Editor’s Note: I recently found out about a European, pagan tradition of celebrating the Winter Solstice, a time when “the dead would have particularly good access to the living,” with ghost stories. Writers of mystery novels continued this tradition by publishing Christmas themed murder mysteries such as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas and Francis Duncan’s Murder for Christmas. I wanted to observe this custom with some articles about murders committed during the holidays, with maybe a few ghost stories when possible. The title for this series is inspired by Francis Duncan’s novel and the BBC series titled A Ghost Story for Christmas.
Sandringham is the country estate belonging to Queen Elizabeth II located in Norfolk County, about a 115 miles (185 km) northeast of London. The estate has at least four homes (including Sandringham House, Anmer Hall, York Cottage, and Appleton House), its own church, a stud farm, and fruit farms. The property has been in the royal family since 1862, when it was purchased for Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, and his wife, Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Generations of Windsors have gathered here to escape the hustle of the city, ride horses, or to go hunting. It’s also where two kings, George V and George VI, breathed their last breaths. Sandringham is so beloved by the royal family that they gather here every year from Christmas to New Year’s, to exchange presents and go to church.
The 31-square mile (or 20,000 acre) property is also supposed to be one of the most haunted royal properties in England. While guests and workers report run of the mill paranormal activity, such as footsteps in empty hallways and doors opening and closing on their own, throughout the year, the Sandringham ghosts are said to escalate their spooky shenanigans on Christmas Eve. Two of the most well-known ghost stories involves the Queen’s footman and Prince Charles.
Tony Jarred was one of the Queen’s favorite servants, and probably went with her whenever she decamped to her favorite country estate. I tried to find out more information about Mr. Jarred, other than his job title and the Queen’s affection for him, but I couldn’t find anything. He was so beloved by the royal family, that they attended his funeral after his death in November of 1995. A year after his death, a footman, the member of the queen’s staff who travels with her, had to go to the cellar at Sandringham House for whatever reason. The footman felt a supernatural presence then claimed to see the apparition of the deceased Tony Jarred.
The library is one of the more active rooms in Sandringham House. It is where the hands of a broken clock move by themselves (free of its internal mechanism) and books have been known to fly off the shelves. During one holiday in the 1980’s, Prince Charles and his valet went into the library to retrieve some old prints. They felt a blast of cold air and the presence of someone watching them from behind. When they turned around and didn’t see anyone, the two men left the room in a hurry.
Not all of the stories set on this vast estate are about otherworldly experiences, at least one is a murder mystery.
On New Year’s Day in 2012, as the royal family was winding down their holiday season, a partially-clothed body was found by a dog walker in a remote, wooded area of Sandringham Estate, about 3 miles (5 km) from the house. The Norfolk Police treated death as suspicious almost immediately, and preliminarily thought the victim had been dead one to four months.
The forensic pathologist ruled that the death was suspicious, but did not detect any injures caused by a firearm, a blunt instrument, or a bladed weapon. In order to get a positive identification, the pathologist had to collect DNA samples. But this proved to be very difficult because of the advanced state of decomposition. Although samples were collected from bone, teeth, and muscle tissue, it was only when they pulverized the bone samples into powder that they were able to match it to a missing girl by the name of Alisa Dmitrijeva.
Alisa Dmitrijeva and her family emigrated from Latvia a few years earlier and settled down in the town of Wisbech, in the county of Cambridgeshire, about 20 miles south of Sandringham Estate. The teenager, who was scheduled to begin the College of East Anglia in September of 2011, was killed before her life really started.
The Norfolk Police reported that Alisa was last seen just after midnight on August 31st in the town of King’s Lynn, about ten miles from Sandringham, as she got into a green Lexus with two men. When police interviewed the men, they claimed that they dropped her off at a nearby supermarket. The store’s CCTV footage, however, did not corroborate their story. When the police asked to examine their green Lexus for forensic evidence, investigators found out that the car had been sent to a scrap yard in Wisbech. Despite this totally not suspicious move, the car was recovered and searched. The men were arrested but they were released due to insufficient evidence. ITV reports that fibers from Alisa’s clothing were found in the trunk (or boot) of the Lexus, but I cannot find other sources that confirms this claim.
Eventually there were no new leads and the case went cold. Investigators passed the case on to the coroner, who held an inquest on September 15, 2014, to get “new lines of inquiry.” They revealed that Alisa’s phone records showed that she was at the Snettisham Beach parking lot the night she vanished and the last signal from her phone was at Sandringham.
Unfortunately there have been no updates to this case since 2014.
Oddly enough, this wasn’t the first time human remains turned up on royal grounds. The body of a 46-year-old Joanna Brown, the owner of an award-winning bed and breakfast, were discovered on the crown estate Windsor Castle on November 5, 2010. The subsequent investigation revealed that her estranged husband killed her by striking her all over her head and body with a claw hammer in October of 2010. He then put her body in a plastic crate and buried it in a pre-dug hole in a secluded area near the castle.
The following year, the bones belonging to Robert James Moore, an elderly, American man, were found on an island in St. James Park, near Buckingham Palace. A tree surgeon, who worked with The Royal Parks, was on the island to prune some trees the afternoon of March 15, 2011. He was clearing away some leaves when he came across clothed skeletal remains next to some vodka bottles. The body was identified as Robert Moore thanks to the U.S. Passport in his pockets. Moore, who was known to be obsessed with the royal family, set the Queen strange packages and letters that were hundreds of pages long. The cause of death could not be discerned because there was no evidence of wounds, injuries, or disease on the bones; but the pathologist did not believe it was suspicious. It’s believed that the bones could have been on the island for as long as three years.