‘Woman with the flower tattoo’ identified decades after her death in Belgium


On June 3, 1992, Belgian police found a woman’s body washed up against a grate in an Antwerp river. She appeared to have died violently, police said, but her identity remained a mystery for several decades. Until now.

A family member in Britain recently approached authorities after Interpol began an operation to solve decades-old suspected murder cases across Western Europe. The woman’s relative recognized a unique tattoo on her left forearm: a black flower with green leaves and the words “R’Nick” underneath.

Rita Roberts, 31, had moved to Antwerp from the Welsh capital, Cardiff, in February 1992. The last her family heard from her was a postcard in May of that year. After that, she vanished.

“Our passionate, loving and free-spirited sister was cruelly taken away,” Roberts’s family said in a statement on Tuesday. “Whilst the news has been difficult to process, we are incredibly grateful to have uncovered what happened to Rita.”

The family traveled to Belgium to meet with investigators and formally identify Roberts in person as the “woman with the flower tattoo.”

Roberts is among 22 women thought to have been murdered in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands in the past 40 years, but who have never been identified by authorities. Investigators suspect, based on the evidence, that they are from abroad. But they have been unable to pin down who they are, where they are from and why they were overseas.

In May, Interpol shared details of the cold cases, including facial reconstructions, hoping that someone might recognize them and come forward. Normally, such details, known as “black notices” are made available only to police.

Black notices can include information on where the body was found, biometric information including DNA and fingerprints, dental charts, physical descriptions of the body or clothing, and other items found at the scene.

In a video shared by Belgian police in May, the presenter said that, in addition to the distinctive tattoo, Roberts was wearing “striking” DAG-brand sneakers, a T-shirt with the word ‘SPLINTER,’ and dark blue Adidas sweatpants.

So far, Roberts is the first to have been identified, although the other cold cases offer tantalizing clues.

Among the unsolved cases, the “woman with the bracelet” was found wrapped in a plastic package in a creek near an apartment complex in the Netherlands in 1995. As well as a distinctive gold bracelet, she had two noticeable scars on her right arm — one on the upper arm from the smallpox vaccination and one on the elbow. Police also deduced that she was a nail biter and probably a heavy smoker, judging by the nicotine stains on her right hand.

“The woman in men’s clothing” was found in a nature reserve northwest of Berlin in November 1988. Around 20 or 30 years old, she was wearing a silver ladies’ wristwatch with the numbers 22982 engraved on the back — which authorities surmised could be the date Sept. 22, 1982, possibly a wedding date or significant anniversary. She also wore two conspicuous earrings on her right ear; one leaf-shaped, and the other a grid-like, rectangular earring made of blue metal.

Since May, investigators have received 1,250 tips from the public. The investigation into Roberts’s death is continuing. Interpol said Tuesday that she appeared to have been violently killed.

“Rita was a beautiful person who adored traveling. She loved her family, especially her nephews and nieces, and always wanted to have a family of her own. She had the ability to light up a room, and wherever she went, she was the life and soul of the party,” her family said in the news release Tuesday. “We hope that wherever she is now, she is at peace.”

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