The skeleton of a suspected murder victim found in two bin bags in a river is missing some parts, a detective said today, as the mother of an RAF gunner who vanished on a night out nearly four years ago revealed the remains are not those of her son.
The black bags of human bones were recovered from the River Stour in Sudbury, Suffolk, on August 27.
Nicola Urquhart initially said she had been ‘trying to keep a sensible head on’ while police were unable to reassure her as to the identity of the remains, but said today she had since been told they did not belong to missing son, Corrie McKeague.
Nicola Urquhart (right) has said she has been told by police bones found in the River Stour are not those of her son RAF gunner Corrie McKeague (left) who vanished after a night out in Bury St Edmunds in 2016
Detective Chief Superintendent Eamonn Bridger said the remains are the body of a man of ‘athletic or muscular build’ as he urged those who find refuse sacks in ‘unusual circumstances’ to come forward.
‘Unfortunately we know that it’s not a complete body and indeed our current belief is that that individual had been dead for some time before the disposing of in the river and the recovery,’ he said.
‘Obviously there are ongoing tests that will continue, scientific tests that will hopefully provide us a lot more detail, and we remain in contact with the national missing persons database and other national agencies to try to understand at the earliest possibility exactly what the identity of the individual is.’
Police are appealing for witnesses who were in the area where the bags were recovered.
‘We also would extend that witness appeal to people who may find or see refuse bags in and around the area of Sudbury in unusual circumstances and we would ask those individuals to come forward,’ said Mr Bridger.
He said details of the items recovered could not be disclosed for investigative reasons.
A Home Office post-mortem examination conducted on Sunday was not able to establish a cause of death.
The man had been dead for a ‘minimum of months’, Mr Bridger said, adding: ‘It’s too early to say more specifically than that.’
‘Clearly we’re really sensitive to the fact that there are families up and down the country who may be hoping that this is their loved one and we remain in contact with some individual families,’ he said.
He said one of the families police had been in contact with was that of missing RAF gunner Corrie McKeague, whose mother Nicola Urquhart said officers have told her the remains are not her son.
Mr Bridger said: ‘Because of the forensic testing conducted we can say with some degree of confidence that it isn’t indeed Corrie’s remains and therefore we were able to provide that update to try and reassure.’
The search of the river and its banks is continuing, assisted by police divers and dog handlers.
Corrie McKeague was last seen near a bin loading area in Bury St Edmunds in 2016. Police searched a landfill site near Cambridge for his body in March the following year
Ms Urquhart, writing on the Find Corrie Facebook page, said: ‘We don’t know who this person is, but we do know it’s someone’s son or daughter and they will be devastated.
‘I hope and pray that Suffolk MIT are able to identify who this person is for the family that have been left behind.
‘Please remember though that although I am writing this as Corrie’s mum, and I now know this is not my son, it is a murder investigation, if anybody knows anything, was in the area at the time, has CCTV or dash cam footage please contact Suffolk MIT.’
Mr McKeague, of Dunfermline, Fife, was 23 when he vanished on a night out in Bury St Edmunds, around 16 miles north of Sudbury, on September 24 2016.
He was stationed at RAF Honington and no trace of him has been found.
Detective Chief Inspector Mike Brown, the Senior Investigating Officer in the Sudbury case, said previously: ‘Detailed forensic investigations on the remains are continuing and, although progress is being made every day, as we have said previously, this will be a long and painstaking process to complete, as we strive to establish the identity of the victim.’
Officers completing house-to-house inquiries have spoken to the residents of more than 100 properties so far and more than 140 witnesses have come forward to help.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Major Investigation Team on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.
Detectives also want to hear from anyone who may have driven in the vicinity of The Croft between August 24 and 27 and has a dashcam fitted, to review the footage to see if they captured anything of significance.
The investigation into Mr McKeague’s disappearance was passed to cold case detectives in 2018.
Suffolk Police said the ‘most likely scenario’ is that Corrie went into a bin which was emptied into a lorry and ended up in the waste process.
It comes after Nicola tweeted a new photo of her missing son yesterday, saying ‘in just one second our lives will never be the same’.
The bones were discovered in the River Stour and police say a post-mortem examination was not able to establish any form of identification or a cause of death and more tests are needed
Speaking earlier this week, before the possibility the bones could be her son’s was rules out, she told the East Anglian Daily Times: ‘Most times when remains or bodies have been found, the police down in Suffolk have been able to put my mind at rest that it’s not Corrie very quickly.
‘After speaking to me, they’ll be able to tell me that they already think they know who the person is or, for whatever reason, they know it’s not Corrie.
‘Unfortunately, on this occasion, they’ve not been able to do that.
‘So I think the hard thing is that, whether this is Corrie or not, this is somebody’s son or daughter – and it’s whether anybody will ever find out because they might not be able to identify who this person is.’
She added: ‘It’s just about trying to keep a sensible head on, and not letting your head start making things up and thinking a million thoughts.
‘It is really difficult just to wait until you get an answer because there’s as much chance of this not being Corrie as it being Corrie but it’s going to be someone’s son or daughter.
‘It’s just awful.’
Officers from Suffolk Constabulary search the River Stour in Sudbury for trace evidence after human bones were discovered last Thursday. A murder investigation has been launched
Corrie McKeague’s mother Nicola Urquhart has said officers have been unable to reassure her that the bones found in the River Stour are not those of her son after he disappeared in 2016
Corrie was last seen in a part of Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, known as the ‘Horseshoe’ at 3.24am on Saturday, September 24, 2016 – around nine miles from his base at RAF Honington.
He has not been seen since and in October 2018 Suffolk Police said they believed his body was at a landfill site in Cambridgeshire.
Officers said they believed Corrie, who was 23 when he disappeared, climbed into a Biffa bin and fell asleep and was taken to the rubbish tip in Milton.
They reached the conclusion after a meeting with Biffa Head Office, which confirmed the weight of the bin, which was picked up from outside Greggs in the area where Corrie was last seen, weighed 116kg – much higher than bin collection weights from the same place normally.
Suffolk Constabulary are appealing to the public for information after bones were discovered
CCTV of missing RAF serviceman Corrie McKeague in Brentgovel Street in Bury St Edmunds
Suffolk and Norfolk police spent 137 days looking for Corrie at the Milton tip and trawled through more than 7,000 tonnes of rubbish as part of a £2 million investigation into his disappearance.
Officers carried out two separate search operations in 2017 with the first being called off in July and the second resuming in October and lasting approximately six weeks.
Last year, on the third anniversary of his disappearance, mother Nicola said she accepted her son was dead – but said she hadn’t given up hope of finding his remains.