Cumbria is not all lakes and poets. You have some hard communities which have survived centuries of battle with the sea and are struggling to find their way forward from an intensively industrial past. On the west coast of the county is a place called Workington. I know it reasonably well.
I randomly searched for unsolved murder cases in Cumbria and that is where I saw this familiar area mentioned.
What a story it is. In short it is the horrible tale of the unsolved killing of an infant. A baby girl that to this day has not been properly identified.
There is a little place called Barepot which is a bit to the north of Workington. It is a hamlet, a village, a cluster of 70 houses. In 2002 a guy had taken over ownership of an old garage. It was in a bit of a sorry state. He started to clear some rubble and debris. Part of that was a 50 pound weight (25 kg) concrete block. It being a bit heavy and unwieldly he decided to break it up in order to move it. Inside was a baby girl who had been between three and six months old when she died.
There was enough of the baby left for the pathologist to find out a few things. This had been a child that had been traumatised and neglected. Particles in the poor girl’s throat suggested she may have even been alive when placed head first into the mix. Her jaw gave testament to the fact she had an excruciatingly painful abscess at the time of her death and healed skull injuries. Other tests indicated the concrete was about 15 years old. It turned out that estimate was a bit short.
There is a lot of confusion online about the details because the police operation (code named Lara) had a lot of avenues to follow. They tested the DNA from this child against as many of the people of the village as they could. It was this process that led them to a form of solution.
First they found the child’s sister. She and her husband were arrested and bailed. In the end they were exonerated. The police traced another sister. Both these ladies ( 43 and 30 years old) were technically old enough to have been ‘Lara’s’ mother but the match was not that close. They were definitely her sisters.
This led to a medical specimen that had been kept from their mother after she was treated in a local hospital. Sheila Thwaites had died in 1988 at the age of 50 but the slide had retained her DNA profile. It was determined that Mrs Thwaites was Lara’s mother. So what about the father?
That turned out to be Joseph Thwaites. He had died in 1984 at the age of 73. So the concrete block had to be older than first thought.
How do we know we have an unsolved murder? The disposal of the poor child certainly indicates that and also the older signs of abuse. Of the three pathologists that were consulted one even asserted there were signs of sexual abuse. Of the other two, one said they could not be sure and the other disagreed. In the end no firm cause of death could be determined. The gum abscess, which must have tortured the child, had been so bad it had caused her jaw to crumble. One theory was the abscess had been caused by a blow to the infant’s mouth. With such issues comes infection and severe infection leads to death, but that is just my random thought.
No matter what, criminal activity is clear as day whether it was all of the above or just extreme cruelty and neglect.
The siblings could shed no light on what had happened to the child. One of the sisters suggested that maybe the child had been given away and whoever had her was responsible. All of those that spoke to the press said their parents would never have abused a baby so.
The official line fits in well with our quest to be as unbiased as possible. Detective Chief Inspector Andy Carter, who was in charge of the investigation, said:
‘Although we are satisfied we have established the parentage of Lara, it would be wrong for the community to draw the conclusion that Joseph and Sheila Thwaites were responsible for the care and well-being of Lara during her short life. That may never be known.’
This effectively meant the case was closed. All we can do is piece a few loose bits of information together. The concrete block was said to have been created in two separate mixes of concrete. The horrendous opinion that was accepted was that the little girl was placed in the first lot of concrete and another was then poured over her. The end result was a parcel sized block measured at about 30cm x 24cm x 19cm (12 in x 9.5 in x 7.5 inch).
On the question of Sheila Thwaite having a secret baby without the two sisters knowing? The older lady said that could not be ruled out as her mother had given birth to her younger sister without telling her.
I obviously have no picture of this child. She only has the name of Lara even now. Along with many infants she was never given a chance. What strikes me is, we as a society, believe we are overall good people. We tend to look for the good in others. I wish sometimes we had a real think about ourselves and our fellow citizens. Whoever did this walked amongst us, whoever will do this in the future are among us now.
Bless the poor child, she was buried with a good turn out from the police and local community. Lara is written on her tombstone.
You might have noticed I have not named the two older sisters. Their names are out there but in fairness to them they had nothing to do with this. The people who have the answers are dead. I would love to hear from anyone who has a unique slant on this case. Otherwise I think it is better that those without blame should get on with their time.
We have covered a couple of cases were infants were the victims: