LONDON — A murder mystery with elements of an Agatha Christie whodunit is unfolding at the vast country estate where Queen Elizabeth II and her family gathered in rural splendor to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s.
British police said a young woman’s body was found in the forest at Sandringham Estate and they are treating the case as a murder.
An autopsy was conducted Tuesday, but the cause of death was not disclosed, and investigators have yet to establish the woman’s identity.
The royal family is not implicated in the crime in any way.
The body was discovered by a dog walker on New Year’s Day three miles from the queen’s elegant country home. Norfolk police said tests showed the body had been there one to four months.
Police said a forensic pathologist found that it was highly unlikely the death was of natural causes and that there was no evidence of accidental injury. Investigators hoped to use DNA to identify the woman.
The queen and her husband, Prince Philip, celebrated the holidays at Sandringham with their children and grandchildren. The royal couple were still at Sandringham on Tuesday, along with their youngest son, Prince Edward, and his wife, Sophie.
Part of the nearly 31-square-mile estate is open to the public, and the body was found near Anmer, a hamlet of several dozen people. Situated 115 miles northeast of London, Sandringham has two stud farms and a fruit farm and employs more than 100 people full time.
Forensics investigators in white gear were seen walking through the woods Tuesday in an area cordoned off by police.
“We are at the very early stages of the investigation, and it could be a complex inquiry,” said Detective Chief Inspector Jes Fry on Tuesday. “The body had been there for some time.”
Inspector Fry said authorities were examining missing-person reports and unsolved cases around the country to see if there were any possible links.
The royal family owns vast tracts of land throughout Britain, and it is not unprecedented for serious crimes to be committed on property under their control.
In 2010, the body of a 46-year-old woman was found on the crown estate near Windsor Castle. She apparently had been killed by hammer blows to her head. Her estranged husband was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 26 years in prison.
In March, the body of an American with a royal obsession was found on an island in the park opposite Buckingham Palace. Authorities said Robert James Moore, who had sent rambling letters and strange packages to the queen, may have been dead for as long as three years. The cause of death was not determined.
Buckingham Palace officials are staying mum about the new murder case. Police are keeping many details confidential as they try to develop leads.