Mystery remains after 16 bodies dug up near Jaguar Land Rover

The bones of 16 people found in an unmarked grave in Solihull have been returned to rest following an extensive research mission to find out where they came from.

George John Funeral Directors, which organised a funeral for the remains in April, say the bones were found in the Elmdon area towards the end of last year.

BirminghamLive understands these are the same human remains that were uncovered on land close to the Jaguar Land Rover factory off Damson Parkway in November, however the funeral firm was unable to confirm this.

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We previously reported when remains were found near to where police had previously been digging for the Milk Carton Kids, 13-year-old David Spencer and 11-year-old Patrick Warren, who disappeared from Chelmsley Wood in 1996. However, police later confirmed the bones did not belong to the missing youngsters.

George Cutler, who owns George John Funeral Directors in Solihull, said he was contacted in February about resettling the remains of 16 people, following an examination of the remains by archaeologists.

His team then set about trying to trace where they bones had come from by dating the coffin handles found in the unmarked grave.

Staff at George John Funeral Directors in Solihull were able to date the coffin handles found alongside the human remains to the 1800s

“There were no identifiers among the remains apart from part of a headstone,” said George. “However the parts that we would normally need to ID the remains like the surname and the dates weren’t there.

“We could see that it said ‘Sarah, the wife of’ so we based our searches on that and started looking at survey maps, however there was never a cemetery in the spot where they were found. It was a bit of a mystery.”

A carbon dating test concluded the bones belonged to people who died some time between the 18th and 20th centuries. The coffin handles were then dated back to the 1800s.

Using ancestry, old survey maps and repots on headstones in the Elmdon area, researchers surmised that the people had originally been buried in the nearby Elmdon Churchyard – although questions remain as to why they ended up so far away from their intended resting place.

Photo shows a broken piece of headstone found in the unmarked grave
Part of a headstone found in the unmarked grave helped researchers to find where the remains had come from

George said: “The only graveyard near there was the one at the church and when we looked into it, we were able to say that this headstone had definitely been there at some point.

“We believe that when the church had an extension built over an older part of the graveyard, the instructions were to move these bodies to the other corners of the graveyard.

“We can’t be 100 per cent sure it’s the same one, but when someone did a survey of the headstones after the extension, this headstone had gone missing.

A picture of Solihull Town Centre

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“To us, it seems as if these remains were not moved where they were meant to. We don’t know why they were so far away, but probably because it was farmland at the time, whoever did it thought no one would know.”

The team retraced the bloodline of ‘Sarah’, the woman whose headstone was found among the remains, but discovered her only daughter had died.

The other 15 people could not be identified.

A traditional Victorian funeral was held for the 16 people in April, when a horse-drawn carriage returned the bones inside a coffin marked ‘unknown persons’ to their original resting place at Elmdon Church.

Photo shows black coffin
The coffin was made to reflect the Victorian era when it’s believed the remains were first buried

George said: “With their graves having been disturbed and moved, we wanted to put these people to rest in a way they would have been when they died.

“We agreed with the church to use one of their very old copies of the bible and got hold of some flaming torches, which is what they would have used back then.

“We wanted the coffin to be suited to that era so we liaised with the Coffin Works in Birmingham and they donated a set of handles too.”

He said a headstone is due to be erected at the graveside in due course.

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