Can You Be Convicted of Murder When There is No Body?

kaylarStarred Page By kaylar, 8th Feb 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Culture>General

Murder is the intentional killing of a human being. How can we prove a person has been killed without a dead body?

Campden Wonder

1660 England; the city of Campden, William Harrison disappears. There are searches, rumours, and then, two brothers and their mother were arrested, tried and convicted for his murder.

In 1661 three people were hung by the neck until dead for the murder of William Harrison..

In 1662 William Harrison returned to Campden. His appearance shocked the village, people were hysterical, his wife collapsed.

When everyone realised he wasn't a ghost he explained he had been abducted by Pirates carried away, and escaped and found his way home.

This miscarriage of justice so upset English law that until the rule was; “no body, no murder.”


In 1954, a Polish resident, Michael Onufrejczykm, was accused of killing his housemate.

There was no body, but there was blood, bits of bone, and people who lived nearby claimed they had not seen the proposed deceased for sometime.

The courts, a bit more reactionary, dealing with a changing environment, overturned the Campden Wonder case, and ruled that even where there was no body, if there was credible evidence a murder conviction could stand.

This view has become law in many jurisdictions. Murder convictions have stood without a body. Usually, there are ‘biologicals’, blood, bone, teeth, DNA, something to prove the person is in fact dead.

Where these are missing, the evidence from credible witnesses, people who would have seen the so-called deceased if he or she was alive are used.

This evidence needs to be seriously considered, because the possibility of a person being missing but not dead, as existed in Campden in 1660, is more possible today than it was then.

April Jones

In 2012 a man was convicted of the murder of a little girl named April Jones. Despite their being no body, there were biologicals. Although no DNA could be extracted, the size of the bones suggested that it was a child.

Hence a child is missing, a suspect is charged, bones are found, and although one can not say conclusively the bones belonged to April Jones, this evidence was persuasive.

This contrasts with the case of Natasha Ryan.

Natasha Ryan

In Australia, a 14-year-old girl went missing. Calls to her cell phone went directly to voice mail. No one had seen her. Not her family, not her friends. Everyone was certain Natasha was dead. Her parents even had a memorial service for her.

In a jail was a man named Leonard Fraser who, perhaps to earn cell cred, confessed to her murder.

Halfway through the trial, Natasha Ryan appeared.

The story was simple; she decided to run away from home and live with her boyfriend.

Fraser, a serial killer, was subsequently convicted of other murders where bodies were found. As a person can only be executed once, there would not have been any miscarriage of justice if Natasha had not appeared.

However, this acceptance of a murder when a person is, as with Harrison or Ryan, not dead, can lead to extreme injustice.


Evidence of witnesses who ‘would’ have seen the so-called deceased must be very carefully examined.

For example, are they as important in the ‘deceased’s’ life as they think?

Clearly, Natasha, was more interested in Peter Black, her boyfriend, than she was in her parents, school, etc. Further, it was not the first time she had run away to be with him.

The tearful evidence of her mother was, in retrospect, worthless, for Natasha did not feel as close to her mother as she did to Peter.

Proving that the person who is missing is ‘deceased’ is the hurdle that Prosecutors must jump. The so-called ‘close friends’ must be that close to make the jury feel sure that the presumed dead person would not have gone away without telling them.

No Body?

This is not as cut and dried as it may seem.

In cases of domestic violence or forced marriage, the wife can not contact anyone for fear the husband would find out. She will make her escape, sometimes in a situation in which murder can be presumed.

As the wife does not wish to be found, as she has real reasons and safety concerns, she would not admit she was still alive even if the husband was on trial for her murder in a state which has the death penalty.

Accused persons on bail who abscond know the police will be monitoring their friends and relatives so can not dare make contact. Hence being presumed dead is possible, and where there is some blood, from the missing person but no body, it might be presumed that he is dead and his body somehow disposed of.

The jury, for example, in the Vybz Kartel case, is being asked to find a murder where there is no body and no biologicals.

Considering the advances in science, there are usually biologicals, but in those where there is no such evidence, it can be a very unsafe conviction.


April Jones, Biologicals, Campden Wonder, Crime, Dna, Murder, Natasha Ryan

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I am passionate about history, culture, current events, science and law

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author avatar Mariah
8th Feb 2014 (#)

Brilliant post well presented too.
I'm fascinated by these statistics..
It's clear mistakes can happen, and there has to be evidence beyond all reasonable doubt before a conviction is body in some cases of trial for murder..means there is reasonable doubt.
I agree there has to be some revision here.

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author avatar kaylar
9th Feb 2014 (#)

Thank you

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author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
8th Feb 2014 (#)

I suppose an abused wife might flee and HOPE that her husband is arrested for her murder.

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author avatar cnwriter..carolina
9th Feb 2014 (#)

that could happen perhaps...but so many mistakes made and innocent people pay for them...

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author avatar Mariah
8th Feb 2014 (#)

that would be one way of getting shot of him Mark

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author avatar Lady Aiyanna
9th Feb 2014 (#)

Well they are doing that wit Maddie in Portugal. She is missing, no trace of a body but yet arrests are made and questionings are rampant becaue they destroyed evidence that could have provided substantial clues by opening the hotel to others when what they needed to do was wait till the thorough invstigation was complete and the body found.
Question now is she really dead or is the mother really talking of a real child or is the child kept for ransom by the hotel authorities or did the parents kill the child and bury her in the woods somewhere or dump her body in the sea somewhere with a rock tied for it to reach the bottom.

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author avatar kaylar
9th Feb 2014 (#)

Those are excellent points. I am freaked by parents leaving their children alone in a hotel room and going to dinner...I have my doubts about these parents.
The way the child just 'disappeared' and no one saw anything?

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author avatar Lady Aiyanna
9th Feb 2014 (#)

Arrests have been made in this case and it is recent from the 21st Century which has all gadgets to detect....

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author avatar kaylar
9th Feb 2014 (#)

It is not 'has all gadgets..' there are people who are alive who have been assumed dead.

Abused women have left their abusive husbands and in some cases police will find blood, (he beats her doesn't he?) and he will be arrested and in some cases convicted of her murder.
I doubt she'd come out of hiding to save his life.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
10th Feb 2014 (#)

A very good reason for the death penalty to be abolished. It is so much easier to repair damage done to a convicted person's life than to bring same back from the dead.

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author avatar kaylar
10th Feb 2014 (#)

It is very difficult to prove murder without a body, and in cases, i.e. the current Vybz Kartel case, to convict without a body, withtout biologicals, and without cogent evidence that 'Lizard' is indeed dead would create great injustice

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author avatar M G Singh
12th Feb 2014 (#)

Good points raised. Most interesting

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