Writings of the general word's body

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Joyce Carol Vincent - a life in fragments

Nothing I've read recently has moved me more than this story of a woman who died in her bedsit in London, undiscovered for three years. The window remained open, plates sat in the sink, mail piled up at the door, Chritsmas presents unopened and the TV on - while she faded into skeletal remains on the sofa.

What is more desperately sad, that someone could die this kind of lonely death in the otherwise highly frequented shopping precint of Wood Green; that no neighbours, friends or family noticed her disappearance; or the elegiac detail of the television set that kept an unexpected vigil, staying on and warm for three years?

My heart has broken many times today over this story. I was in London when the shocking find made the news in 2006, yet I don't recall ever hearing of it. But now I'll never forget, thanks to the painstaking and loving efforts of filmmaker Carol Warner who spent several years trying to piece together the fragile details of the late Joyce Vincent's life.
She writes in today's UK Observer about her efforts to memorialise the tragic Joyce, which has now resulted in a film, 'Dreams of a Life'.

"The point is, Joyce Vincent is dead, no one murdered her, and no one seems to care that much. I gather she was very beautiful, which for reasons totally spurious makes it more poignant because we always think beautiful people have everything go their way." - Lynne Featherstone, MP.

"There were a lot of exciting things happening to me and her arrival coincided with a lot of that change, so I used to call her my lucky charm. She was always immaculately attired down to the bows on her underwear. But she wasn't just physically beautiful, she had an aura about her."

Alistair explained that Joyce never really talked about her life before she met him. "Have you ever seen the movie The Man with No Name? That's how she was – she came with no past."


A portrait emerges of an upwardly mobile young woman with good jobs and good pay that moved in appropriate circles, but who may have sought to slough off the vestiges of her background. Even now, it appears friends rather than family, helped piece together what is now known. They cannot reconcile the beautiful young woman they had known with the down and out 38-year-old that died unmourned. They say she looked like Whitney Houston, had dinner with Stevie Wonder, knew Betty Wright, Issac Hayes, Jimmy Cliff and Gil Scott-Heron. She was at the Mandela Tribute Concert at Wembley in 1990 and met the Madiba. Millions may have seen her in the live telecast; and the filmmaker tracks down footage of the moment, in an almost heroic ode to transience.

Carol Morley's
'Dreams of a Life' will be shown at the BFI London Film Festival this month. It's already been shortlisted in the Best Documentary category for London Film Festival and will go on general release next year. I'm making a note to self now, that I must watch this film.

29 comments:

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

No this bothers me. How can someone die and go unnoticed for three years? Has she no colleagues, neighbours? I'm beginning to wonder the kind of life we're creating in this busy-like and very-personal and self-centered world. So that to even give one a hand, one needs to think very carefully else the laws will deal with him/her. I am amazed and seem unable to dissociate this from fiction.

sundersartwork said...

I have to remember this film also. I do wonder though if it was because of her looks that the film is being made. Her conventional beauty was mentioned about ten times in the Guardian article.It doesn't hurt in the publicity photo's i suppose.

Olushola said...

I read the Observer piece by the documentary maker, and just had to search online to find out more. And I was immeasurably happy to come across your article.

'Dreams of a Life' is definitely something I'd love to see, and it is particularly poignant for me with my present 'lonely londoner' life.

[Edited]

silverpen said...

I hope the films makes it to the States. I'm sure it will because it's so interesting. The fact that Joyce was beautiful merely adds another dimension to an already intriguing story.

Anonymous said...

I saw the film yesterday and was actually very disappointed. I used to work with Joyce some years ago but did not know her that well. The story was told, it seems, mainly by her former boyfriends and some acquaintances so it was rather biased. In real life she came across as very grown up, mature and in control. Also much more lady like then the character portrayed in documentary. She did not strike me as a victim. She was lovely and friendly and being on her own must have been her choice for a good reason.

Anonymous said...

I first read about Joyce Carol Vincent yesterday and had trouble sleeping. This morning, I was still thinking about her, which prompted me to google and find this blog. I am deeply saddened at how no one missed her, which goes to show important it is to be a community even within big cities. Her story is huge and outcries an urban catastrophe that need to be avoided. People need to care damn it about each other enough to periodically check on this who live alone, regardless of age. :(

Strong Self said...

This is really piteous. If this is one of the evils of civilization; an era when individuality trumps communality, let my civilization be forever monitored!

Anonymous said...

People find it hard to believe that this could happen but I do not because I am Joyce Vincent. Well, I am another person who will more than likely succumb in this manner that is. And I know that there are so many more out there like Joyce and I. Just keeping it real.

I am an upper middle class African- American female who is well educated, friendly, hardworking, outgoing, nice, easy going, popular and beautiful. I have a professional career, do not drink or do drugs, and I am not promiscous. I have tons of family and friends and constantly reach out to others only for it to not be reciprocated most times.

My mother also died when I was younger and the remaining family never call/txt/email me (not even my father), invite me to family events, etc since that time. We used to be such a close family and now it's a newe era and I feel abandoned. When I see my relatives(which is rare) there are the usual fake salutations and hugs followed by the "we must get together" bit only to be forgotten by the time I walk away. I could understand if there was a reason for the behavior but there isn't one other than people being too self absorbed in their own lives.

I think times have changed and people no longer know how to socialize on a human level any more....that fact saddens me although I am not sad about my own existence. I am just honest and realistic. No matter because I am going to keep being my wonderful self no matter how the rest of the world responds to me. But more importantly, I relate so much to Joyce and I feel like my voice is her voice so I want the world to have a better understanding of her unnoticed death.

Anonymous said...

I find this story extrememly disturbing and very odd. I have read a couple of articles on her today. What I do not understand is how the tv was on for 3 years? They said they found her dead and with the tv still on. If she had been dead for 3 years, who is paying the electricity and cable bill? It would have been cut after 1 year of no payments. What about tax collectors? She wouldn't have paid taxes in 3 years? What about the rent or mortgage on the place? Somebody would have come demanding to see her if these things werent being taken care of.....so if she died, then who was taking care of all these things under her name?

Also, the christmas presents are a sign that either people were going to come over or she was going to see some people. Maybe she was going to mail the presents out, so she must have had addresses or names of these contacts somewhere in the place.

Something is very fishy about the whole thing. I am not so sure if it is a case of societal neglect and a story of how our modern world cannoy interact on human level anymore. The fact that the tv was on for 3 years just really confuses me. Who was taking care of the bills? That person should be questioned. I hope they address this in the movie.

Wordsbody said...

I appreciate all the comments on this post. Clearly the story of Joyce Carol Vincent's tragic end touches a chord with many people, and I'm not surprised. I understand 'Dreams of a Life' is now on general release in the UK.

will121 said...

Film is now out in UK, see http://dreamsofalife.com/ or IMDB Very sad and moving

Anonymous said...

I have just read about this story in Australia's national magazine.I also am very suspisious about the circumstances, how many people over the years have turned a blind eye and chosen not to get involved ? What a contrast to the personalty of the filmaker who has chosen to become obsessed. I admire you Carole for your love of human life and dignity. Your lives are entwined now. Even to the point of the chosen mvie title. It can be read Dream sofa life -ironic hey ?

Anonymous said...

Having now seen the film on DVD about 3 times, I can only conclude that Joyce Vincent's lonely death was circumstantial. It seems she had very good reasons for intentionally isolating herself from Society as she'd just come out of an abusive relationship. She may even have been engaged and bought a house with this abusive partner and have had to sell it. Can you imagine how devastating and disruptive that would have been? At that stage in her life things had become too much for her and she'd quit her job, she may even have had reasons for being in hiding. It's unfortunate that she died when she did, at a moment when she needed to be alone. I think the tragedy is that she didn't reach out to more people for help & understanding rather than hiding herself away. Maybe she felt a sense of shame at her situation? Battered women often feel that it is somehow their fault that they've ended up in that type of situation. A very sad and tragic story but kind of understandable.

Anonymous said...

I heard about this back in 2006. No details; just talk around work. I also know my post will probebly not be read by anyone because it is so late. This is for people I say I love but, don't talk to very often. I have just heard about the bills going unpaid, old aquaintences, distant family and yes, how beautiful she was. I want to say that it wasn't her beauty that mattered so much. What mattered was her age and how many people seemed to know her. She obviously had some problems that people wrote off as quirks. She seemed lonley. Maybe she felt that life had passed her by and died from old fashioned sadness. I would rather belive that she died from some undiagnosed medical condition as there seemed to be no signs of an intruder with the door being bolted from the inside. This whole thing brings to light how selfish we are as humans to allow this to happen and post frivilous comments without any type of of self assesment of our own human conditions. We suck, people. I will do my best to not let this happen to my family or friends. I think I have some calls to make and prayers to send out. Rest in Peace, Joyce and anyone who died like this.

Myself said...

Hello Anonymous, I can also relate to being like Joyce Carol Vincent, I am also an African American Woman age 39 who could succumb to a fate such as this...I am so amazed at how one can just disappear with several siblings who basically raised her not be curious about her well being....SHAMEFUL!!


Anonymous said...

Sad sad sad.

Anonymous said...

Tragic story vaguely remember reading about it whilst living in London. We carry on in our own little bubbles, family and friends are what matters not the latest consumer item. I will certainly make more of an effort to stay in touch with the people I care about. Thought provoking stuff. RIP Joyce.

SUSAN GALE said...

Extremely sad... I watched the documentary/ film on channel 4 last night. It beggars belief that it took 3 years before anyone took action, regarding rent/ electric arrears etc.
To die alone is tragic.. I hope she is at peace.

Anonymous said...

Sad, very sad. This is what isolation causes, in a society where communities no longer exist. That is why God said it is not good that man should be alone and He made Adam a helpmate Eve. We always need people in our lives, in reaching out to others, we heal our pain. Rest in peace Joyce, I hope your story helps somebody dealing with isolation today.

shelley Stewart said...

We now live in times where people are so wrapped up in their own lives, we don't notice what's happening around us! This is such a sad story, it does make you think/wonder. Joyce Vincent is a name I won't forget in a hurry. I will now make a huge effort to mend my ways.

shelley Stewart said...

We now live in times where people are so wrapped up in their own lives, we don't notice what's happening around us! This is such a sad story, it does make you think/wonder. Joyce Vincent is a name I won't forget in a hurry. I will now make a huge effort to mend my ways.

Kayla said...

Since I watched the docudrama on Ch4 couple of days ago, I can't get this story out of my head- it's shocking and with full of questions! One positive thing that's coming out of this is that people are showing empathy and are talking about changing their ways for better i.e. caring more for friends and family members as this is indeed missing in our society. Tragically we don't keep contact physically with everyone anymore, even to text someone to ask about them sometimes seem like a major task! I do agree with a couple of people who raised questions about the bills -how could it remain unpaid without the energy suppliers coming on knocking on the door for their money? bizarre! as for her family, maybe it was Joyce's decision not to stay in contact with her sisters and they totally lost contact with her for the last few years of Joyce's life? can you really blame the sisters for this? it seems like we don't know much about what really happened in those years.

Anonymous said...

I have not seen this movie yet and I am afraid to. I recently lost my job and I have reached out to a few people for support but if I had not, I could easily be forgotten. I am considered an "attractive" woman in my mid 40's but have never been married and do not have any children. I can see social contacts slipping away and can relate to Joyce. I have heard that the film does not answer many questions...did her sisters comment on their relationship? I guess if there was a family rift, which families are prone to have, I could see how this would happen. So sad...I wonder if I will be brave enough to watch this.

Anonymous said...

I thought there for the grace of God go I.

I have some mental health disorders and have been through domestic abuse, I read that often this sort if isolation is self imposed, I can relate. I have moved around a lot, changed lifestyle, friend circles etc as she did, apparently her family tried to find her through private detectives but couldn't due to her frequent moves. If anyone had ever watched Heir Hunters, where a firm tried to track down family of people who died and therefore possible recipients to a share of what the deceased owned; many people are lost.to loved ones through moving away.and circumstance. Also anyone can get depression or other mental health issues through serious life events and domestic violence is a serious life event, you can be rich, beautiful, intelligent, capable, professional, bubbly, engaging...it can be anyone. It seems this lady divided life into compartments which would make it more difficult to try to make sense out of the pieces, however life does not always make sense and many people have private lives nobody knows about. Oh and mental health issues are not always obvious you can still be intelligent and able to express yourself clearly (much if the time) may not want others to see you when you are vulnerable or know when you're having a hard time, may want others to still think if you as ok.

One thing that concerns me, she was given social housing as a result of domestic violence, something not looked into much in the film, why did nobody from social services keep in contact to make sure she was safe? Domestic violence can cause many things, anxiety, depression, ptsd...

Anonymous said...

Joyce's sisters DID HIRE AN INVESTIGATOR to try to locate Joyce BEFORE SHE DIED.

Of course it makes for a much more compelling story if this is to be left out....

R.I.P. Joyce Carol Vincent. And I just hope everyone finds the time to think of her family, who really loved her and are forever left with her memory of how she died.

Anonymous said...

This poor, lovely lady I am so sad. How can a PERSON die and lay so long they turn into a skeleton without anyone filing a report, going to check? Very suspicious. Was someone paying the utilities and rent...to a point. That is what finally brought people...an eviction order. Her friends mainly seemed to have been in a social setting with her from a few years before this...not continuing as I guess maybe she moved on. But yes, you would have thought...especially Martin...woul have tried to keep in contact or at least keep abreast of her well being. But her father...an sisters? Something has had to have happened when she was younger (loses her mother, she is very bright, but, passes no exams...what has gone on in her life as a child, teenager, young adult to make her into the young woman we see portrayed...keeping people at a distance...if this is in fact an accurate description from her 'friends')that ended up with this rift between her and her family. Friends are great, but, family SHOULD ALWAYS have your back. There are many unanswered questions. And, many her family did not do anything to cause this, maybe she was very private, had some personal problems, health issues. Maybe she committed suicide or died of an undetected illness.I am sure we will never know everything or anything more. It is just heartbreaking however, and, I hope in death Joyce Carol Vincent has found a place of peace that eluded her in life. May God make her welcome and keep her beautiful smile shining.

whimsical said...

Now I can't sleep after watching this film about Joyce Carol Vincent. Christmas presents being wrapped. What were they? Who for? What notes were found and were there any names found or messages, emails? I find nothing about what they actually found in the cleaning out of her apartment. Dates on milk cartons, dairy items etc. have expirations dates, all the food items would, yet nothing is reported on this to tell that, and would give a more specific time of death. When was the last check or receipts, and from what shops were they from? Some time in 2003? THAT makes absolutely NO sense. Was any investigative authority called in, Scotland Yard, the family's supposed investigators? They want to remain anonymous. O.K., but the, also their lack of any disclosure about her home life and early childhood? How did her father die in 2004? Surely she shopped near her flat, so some person took her money for the groceries she bought, and where did her money come from in the last weeks? Her banker was the name given as the contact when she went into hospital the film said. Were there bank records and were these looked into? They, her family didn't even bury her , claim her skeletal remains, or anything?!? Nothing? WOW! That's cold if that's truly what happened. The film is excellent and her story will haunt me, I think, forever.
Kudos to Carol Morley the director, and the woman reporter who tried her best to find out this beautiful woman's real story.

Psparkle said...

This has to be of the saddest things I have ever watched an to know this actually happened. Joyce was a private person who had a lot of pride and to some degree cared what people thought of her. I think her childhood did have a large role to play in how things played out and Joyce was very good at being incognito. I think it says a lot for today's society and this is not the first time, my friend's uncle passed away and he remained there for 18 months before the utilities came to cut him off. Poor Joyce she never trusted anyone enough to let them in. But how can she die of natural causes at 38, with no drug&alcohol link, if her ulcer burst then surely she would have phoned someone, it just does not make sense, only if she wanted to die. Maybe she gave up on everyone

Anonymous said...

,It is so sad. I watched the movie and I am short of words. It is just unfortunate. Unfortunate- for she had so many that presented that they cared yet she died alone - worst un-noticed for that long.
Her story is torched me in such away as if I knew her. I guess it raises questions about the kind of society we live in...It questions our community values...are your friends truly your friends. Who cares? Why they care? How far they will go for you? I just cannot bring my head around understanding what went wrong. I think - her stay at the refuge should be looked into again ...question be asked how she ended up their? Who abused her and what support she was able to access to manage the abuse.

I pray no one experience similar faith ….

I pray she always rest in peace …amen.