The human remains discovered New Year's Day on the grounds of the country estate outside London where Queen Elizabeth and the royal family are spending the holidays have likely been there for one to four months and are not the result of natural death or accidental injury, British police said today.
The discovery is being treated as a murder investigation, officials confirmed.
The human remains were discovered Sunday by a dog-walker in a woodland area at Anmer, a tiny village northeast of London that is part of the Sandringham Estate property used by the British family as a vacation retreat.
The body is that of a young adult female, detectives with the Joint Norfolk and Suffolk Major Investigation Team said today after conducting a post-mortem examination on the remains.
Without giving further specifics, officials involved in the examination said it is "highly unlikely" the death was a result of natural causes. Detectives also found no evidence of accidental injury, damage because of firearms or bladed weapon at the site.
Detectives said results from DNA samples taken from the body should be available within the next 24 hours, and they hope to provide more details on the cold case. Police also plan to resume their search of the area where the body was discovered Wednesday.
"We are at the very early stages of the investigation and it could be a complex inquiry," Detective Chief Inspector Jes Fry said at a news conference today at the estate. "The circumstances suggest this is a murder case and we are looking at missing persons reports and cold cases both locally and nationwide."
The human remains were found near the Royal Stud where the queen oversees the breeding and training of race horses, and less than three miles from the queen's main residence on the estate, Sandringham House.
Sandringham House has served as a private residence for British monarchs since 1862 and is a favorite of the royal family's as a holiday retreat. The royals, including Prince Charles, Prince William and Kate Middleton, had gathered there with the queen and Prince Philip to celebrate Christmas this year.
In addition to housing the queen, Sandringham Estate is a 20,000 acre property that includes public gardens, villages and cottages with sitting tenants, horse grounds and fully operating farms.
The queen and Prince Philip had joined other royals in attending the traditional New Year's Day service at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene on the estate hours before the discovery was made.
The royals have not spoken publicly on the discovery, but police reportedly alerted them to the discovery Monday night. "My understanding is that the queen is being kept informed of these developments when there is news to tell her," Duncan Larcombe, royal editor for the UK's Sun newspaper, told ABC News.
The Queen and Prince Philip have not announced plans to leave the estate due to the discovery, instead, for now, choosing to remain through to their planned February departure.
The grounds surrounding the queen's residence at Sandringham are particularly busy this time of year with extra security personnel on hand to guard the royal family from the flock of tourists who travel to the estate in hopes of catching a glimpse of the family.
"It's possible that somebody involved with the queen's staff may know something, may have seen something," Larcombe said. "It seems quite extraordinary that it wasn't until a dog-walker discovered this body that something was found."
The location of the body discovery, Anmer, is home to several dozen people, and is completely accessible to the public at all times. It is also said to be a favorite spot of Prince Philip's.
"The area where the body was found is next to a small village on the estate, which is one of Prince Philip's favorite hunting grounds, where he likes to go out this time of year," Larcombe said.
While the murder investigation might be the first to happen directly on the grounds of a royal palace, the storyline is eerily similar for the queen and her family.
The body of Robert James Moore, a U.S. man described as a loner and obsessed with the queen, was discovered in March on an island in St. James's Park near Buckingham Palace, roughly three years after Moore was believed to have died.