Cold case: woman's body lay in Lake Burley Griffin for 14 years
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Cold case: woman's body lay in Lake Burley Griffin for 14 years

It seems incomprehensible that a woman's body could lie undiscovered at the bottom of Lake Burley Griffin for more than a decade.

But it is the unsolved mystery of Irene Catherine Angley, who vanished 14 years before police divers found her remains, still strapped into the seat of her car, after they pulled it from Lotus Bay on November 20,1989.

Still waters: Swans on Lake Burley Griffin which hid the body of missing woman Irene Angley for 14 years.

Still waters: Swans on Lake Burley Griffin which hid the body of missing woman Irene Angley for 14 years.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

They believed the 25-year-old Spence woman's body had been beneath the lake's surface off Yarralumla roughly since she was reported missing on December 21, 1976.

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ACT Policing no longer has any record of the case.

And although there were several suspects early on, no-one has ever been charged over Ms Angley's disappearance or death.

Sergeant Allen Le Lievre was there when her car was dredged up from its watery grave.

The gruesome discovery was an accident – Ms Langley's Ford Cortina was among four cars a tow truck plucked from the lake that day as part of a routine training exercise.

When a police diver plunged into the water near the Canberra Yacht Club, which was a common dumping ground for stolen vehicles, he found two more cars in the same spot.

He felt a right-angle at the end of the fourth car, which appeared to have T-boned Ms Angley's car, in water four metres deep and about 20 metres offshore.

When the rusted car emerged, covered in silt and algae, police were shocked to find a woman's skeleton inside.

"We had no idea, so then we started treating it as a crime scene," Sergeant Le Lievre said.

He said the water's icy temperature, a lack of movement under the surface and the woman's position inside the car had preserved some of her flesh, and she was still clothed.

Reports in the Canberra Times in the week of the discovery said police refused to confirm rumours the body was found without a skull.

The car's doors were shut and the windows were up.

"She'd been reported as a missing person, her and the car had gone missing, and neither had ever been located," Sergeant Le Lievre said.

"The registration plates were still on the car so we were able to do a check and it came up to that missing person and the vehicle of interest and then the story came out."

He said her husband had returned to Britain years before the body was found.

Sergeant Le Lievre remembered a significant amount of circumstantial evidence suggested foul play.

"If we had've found that vehicle a lot earlier on then I'm sure that our investigators would've been looking at quite a serious crime."

But too much time had passed. The coroner later ruled Ms Angley's cause of death as suicide or strangulation.

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"From a crime scene's perspective, 14 years is a long, long time, and it's also a long, long time in relation to any other evidence they were trying to get," Sergeant Le Lievre said.

"Cold cases tend to be very difficult unless you get lucky in some way shape or form, whether that be DNA or whatever, but in water that's very difficult."

Megan Gorrey is a reporter at the Sydney Morning Herald. She was previously a reporter at The Canberra Times.

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