IT was one of the most baffling cases ever dealt with by Bolton police.

The investigation by a team of up to 30 detectives hit the national headlines -- and involved a search through the missing persons records of towns and cities throughout the UK.

But the officers on that 1982 inquiry were never able to establish the identity of the woman whose badly decomposed body was discovered in the cellar of a large Victorian house in Bromwich Street on the fringe of Bolton town centre.

Today, 21 years later, her identity remains a mystery.

An inquest at the time was not able to determine the cause of her death, although it was estimated by a pathologist that the unidentified woman may have died 17 years before her body was found.

Mary Ellen, the nickname given to her by detectives, was eventually buried in an unmarked grave in Heaton Cemetery.

The police investigation into the case began in December, 1982, when John Baxendale, a tenant who had recently moved into the detached house in Bromwich Street, decided to clear the cellar.

His dog started scratching at a pile of rags in one corner and, as Mr Baxendale raised his candle, he saw what he thought was a tailor's dummy.

But it was only when he pulled the "dummy" out he realised his discovery was more gruesome.

He bundled the badly decomposed head of the body into a plastic bag and took it to nearby Castle Street police station.

A team of detectives was drafted in to look into the case and a fingertip search of the dark and musty cellar was undertaken. But there were very few clues to the woman's identity.

All that could be established was that she was small, less than 4ft 10ins tall, and was about 40 years old. It was estimated that she may have died in 1966.

Dressed in pink underwear, stretch type slacks, a pullover and cardigan, Mary Ellen was also wearing a gold eternity ring, which was traced to a Birmingham jeweller who had made it in the early 1960s.

A set of cheap rosary beads was also found and the woman appeared to have been lying on a makeshift bed of newspapers and cardboard.

Dozens of people who had lived in the house, which was then converted into five flats, were traced -- but no one knew who the woman was.

With a lack of leads, frustrated detectives turned to facial reconstruction expert Richard Neave, from Manchester University's Department of Medical Illustrations.

He had already been involved in reconstructions of heads from ancient Egyptian mummies and had been involved in two previous police cases, creating likenesses of dead people from the remains of their skulls.

Two months after Mary Ellen was found, police held a press conference to unveil the head of her created by Mr Neave.

But despite a national appeal, she was never identified.

And at an inquest in Bolton in April, 1983, coroner David Blakey was told the cause of her death could not be determined.

He recorded an open verdict and her body was released for burial.

In a lonely ceremony, with a hearse and bearers paid for by Bolton social services department, she was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in a section of Heaton cemetery reserved for public funerals -- and remains there today.