Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Miss X's unsolved mystery a sad reflection on society

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She is known simply as Miss X -- a mystery woman who died under mysterious circumstances.

And her haunting story, which we brought to you earlier this year, is one that sticks with me far beyond the daily tales of despair coming from the court docket and police blotter.

It is remarkable to think in this day and age of social media, where we are seemingly more connected than ever, that someone could die in complete obscurity and anonymity.

Yet Winnipeg police and medical officials have spent more than 18 months searching for clues without any success. And so she lies in an unmarked grave at Brookside Cemetery, a nameless victim of an unknown demise.

Her badly decomposed body was found floating in the Red River in June 2012. Several public appeals for help -- including the release of a forensic sketch of the woman and pictures of jewelry she was wearing -- have led nowhere.

Nobody has come forward to claim the body, or even identity the woman's name, age, birthplace or whether she has any living relatives or even friends.

The case was initially treated as suspicious because there was plastic wrapped around the remains. Police later determined it was likely debris that had become entangled and ruled out foul play. But an exact cause of death has never been determined, largely due to the fact nobody can retrace the woman's final steps.

Gordon Holens, a sub-inspector and statistician with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, has been tasked with leading the investigation into the woman he calls Miss X. He held the body for several months, hoping for a break. Eventually, he held a brief funeral service and burial. Nobody showed up.

Based on facial reconstruction technology, Miss X is believed to have been between 35 and 50 years old and about 5-5 with a slim build. She may have worn dentures.

Holens has held his job for 13 years and says this is only the second case he can remember in which a person remains anonymous long past burial. The first involves "John Doe," a Korean man in his mid-30s who came to Winnipeg more than a decade ago and bought a one-way bus ticket at the downtown terminal. His final stop was Grand Rapids, about 400 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

The man checked into a motel under a bogus name and paid cash. When he didn't check out the following morning, staff entered his room and found him hanging. He had committed suicide.

His identity remains a mystery to this day.

Holens said there are typically about 70 cases a year in Manitoba in which a person whose identity is known dies in relative obscurity and nobody comes forward immediately to claim the body. Usually about half are resolved quickly when a family member or friend is tracked down. The other half are given a service and burial similar to the ones Miss X received last October under the Manitoba Anatomy Act.

It's a sad testament to the world we live in. Hopefully, as the calendar flips to 2014, the mystery of Miss X can finally be solved.

Anyone with information is asked to call the police missing persons unit at 204-986-6250 or Crime Stoppers at 204-786-TIPS (8477).

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 30, 2013 A4

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