Thirteen years ago, officials from a north London housing association re-claiming a bedsit in Wood Green owing to rent arrears made a shocking discovery.
They discovered the skeleton of a 38-year-old woman identified as Joyce Carol Vincent who had been dead for three years.
According to reports, the dead woman’s body was gravely decayed that comparing dental records with an old holiday photograph of her smiling was the only way to identify her.
At the time she was discovered, the television set was still on and a small pile of unopened Christmas presents lay on the floor while dishes were stacked in the kitchen sink and a heap of post lay behind the front door. Food in the fridge was marked with 2003 expiry dates.
Joyce Carol Vincent’s death went unnoticed for many years until her corpse was discovered in her London bedsit.
Born in Hammersmith on October 19, 1965, Vincent was raised near Fulham Palace Road. She was of Dougla descent. Her parents had emigrated to London from Grenada.
Her father, Lawrence, was a carpenter of African descent and her mother, Lyris, who died when Vincent was eleven, was of Indian descent.
She grew up with her four older sisters, attended Melcombe Primary School and Fulham Gilliatt School for Girls, and was reported to have left school at age 16 with no qualifications.
She worked her way up and had really good jobs. In 1985, Vincent began working as a secretary at OCL in the City of London. She then worked at C.Itoh and Law Debenture before joining Ernst & Young. She also worked in the treasury department of Ernst & Young for four years but resigned in March 2001.
The story of Vincent’s death soon made headlines globally but very little was known about her. Some reports suggested Vincent was or had been engaged and that before living in the bedsit, she had been in a refuge for victims of domestic violence.
“Soon Joyce dropped out of the news. I watched as people discussed her in internet chat rooms, wondering if she was an urban myth, or talking about her as though she never mattered, calling her a couch potato, and posting comments such as: “What’s really sad is no one noticed she was missing – must have been one miserable b!tch,” filmmaker Carol Morley told Guardian.
“Joyce didn’t fit the typical profile of someone who might die and be forgotten – she wasn’t old without family; she wasn’t a loner, or an overdosed drug addict; nor was she an isolated heavy drinker. Who she was and the circumstances of her death were a mystery.”
Morley decided to make a film out of her life after meeting David Gibbs, journalist at the Tottenham & Wood Green Journal who reported on Vincent’s investigation, according to Guardian.
The film titled ‘Dreams of a Life’ and directed by Morley with Zawe Ashton was released in 2011. Morley took the pain of pursuing and interviewing people who had known Vincent.
According to Morley, people she spoke with described Vincent as a beautiful, intelligent, socially active woman, “upwardly mobile” and “a high flyer”, whom they assumed “was off somewhere having a better life than they were”.
Dreams of a Life captured Vincent’s life and ambitions through the information she gathered and through the people who knew her.
During her life, she met figures such as Nelson Mandela, Ben E. King, Gil Scott-Heron, and Betty Wright, and had also been to dinner with Stevie Wonder.
‘Dreams of a Life’ was shown at the 2011 BFI London Film Festival. The film got shortlisted for the Grierson award for best documentary at the LFF and was finally release in March 2012.
Following the film, English musician Steven Wilson said he was inspired to create a concept album after seeing Dreams of a Life. Thus, in 2014, he announced that his fourth CD release titled Hand. Cannot. Erase. would be based on the life of Vincent.
Vincent’s story did not just end there. Frontman Alex Marshall was also inspired by her story and he wrote a song about her life.
The song was initially titled “Miss Vincent” but later changed to “No One Knew”. Marshall eventually named his band the song’s original title instead.