Skull discovery may be linked to missing Englishman, says mother

by Malcolm Curtis|The Telegraph|June 5, 2008|12:01

Bodily remains recently found in the Arve River near Geneva may belong to a British army cadet officer who disappeared more than three years ago, his mother believes. In an interview she expresses her frustration in trying to find out what really happened to her son.

The recent discovery of a skull and spine in the Arve River near Geneva holds the promise of bringing final closure for an English couple who lost their son. But Sally Perrin said she is both puzzled and frustrated about not having been contacted by authorities about the find.

Perrin’s son, Blake Hartley, disappeared under mysterious circumstances on Aug 8, 2004, two days after his 25th birthday. Hartley was a cadet-officer from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst who was undergoing training near Chamonix, further upstream, when he went missing.

“I’m puzzled that they can’t put two and two together,” said Perrin of the latest find. “It seemed obvious to me that it must have been Blake.”

It was only when she was contacted by Joseph Dancet, a retired French engineer, that she learned of news reports that appeared last week about the skull. Dancet, a 73-year-old resident of Vougy, near Bonneville, has taken a personal interest in the Hartley case after conducting his own searches.

Against all odds, last January he found a femur bone in the Arve River, 60 kilometres downstream from where Hartley vanished. Forensic tests concluded that the bone belonged to the missing cadet.

“It was like finding a needle in a haystack,” Perrin said in a telephone interview with Swisster from her home near Shrewsbury, England. A French police diver found another bone, which also matched Hartley’s DNA.

The discovery of these two bones allowed Hartley’s family to hold a funeral service recently, more than three and a half years after he disappeared.

Dissatisfied with official efforts by the British Army and French police to find out what had happened to her son, Perrin launched a website and made repeated trips to France in a search for clues.

On the last day he was seen, Hartley had been on a night out in Chamonix with fellow cadets. He returned with a colleague to the military camp where they were staying near the Arve River around 4 am, Perrin said.

The colleague said Hartley stated he did not recognize the camp and disappeared into the garden attached to a home nearby, she said. He was never seen again. Perrin acknowledged the pair had been drinking “a reasonable amount but it was over a period of 10 hours.”

She does not know how he could have drowned in the river, noting he was a strong swimmer but also very knowledgeable about the risks of white water rapids.

The available evidence “just doesn’t stack up,” she said. Perrin is now waiting to hear from the British vice-consul in Lyon for further news of the investigation. Geneva cantonal police have not ruled out the possibility the skull could be Hartley’s.

It is currently being analysed by forensic scientists. Philippe Cosandey, Geneva police spokesman, said for the moment it is not known whether the remains are those of a man or woman or whether the skull was somehow detached from the rest of the body.

– The Telegraph

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About Malcolm Curtis

Freelance English-language communications professional (writing, editing, translations) based near Geneva, Switzerland. Let me know if I can help you.
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