Gloucestershire

Haw Bridge torso mystery: DNA test called for

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Media captionHeadless torso mystery in Gloucestershire still unsolved after 80 years

A woman who believes she is a relative of a gruesome murder victim has called for a DNA test to prove the dead man was her great-great-uncle.

The headless torso was found in the River Severn near Gloucester in 1938.

The victim has never been officially identified because the head and hands were never found, but it is widely believed to be Capt William Butt.

Karen Drinkwater wants a bone, which has been held in a police archive, to be tested to prove it was him.

Image caption Karen Drinkwater is Capt William Butt's great-great-niece

Ms Drinkwater, from Strensham in Worcestershire, has called for the test on the eve of the 80th anniversary of the discovery of the headless and limbless torso, which was netted by fishermen near Haw Bridge, Tirley, on 3 February 1938.

Capt Butt, 52, who lived in Cheltenham, was the brother of Ms Drinkwater's great-grandmother, and was last seen in January 1938.

Image copyright Daily Herald Archive/Science and Media Museum
Image caption The headless torso was netted by fishermen near Haw Bridge on 3 February 1938

Legs and arms were later found in the river, but the head and hands were never located, meaning it was impossible to identify the victim through dental records or fingerprints, and DNA testing did not exist at the time.

Ms Drinkwater said her family had wanted to find out the truth for many years.

"My mother, who died four years ago, always wanted to know whether this man was her [great] uncle," she said.

"She always wanted the bone DNA tested. It would be brilliant to solve this and know once and for all that this was Capt Butt."

Forensic expert Martin Cuffe, who works for Gloucestershire Constabulary, said a living descendant on either an unbroken male or unbroken female line would have to be identified before a DNA test on the bone would have any chance of proving the relationship.

Ms Drinkwater hopes to one day locate another living relative who would suit the criteria.

The Haw Bridge torso mystery remains one of Gloucestershire's most notorious unsolved crimes.

It made national headlines at the time, but despite numerous clues and a huge police investigation, the case was never solved.

Capt Butt's coat was found hidden beneath the floor of a house in Cheltenham, in which the body of another man, Brian Sullivan, was found a week before the torso discovery.

Image copyright Daily Herald Archive/Science and Media Museum
Image caption Despite a huge police investigation, the case was never solved

Mr Sullivan's death was recorded as suicide, but there was speculation he was a murder victim.

Various theories have been put forward over the years as to what happened, including Capt Butt being killed to stop him exposing Mr Sullivan's mother carrying out illegal abortions, and Mr Sullivan and Capt Butt being suspected lovers.

The torso and limbs were buried in Cheltenham cemetery but a piece of bone taken from the left thigh during the post-mortem examination has been kept in Gloucestershire Constabulary's archive.

The force said it was "very unlikely" any new information would come to light, however any "new and compelling evidence" could change that.

"At this stage we have not had any formal requests to review or test the forensic evidence we have in our archives but should we get a request we would consider it," said a force spokesman.

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