Trow Gill is a narrow limestone gorge near the famous Ingleborough Cave on the slopes of Ingleborough mountain. The whole area is a cavers paradise, and dozens of shafts and miles of caves are to be found close by.
On August 24, 1947 two potholers, Jim Leach and Harold (‘Budge’) Burgess were looking for new caves in the area around Trow Gill when they discovered a small hole (subsequently named Body Pot) which was partly obscured by stones. Jim Leach moved some stones to make the hole bigger and climbed down 10 ft. – whereupon he disovered a pair of shoes and a human skeleton! Nearby was a small vial of white powder.
Leach and Burgess contacted Sgt. Nock of Ingleton who returned later in the day and stationed a constable outside the cave.
Professor P. L. Sutherland conducted a post mortem of the body on August 26 at Skipton mortuary. The remains were male and aged between 22 and 30 at the time of death. Height was estimated at 5 ft. 5¼ in tall, and death had occurred at least two and no more than 6 years before. Not all bones were present and some had been moved, and the brain was also missing!
Lewis Nickolls of the North East Forensic Science Laboratory reported that the man had light brown to auburn hair, and had been wearing a blue shirt and tie and a grey-blue suit with red and white stripes. He wore a tweedy herringbone overcoat, trilby hat and a plum coloured scarf would have been over the mouth at time of death. The vial of white powder contained Sodium cyanide and an unbroken ampule of the same was found nearby. The man had on him a small assortment of coins to the value of 11 shillings and 5 ½ pence, with none of the coins newer than 1939. Nickolls said that the date of death would have been two years after that.
There were also two pairs of shoes, and a mineral water bottle of the type supplied to hotels in Morecambe, Lancaster and Ingleton, and not introduced until 1940. Other items included a wristlet watch, handkerchief, shaving tube, studs, toothbrush, fountain pen, propelling pencil, compass, box of matches, tablets, flashlamp, and toiletries. The man had a key but the police were unable to identify the lock which it opened.
The legal historian A. W. B. Simpson, who was living in nearby Clapham at the time of the discovery noted that the only known users of such an ampule were spies who were operating in enemy countries, who had them in order to commit suicide in the event they were caught or discovered.
Simpson claimed that the individual was “plainly connected in some way with the German secret service” and that he was “the most notable .. mystery” over a German agent. He further remarked that “Such enquiries as I have made from persons who ought to know have produced evasiveness”.
However, there was no support for Simpsons claims by German Intelligence documents discovered after the war, and according to MI5 Germany had sent around 115 agents to Britain during the course of the war and all were accounted for.
Wide publicity was given to the discovery in the press and numerous people came forward to link missing relatives to the remains. The police compiled the suggestions into a list of 18, of which four turned out to be alive, ten were ruled out for bearing no resemblance to the remains, and of the four remaining it was impossible to say whether they were the man.
The inquest returned a verdict that there was insufficient evidence of cause of death and to identify the remains.
And so the mystery of The Trow Gill Skeleton remains Who was he? Was he a German spy, and if so what was his business in this part of the Dales miles from anywhere? And who murdered him – because Lewis Nickolls stated that the plum coloured scarf had been put over his mouth – not the sort of actions of someone who wanted to commit suicide. And few would have known about this cave – it is very hard to find and not mentioned on any maps – it is very small, only a local would have know about it.
Very strange indeed…I doubt we will ever know.