The River Thames is a London landmark. Police keep pulling out bodies.


LONDON — British police searching the River Thames for a man suspected of attacking a mother and two children with a chemical substance — who then seemed to vanish off a bridge — pulled two bodies from the water last weekend. Neither was his.

The grim discovery of the two dead men, found within a 30-minute window, sparked public concern — with some asking the question: Just how many bodies are there in England’s longest and iconic river?

British police say around 30 bodies are recovered each year from the river. According to police statistics, 279 bodies were recovered from the Thames during the 10 years between 2012 to 2022.

The Thames, which spans some 200 miles, runs through the heart of the city and is a key part of London’s identity. The waterway is known for the age-old structures that cross over it: Tower Bridge, London Bridge and Westminster Bridge, to name a few. Tourists flock to the restaurants, bars and landmarks dotted along its muddied waters: the London Eye, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

But the Thames also has a dark past. For more than four centuries, pirates and accused criminals were hanged at what was known as the Execution Dock on its north bank. Crowds would gather along the shore to watch the deaths, or spectate from boats. The corpses would typically go on display along the river, to be seen by ships entering and leaving the port. It’s also deep, at points.

Throughout England’s history, bodies found in the Thames have included victims of murder, boating collisions and accidental drownings. In recent years, suicide has become the most frequent cause of drowning in the river — and the tidal Thames is now an established “risk area” in the capital.

While modern technology has helped many bodies to be identified using DNA, the river has also produced a mysterious list of unidentified victims — and questions about how they died.

There’s the infamous “Lady in the Thames,” a woman whose body was recovered in 1977. Despite police appeals and a forensic artist creating an image of what she might have looked like, she has remained unidentified since her remains were uncovered more than four decades ago. There was also the torso in the Thames,” pulled from the water by police near Tower Bridge in 2001. Detectives said the torso belonged to a young African boy who they named “Adam.” His arms, legs and head had been expertly cut off and to date, the case has still not been solved.

The Thames has been a notorious site for murder victims for centuries. In the 1800s, a series of murders, known as the “Thames torso murders,” gripped the capital. Various body parts were found in the river, including torsos, a thigh and a woman’s face. The killer — or possible killers — was never found. The deaths came as “Jack the Ripper” terrorized the Whitechapel area in 1888. One man suspected of being “Jack,” Montague John Druitt, was found floating in the river Thames that same year.

The two bodies found over the weekend underscore the complexities police still face when it comes to searching for — and identifying — those who end up in the Thames.

In a statement to The Washington Post on Wednesday, London’s metropolitan police said both deaths of the bodies recovered on Saturday were “being treated as unexpected” and that officers are working to find out who they were and inform their next of kin.

And the suspect police were looking for? Abdul Ezedi is still missing — and “very likely” also dead in the Thames, police say. Ezedi was captured on CCTV footage pacing along the bridge shortly after the attack in south London on Jan. 31. Witnesses described Ezedi’s alleged attack as “horrific” and a 31-year-old woman remains in the hospital, according to a fundraising page created to support the family.

“We have no sighting of him coming off the bridge,” police commissioner Jon Savell told Sky News, adding that the river is “dangerous” and “difficult to search.” He said experts would carry out boat searches during low tide. He cited experts as saying that Ezedi’s body “may never be found.”

A drowning prevention strategy shared by the marine policing unit in 2019 found that suicide accounts for 90 percent of all deaths in the Thames. In 2018, there were 688 recorded cases of people threatening to enter the river to take their own life.

First response teams and government officials, have long attempted to tackle the issue. In 2019, Prince William backed a campaign from the Tidal Thames Water Safety Forum that enlisted the public’s help in preventing accidents and self-harm incidents on the tidal river.

A member of London’s Marine Policing Unit, the waterborne service responsible for policing more than 40 miles of the river, told the Guardian that “the number of bodies we recover has been pretty consistent for about 50 years,” adding that the mean number per year was “about 30.”

Locating bodies in the Thames is not easy, and specialist units deployed there to locate the missing are often presented with myriad challenges. The river itself has tidal and non-tidal sections, and in some parts, is fast moving.

Roman roofing. Tudor shoes. London’s mudlarks find castoff history along the Thames.

Some people who enter the water are pulled out alive by specialist teams including the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. In 2022, at least 109 people who entered the river were rescued or survived, according to an official water safety progress report.

Others who enter the water are never seen again. Sometimes their bodies are swept out to sea, or they become trapped in piers and barges. Others are found months — or years — later. If they are found at all.

Speaking to Sky News, former police detective Nick Aldworth described the Thames as a “massively hostile environment that’s constantly moving.” It’s also deep, at points. At London Bridge, the river runs 20 meters (66 feet) deep.

“You’re talking about a river … with a tidal range of 23 feet and speeds of up to 10 [miles per hour],” Aldworth said. “You can’t see an inch in front of you, and the challenge you have got is where do you start.”

If you or someone you know needs help, visit or call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. In Britain, call Samaritans suicide hotline at 116 123 or text SHOUT to 85258.


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