Unsolved Murders

Heather Margaret Abbott

Age: 22

Sex: female

Date: 17 Aug 1952

Place: Freckenham, Mildenhall, Suffolk

Heather Margaret Abbott was found dead in a field on Sunday 17 August 1952.

She had gone missing on the night of Friday 15 August 1952. It was noted that the fact that the police were not called in until over 36 hours after her murder had complicated their investigation.

The general timeline of events was:

  • Friday Evening 15 August 1952: Heather Abbott leaves home for Mildenhall on her bicycle for fish and chips.
  • Friday night about 10.30pm 15 August 1952: Heather Abbott seen at closing time at The Ship public house.
  • Saturday night 16 August 1952: Heather Abbott's bicycle found in a hedge by two youths with her handbag nearby and its contents scattered about.
  • Sunday morning 17 August 1952: Heather Abbott's husband reports Heather Abbott missing and asks for help in finding her.
  • Sunday just before lunchtime 17 August 1952: Heather Abbott's husband and a policeman find Heather Abbott's body in the field.
  • Sunday 3.30pm 17 August 1952: Doctor arrives at the field and pronounces life extinct.

Heather Abbott was found partly clothed in the field by her husband and a police inspector about 500 yards from the Nissen hut they lived in at 16 Pines Estate, Freckenham near Mildenhall. They had been searching the area near the Freckenham to Worlington Road.

The police initially said that they thought that she had been savagely attacked and possibly criminally assaulted. It was reported that some of her clothes were thought to have been torn off and that she had extensive head injuries. It was said that the injuries to her head were thought to have been caused manually as no weapon was found and there were also marks near her throat that indicated pressure by hands.

Her bicycle was found in a hedge near her body and was taken away by the police for fingerprint examination. Her handbag, which had been rifled and the contents scattered about, was also found nearby and taken away for examination. The police also found two bottles that were also taken away for examination. Samples of the ground were also taken away for examination.

It was said that when her handbag was found that it had only contained a few coppers although she was believed to have had £7 in housekeeping money in her possession when she had gone out. The police said that the money was not found but noted that they were not certain that she had had it with her at the time.

Scrapings were taken from beneath Heather Abbott's fingernails in the hope that they might reveal what her attacker had been wearing, but the tests were thought to have proved negative.

It was noted that a heavy storm on the Friday night 15 August 1952 had removed many marks that might have helped the police in their investigation.

It was reported that it was thought that a man of some strength had attacked Heather Abbott and then possibly carried her over a wire-netting fence that was partly down, and also that the possibility that two men had been involved in her murder had not been ruled out by detectives.

Heather Abbott had gone missing two days earlier on Friday 15 August 1952 which was noted as being a market day.

Before she married, she had been employed at the Newmarket General Hospital.

Her husband, a furniture remover employed by a Mildenhall firm, said that Heather Abbott had gone out on her bicycle to fetch some fish and chips and that that was the last he had seen of her.

Her husband said that he had earlier in the day gone to a job in Wembley Park and had returned home in the evening. He said that when he got back that Heather Abbott asked him if he wanted supper and that she had then gone out on her bicycle to go to Mildenhall to get some fish and chips. He said that when she didn't return, he at first thought that she had gone to her mother's house in Isleham.

On the morning of Saturday 16 August 1952 Heather Abbott's husband was due to make another journey and left their child with neighbours and went off to work.

When she had still not returned by the Sunday morning Heather Abbott's husband when to Mildenhall Police Station to seek help in finding her.

The place where Heather Abbott's body was found was said to have been invisible from the Freckenham to Worlington Road which was 200 yards away.

Shortly after her body was found, a doctor was called out and at 3.30pm he pronounced her dead and made arrangements for her post mortem to be carried out.

It was said that after calling at the fish shop that Heather Abbott had been seen alone in two public-houses, being last seen shortly before closing time at about 10.30pm. It was said that she had stayed just long enough to have a shandy and had afterwards set off for home, two miles away, on her bicycle. She was seen first at The Tiger's Head public house and then later at The Ship Inn, it being said that she had had nothing stronger than shandies at either place.

It was noted that the police had not found the fish and chips nor the paper wrappings that she was thought to have been carrying.

It was said that her bicycle was first found on the Saturday night in a gap on the road by two boys. One of the boys, a 15-year-old, said, 'We saw the handlebars of a cycle through the hedge. We found a woman's handbag nearby with its contents scattered about'. The bicycle was undamaged in any way.

Following the discovery of her body the police used hand rakes to comb the hedgerows and grassland across the rabbit warren where her body was found and a serviette was picked up near to where her bicycle was found in a hedge.

The police said that they found bloodstains at a certain spot 150 yards away from where her body was found and said that they thought that she had been attacked there and then dragged to where she was later found.

The police visited the US army camp at Mildenhall where they checked clothing that had been handed in from servicemen. Everyone at the camp was paraded and a roll-call taken and CID officers paraded up and down the ranks of the men closely scrutinising their faces, apparently looking for scratch marks.

It was said that Heather Abbott's fingernails had been badly torn indicating that she had put up a terrific struggle against her attacker and the police said that they thought that her murderer might have been scratched in the face. They said that they were following up all reports of men with scratches on their faces.

It was said that the same procedure was being carried out at Lakenheath aerodrome where several thousand other US Servicemen were stationed.

It was said that between the two camps at Mildenhall and Lakenheath, that there were a total of about 8,000 troops nearby.

However, it was noted that the task of deciding whether to check on the US servicemen was complicated by the fact that a large contingent of troops moved out in the early hours of Monday morning and that it was understood that they were due for embarkation out of the country.

However, the police said that they were working on the theory that the murderer was still in West Suffolk and added that they were inclined to think that he might have been a local man in view of where her body had been dumped after it had been dragged across 150 yards of open ground.

Market traders were also questioned and those that had not shown up for the market following the murder were traced. It was said that several stall holders who had previously been at the market had not arrived for the Friday market following the murder.

The police also made a systematic check of all houses in Mildenhall and along the two-mile stretch to the village of Freckenham. The population of Mildenhall was said to have been just over 3,000.

It was said that they were asking people:

  • Did you see Mrs Abbott on Friday night?
  • Was she with anyone?
  • Did you see anything unusual happening?

The police were also said to have visited laundries and cleaners in the village.

On Monday 18 August 1952, an appeal was flashed onto the screen of the only cinema in Mildenhall asking for information from anyone who had seen Heather Abbott on the Friday evening 15 August 1952. Her description was given as:

'Mrs Abbott was aged 22, was 5ft 5in tall, slim built, brown hair, dressed in a black coat, red and white dress, multi-coloured headscarf, stockings and white sandals. She was in possession of a black cycle, fitted with a child's seat at the rea and dynamo lighting'.

A woman that lived on the Pines Estate said that she used to regularly go to dances with Heather Abbott up to about three months earlier and said that Heather Abbott would occasionally return home in a car driven by American soldiers, or, if she was using her bicycle, was sometimes accompanied home by a dancing partner.

Heather Abbott was described as a very pretty, freckled brunette. She was also described as an admirable housewife which was said to have been borne out by the spotless condition of her home. She was also described as taking pride in her personal appearance. It was said that for a short time after her marriage that she had lived in Mildenhall but had in 1950 moved to the Nissen hut on the Pines estate, which had formerly been an Army camp and then later a Polish resettlement camp which was described as being temporary accommodation owing to the housing shortage.

Pines Estate was a former wartime camp consisting of Nissen huts that had since been adapted as temporary civilian dwellings.

During the investigation, detectives from Scotland Yard along with the director of the Metropolitan Police Laboratory were called in to assist with the investigation. However, it was also reported that assistance was also offered to the investigation by US Army Captain who was also a US liaison security officer and a member of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI.

It was said that following her murder that women in Freckenham had been too frightened to venture out alone after dark and that families were retiring to bed only after checking and rechecking to see that their doors and windows were securely locked.

Heather Abbott had a 3-year-old daughter. She was born in Isleham and was one of nine children and had attended school there before leaving the village.

*map pointers are rough estimates based on known location details as per Place field above.

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Heather Margaret Abbott – Mildenhall, Suffolk – 15th August 1952

see Yorkshire Evening Post - Saturday 23 August 1952

see Yorkshire Evening Post - Friday 22 August 1952

see Yorkshire Evening Post - Saturday 23 August 1952

see Portsmouth Evening News - Tuesday 19 August 1952

see Bury Free Press - Friday 22 August 1952

see Liverpool Echo - Monday 18 August 1952

see Northern Whig - Thursday 21 August 1952

see Liverpool Echo - Thursday 21 August 1952

see Belfast Telegraph - Thursday 21 August 1952

see Daily Mirror - Monday 18 August 1952

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Monday 18 August 1952

see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Wednesday 20 August 1952

see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Monday 18 August 1952

see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Tuesday 19 August 1952

see Birmingham Daily Gazette - Tuesday 19 August 1952

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Thursday 21 August 1952

see Shields Daily News - Monday 18 August 1952