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Forensic investigators look for evidence in the woods at Sandringham on Jan. 3 after a woman's body was discovered there on New Year's Day. (Ian Nicholson/AP Images)


It sounds like the type of fictional murder mystery that the English virtually invented – except that in this case, the body is very real. Sorry, even the previous sentence sounds like book jacket copy for a whodunit set among the landed gentry, but we just can’t help ourselves – the body in question wasn’t just discovered on any old English country property, it was found on the Queen’s royal estate at Sandringham in Norfolk.

A dogwalker came across the remains on New Year’s Day in a wooded area just about three miles from the Queen’s home on the estate, where royal family members had just celebrated the Christmas holiday.

Police have confirmed that the body is that of a woman, but they say that they have not been able to identify her yet and that they are combing through cold case files for leads. At this point, they say, they are investigating the incident as a murder.

An autopsy was conducted on Tuesday. The police said tests indicated the body had been there for one to four months. They didn’t announce the cause of death but said pathologists had determined it was not likely to have been from natural causes and that there was no evidence of an accident.

The investigators, in fact, sound a little bit like their fictional counterparts from British detective stories and police procedurals. For example, Detective Chief Inspector Jess Fry of Norfolk Constabulary said it was necessary to withhold certain details of the inquiry.

“I cannot confirm whether she was clothed,” Fry said, “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.”

But just in case you were developing any armchair theories about the Windsors, the Associated Press reported that the “royal family is not implicated in the crime in any way.”

The crime scene has been closed off to the public, and investigators were seen in the wooded area looking for evidence. But that’s just a small section of the 20,000-acre, or roughly 31-square mile, estate.

The Queen, who was informed of the discovery, is staying on at Sandringham with her husband, Prince Philip, who made his first post-hospital public appearance at a New Year’s church service at the estate – on the same day the body was discovered.

This is not the first time that someone has died under mysterious circumstances on royal property. Just last March, the remains of a man who had become obsessed with the Queen were found in St. James’s Park, next to Buckingham Palace. His body is believed to have been on a small island in the park for as long as three years.

In 2010, police found the body of a 46-year-old woman, killed by hammer blows to her head, on the land very near Windsor Castle. Her husband was convicted of killing her.

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By Paul Hechinger