The morning after receiving de Lucas’ email, I wake up to a long WhatsApp message from Bishop. “I think this has been sent anonymously, for whatever reason, by someone who works in the lab mentioned,” he writes. He points to the CNB heading on the paper, the Spanish words in the letter, and the lack of a postcode on the envelope as evidence that the sender was from Spain. Even if the letter wasn’t genuine, Bishop claims, someone had found his teeth, swabbed them for DNA, and returned them to him from Spain.
The notion of an anonymous teeth-returning vigilante is appealing. Who hasn’t been dismayed after losing a prized possession while on holiday? If there is a masked DNA-swabbing hero out there reuniting holidaymakers with their lost trinkets, then it means nothing is truly lost. Not forever, anyway.
Of course, they’d have to get the DNA in the first place. Retrieving enough DNA to identify someone from 11-year-old lost dentures is theoretically possible but extremely unlikely, says Denise Syndercombe Court, a professor of forensic genetics at King’s College London. “If you take the DNA off and preserve it in something and stick it in a freezer, then probably 11 years later you can do that,” she says. But that would mean swabbing the dentures as soon as they were lost, not years after they were discovered in a recycling bin or garbage pile. And then there’s the question of the DNA database mentioned in the letter. Syndercombe Court struggles to think of a database that could give you someone’s name—unless the analysis was done on behalf of a law enforcement agency. All this leaves her “skeptical” that Bishop was tracked down by DNA analysis at all.
Shortly after Syndercombe Court casts doubt on the DNA analysis, I finally hear back from Buckingham Palace. Bishop did invite the Queen to visit the working men’s club where he was, and still is, general manager in 2020. Perhaps the return of the dentures was all a ruse to direct the world’s gaze once again toward Ridge Hill Working Men’s Club? Several of the articles about his teeth did mention that Bishop intended to display the gnashers at the club, after all. And if the Spanish letter was a hoax, then perhaps the letter declining the invitation that Bishop says was sent on behalf of the Queen was also faked?
Buckingham Palace soon put a stop to that line of inquiry. The letter from the Queen’s deputy correspondence coordinator was real, a spokesperson confirms. Bishop was not, as far as I could tell, a serial letter hoaxer.
By this point, it was clear that the letter had yielded all the clues it had to give. To find out more, I needed to go to the item at the very heart of this mystery. It was time to grapple with the teeth.
The dentures Bishop received in the post no longer fit him at all. Bishop puts this down to his mouth—and the sizes of dentures that go into it—getting smaller over time. “My mate who’s a dental technician tells me that every three or four years, your palate shrinks so whatever teeth you’ve got will eventually not work properly,” he says. But Bishop’s old dentures aren’t just too big for his mouth, they also contain too many teeth. Twenty-four teeth, in fact: They were a full top set, minus wisdom teeth. And yet, in the video where Bishop removes his current partial dentures for a radio interview, it’s clear that his current false choppers contain only six or so teeth. Either Bishop has gained some extra teeth, or the teeth aren’t his.