The Discovery of a Body on the Queen’s Estate Starts Her Jubilee Year Off Badly

The discovery of a body on the queen’s estate gets her year off to a bad start, writes Edward Platt in London.

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On Christmas Day, millions of Britons sat in front of their televisions to watch a two-hour special of Downton Abbey, a show about an upper-crust family living at a beautiful country house in England whose plot twists have included the appearance of an unexpected dead body. The day after New Year’s Day, millions of Britons sat in front of their televisions and watched news reports about an upper-crust family staying at a beautiful country house in England upon whose grounds a dead body had been found the day before.

The real-life discovery of a woman’s body by a dog walker on the grounds of Sandringham, Queen Elizabeth’s country estate in rural Norfolk, was a bad start to the year for the royal family that might have been forgiven for thinking that it was on a roll of good news. Last year saw the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton; this year will see the queen’s diamond jubilee, marking her 60th year on the throne. Perhaps 2012 might even bring the queen her second great-grandchild, should William and Kate become parents over the next 12 months. The body of an apparently murdered young woman, found near the Royal Stud, where the queen oversees the breeding and training of race horses, was definitely a plot twist the royals, some of whom are known to be fans of Downton Abbey, would have preferred to have watched in the period drama rather than experience on their property.

So far, the police have revealed few details. Detective Inspector Jes Fry, who held a press conference at the scene near the village of Anmer, near King’s Lynn, would say only that the body had been in the woodland "for some time" and that it “was not underground.” The police were at the “very early stages” of what could be a “complex inquiry.”

He continued: “The circumstances suggest this is a murder case, and we are looking at missing-persons reports and cold cases both locally and nationwide.”

This is, in fact, the second time in the last three months that a body has been found near a royal residence. Robert Moore, a 69-year-old American whose remains were discovered in St. James Park, 100 yards from Buckingham Palace in central London, in October, was a royal obsessive who had written hundreds of letters to the queen before he moved to Britain. His body lay undiscovered for three years after his death.

Thus far, nothing is known about why the murdered young woman was so close to a royal home. Police do not know if she was killed elsewhere and left at Sandringham or if she was murdered within yards of the royal household.

“The body has been in situ for some time, but I can’t comment on whether that is weeks, months, or years,” Fry said. “It is the body of a female, but I cannot comment on her age. I cannot confirm whether she was clothed because, at the moment, only my staff, the person who found the body, and the person or people who put it there know that, and I would like it to stay that way. The body was found by a dog walker and was not underground. At this stage we do not know who the victim is."

A spokesperson for Buckingham Palace declined to comment on behalf of the queen.

Local police later said that the body had been on the spot for between four weeks and one month. “The pathologist believes it is highly unlikely the death was through natural causes,” Norfolk police said in a statement. “There is no evidence of accidental injury, damage due to firearms or bladed weapon. Samples have been taken which should provide a DNA profile within the next 24 hours.”