The police found a severely decomposed body lying on the sofa in the bedsit flat. The TV with BBC1 on and the heater were still running. The kitchen sink was full of dishes. Unlabeled but wrapped Christmas presents lay in a cover on the floor. Letters from 2003 were piled up behind the door. The food in the fridge showed expiry dates of 2003. The door was double-locked before the police had to break it down. The body had to be identified by the use of dental records. Joyce Carol Vincent lay dead for three whole years until finally being discovered in 2006.
Table of Contents
Birth and early life
Joyce Carol Vincent was born on the 19th of October, 1965 in Hammersmith, London. Her father, Lawrence, with whom she shared a strained relationship was of African descent. Her mother, Lyris, with whom she was close and inherited her lovely dark curls was of Indian descent. Her mother died following an operation, leaving an eleven-year-old Joyce in the care of her four older sisters. Joyce left school at the age of 16 without any qualifications to her name.
Jobs and relationships
She worked as a secretary at OCL in London, also worked for C.Itoh and Law Debenture before she started working in the treasury department for Ernst & Young.
Joyce was described as a beautiful, charming, happy-go-lucky person by the people who knew her. Martin, one of her ex-boyfriends, described her interests as going for racing at Goodwood or tennis at Wimbledon. They also used to experiment with restaurants and took pleasure in the opera.
John, one of Joyce’s close friends revealed that they used to mingle with people above their class and go sailing or to nightclubs. Dan and Kim, her colleagues from work described Joyce as popular in the workplace.
Catherine, Joyce’s close female friend recollected men always being drawn to her charisma. There was always a man who would have the hots for her and they would get intense with Joyce. Kirk, a friend, musician, and landlord from when Joyce lived in Wapping, reminisced the time when Joyce had recorded a tape in his studio. She had always dreamed of becoming a recording artist.
Alistair, another of Joyce’s ex-boyfriends had taken her to a Nelson Mandela tribute concert. Backstage she had had the chance to shake hands and talk with the likes of Nelson Mandela, Anita Baker, and Denzel Washington.
She had also met with the American singer, Betty Wright and other famous figures like Ben E. King and Gil Scott-Heron during her lifetime. Joyce’s friend, Judy who was an American disco singer had once taken her out to dinner with Stevie Wonder.
Health and Estrangement in her last days
Joyce was a patient of asthma. In November of 2003, she had been admitted into the North Middlesex hospital for a duration of two days, as she had vomited blood due to a peptic ulcer.
Before she left her job at Ernst & Young, she had been engaged to someone for two years. Her resignation came as a surprise to her colleagues as there seemed to be no particular reason for this. But just sometime later she checked into a shelter for domestic abuse and started working as a cleaner in a hotel.
Around this time she became even more estranged from her family. She then started living alone in a bedsit flat above Woodgreen shopping city which was owned by the Metropolitan housing trust and was meant for victims of abuse.
Death and the chance discovery of her corpse
Half of Joyce’s rent and all her bills were automatically paid up by beneficiary agencies. This is why the TV and the heater were still running even after 3 years. In January of 2006, the bailiffs decided to pay her a visit as she hadn’t been paying her half of the rent for 3 years. This is when her death was finally discovered.
The building was usually a noisy one and hence the TV sounds were masked. The stench was attributed to the waste bins nearby. Some of the neighbors didn’t even know that the bedsit was occupied. One neighbor had noticed a line of insects going in through the window of the victim’s flat but didn’t pay much heed to it.
There were no flats directly above and below of Joyce’s. And there was no direct sight into her flat. No wonder that no one got a hint of her death. Her death was declared to be from unknown causes, as it could’ve been either due to an acute asthma attack or from complications of her recent peptic ulcer.
Thoughts of friends and family members
Joyce’s sisters had hired a private detective to know the whereabouts of her. On getting her address they wrote letters to her. But since Joyce was already dead by then, they didn’t receive any reply and accepted her to have completely moved away from the family.
Friends and ex-boyfriends of Joyce had lost touch over the years but always assumed her to be in someplace nice. They were shocked to learn of her death in this way as they had imagined her to have married and settled down with children. Friends speculated her estrangement to the fact that she was probably ashamed of getting into a relationship with an abuser. This may also be why she moved away from her family because her family had always been nice to her.
Living on in film and music
The filmmaker Carol Morley first learned about this mysterious case in a copy of the Sun. She was intrigued by the circumstances of the death of this 38-year-old woman who’s middle name matched her first name. Sadly, there wasn’t a single photo nor any details about her life. The thought of a decomposed body lying in front of the telly for 3 long years wasn’t leaving her mind. How could someone in such a big city go unnoticed for such a long time? What kind of a woman was Joyce like? What made her isolate herself to an extent that no one found her body for years? Morley decided to gather more information on all of this and met with people who knew Joyce. She didn’t like the idea of Joyce simply being forgotten and went on to create the docudrama, Dreams of a life, which was released in 2011.
English musician, Steven Wilson’s album, Hand. Cannot. Erase. and the band Miss Vincent‘s song, No one knew are based on the life and death of Joyce.
Joyce’s life towards the end, her death and the circumstances of its discovery are one sad account, but we can cherish her for the woman she was by getting to know her, which indeed was the purpose of this article.