In November 2018, the “Weird Facts” Facebook page posted a widely-shared meme which outlined the death of Joyce Carol Vincent, summarizing it as “In 2006, a woman (Joyce Carol Vincent) was found in her London flat, skeletonized, after 3 years of being dead — with the TV still running”:
Notwithstanding the somewhat crass imagery used in the meme, this was unfortunately a largely accurate description of the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Joyce Carol Vincent, who did indeed remain undiscovered at home for around two years, dying around December 2003.
According to material prepared for release to the news media by the Metropolitan Police, as well as reports by the BBC and the Press Association, the following are the known facts surrounding Vincent’s demise. Some readers might find the details disturbing.
On 26 January 2006, Vincent’s remains were discovered at her apartment in Wood Green, north-east London. Workers from the Metropolitan Housing Trust, an organization which provides affordable housing and is now known as Metropolitan Thames Valley, had forced entry while attempting to inquire about thousands of pounds of unpaid rent arrears. Vincent had been placed in the small apartment as part of a scheme for victims of domestic violence.
Vincent’s remains were badly decomposed, and pathologist Dr. Simon Poole later described them as being “largely skeletal,” which supports the claim made in the “Weird Facts” meme. According to evidence heard at a coroner’s inquest, Vincent was found lying on her back on the floor of her living room next to a shopping bag and Christmas presents which she had wrapped but never delivered.
Her television was indeed still switched on when Vincent was found. She was identified by reference to dental records.
Based on the expiration dates of food and medication found in Vincent’s flat, it was estimated that she had died around December 2003, some two years earlier — not three years earlier, as the “Weird Facts” meme and several news reports mistakenly stated. She was born in London to Grenadian immigrant parents in 1965, and was 38 years old at the time of her death.
In the years after Vincent was discovered, the filmmaker Carol Morley tracked down her friends, colleagues and associates. In interviews which would ultimately form the basis of the 2011 documentary film Dreams of a Life, those who knew Vincent universally recalled their shock and disbelief at the circumstances of her death and discovery.
In the film some friends recounted actually having read news accounts of her death in April 2006, but without an accompanying photograph, they did not connect the horrific circumstances of her discovery with the person they had known.
According to those accounts, Vincent had for many years been a very social, popular professional young woman who worked in London’s fast-paced financial district in the 1980s and 1990s, was highly intelligent and charming, and was remarkably attractive and frequently the object of male attention.
Vincent, who was at one time an aspiring singer, was acquainted with the soul vocalist Betty Wright, and had dinner with other iconic musical artists, including Gil Scott-Heron, Jimmy Cliff, and Ben E. King. In 1990, Vincent briefly met and conversed with Nelson Mandela backstage at a concert in London’s Wembley Stadium.
Although she had many friends, Vincent’s friendships appear to have been somewhat fleeting, and despite the deep affection in which she was held, she was known for “drifting” in and out of social groups and relationships and sometimes appeared troubled. Her acquaintances recalled that she was distant towards her family members.
According to Morley’s interviews with friends of Vincent, she became engaged to marry an unidentified man in the late 1990s, and the Metropolitan Police later noted that she had been involved in a “domestic incident” in 1998. In Morley’s documentary, Vincent’s friends observed that she was likely to have been in at least one abusive relationship during that time.
By 2001, Vincent left her job at the accounting firm Ernst & Young and progressively lost contact with her family members, friends and former colleagues, working for a time as a cleaner.
She changed addresses frequently but moved into her final apartment in Wood Green in February 2003, having been placed there as part of a women’s refuge program for victims of domestic violence. Her friends have speculated that she may have become isolated and withdrawn over time because she was ashamed of the abuse she had suffered and the shift in her professional and personal circumstances, and she may also have been avoiding detection by an abusive former partner.
In November 2003, she was briefly hospitalized after vomiting blood and was diagnosed with a peptic ulcer. Although she is believed to have died around a month later, the coroner was unable to arrive at a cause of death due to the decomposition of her remains by January 2006. She also suffered from asthma, which was cited by her friends as a possible cause of death.
Vincent did not take drugs or smoke and did not drink alcohol to excess. From the outset, the Metropolitan Police made it clear that they did not suspect foul play in her demise.