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The Disappearance of a Londoner

In 2003, Joyce Vincent disappeared without a trace. Two years later, officials made a shocking discovery.

Born on 19th October 1965 in Hammersmith, London to Caribbean parents, Joyce was the youngest of five sisters. Following her mother’s death when she was eleven years old, she was brought up by her older sisters. After leaving school at sixteen with no qualifications, Joyce began working in the City of London in 1985, spending the next fifteen years in a few different firms before resigning in March 2001.

According to Joyce’s family, Joyce had been engaged at the time, though it was ultimately determined that it ended due to domestic abuse. Not long after her resignation, Joyce spent some time at a shelter in Haringey for victims of domestic abuse, and worked as a cleaner in a hotel, which was, according to those who knew her, very out of character and a step down for Joyce, especially given her good employment history. It was during this period that she started to change in a way that worried her family and friends. She began distancing herself from her family, for no apparent reason, though it’s believed that it may have had something to do with her wanting to avoid her abuser. She was also living from place to place around London and had multiple boyfriends.

In February 2003, still isolated from her family, Joyce was moved into a bedsit above Wood Green Shopping City, north London. Nine months later, she was hospitalised at North Middlesex Hospital for two days because of a peptic ulcer. Joyce disappeared after she was discharged.

Joyce's sisters hired a private investigator to track her down. Although the investigator was able to find where she was living, and her family had written letters to her, they received no response and assumed that she’d cut contact with them on purpose.

Two years later, on 25th January 2006, bailiffs were sent by the Metropolitan Housing Trust (the housing association that owned Joyce's bedsit) to repossess the property in response to the growing rent arrears. The bailiffs had to enter by force and once they did, they met with an unexpected, grim scene. A mound of unopened mail sat by the door, the kitchen sink was full of dishes, the TV was still on playing BBC1 and a pile of wrapped, unsent Christmas presents were on the floor. Next to them, Joyce lay dead on the sofa.

Joyce had been popular and well-liked by those who knew her – not at all the sort of person who’d isolate themselves from everyone. While her life was a bit of a mystery, she gave the impression that she was a happy, bubbly person, not indicating or attempting to share with anyone what was going on in her life. Carol Morley, who’d researched and directed a drama-documentary, Dreams of a Life, based on Joyce’s life, described her as ‘someone who does not fit the typical profile of someone who might die and be forgotten: she wasn’t old without family; she wasn’t a loner, or an overdosed drug addict; nor was she an isolated heavy drinker.’

Joyce’s neighbours had mistaken the smell of her decomposing body for the smell of the nearby garbage disposal. When bailiffs broke into her home in January 2006, the heating and electricity were still running, and well over £2000 of unpaid rent and bills had built-up over the two years. Still, no one had come calling to chase her up during that time, which only made the case more baffling.

When Joyce was eventually found, her remains were mostly skeletal and only identifiable via dental records. Following an investigation, police ruled out foul play, and as it had been too long to establish an exact cause of death, it was speculated that Joyce may have had an asthma attack or possibly complications related to her recent peptic ulcer.

Her death remains a mystery.

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