World

‘Woman With the Flower Tattoo’ Is Identified 31 Years After Her Death

A British woman who was killed in Belgium 31 years ago was identified this week thanks to an international campaign that began earlier this year to identify nearly two dozen women who were found dead across Europe, officials said.

The case dates to June 1992, when the body of a woman, given the nickname “the woman with the flower tattoo” by investigators, was found pushed against a grate in a river in Belgium.

She appeared to have been killed violently, according to details released this spring by the International Criminal Police Organization, also known as Interpol.

The woman’s most identifiable feature was a flower tattoo with “R’Nick” written underneath. At the time, the authorities had hoped her tattoo would jog someone’s memory.

Interpol began Operation Identify Me in May, sharing gruesome details of 22 women found in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. All of the cases, which are not thought to be connected, have remained unsolved for years, some for decades, despite extensive investigations.

Publicity surrounding the campaign led to more than 1,000 tips, Interpol said in a statement on Tuesday. One tip came from a person in Britain who recognized the flower tattoo on the news as belonging to a relative.

The family, who were not identified publicly, traveled to meet investigators in Belgium and formally identified the woman, now known to be Rita Roberts, through “distinguishing personal identifiers,” Interpol said.

“The news was shocking and heartbreaking,” Ms. Roberts’s family said in a statement. “Our passionate, loving and free-spirited sister was cruelly taken away. There are no words to truly express the grief we felt at that time, and still feel today.”

The family said that while the news had been difficult to process, the cross-border collaboration had given a “missing girl back her identity and enabled the family to know she is at rest.”

“After 31 years, an unidentified murdered woman has been given her name back and some closure has been brought to her family,” Jürgen Stock, the secretary general of Interpol, said in a statement. “Such cases underline the vital need to connect police worldwide, especially when missing persons are involved.”

Ms. Roberts’s case remains active. The authorities in Belgium have asked the public for any information on the circumstances around her death.

The Operation Identify Me campaign gained attention this spring in part because details from each “black notice,” alerts issued to the police worldwide seeking information about unidentified bodies, were released to the public for the first time on Interpol’s website.

The notices present various types of victim information, and no two cases are alike. The oldest case dates back nearly 47 years, and the most recent is from 2019. Some cases have more details than others, and a cause of death is not always known.

“We’ve got to remember that these victims, these women, they’ve become victims twice,” Susan Hitchin, the coordinator of Interpol’s DNA unit, said earlier this year. “They’ve been murdered and then also their identity has been taken from them.”

Ms. Hitchin was adamant in her hope then that even a tiny piece of information could push a case along. “It doesn’t take much,” she said. “You know, we just need that one person to come forward with the memory or knowing that their neighbor has disappeared, their friend, you know, their work colleague.”


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