Jackie’s mission to fill in sister’s last days in Bury in 1971

Brenda 'Sally'  Browne, ringed, with a group of nurses at West Suffolk Hospital in the early 1970s
Brenda 'Sally' Browne, ringed, with a group of nurses at West Suffolk Hospital in the early 1970s

Jackie Barker was only 15 when her sister was reported missing from her nursing job at West Suffolk Hospital and was 26 when her remains were found.

Now, 35 years later she is on a mission to find out as much as she can about he sister Brenda Browne’s last days and how she was found.

The Bury Free Press report of Brenda 'Sally' Browne's inquest on June 4, 1982

The Bury Free Press report of Brenda 'Sally' Browne's inquest on June 4, 1982

Last week she and her partner Michael Page travelled from their home in March, Cambridgeshire, to Bury St Edmunds to see where her sister last lived and appeal for anyone who knew her, or dealt with the case, to get in touch.

“I’m getting on and I would like a few things answered,” she said.

Jackie and Brenda, known as Sally, were adopted by Kathleen Browne and her husband from Chatteris, Cambridgeshire.

Jackie says the first she and her mother knew of Sally going missing was when the police knocked on the door in February 1971

“When she first went missing the police said she was over 21 so she could go where she pleases,” Jackie said. “I don’t think there was ever a search.”

According to the Bury Free Press report of the inquest, which was held on June 1, 1982, a human skull was found by workmen clearing undergrowth at Hardwick Manor in Horsecroft Road, near West Suffolk Hospital and only 15 minutes walk from Sally’s nurses’ accommodation in Hospital Road.

More bones were later found, along with a pill bottle, but the inquest heard that there were not enough remains to establish a cause of death. Sally was identified by dental records and an open verdict was recorded.

Jackie also recalls identifying a watch at the inquest which had belonged to their father and which Sally wore after his death. She believes that watch was never returned to the family.

The inquest heard Sally joined the Army but when her adoptive father died in the 1960s things went wrong and she went into hospital with,the inquest heard, ‘serious mental health problems’.

She was discharged from the Army for ‘gross personality defects’ but was treated in a mental hospital and seemed to have recovered, though she was said to have suffered depression.

Jackie said: “I was only 15 when she went and I remember she was moody, but I didn’t know then if that was depression.

“She was so brainy – she went to Cambridge Grammar and she was so good at her job she achieved Nurse of the Year at the hospital.”

The inquest was told she had a lesbian relationship with a married woman who took her own life, after which Sally resigned her job and wrote to her mentor saying she was ‘running away’ because she felt she was letting people down. She was last seen walking towards the hospital, saying she was on duty.

Jackie would like to hear from anyone who knew her sister at the time or can tell her where the body was found so that she can see if she can visit the site. She would also like to know what happened to her father’s watch.

Suffolk Police say they have no records to do with the case.

If you can help, please email John Henderson at the address above or call 01284 757821.