David Attenborough helped solve grisly murder involving a boiled up skull

National treasure Sir David Attenborough once helped to solve a murder after making a gruesome discovery – a woman's skull in his back garden.

The broadcasting icon was instrumental in helping to solve a murder known as 'the Barnes mystery'.

Workmen discovered the skull as they carried out work in the back garden of his Richmond, Surrey, home.

Police were called and forensic tests carried out.

Professor Gordon Cook, of Edinburgh University, was able to carbon-date the skull despite the murderer having boiled it after cutting up the victim.

And back in 2011 a coroner ruled that the skull was that of Julia Thomas, a wealthy widow killed by her maid in 1879. The coroner delivered a verdict of unlawful killing.

The coroner concluded that the victim died from asphyxiation and a head injury. Mrs Thomas was believed to have been in her 50s when she was killed.

Mrs Thomas had lived in a rented cottage near Attenborough's property when she employed Webster, who had previously been jailed for burglary, as a maid in January 1879.

Mrs Thomas' remains were boiled by her killer who gave the dripping to local children to eat.

A box containing human flesh was found in the Thames days after the killing and Mrs Thomas' foot was found on an allotment.

Webster was tried in London and hanged after a court heard she stole her employer's identity and false teeth.

The remains of her victim's body thrown was thrown in the Thames and in various places around London but the head was never found.

The murder victim pretty much lived in the exact same spot as Attenborough on a road in Richmond.

The Planet Earth presenter was excavating an old pub in the garden of his home – less than 100 yards from where Mrs Thomas was murdered and chopped up.

Callous Kate Webster had pushed her twice-widowed employer down the stairs before strangling her.

Webster stole her employer's identity but finally confessed to a priest.

Back in 2011 Chief Superintendent Clive Chalk said: "This is a fascinating case and a good example of how good old-fashioned detective work, historical records and technological advances came together to solve the 'Barnes mystery."

At the time, an academic who specialises in the period, was completely shocked by the discovery.

Matt Fullerty, an English lecturer and author of a novel based on the killing, said at the time: "I really can’t believe it.

"It was a huge case at the time which gripped London.

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"To have the head of Mrs Thomas found on Sir David’s property adds a whole new twist to the story."

Mr Fullerty said: "There is a perfect irony in the story being so famous in its day, then vanishing, and then being connected to a respected figure in society like Sir David, as Mrs Thomas was in her smaller world of polite Richmond society."

He added: "It was a cruel world in London back in the 1870s, and someone such as Sir David now being involved in the story adds both a fireside comfort to the story, but also a few extra chills."

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