Sister of missing woman who vanished in 1959 is found dead at home

Tragedy as sister of woman who is the subject of Scotland Yard’s oldest missing person case is found dead at £300,000 semi-detached home with her husband – meaning she never found out what happened to her sibling who vanished in 1959

The sister of a woman who is the subject of Scotland Yard’s oldest missing person case has been found dead at home with her husband.

The bodies of Brenda Harris, 72, and her husband Derrick were discovered by police who forced their way into their house on Friday.

The alarm was raised by a relative who became concerned after being unable to contact them.

Post-mortem examinations have not taken place yet but police say they are not treating the deaths as suspicious and have not launched a murder investigation. A file has been passed to the coroner.

The deaths mean Mrs Harris never found out what became of her sister, Mary Flanagan, who disappeared aged 16 on New Year’s Eve in 1959. She was last seen as she left her home in West Ham, east London, to attend a party for staff at the Tate & Lyle sugar factory where she worked part-time.

Neighbours of the couple’s £300,000 semi-detached house in the Bretton district of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, told the Mail the couple were devoted to each other and either might have taken their own life if their partner died. Mrs Harris had been suffering from a long-term illness.

Derrick and Brenda Harris, pictured in the 1970s. They have been found dead at their home

Mary Flanagan, the sister of Brenda Harris, who disappeared in east London aged 16 in 1959

The home in Bretton near Peterborough where the couple were found dead

One said: ‘They were absolutely lovely people and very friendly but they seemed to lock themselves away after Covid.

‘They would only come out once a week to do their shopping and I would only see them occasionally. She was not very well and always wearing a face mask.

‘The police put some tape up outside their house after they were found and I think some forensics people might have come down but they didn’t stay for long.

‘Whatever happened, the police seemed happy that there was no foul play. I am wondering whether one of them died and the other took their own life because they couldn’t bear to be apart.’

Another resident said: ‘They were a friendly couple who always had time for a chat.

‘I last saw them around six months ago and I assumed they had gone to live with a relative or something. Then I saw a light on a few weeks ago.’

Left and right, Mr and Mrs Harris. They were found dead at home. Police said the deaths are not being treated as suspicious

Mrs Harris never found out what became of her sister, Mary Flanagan

One neighbour added: ‘I only realised something was wrong when one of their nieces banged on my door and asked if we had seen them because she could not get a reply.

‘She then called the police and officers broke in and found the bodies. It’s very sad.’

Mrs Harris – who was eight at the time of her sister’s disappearance – had taken part in police appeals to find her sister and regularly pleaded on Facebook for information.

The teenager had been in a relationship with an Irishman called Tom who was believed to be in the merchant navy, although she had a fight with him the night before she disappeared when she discovered he was living with his mother, not a landlady as he had claimed.

The Met reactivated the investigation into her disappearance in 2013 on what would have been Mary’s 70th birthday.

She was described in police records as a ‘bright and friendly girl from an Irish Catholic family’ who also worked part-time at an optician’s in Stratford.

Four years ago, on the 60th anniversary of Mary’s last sighting, Mrs Harris revealed she was still desperately holding on to hope, saying: ‘Your head tells you something has happened but my heart says she is out there somewhere.

The sign for Ringwood where Mr and Mrs Harris lived

‘We just need to let her know it’s okay, that we’re not going to have a go at her. We just want to know she is alive and well, healthy and happy. That will be enough.’

She added: ‘Time is running out for all of us and I want to see her in this world and not the other.’

Describing their last moments together, she said: ‘She wished us all a Happy New Year and kissed my mother, brother and I goodbye because she knew we would be in bed when she got home later.

‘My mother and I watched her walk to West Ham station and she turned around and waved goodbye at us. That was the last time I saw Mary.’

Mrs Harris had previously been married when she tied the knot with Derrick in 1977. They are believed to have had no children and other relatives were not available to comment.

Cambridgeshire Coroner’s Office said post-mortem examinations were due to take place today. A date is yet to be set for the inquests.

A Cambridgeshire Police spokesman said: ‘We were called at 4.24pm on Friday with concerns for the occupants of an address in Bretton.

‘Police forced entry to the property and found the two occupants deceased. The deaths are not being treated as suspicious and a file has been passed to the coroner.’

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