How the mystery of the man in the Exe unravelled
THE family of Clifford John Thorne has described their loved one as a "popular, lovely and friendly" person.
The discovery of the 67-year-old, known to his friends and family as John, by a dog walker along the Exe Estuary Trail cycle path one July morning, sparked a nationwide police investigation led by officers at Exmouth CID.
But it is still not known how his body came to be on the banks of the River Exe between Exmouth and Lympstone some seven months ago.
The detectives' work proved highly challenging – two postmortems and forensic testing shed no light on how Mr Thorne may have died. And despite regular liaison with forces around the country and reviews of the missing persons database, no links to his identity were found.
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But last month,almost seven months after Mr Thorne's body was discovered, DNA taken by Thames Valley Police from his toothbrush supplied by a family member, was matched with DNA taken from his body by officers from Devon and Cornwall Police.
Mr Thorne was last seen at his home in Oxford on the morning of January 27 last year. He left to buy a paper, but never returned. It is understood that Mr Thorne, who liked being by the sea, had gone missing before but returned safely.
Expecting him to return home Mr Thorne's partner, Giulia Grassi, 63, and his son Kelvin Thorne, 41, have been left devastated by the news of his death. Giulia said: "He was such a lovely person and just the best."
Kelvin said: "He was the type of character who was everybody's friend."
Now the small team of officers, including Detective Constable Blain Bishop and Detective Sergeant Jo Hall, led by Detective Chief Inspector Brett Mitchell, is focusing its investigation on trying to find out how Mr Thorne died. Officers are not treating his death as suspicious.
As a result of reports in the Echo and ongoing police enquiries, dozens of people contacted police with information that was looked into but subsequently discounted.
Officers have maintained throughout their investigation how integral the support from members of the community has been. The detectives are now appealing to the public to contact them with any information that could help them determine what happened to Mr Thorne in the run-up to his death.
"John's family are very upset," said Det Chief Insp Mitchell. "They were expecting him to walk back through the door at some point. Now they are dealing with the tragic news that this won't happen. The important thing is giving the family the answers about what happened to John and how he ended up in the water in Exmouth."
Mr Thorne's bank card was last used on Monday, July 16, in Weymouth, two days before his body was discovered in Exmouth.
Det Chief Insp Mitchell said he would urge anyone who may think they know anything at all about Mr Thorne's movements in Exmouth before his death, to contact them.
"His last known movement was in Weymouth," he said. "We're hoping someone in Exmouth may remember him or have found his belongings, which could possibly be in a bed and breakfast he may have stayed at. Our focus now is to find out what happened to him. This is a critical phase for us. His death is still unexplained and we need to find out where he's been because this could lead us to determining how he died.
"There is no evidence to suggest a crime was committed.
"We want to make sure we have investigated all possible circumstances before bringing the case to a close and providing a report to the coroner ahead of them making a verdict."
In addition to conducting a public engagement exercise at the spot Mr Thorne's body was found, police released an e-fit of his face in the hope someone may recognise him.
"The e-fit was a useful tool," continued Det Chief Insp Mitchell. "It was there primarily to jog people's memories rather than being an exact likeness."
He added: "The response from the public was amazing, it has helped us massively – people really took the story on. We were still getting calls from people after Christmas from people who had seen stories in the Echo.
"We now need people's help in answering the questions the family have surrounding how he died enabling us to finish the last piece of the jigsaw."
A tidal expert's report revealed that Mr Thorne must have entered the water between Exmouth Marina and where his body was found.
"John must have been staying somewhere locally," the detective said. "We knew he hadn't been in the water for long and he wasn't dressed for being out in the elements, so we knew he must have been staying locally if he wasn't from the local area.
"The challenge all along was identifying John," he added. "There was no way of knowing who he was as there were no possessions on him, no witnesses to how he ended up in the water. Usually, from identification, we could have started to unpick where he had been staying, spoken to people he may have met to build up a picture of his lifestyle and try to work out what happened.
"Now we know who he is we can try to work backwards to find out what happened.
"As well as providing continued support to the family, our investigation will now be focussed on responses from the public. We will follow up every phone call. Ultimately we will be providing a report to the coroner."
There are a number of Mr Thorne's possessions he is understood to have left home with that are unaccounted for which police are keen to trace.
These include a Franklin Mint round eagle watch with a gold face in the shape of an eagle, another watch engraved with his name, a silver link chain necklace of medium thickness, a flat black wallet containing a Barclay card and bus pass in his name and a bunch of four keys and a key fob with an image of a Welsh dragon on it.
Mr Thorne is thought to have left home wearing a plain nylon navy jacket with a collar and two side pockets.
Anyone that may have any information that could assist officers should phone 101, quoting police reference number, reference KE/12/1669.