Joyce Carol Vincent (15 October 1965 – c. December 2003) was an English woman who is notable because her corpse lay undiscovered in her London bedsit for two years. Unlike many other cases of undiscovered deaths, Vincent had been young, sociable, and had no history of mental illness or substance abuse. Her varied life had seen her meet such figures as Nelson Mandela, Ben E. King, Gil Scott-Heron, and Betty Wright, and she had been to dinner with Stevie Wonder.
In 2001, Vincent resigned from her job at Ernst & Young, and moved into a shelter for victims of domestic abuse. By 2002 she had cut off contact with her friends and family, possibly due to embarrassment regarding her situation or from pressure from a controlling partner. She was found dead in her flat in January 2006, and evidence suggested she died around the December 2003 period.
Joyce Vincent was born in Hammersmith on 15 October 1965, and raised near the Fulham Palace Road. Her parents had immigrated to London from Grenada; her father Lawrence was a carpenter of African descent and her mother Lyris was of Indian descent. Following an operation, her mother died when Vincent was eleven, and her four older sisters took responsibility for her upbringing. She had a strained relationship with her emotionally distant father, who she claimed had died in 2001 (he would live until 2004). She attended Melcombe Primary School and Fulham Gilliatt School for Girls, and left school aged sixteen with no GCSEs.
In 1985 Vincent began working as a secretary at OCL in the City of London. She then worked at C.Itoh and Law Debenture, before joining Ernst & Young. She worked in the treasury department of Ernst & Young for four years, but resigned in March 2001 for unknown reasons.
Shortly afterwards Vincent spent some time in a domestic abuse shelter in Haringey, and worked as a cleaner in a low budget hotel. During this period she became estranged from her family. A source involved in the investigation said: "She detached herself from her family but there was no bust up. They are a really nice family. We understand she was in a relationship and there was a history of domestic violence." It has been speculated that she was ashamed to be a victim of domestic abuse, or did not want to be able to be traced by her abuser.
As a victim of domestic violence, Vincent was moved into her bedsit flat in Wood Green in February 2003. The flat was owned by the Metropolitan Housing Trust and was used to house victims of abuse. In November 2003, after vomiting blood, she was hospitalised for two days due to a peptic ulcer, and listed her bank manager as her next of kin.
Vincent died of unknown causes around the December 2003 period. She was an asthma sufferer, and an asthma attack has been suggested as a possible cause of death, or complications surrounding her recent peptic ulcer. Her remains were described as "mostly skeletal" according to the pathologist, and she was lying on her back, next to a shopping bag, surrounded by Christmas presents she had wrapped but never delivered. It is not known to whom the presents were addressed, although Carol Morley has said that this information may be contained in the police report of the case, which has not yet been released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Neighbours had assumed the flat was unoccupied, and the odour of decomposing body tissue was attributed to nearby waste bins. The flat's windows did not allow direct sight into the accommodation. Drug addicts frequented the area, which may explain why no one questioned the constant noise from the television. Half of her rent was being automatically paid to Metropolitan Housing Trust by benefits agencies, leading officials to believe she was still alive. However, over two years, £2,400 in unpaid rent accrued, and housing officials decided to repossess the property. Her corpse was discovered on 25 January 2006, when the bailiffs broke in. The television and heating were still running due to automatic debit payments and debt forgiveness.
The Metropolitan Housing Trust said that due to housing benefits covering the costs of rent for some period after Vincent's death, arrears had not been realised until much later. The Metropolitan Housing Trust said that no concerns were raised by neighbours or visitors at any time during the three years between death and discovery of the body.
Vincent's body was too badly decomposed to conduct a proper post-mortem, and she had to be identified from dental records. Police ruled death by natural causes as there was nothing to suggest foul play: the front door was double locked and there was no sign of a break-in. At the time of her death she had a fiancé, but the police were unable to trace him. Her sisters had hired a private detective to look for her, and contacted the Salvation Army, but these attempts proved unsuccessful. The detective found the house where Vincent was living, and the family wrote letters to her, but as she was already dead by this time, they received no response, and the family assumed that she had deliberately broken ties with them.
The Glasgow Herald reported, "her friends noted her as someone who fled at signs of trouble, who walked out of jobs if she clashed with a colleague and who moved from one flat to the next all over London. She didn't answer the phone to her sister and didn't appear to have her own circle of friends but instead relied on the company of relative strangers who came with the package of a new boyfriend, a colleague or flatmate."
A film about Joyce, Dreams of a Life, written and directed by Carol Morley, with Zawe Ashton playing Joyce, was released in 2011. Morley tracked down and interviewed people who had known Joyce. They described a beautiful, intelligent, socially active woman, "upwardly mobile" and "a high flyer", whom they assumed "was off somewhere having a better life than they were". During her life she met figures such as Nelson Mandela, Ben E. King, Gil Scott-Heron, and Betty Wright, and had also been to dinner with Stevie Wonder.
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- Dreams Of A Life - Interview with the Director Carol Morley on BYOD at SXSW Film Fest - YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfY0K-toxGM
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- Carol Morley On Dreams Of A Life
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElqCfBJAFoE Sheffield Doc/Fest 2012: Carol Morley in Conversation with Guardian Critic Peter Bradshaw - YouTube
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- Duff, Oliver (14 April 2006). "Woman lay dead in her flat for more than two years". The Independent.
- Dreams of a Life: A Glimpse into a Golden Apple | Dialect Magazine
- Dreams of a Life | Filmmaker Carol Morley
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYVPhvbL7v0 DocHouse 'Dreams of A Life' Q&A with Carol Morley 24th January 2012 - YouTube