The 51 bodies found in Scotland that no one can identify

Reconstruction of face of man found in woods in East Dunbartonshire in 2011. He has never been identified. PIC: Contributed.
Reconstruction of face of man found in woods in East Dunbartonshire in 2011. He has never been identified. PIC: Contributed.
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He was an everyman, dressed in light blue polo shirt, jeans and navy trainers and carrying a toothbrush and set of headphones in his satchel bag.

But, tragically, almost six years after he was found dead in woods in East Dunbartonshire, still nobody knows who this man is.

How a man found in woods in Canobie, Dumfriesshire, in late 2010 is thought to have looked. A copy of an Italian newspaper was found among his belongings. PIC: Police Scotland.

How a man found in woods in Canobie, Dumfriesshire, in late 2010 is thought to have looked. A copy of an Italian newspaper was found among his belongings. PIC: Police Scotland.

His case remains on file at the UK Missing Persons Bureau along with those of 50 other people found in Scotland whose bodies cannot be identified. Several cases date from the 1970s.

They include a woman, aged between 30 and 50, who washed up on a beach at Port Logan , Wigtownshire, in November 2006 and a man found dead at Burnside Plantation, Canobie in Dumfriesshire in late 2010.

Thought to be between 45 and 60, among his possessions were a Hunter’s Hat, a Swiss Army knife and a copy of ‘La Repubblica’ Italian newspaper published four months before his death.

What links them all is that none of them carried any identification.

Reconstruction of face of woman found washed up on a beach at Wigtownshire in 2006. She has never been identified. PIC: Contributed.

Reconstruction of face of woman found washed up on a beach at Wigtownshire in 2006. She has never been identified. PIC: Contributed.

A puzzle to solve the identity then begins. Fingerprints are taken, but can only yield results if the person has been involved with the police in the past. DNA tests are used to determine ethnic origin and where they may have lived. Anthropological expertise can be used to build up a detailed visual on how each may have looked with the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at Dundee University working with Police Scotland in the past.

But many factors can impede on reaching a positive identification, said Louise Vesely-Shore from the National Crime Agency’s Missing Persons Bureau.

She said: “Obviously it is generally unusual for people to not have some form of identification on them, and our ability to identify them without the availability of some form of ID, such as driving licence, bank cards or mobile phone registered to them, will depend on a number of factors.

Fingerprints will only help if the person has been involved with the police before. Remains may be in too poor a state to obtain a fingerprints, she added.

Crucially, checks on missing persons registers may prove fruitless if no one has reported them missing

Ms Veseley-Shore added: “Checks will also be made to see if anyone has been reported missing locally who may be a match, but some people will be some distance from their home address or where they may have been last seen, and may not be reported as missing for some time after.”

A recent report by National Crime Agency found that Police Scotland is also dealing with 17 cases of unidentified body parts.

Six other cases relate to living individuals whose true identity cannot be established. Four of these are babies who were abandoned, the oldest case of this type dating to a newborn found in Glasgow in 1979.

The most recent case is of baby Gary, named after the police officer who found him on a bench in Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, in 2005. Now adopted and with a new name, his birth mother has never been found.

According to the NCA report, Police Scotland receives 110 calls relating to missing persons every day

This is higher rate than recorded in England and Wales which recorded 5.9 missing persons calls per 1,000 population compared to (7.5) in Scotland.

In June, the 3rd International Conference of Missing Children and Adults will be held at Abertay University in Dundee.

Claire Taylor, a PhD student at Abertay University who specialises in missing adults, said:

The research in the missing field is actually quite sparse but that is something that is turning around now and people are really looking into it now in great detail

Ms Taylor said it was important to recognise, particularly for adults, that those reported as missing don’t always consider themselves as missing.

“For adults, it is not a crime to go missing, you are free to go around the world if you life. But the term missing holds an awful lot of significance for those who are left behind.

“It is crucial to understand why people to make a decsion to go missing and what influences that and what can be done to prevent it in the future.

MS Taylor said there were “many, many reasons” why people are motivated to go missing, including relationship difficulties, traumatic experiences and family complications.

“The main thing to take from all of this is it is a sign that the person is in some sort of crisis and that things are not right in their lives. It can be about a sense of escape and a coping mechanism

“People can be running away from some, they may fear for their own safety, or they are going towards something as they feel that there is nothing left for them in their current lives.”