In January 2006, housing officials from the Metropolitan Housing Trust forced entry into a bedsit in Wood Green, North London. After £2,400 in rent arrears had been accumulated for the property, the decision was made to repossess the flat. Inside, they found the body of 38-year old Joyce Vincent. She had lain dead in the flat, undiscovered and unmissed, for over two years.
Vincent was born to Grenadian parents Lawrence and Lyris in Hammersmith in 1965. her mother died following an operation when Vincent was 11, and she had a strained relationship with her father. Following her mother’s death, she was raised primarily by her four older sisters. After leaving school she worked in a number of jobs across London, including as a secretary for a shipping company and at a large investment trust. She joined the treasury department of accounting firm Ernst and Young in 1997, working there for four years before suddenly resigning without explanation in March 2001. She subsequently moved into a refuge for victims of domestic abuse in the London Borough of Haringey while working as a hotel cleaner.
It is during this period that she fell out of contact with her sisters and other family members. Vincent was later moved into the Wood Green bedsit where she was later found dead, a flat earmarked for housing victims of domestic abuse. The flat was one of many that make up what is known as ‘Sky City’, a complex housing estate built three floors above street level, located above Wood Green Shopping City.
On entering the flat, housing officers found Vincent’s badly decomposed body lying on her back. The TV and heating were switched on, and Vincent was surrounded by christmas gifts she appeared to have been in the process of wrapping. None of the presents were labelled, and it remains a mystery who the intended recipients were. Her heating and electricity bills had continued to be paid via direct debit and half of her rent was being paid directly to Metropolitan Housing by benefits agencies. No neighbours had reported any concerns and the smell of her decomposing body was assumed to be caused by nearby bins. It was only her growing rent arrears that triggered the decision to enter the property.
The advanced state of decomposition meant accurately identifying a cause of death was impossible. An investigation found that she had likely died in December 2003. Vincent was known to be an asthmatic, and an asthma attack was considered one possible explanation. She had also been hospitalised with a peptic ulcer after vomiting blood in November 2003, and complications following the incident is another possible cause of her death. The possibility of foul play was quickly ruled out as the door remained locked and there were no signs of a break in. Vincent was thought to have a boyfriend at the time of her death, but he was never traced.
During the two years she lay dead in her flat, Vincent’s sisters had hired a private detective in an attempt to track her down. He was eventually successful in finding her flat, and later hand-delivered letters written by her family. On receiving no reply, her family assumed that she had deliberately cut contact with them. Friends later reported that she had a reputation for withdrawing from people and situations, walking out of jobs unexpectedly and regularly moving flats.