AN inquest into the death of a mum from Edinburgh whose semi-naked body was found in Cumbrian woodland has ruled it was likely she was sexually assaulted before she died.
The remains of Elizabeth “Betty” Brown, 55, were discovered by a dog walker on the outskirts of Longtown in January 2011 – eight months after she was last seen alive on a bus in Nicolson Street.
The inquest at Carlisle Crown Court heard how the mother-of-three had been found wearing no trousers or underwear.
Police previously said they suspected she had been murdered, but the coroner failed to establish a cause of death and recorded an open verdict.
Today, a police source said detectives from both forces would now redouble efforts to unearth a fresh line of inquiry to shine new light on the mystery of Mrs Brown’s death.
The inquest heard that detectives broke into Mrs Brown’s Gorgie flat following her disappearance and found an old diary on the kitchen table with a message that she could not “take it any more”.
But deputy coroner Robert Chapman ruled out suicide.
The police source said: “The day after the inquest hearing there will likely be a series of meetings between police in Lothian and Borders and Cumbria to discuss lines of inquiry to take forward and see if they can establish a missing link. Frankly, if the body is badly decomposed that is going to be difficult.
“They don’t know who she meets or where she goes. There are a whole lots of gaps, but the next stage is having a conference together and looking at the verdict.
“This case is like a jigsaw puzzle – there are a lot of pieces missing but you have to put all the pieces on the table again and sometimes one tiny piece will fit in.”
The source added that the diary left in Mrs Brown’s home could be “hugely influential” to further police investigations.
Police launched the missing person case in May 2010, before her daughter Sarah and sister Maureen made several pleas for Mrs Brown to return home.
An appeal was later broadcast on BBC Crimewatch in bid to bring in more evidence.
Mrs Brown’s body was discovered in an area covered in nettles, which has led police to conclude it was implausible that she had gone there to take her own life.
A study of Mrs Brown’s
character and history also led officers to the belief that
she had no plans to commit suicide.
The condition of the body has left forensic experts unable to give a cause of death, but they believe it was “unlikely” that she died naturally.
Inspector Jeff Ashton, now retired, previously said it was “highly likely” Mrs Brown had been murdered, revealing she had suffered damage to her ribs.
Forensic experts who examined her remains also believed she had been attacked.
Dr Matthew Lyall, a pathologist, said a post-mortem revealed no signs of “trauma” but her body was too badly decomposed to establish a cause of death.
Two Aldi bags were found nearby with items including clothing and photographs.
The inquest heard that Mrs Brown, who worked in a care home and would often visit her daughter in Gretna, had been prescribed anti-depressants.
The family said she would always phone ahead of her trip to Gretna and they would pick her up in Longtown – but heard nothing from her before she disappeared.
In an emotional revelation, a tragic message written in an old diary recovered from Ms Brown’s home in Gorgie was read aloud in court.
Found lying on the kitchen table, it read: “To all my family, I sorry but can’t take any more.
“Been depressed and lonely. Please forgive your mum and sister. All my love.”
The deputy coroner noted that while Mrs Brown had withdrawn cash and was believed to have caught the X95 bus from Edinburgh to Carlisle, the details were “a bit hazy”.
Giving evidence, Mrs Brown’s sister Maureen McLauchlan spurned suggestions she had killed herself, saying that while she drank alone in her house and had money troubles, she was a “very likeable person” who was “happy”.
She said: “I think if Betty had intended to kill herself she would have done it in her flat.
“I don’t think she would have travelled all the way down to Longtown.”
She added: “The last time I spoke to her she was happy.”
Mrs Brown’s daughter Sarah Smith, who lived in Gretna at the time, said her mother would “never ever” have just turned up, adding she had no reason to believe she had killed herself.
Pauline Lettice, a supervisor at the care home where Mrs Brown worked, said she had said “she felt like running away sometimes” and “felt lonely and depressed”.
Witnesses painted a picture of the last sightings of the Edinburgh woman in the hours before her death
Timothy James Hall, of Longtown, said he remembered seeing Mrs Brown on the Gretna to Longtown road after watching a TV reconstruction.
He told the inquest she was standing “just staring into the middle of the road”.
In a statement, Geoffrey Muir, of Eastriggs near Gretna, said he had noticed “a lone female walking on the other side of the road carrying Aldi bags” near the Ministry of Defence site at Longtown.
He also “noticed a male riding a female’s bike”. Mr Muir drove back shortly afterwards, thinking he would offer her a lift.
“I continued along and I didn’t see either the lady or the male on the bike. I assumed she had been picked up and the cyclist turned off,” he said.
How Mrs Brown’s came to be found in a waterlogged quarry 93 miles from
Edinburgh is still shrouded in mystery.
In an interview with the News last January, daughter Sarah Smith – who was pregnant with her youngest son Reece at the time of her mother’s disappearance – said she had hoped for a better response to the Crimewatch appeal and that the family were desperate for “closure”.
She believed her mother had intended to visit her but had tragically failed to arrive.
She previously told the News: “It has been very difficult for us all but slightly easier for me as I have my kids and husband to support me.
“For the rest of the family, it has been more difficult,
especially for my two brothers, Stuart and Jason, who live alone.
“She was a very happy person. She had lots of hobbies, such as walking and swimming, or going for a wee drink with her friends. It may take months or years but we need to know what happened that day.”
Care home worker devoted to her family
ORIGINALLY from Hawick in the Borders, Elizabeth “Betty” Brown lived in Gorgie and worked in a care home in the Capital.
A devoted family woman, the mother-of-three would visit her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren in Gretna as often as she could – but was always known to phone before a trip.
Mrs Brown’s family grew increasingly concerned for her welfare as the weeks went by and she had failed to get in touch for her granddaughter’s fifth birthday and daughter’s second wedding anniversary. Her prescribed medication ran out days after she went missing and police revealed her wages had not been touched since being paid into her bank. Her mobile phone also remained unused.
An avid walker, Mrs Brown – who was occasionally known by the surname Hunt – was said to regularly visit her favourite beauty spot of Duddingston Loch in Holyrood Park.
A specialist marine unit later searched the area in case she had fallen victim to an accident there.
Mrs Brown would have celebrated her 56th birthday in November 10.
Her heartbroken daughter Sarah Smith, who was pregnant with her third child at the time of the disappearance, used the milestone to appeal for her mother to return home.
Mrs Brown had three children – Sarah, Stuart and Jason.
She was last seen wearing a black jacket, open-neck blouse, blue jeans and black shoes.
Her sister, Maureen McLauchlan, said that
she had “seemed very happy” before she went missing.
BETTY Brown’s case is one of several long-running missing persons inquiries which have ended in tragedy.
Alan Templeton was missing for five years before his remains were found on Salisbury Crags last March. The 25-year-old went missing on November 26, 2006.
His remains were found yards from popular pathways.
Mary Ferns vanished during a trip that took her from her Howden home to Edinburgh city centre more than four years ago.
The frail 88-year-old was seen by CCTV cameras as she made her way eastwards along Princes Street and past the Balmoral Hotel on June 17, 2008. No-one has been able to unravel what happened next.
Timeline of a disappearance
May 28, 2010: Betty was last seen getting off a No 3 bus on Nicolson Street.
August 20: Police begin searching beauty spots in Edinburgh she was known to visit.
August 24: Her daughter, Sarah Smith, reveals her pregnancy and wants her mother to meet her grandchild.
September 2: Police think they have Betty on CCTV in Stockbridge, but that is later ruled out.
November 10: New plea from family for information about Betty, timed to coincide with her 56th birthday.
January 18, 2011: Officers in Cumbria find skeleton in a quarry, fearing it had been there for up to six months. Police suspect the remains are those of the missing woman.
January 26: Post-mortem on body fails to reveal cause of death.
February 11: Further tests ordered to determine identity of body.
February 24: Detectives confirmed body found near woods is Betty Brown.
March 5: Fresh appeal for information launched in Cumbria and Edinburgh.
May 26: Hunt begins for a man seen speaking to Betty on a bus who detectives believe may help solve the mystery of how she died.
January 13, 2012: Ms Smith says family need “closure” as the first anniversary of body being discovered approaches.
January 12, 2013: A coroner’s inquest announced into death of Betty Brown almost two years ago.