Mysterious 'Lady of the Hills' identified: British teacher denies killing Thai wife in 2004

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The parents of a Thai woman found dead in England's Yorkshire Dales in 2004 and, until identified lately, dubbed "the Lady of the Hills" have asked for the return of her remains.

For 15 years, Ms Lamduan Armitage, nee Seekanya, lay buried as an unidentified woman in northern England, thousands of kilometres from her homeland. An investigation into her death, long shelved as a cold case, has now resumed, with Ms Lamduan's British husband firmly denying any wrongdoing.

"We want her skeleton back for a ritual based on north-eastern beliefs and traditions," Ms Lamduan's mother Joomsri Seekanya said on Wednesday (March 20) at her home in Udon Thani.

Madam Joomsri, 72, and her husband Buasa, 75, had not heard from Ms Lamduan since 2004.

"The last time she called us, she said her husband assaulted her and she wanted to come home," Madam Joomsri said. "So what do you expect us to think about it?"

Ms Lamduan's widower, Mr David Armitage has reportedly been living in Thailand for years, working as a schoolteacher. On Wednesday he denied killing her.

The London-based Sun tabloid quoted Mr Armitage, 55, as saying: "I didn't kill my wife. Absolutely not!"

Recent DNA tests have confirmed that the body of an Asian woman discovered near Pen-y-ghent in the vast, rural dales was that of Ms Lamduan. Police did not at first suspect foul play, but evidence mounted hinting at the possibility of murder.

A British coroner rendered an "open verdict", meaning there was no proof as to the cause of death.

Ms Lamduan's parents, worried when she no longer called them, sold off their cattle and land to finance a search.

"We spent 330,000 baht (S$14,000) and found nothing," Madam Joomsri said earlier this year.

She said on Wednesday her grandson - one of three children Ms Lamduan had with Mr Armitage - once visited on his own, looking for his mother. He had heard that she had left England to marry another man.

"But I never heard she'd remarried," Madam Joomsri said.

The parents were in the news after a former neighbour who married a Briton and moved to England returned home with a police sketch of "the Lady of the Hills".

"She saw the sketch online and thought it looked like Lamduan in some ways," Madam Joomsri said.

The neighbour helped Madam Joomsri contact a network of Thai women living in Britain. The network in turn arranged for the DNA tests that identified the mystery woman as Ms Lamduan.

Ms Lamduan's parents are currently focused on arranging their daughter's funeral.

"Let the police handle the legal proceedings against the murderer," Madam Joomsri said.

Justice Ministry deputy permanent secretary Tawatchai Thaikyo said such matters could be brought before a Thai court even when the suspect is a foreigner and the crime is committed overseas.

"The court can render verdicts in such cases and also order compensation be paid to victims," he said.

For the past 15 years, Ms Lamduan has lain buried in a churchyard in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, a town close to where she was found, the service paid for by the local parish.

The gravestone bears a plaque that reads: "The Lady of the Hills. Found September 20, 2004. Name Not Known. Rest in Peace."