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Body near U.K. royals' house probed as murder

LONDON - It's a case that Sherlock Holmes would have loved to unravel: British police say a woman's body has been found at the vast rural estate in Norfolk where Queen Elizabeth II and her family celebrated New Year's.

Police are treating the case as a murder, and an autopsy was conducted Tuesday to learn more about the cause of death and the identity of the victim.

The body was found on New Year's Day three miles from the elegant country home of Sandringham in eastern England where the royals held a New Year's Day celebration in rural splendor.

Part of the nearly 20,000-acre royal estate is open to the public, and the body was found in a forest at Anmer, a hamlet of several dozen people on the estate 115 miles northeast of London.

Pictures: Murder inquiry on Queen Elizabeth II's estate

Forensics investigators in white outfits were seen walking through nearby woodlands Tuesday, examining the ground in an area cordoned off by police.

Most of Britain's senior royals were at the sprawling estate for the holidays, where the queen loves to celebrate Christmas with her husband, children and grandchildren. The estate has served as a private residence for British monarchs since 1862.

So far, there are more questions than answers about the strange discovery, which has shaken the normally quiet region where the queen and her family typically enjoy riding horses and shooting parties.

Buckingham Palace officials are keeping mum about the murder case, referring callers to the police, and police have released few details. It is not yet clear how old the victim was, how long her body had been in the woods, if she was murdered on the grounds or if her remains were put there after the slaying.

"We are at the very early stages of the investigation and it could be a complex inquiry," Detective Chief Inspector Jes Fry said Tuesday. "The body had been there for some time."

Fry said authorities were examining missing person reports and unsolved cases around the country to see if there were any possible links.

"I cannot confirm whether she was clothed because, at the moment, only my staff, the person who found the body and the person or people who put it there know that and I would like it to stay that way," he said. "The body was found by a dog walker and was not underground. At this stage we do not know who the victim is."

The Sandringham estate comprises nearly 31 square miles, making it larger than Manhattan, which is roughly 23 square miles, according to New York City's Department of City Planning. It has two horse stud farms, a fruit farm and employs more than 100 full-time staff.

The grisly find has further marred a difficult holiday season for the royal family. Two days before Christmas, Prince Philip, the queen's 90-year-old husband, suffered chest pains and had to be sent by helicopter to a Cambridge hospital for emergency treatment to clear a blocked coronary artery.

The royals' New Year's celebration marked a milestone, as Philip made his first public appearance since recovering from the heart operation. He attended the New Year's Day church service at a chapel on the estate.

Elizabeth and Philip remain in residence at Sandringham House, along with one of her sons, Prince Edward, and his wife Sophie.

The discovery of a body on a royal estate was not unprecedented. In November 2010, the body of Joanna Brown, 46, was found on the Crown Estate in Windsor, apparently killed by hammer blows to her head. Her estranged husband, Robert Brown, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 26 years in prison.

In March 2011, the body of an American with a royal obsession was found on an island in the park opposite Buckingham Palace. Authorities said Robert James Moore, who had sent rambling letters and strange packages to the queen, may have been dead for up to three years before his body was found.

The cause of death was not determined.

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