his unsolved murder spanning half a century
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Tomorrow (March 27) it will be exactly fifty years since a body was discovered in a shallow grave beside the River Trent in Burton, leading to one of the county’s most baffling murder cases.
At around 7.30pm on 27 March 1971, an off-duty special constable made the grim discovery while walking in the Newton Road area of Burton-on-Trent.
He saw a fragment of bone, which turned out to be the skull of a man buried in a shallow grave beside the River Trent.
It has been an enduring mystery ever since and detectives have made numerous appeals to find who the man, affectionately nicknamed ‘Fred’ was and what had happened to him.
Fred has been the subject of endless newspaper and magazine articles, TV documentaries and appeals and at least one book.
Of course, March 1971 is a long time ago and, for those old enough to have their memories jogged, T-Rex were at number one with Hot Love and Michael Caine’s gangster movie Get Carter had just been released at the cinema.
Despite previous appeals and investigations police have never been able to identify the man who was found buried with his hands tied behind his back.
Although Fred’s body was discovered in March 1971 it was estimated he had been buried for between 6-12 months, so would have been brought to the site in 1970.
Detectives have used the latest techniques science can offer - carrying out a facial reconstruction and using familial DNA analysis, but sadly to no avail.
Detective Chief Inspector Dan Ison, of Staffordshire Police, made an appeal on BBC’S Crimewatch Roadshow in 2017 and has renewed his appeal this year. He still believes someone out there knows the identity of the man.
“We have to accept it’s been a long time and we’ve exhausted so many lines of enquiry. We don’t have any new lines to pursue at this time, but we would still welcome any relevant and useful information the public can provide.”
The television researchers also spoke to retired detective Peter Hough in 2017, who was the original senior investigating officer.
DCI Ison said that Mr Hough had always kept in touch, hoping the mystery of Fred’s identity and death would one day be resolved. Sadly, Mr Hough died last year.
The team of detectives also worked closely with Professor Caroline Wilkinson of Liverpool University – a renowned expert in facial reconstruction – in a bid to finally resolve the mystery. The latest technology and methods were used to reconstruct Fred.
Familial DNA analysis was also employed in a bid to find Fred’s relations. Staffordshire Police was only the second Force to use this process to identify a body. Familial DNA generates possible parental and sibling matches from DNA extracted from the man’s bone.
Shortly after the Crimewatch appeal the family of a man who went missing from mid-Wales in 1970 contacted detectives, but his brother’s DNA was not a match.
DCI Ison said: “Someone knows this man’s identity. He’s someone’s brother or friend or son and, despite the passing of so many years, we still want to know who he is.
“Fifty years is a long time, but we have never given up on trying to solve this case. We’d appeal for anyone who has information that might help to come forward and talk to us.”
As previous appeals, and reconstructions, took place in 2017 and 2006, DCI Ison said there were unlikely to be any further appeals made by the Force.
‘Fred’ is described as a white male, late twenties/early thirties, of slight build with medium short brown hair no longer than 3 inches in length.
He was found wearing only socks and a wedding ring and his hands and feet were bound with twine. He had received extensive dental work (10 of his 18 teeth had been filled and he had a partial upper denture). He was described as someone who looked after his appearance.