Likely final appeal as chances fade to find schoolgirl's killer
- Credit: Family photo
This weekend marks 60 years since the disappearance of 12-year-old schoolgirl Linda Smith, whose body was discovered four days later in a field near Hadleigh.
She was found strangled to death after being abducted from her village near Colchester on January 20, 1961.
Despite a large-scale investigation – with the Met brought in to assist Suffolk and Essex detectives – her killer was never found.
The case remains the oldest unsolved investigation under review by a specialist joint Norfolk and Suffolk team of detectives.
But police have admitted the chances of being able to bring Linda’s killer to justice are now extremely remote.
A senior detective said it was with regret that the 60th anniversary appeal may be the last call for anyone who knows anything to do the right thing for Linda and her family.
Linda's body was discovered by retired farm labourer Harold Richardson in a field next to Stackwood Road, Polstead, on January 20, 1961.
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She had been abducted four days earlier from her home village of Earls Colne, about 15 miles away, near Colchester.
Linda was strangled with her own scarf and found fully clothed, except for her right, size one, black lace-up shoe. Her overcoat still contained a 10 shilling note she had gone to spend at the local newsagent.
Until recently, police said there was every reason to believe Linda’s killer was still alive, and that time was running out for them to examine their conscience and do the right thing.
Detective Superintendent Andy Smith, head of the joint Norfolk and Suffolk major investigation team, said: “Our thoughts are with Linda and her family on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of her disappearance and subsequent murder.
“This is an absolutely tragic case. Linda was just 12 years old and had her whole life ahead of her. The impact of her murder on her family is indescribable.
“I would emphasise that we have undertaken numerous and extensive reviews of this crime over a number of years.
"Regrettably, these reviews and successive appeals for information have not provided us with the new evidence we need to bring the person or persons responsible for Linda’s death to justice.
“Linda was murdered in 1961 and, inevitably, the time which has passed since has presented tremendous obstacles to investigate and progress this case further, not least in terms of the diminishing availability of witnesses and absence of other key evidence with which we can apply modern investigative techniques.
“I sadly recognise we now have to be realistic that the chances of being able to bring Linda’s killer or killers to justice after all this time are extremely remote.
“It is in this context that I would seek to make what is likely to be a final appeal on this significant anniversary for anyone who knows anything about this dreadful crime to make contact with us. It is never too late to do the right thing for Linda and her family.”
Little Miss Friendly
Standing 4ft 6in, with blue eyes and light brown hair, Linda Smith was known to her family as a happy, warm and friendly child, who could at times be shy but would speak to everyone she met.
Known as Little Miss Friendly, Linda was the oldest of Robert and Patricia Smith's six children.
She attended Earls Colne Primary School and Halstead Secondary Modern.
Last known whereabouts
On Monday, January 16, 1961, Linda returned home after school before going to her great-grandmother Emily’s nearby home.
Sometime after 4.30pm, Linda left with a 10 shilling note to buy a magazine for her great-grandmother from Hughes' newsagent in the High Street, about five minutes' walk away.
There were four confirmed sightings of Linda up to about 5.10pm, and despite being seen looking in the shop window by her friend, Margaret, Linda never made it into the newsagent.
The following days
Police were called when Linda failed to return to her great grandmother’s home.
In the ensuing days, hundreds joined search parties in an effort to find Linda, who was discovered in a field beside a narrow lane in Polstead at around 3pm on Friday, January 20, by a 72-yearold retired farm labourer returning home from a walk. In her overcoat, Linda’s purse still contained the 10 shilling note.
An investigation begins
A large-scale police investigation was launched – with the Metropolitan Police brought in to assist Suffolk and Essex detectives.
Experts believed Linda had died the day of, or the day after her disappearance.
A subsequent inquest heard a red substance, believed to be paint, and traces of flour were found on her body. They were matched to the clothing of a man spoken to during the inquiry. His car also contained traces of the red substance, but he was never arrested and police only described him as a potential witness.
Eight shoe impressions were found near Linda's body, along with a reindeer mint – sold in Co-op stores at the time.
In the year's since
Some of the proceeds from a 2014 book entitled Little Miss Friendly: The Murder and Memory of Linda Ann Smith, by Richard J White, were used to put a headstone on Linda’s grave in Earls Colne, while the remaining £500 was donated to the NSPCC.
Linda's family welcomed its publication for keeping her memory alive and the case in the public domain.
Could Linda's killer ever be identified?
Although it becomes more likely, with every passing year, that Linda's killer will die without ever being brought to justice, there remains some hope that her family will be offered some closure.
In 2014, Scottish prosecutors named Alexander Gartshore as the killer of 11-year-old schoolgirl Moira Anderson near Glasgow, in February 1957.
Gartshore, who died at 85 in 2006, was the prime suspect in the case – and was finally indicting for the crime based on evidence collected during a review in which two witnesses contacted police 56 years on.
There was no suggestion of a link with Linda's case – but Gartshore's indictment demonstrated how crucial evidence can emerge decades after a crime.
Until such time, it remains the oldest of a number of unsolved cases actively reviewed by the Norfolk and Suffolk joint investigation team.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the joint Norfolk and Suffolk Unsolved Case Team on 01953 423819, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternatively, contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111, or via their online form at crimestoppers-uk.org.