Long-estranged former colleagues of a dead woman are shown leaning over in agony, some in shock as they read newspapers detailing what little is known about the death of Joyce Carol Vincent. Some use the backs of their hands to wipe away tears, some furrow their brows in confusion, some stammer in something between rage and astonishment. One thing of which they're all certain, however, is that the lonely and untimely death of someone they used to know is enshrouded in heartache, mystery, and (most of all) tragedy.
The images described come from one-on-one interviews for Carol Morley's documentary, Dreams of a Life, which attempts to chronicle how exactly Vincent’s decaying body was left uncared for and undiscovered for three full years. Vincent's body was discovered on January 25, 2006, when a north London housing association was in the process of repossessing the building. She was living in unclean conditions in what the British call a “bedsit,” or what Americans know as a studio apartment.
Though not the only individual to be discovered years after they've gone off the radar, Vincent's death was most likely avoidable. Perhaps some of these former colleagues and family could have made more of an effort to check on their loved one; perhaps someone who lived in her building could have alerted authorities to the strange odor coming from her apartment; maybe a landlord or a neighbor could find it strange that they hadn't seen Vincent in years, but never saw her move out nor someone else move in.
Though it's unclear if there's anyone accountable (or if it's necessary or even possible to hold anyone accountable), let's take a look at some of the things we do know about the heart-wrenching death of a woman who, it would appear, no one really seemed to care much about.
For Three Years, Joyce Vincent’s Skeleton Sat In Front Of A Blaring TV Set
Sometime in December of 2003, 38-year-old Joyce Carol Vincent died in a West London flat of unknown causes. Her body was found on a couch, presumably watching "the telly," as it was still on and tuned to the BBC. But there was something remarkable about this discovery: the body was a mere skeleton. How could someone die and be left long enough to decompose to the bone without anyone knowing?
Investigators looking into the death were immediately thrust into what would become one of the saddest and most impossible-to-solve cases in history.
The food in the still-working fridge helped determine a time-frame for her last living days. Most had an expiration date of November 2003, meaning that the then-nameless woman had been dead and undiscovered for three years.
Three. Full. Years.
Authorities Serving A Repossession Order Found Her
Naturally, after being dead for three years, Vincent was late on the rent.
In January of 2006, a team of officials were sent to her flat to notify her that she was hereby evicted. When no one answered, they forced their way in, only to discover mountains of mail and other tell-tale signs that no one had been there for years.
It didn't take them long to discover that someone, indeed, was there - or, at least, the remains of someone. Her skeleton was found in front of a television still playing the news. Sadder still, she was surrounded by Christmas presents she'd wrapped but never lived long enough to send.
Joyce Was Identified Using Dental Comparisons With Her Smiling Face On A Holiday Card
After her skeleton was found and removed three years after her death, the identity of the woman was still technically unconfirmed. Even though the mountains of mail slid through a slot in her apartment door displayed the name Joyce Vincent time and again, there was still no absolute proof that the remains "watching" the television on a couch were those of Ms. Vincent.
Investigators were able to get ahold of a "holiday picture" in which her toothy grin matched the ones on the cadaver they were so desperately trying to identify. The close comparison revealed the woman's identity: these were indeed the remains of 38-year-old Vincent.
She Died In A Studio Apartment In A Building For Women Who'd Been Abused
Vincent's early years have been described as tumultuous, to say at the least. After the early death of her mother and estrangement from distant her father and siblings, Joyce hooked up with an unknown man who treated her so badly she was forced to retreat to a shelter for victims of domestic violence. The shelter came in the form of an apartment building, owned by the Metropolitan Housing Trust, which allows their flats to be rent-reduced for victims of domestic abuse.
“Today [The Evening Standard] can reveal that Ms. Vincent had reported being assaulted by a boyfriend, prompting her to be rehoused at a women's refuge in north London. The Standard also that understands she had been admitted to hospital after vomiting blood in the weeks before she died.”