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Ancient skull leads to murder confession, prison sentence

Dec. 15, 1983

CHESTER, England -- In 1960, Peter Rayn-Bardt's young bride vanished without a trace. It took police 23 years and a 1,600-year-old skull found in a peat bog to figure out what happened to her.

Authorities finally closed the missing persons case Wednesday when a jury found Rayn-Bardt, 57, guilty of murdering his wife, Malita, after a 3-day trial. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Police said Rayn-Bardt recently confessed to the 23-year-old crime after a skull was found in a peat bog near his country cottage.

Believing the skull was his dead wife's, Rayn-Bardt went to authorities and admitted strangling her, then dismembering the body and burying the remains in a drainage ditch after trying to burn them.

But when forensic experts later dated the skull back to the year 410, Rayn-Bardt recanted. He was brought to trial anyway.

In Crown Court of Chester in northern England, the former airline official told the jury his wife died during a quarrel over money. He said she also threatened to expose his homosexuality.

Reyn-Bardt, who married his wife four days after meeting her in 1959, contended he could not recall how his wife died but said he had no doubt he caused her death.

The jury decided he had strangled her and took only 3 hours to reach an 11-1 guilty verdict.

'The skull had been preserved in the peat bog for over 16 centuries and obviously has nothing to do with Malika Reyn-Bardt,' said prosecutor Martin Thomas at the first day of the trial Monday.

'But the supreme irony is this: Its discovery led directly to the arrest of the defendant and to his detailed confession.'