THE last moments of a York woman whose death was a mystery for four and a half years have been revealed by a friend who tried to save her.
Lisette Dugmore, 36, lost her footing and plunged into the River Ouse, an inquest heard yesterday.
No trace of Lisette was found until January last year when her remains were spotted by a couple boating on the river.
The hearing was told that she had been washed away after sitting down next to a tree just a few feet from the bank with friend Matthew Clayton Jones.
Mr Jones said he met Lisette while he was living rough on the streets of York and on the evening of her death, they had shared a bottle of vodka.
He said the light was fading when they sat down by the steep and slippery river bank to rest after meeting up in Bootham.
He continued in a statement: “There was a flat area to sit on right by a tree. Liz sat there, two or three foot from the water’s edge.” As he turned to take a sip of vodka he heard a splash and realised Lisette had slipped into the water feet first.
He said: “She was mostly submerged. I got into the water and put my hands under her arms, but did not have the strength to pull her up.
“I propped her up against the muddy bank so I could try to pull her up. But when I got back to where I had left her, she had gone back into the water.
“I got back into the river and began to feel around with my hands in the water for five or ten minutes. Then I gave up and climbed back out.”
The hearing at New Earswick Folk Hall was told Mr Jones tried in vain to raise the alarm as he made his way to York Station “blitzed” on the vodka.
He tried to borrow someone’s mobile phone, but the man said no because he was using it.
Mr Jones said: “I asked another guy if I could borrow his phone and he just laughed and said ‘Good luck with that’.”
After calling police from a payphone, he fell asleep by the city walls.
After being woken by a police officer, he decided to make his way home to his parents in Weymouth, where he was later contacted by police.
An extensive search of the river was later carried out including using police divers. But it was four-and-a-half years before Lisette’s body was found.
Lisette was initially identified by her jewellery and some of her belongings and later by DNA testing of her remains.
The cause of death is unknown because of the amount of time the body was in the water, but coroner Donald Coverdale said had the remains been found earlier, the cause of death would probably have been drowning.
The hearing was told Lisette had been an RSPCA worker, but had struggled with a drink problem.
The hearing was told the current was swift on the night of the tragedy in July 2008 and the coroner said the amount Lisette had drunk would have made it difficult to get out of the river.
Concluding the death was an accident, Mr Coverdale told the family: “I know it has been a terrible time over the years waiting for some form of conclusion.”
Lisette’s sister Dion Smith said afterwards: “We want to thank everyone for all the work they have done. We have a sort of answer now to what happened.”