It started out as just a normal day at the tip for Mike Lewis of Carmarthen. The air was changing as the season altered from summer to autumn. The temperature was falling, sunlight was decreasing, but one thing stayed the same – the smell. The refuse tip at Nantycaws is the same as any other. It sits to the south of a busy dual carriageway, and above decades of waste.
For generations, people have driven from across the county to dispose of rubbish here, and that smell radiates up and down the A48 as you approach the site from Carmarthen or Cross Hands.
It has always been a largely unremarkable place, except for one day, 29 years ago, when something happened which sparked a huge police search for a body, something that, to this day, is shrouded in mystery.
It was lunchtime on Friday, September 28, 1990. It was dry but it wasn’t hot. One workman stopped his machine and made his way across the yard to take his break. He had been working since the early morning and was looking forward to a well-earned rest. Then, he thought he saw something.
He must have seen all sorts, all the time. In the 1980s and 90s, everything you didn’t want ended up at ‘the tip’. ‘The remarkable thing was – it seemed to be in perfect condition. It was the whole leg, sliced at the upper thigh…’
Today there is an avalanche of regulations and guidelines on how and what to recycle; in those days there was just an avalanche of un-filtered rubbish.
But this was different, so he moved closer. As he approached, his initial reaction was the same, so he moved closer again, and finally what he thought he saw became clear. His disbelief did not subside, it escalated.
It was a baby’s leg.
Mike Lewis remembers the day well.
“I was working at the tip at the time,” said Mike, now retired. “I was a self employed contractor and I was a machine driver there.
“I had just got down from my machine for a break and I saw it, the child’s leg. It was just lying there, in the waste. I didn’t know what to do. I moved it a bit with a piece of slate so that nobody would stand on it, then I went straight up to the office and phoned the authorities.”
The police quickly arrived on the scene in Nantycaws to begin an investigation. Tape sealed off the whole area and a full-scale search got underway, leaving workers at the site bewildered.
Police began looking for anything else that could shed some light on a gruesome find which had shocked everyone at the site.
The first stage was to discover if there were other body parts. Officers had to wear face-masks as they sifted through tonne after tonne of rotting waste, searching for another leg, a head, anything….
And pretty soon the unanswered questions began to loom large.
How had this human leg ended up at a rubbish dump? Who did the leg belong to, and what had happened to the poor child?
It was quickly established that the limb was the left leg of a girl – a baby, a few months old.\\
“I was used to seeing all sorts at the tip in those days, but this was different,” continued Mike. “I’d never seen anything like this. It was a huge shock.
“I thought initially it was a limb from the hospital that came in with the waste. The remarkable thing was – it seemed to be in perfect condition. It was the whole leg, sliced at the upper thigh, and it was cleanly cut.”
The police started to delve deeper into the dynamics of what had happened, and wanted to know about everyone and everything that had come in and out of the tip because, simply, somebody knew the history of this child and how she came to be the focus of a county-wide mystery.
“The police were there for more than two weeks,” recalled Mike. “They wanted to know what lorries had come in and from where. I think they were hoping to find the rest of the body, but they never did.”
In the days and weeks following the discovery, rumours flew around Carmarthen about the nature of the tragedy that had befallen this young child. Had she died of natural causes, had she died as the result of illness at one of two local hospitals, had she been the victim of foul play?
Refuse lorry drivers were interviewed by police and health chiefs quickly denied any suggestion that the limb could have been transported from a hospital alongside more conventional waste.
It was reported locally, and consequently played down by police, that witchcraft could have been involved, or that the find could have been a remnant from a ritual child killing.
But the police were baffled, having spent days searching a site that was run at the time by the now disbanded Dyfed Council, and weeks more examining the leg.
More answers started to emerge, but they only led to more questions.
It was disclosed a fortnight after the discovery that the leg had been severed with a sharp instrument, possibly an axe.
This raised an uncomfortable point: had the child died before the leg was severed, or after?