Unsolved Murders

Linda Ann Smith

Age: 12

Sex: female

Date: 20 Jan 1961

Place: Hadleigh Heath, Polstead, Suffolk

Linda Smith was found dead in a ditch behind a hedge by a clover field in Hadleigh Heath, Polstead, Suffolk 18½ miles from the village she lived in.

She had been strangled with her school scarf. When she was found her coat had been laid over her body with its hood over her head.

A 26-year-old village baker had initially been considered a suspect after flour and paint was found on Linda Smith's clothing as well as the baker's clothing but the baker was cleared at the inquest and a warrant for his arrest at the Magistrates was refused and nothing further was developed in that direction.

Linda Smith had been missing for three days after going out to run an errand to the newsagents for her great-grandmother on 16 January 1961. She had gone out to buy a newspaper. The 10s note that she had been given for the purpose was still in her purse when her body was found.

She had vanished on Monday 16 January 1961 and was found on the Friday 20 January 1961.

She had lived in Earls Colne, Essex. The errand would have taken her along Burrows Road to the High Street and she was seen along the way looking into the newsagent window. However, she didn't go inside although she spoke to the cobbler on the other side of the road a couple of minutes later.

Before the discovery of her body the it was reported that every member of the police in the Eye Division had joined in the intensive search for her which involved a county-wide search across Suffolk and included disused airfields, woodland, stretches of waste ground and country lanes. It was reported that the old airfield at Eye would be thoroughly combed and that the search was to be extended to cafes and bus and railway stations. It was reported that on Thursday 19 January 1961 that police of the Eye Division had concentrated their search in the shadow of the 1,000ft TV mast on Mendlesham airfield where a dawn-to-dusk operation was undertaken by policemen from surrounding beats.

However, the chief of Essex CID said, 'We are taking this as a serious disappearance, but we are not losing sight of the fact that she may have lost the 10/- note she had with her at the time and become frightened'.

It was reported that Linda Smith was believed to have been wearing a brown raincoat and a black and red scarf at the time of her disappearance.

She was described as:

  • 4ft 6in tall.
  • Medium build.
  • Blue eyes.
  • Fair hair.
  • Fresh complexion.
  • Scar over her right eyebrow.

During the investigation into her murder the police said that they believed that the murderer had been either a commercial traveller with local connections or a man with a similar job who knew the West Suffolk and Essex area very well and the police said that they were interviewing salesmen all over Britain who were in the habit of visiting the district of Earls Colne in Essex and Hadleigh Heath in Suffolk.

Detectives said early on in the investigation that they had already interviewed more than 20 commercial travellers.

The police said that they were trying to trace a dark coloured van that had been seen parked in the High Street at Earls Colne at about 5pm on the Monday, the day she vanished. They said that the  van was believed to have belonged to a salesman who regularly visited the village.

During the investigation the police stopped hundreds of motorists at check points across Suffolk and Essex and questioned drivers. It was reported that motorists entering Sudbury were stopped and asked whether they had been in West Suffolk or East Essex on the day Linda Smith vanished from her home and names and registration numbers were noted. Cars going through Earls Colne were also stopped and forced to queue by police who put up red lights in the centre of the road. The Earls Colne traffic stop was described as a surprise initiative that was carried out exactly one week after Linda Smith vanished. It began at about 4.45pm, about the time Linda Smith vanished, and lasted for about an hour. One van driver was said to have been pulled over and his van searched and photographs of its interior taken.

When her body was found her right shoe, a size one, was missing and was not traced although a lorry driver later reported that on the day that Linda Smith vanished, Monday 16 January 1961, that he saw a shoe similar to the one missing from her body lying in the road a mile from a cafe at Great Leighs in Essex called Ben's Cafe. It was noted that that was the same location that a girl that answered Linda Smith's description was seen with a man. He said that the shoe had been lying near the entrance to the Essex Agricultural Ground about a mile from the cafe.

It was said that a girl that looked like Linda Smith had been seen there with a man aged 40 to 45 who was driving a vehicle. The newspapers reported that the man had had 'laughing eyes'. The man was described as having been wearing a grey overcoat and a grey peaked cap. The lorry driver that saw her said, 'The way the man talked to the little girl was as if they were strangers. That was why I was suspicious when I read in the Daily Mirror that Linda had disappeared'. He added that the man was always smiling. The police later carried out an extensive search of the area.

The pathologist that examined her body said that Linda Smith had died on the Monday, however the police said that her killer might have carried her body about in his car or vehicle until he plucked up the courage to dump it in the field on the Thursday.

A 17-year-old girl from Hadleigh said that she and her boyfriend saw a black Ford Zephyr reversing in the lane near to the spot where Linda Smith's body was found. It was noted that the lane only led up to a single farmhouse. She said that she had remembered the last two digits of the car's index number, 99.

Her body was found by a 72-year-old retired farmworker of Cherry Cottage in Hadleigh under a hedge in the field. He said, 'I had just gone for my usual daily walk and was about to set some rabbit snares when I saw the little girl's hands sticking out from behind a hedge. She was lying face downwards with her coat laid over her and the hood over her head. I lifted the hood to look at her and then ran to the telephone kiosk down the road to tell the police. The girl's clothes were saturated. She looked as if she had been lying there all night'. He had said that when he had first seen it that he had thought that it was just a lot of old clothes.

He also said that he had set snares in the clover field on the Thursday and that he was convinced that if her body had been there then that he would have seen it.

It was reported that Linda Smith's body was found about 200 yards away from his cottage which was also referred to as Cherry Thatch.

A 65-year-old woman that lived in Myrtle Cottage across the road from the retired farmer said that early on the Friday morning, between 4am and 5am that she heard a car engine starting up at the end of the road. She said, 'The car drove down the road past my cottage, but it did not come back. I was surprised because we seldom get cars going down the road at that time of the morning. The driver was going in the direction of the spot where the little girl was found, and if he continued down that road he could get away to Boxford'.

She said that the car's headlights had lit up her bedroom window as it had passed and that it had driven by very fast.

The police later found tyre marks a few yards from where Linda Smith's body was found that led across the field to the road.

The initial police investigation into her murder lasted seven weeks and it was said that following its conclusion that the police would be making a decision on whether or not a man should be arrested.

It was later heard that Boxford magistrates had refused to grant a warrant for the arrest of a Co-operative Society baker whose name was later revealed when he gave evidence at the following inquest. The Magistrates hearing had taken place on Friday 16 June 1961 at Boxford, Suffolk. Five Magistrates had sat in private for two hours considering the warrant for the arrest of the baker on the charge of murdering Linda Smith at Polstead on 16 January 1961. The application for the warrant for the baker's arrest had been made by the solicitor for Linda Smith's father. After arriving at their decision the Clerk of the Court announced that because of the unusual nature of the application and the apparent public interest that it had aroused that the Magistrates had decided to announce their decision in open court.

The Chairman said, 'We have given a lot of careful thought to this and it has taken a lot of time. The Director of Public Prosecutions has already given the fullest consideration to all the facts made available to him by the police and from other private sources. Evidence has been submitted to us by the informant (Linda Smith's father's solicitor). We have also had the advantage of hearing the Chief Superintendent of Scotland Yard. After careful consideration of all the relevant facts, my fellow Justices and I wish to say, and we are unanimous, that we are not satisfied on the merits that there is a sufficient prima facie case in support of this information and the application for a warrant is accordingly refused'.

Linda Smith's father's solicitor was however advised that he could apply to the High Court for an order of mandamus, a judicial writ issued from the Queen's Bench Division as a command to an inferior Court.

Linda Smith's father's solicitor said that he had submitted 30 pages of depositions from six or seven witnesses and five photographs in support of his application.

At the inquest, after hearing the baker's evidence, the Coroner said, 'I think the baker does not appear in his statements, and he did not appear to me, to be a man who was hiding a lot, if anything'.

The inquest, which concluded at Boxford, Suffolk on Thursday 22 June 1961 returned a verdict that she had been strangled by some person or persons unknown.

Following the verdict the baker came out of the court and put his arm round his wife's shoulder and said, 'I am naturally very relieved with the verdict. It has been a terrible strain for my wife and me these last few days. I would rather not say anything more than this'. However, he added that he hoped that he would continue to work in Earls Colne saying, 'My employers have complete faith in me' adding, 'My wife believes in my complete innocence', to which she nodded in agreement. They were later driven home in their solicitors car.

During his evidence at the inquest he said that he didn't know Linda Smith or anything about her death.

He said that on 16 January 1961, the day that Linda Smith vanished, that he had arrived at the Co-operative bakery in Earls Colne at about 6am. He said that he usually left between 3.45pm and 4pm and that on 16 January he did leave at about that time and went straight home, getting home about half-an-hour later.

The Coroner asked him some questions:

Coroner: Did you go out again that day?

Baker: No.

Coroner: What did you do with your car?

Baker: I put it in the garage.

Coroner: Was your wife at home when you got home?

Baker: Yes.

A police superintendent said that he went to the Co-operative bakehouse at Earls Colne where he saw the baker and took a statement from him which he read over and signed.

The detective inspector from the Forensic Science Laboratory was taken to the bakehouse on 7 February 1961 where he made an examination of the bakehouse and the surrounding area and the following day he was taken to the baker's house where he made an examination of the house and the garage.

The police superintendent said 'On February 8 I saw the baker at the bakehouse and said, 'Are you quite sure you did not know Linda Smith?'. He said, 'No. I did not know her and I have never seen her'. I said, 'Do you know if she has ever been in the bakehouse?' and he said, 'Not to my knowledge'. I said, 'Have you ever seen her using the toilet in the yard?' and he said, 'No'. On February 10 I saw him by appointment at his home address with the inspector and I was present when the inspector took possession of certain articles and another statement was taken from him, which he signed. On February 28 I saw the baker again at Sudbury police station and I said, 'Since seeing you last I have been informed by the police laboratory that they have found traces of flour and certain other substances  not yet identified on Linda's clothing and that these match substances found on your clothing, indicating the possibility of you having been in contact with the dead girl. I must tell you this in case there is an innocent explanation for it. The baker said, 'What sort of substances are they?'. I said I didn’t know, except that two of them were red and might be something like paint. The baker replied, 'Paint?' I cannot remember getting paint on my clothes'. I cannot say they are paint, and in addition to these substances being found on Linda's clothing and on your clothing, traces of the same substances have been found in your car. The baker said, 'Why tell me this anyway?'. I said, 'I am telling you this because Linda's movements were traced all along the High Street until she was within a few yards of your bakehouse and she was not seen alive again, although several people who knew her were in the High Street at the time. When her coat was examined a high concentration of wheat starch or flower was found, so naturally we began checking on people like yourself who are associated with flour. The scientists also found this other substance I have mentioned and when they examined your clothes they not only found flour, as one would expect, but also the same type of coloured substances they found on Linda's coat. The baker said, 'I admit it looks serious but I could not have done it. I was not there'.

He said that when he asked the baker whether he was sure that he had not been in contact Linda Smith or that she had not been in his car he said, 'Not as far as I know. I know she had been asking for tins and the only theory I can offer is that she was searching the rubbish dump near the incinerator and got the substances on her then. I use that rubbish dump and the substances from my clothes could have fallen off'.

A statement was then taken from the baker along the lines of the interview and he signed it.

The police inspector said that he then examined the baker's shoes and said, 'The heels were similar in size and shape to some of the impressions I had seen in the field at Polstead'.

The police superintend said that none of the statements the baker made were under caution, noting that he had had no intention of arresting the baker. He said, 'He was a witness so far as I was concerned. I had no intention of making any arrest on the evidence then available to me'.

Whilst the police superintendent was giving evidence, the barrister for the baker asked him about a sweet that was found near the field where Linda Smith was found.  The sweet was then produced in a small bottle at the inquest. The barrister then asked whether it was a rare or common sweet and the police superintendent said that it was a sweet that was sold in most co-operative stores.

It was noted that red particles had been found on the baker's coat and that similar red particles had been found on Linda Smith's coat and when asked about that at the inquest he said that he could not account for the particles on his coat. When the Coroner asked him, 'Can you suggest how it was that a considerable amount of flour was found on her (Linda's) coat?', the baker said, 'There are several reasons but there are none relating to me'.

The director of the Metropolitan Police Laboratory at Scotland Yard gave evidence at the inquest saying that he had examined items from both Linda Smith and the baker. When he was asked by the solicitor for Linda Smith's family, 'There are three specific items of forensic science which link Linda and the baker?', the  forensic expert said, 'I would rather say there are three items which are on Linda Smith's clothing and are on the overcoat and blankets of the baker'.

He said that the three items were starch and two sorts of paint and noted that he didn't find the paint anywhere else but that he did find wheat starch on the clothing of people associated with the bakehouse in which the baker worked. He added that a considerable number of uncooked wheat starch grains and wheat grain aggregates found in vacuum extracts from Linda Smith's overcoat were essentially present on the front garment, on the sleeves and a smaller amount on the back.

He added that he also found a number of fragments of paint-like material, the bulk of them bright red. He said, 'These materials, wheat starch and red lacquer, are sufficiently rare in my experience on clothing to require a search of all the other articles I received from similar material, in an endeavour to find the source of these materials'.

He also said, 'In my experience this indicated they were derived from the same source, whilst their position on the garments suggested some form of contact between the garments'.

A detective inspector from the Metropolitan Police laboratory said that on 7 February 1961 that he examined the Co-operative bakehouse at Earls Colne to try to trace the source of the red material found by the forensic expert on Linda Smith's coat and on the coat labelled as having come from the baker. He said, 'I found nothing in the bakehouse which resembled the red material. I also examined the whole of the yard, an incinerator, a rubbish dump and toilets, with no result. In the garage were two motor cars. In one of these cars, with Index number JV 7549, I found on the back floor two small particles of red material'. He added that he also examined several places in Earls Colne as well as Linda Smith's and the baker's houses but found no material suggestive of a source of the red material.

The baker was questioned by the Coroner for 17 minutes after which he was questioned by the solicitor representing Linda Smith's father.

There was then an objection by the barrister representing the baker who noted that the solicitor for Linda Smith's father had himself laid information, supported on oath, for the bakers arrest and then submitted that the solicitor was in the same position as police officers appearing in a Coroner's Court. However, the Coroner said that the Court was not concerned with what the solicitor 'did in another place'.

At one stage during the solicitor's questioning the barrister said, 'Sir, if he keeps on like this I shall tell you and the Court what he said about the Court and the jury when he intervened me'.

When the pathologist that carried out the post mortem gave evidence he said that the indications were that Linda Smith's scarf had been applied in life and pulled tight, but he added that there was no evidence of sexual assault.  He added that he thought that it was reasonable to say that Linda Smith died on the night she disappeared if the stomach contents were her last meal, noting that her body was not in rigor mortis when placed in the field.

He added that his impression was that her body had been put there after death. When he was asked whether, in other words, that her body had been dumped within twelve hours of her death, he replied, 'That is fair'.

When he was asked whether he thought that her murder was sudden and vicious as might be carried out by a man with a violent rage or whether it was slow and deliberate, the pathologist said, In my view, it was firmly and deliberately pulled'. When he was asked whether he thought that she had been strangled from behind, he said, I would say from the right side and possibly from behind'.  When he was then asked, 'If she was sitting in the seat of a car with the driver on her right he could do it then?', the pathologist replied, 'Yes'.

When the Coroner asked the father whether Linda Smith was 'pretty intelligent' he said that she had not passed her 11-plus and she was below normal but that her intelligence was fair.

When the Coroner asked the father whether Linda Smith had any hobbies the father said, 'Not really, she used to like a bit of nature study'.

The Coroner asked Linda Smith's father a number of questions:

Coroner: Did Linda so far as you know have any special boy friends?

Father: No, Sir.

Coroner: Would you describe her as friendly or unfriendly?

Father: She was very friendly.

Coroner: Was she in the habit of going out and staying out without your wife or yourself knowing about it?

Father: No.

Linda Smith's father also noted, in answer to another question, that he had never known Linda Smith to go on car rides. He added that Linda Smith was a rather inquisitive girl and said that everyone in the village knew her, including the shopkeepers.

The cobbler that had a shop in the High Street in Earls Colne said that Linda Smith used to ask him for tobacco tins after school and said that he saw her on the evening of 16 January 1961 outside his shop. He said, 'She spoke to me and said, 'Have you got any tins?', I said, 'No, I have not. Hurry home. Tha's cold', and that he then went up to the cafe to have his tea.

When he was asked whether he knew where Linda Smith went, he said, 'She twisted round on the path as if she was going to go up the same way as me. I went into the cafe and that is the last I saw of her'. He agreed that if she had followed him up that she would have gone in the direction of the Co-operative baker's shop.

The Coroner asked the cobbler some questions:

Coroner: You know the Co-op baker?

Cobbler: Yes, I know him.

Coroner: Did you see him that day?

Cobbler: No, I never saw him all day.

Coroner: Do you know what time he generally leaves the Co-op bakery?

Cobbler: I do not know exactly the times he leaves but I know he is never there when I go up for my cup of tea.

Coroner: If you go into the cafe can you see him?

Cobbler: Only when he comes to the door to see if they want any cream cakes or cream horns or anything brought in.

The Co-operative butchery manager of Earls Colne said that he knew the baker and said that after work on 16 January 1961 that the baker passed him and his wife in his car travelling towards Colchester. He said, 'He plonked his hooter as he went by and put his hand out'. He said that he was certain that the date was 16 January 1961 because on Mondays he and his wife usually went for eggs but that on that Monday they had not. When additionally questioned he noted that it had been 4.05pm when he had seen the baker. The direction that the baker was said to have been driving in was also towards his home in Langham Road, Great Horkesley.

He was then questioned by the solicitor for Linda Smith's parents:

Solicitor: You and the baker are good friends?

Butchery manager: I would not say that. We know each other through work.

Solicitor: When did he first come to you and ask about that Monday?

Butchery manager: He did not come to me.

Solicitor: You have never discussed it with him?

Butchery manager: I would not say we have not discussed the whole proceedings, but not about that particular Monday.

When the solicitor said that he and the Butchery manager had been discussing the matter on a Saturday morning and that the cobbler had said that he always put his bicycle in the garage behind the bakery, the Butchery manager said: I did not. I said no such thing.

The baker's barrister then asked for the date of the meeting between the Butchery manager and the solicitor and the Butchery manager said that it was on a Saturday morning before 10am but that he could not say what date it was. The Solicitor then said, 'I saw you on June 3 and you cannot remember that. How can you remember January 16?' to which the Butchery manager said that he remembered because he and his wife had spoken about it the next morning, about whom they had seen on the way home.  He said that he had not discussed it with the baker, saying, 'I said we had heard the news that a little girl was missing. That was all'.

The solicitor then asked some more questions:

Solicitor: Did the baker show any surprise?

Butchery manager: No.

Solicitor: When did you first remind him of the occasion you had seen him in his motor-car going home?

Butchery manager: I did not remind him at all. I told the police.

Solicitor: And he never suggested to you that it would be a jolly good alibi for him?

Butchery manager: Not at all.

Solicitor: He never came to you and reminded you of this Monday?

Butchery manager: No.

Barrister: Even if he was mistaken as to whether it was five past four or ten past, could he have seen the baker as late as sometime after 4.45pm?

Butchery manager: No. I was at home.

When Linda Smith's 11-year-old sister gave evidence at the inquest she was asked whether she knew the Co-op butchery and bakery in the High Street and she said yes and when asked, 'Did you ever go into the bakery and ask the man for anything?', she replied, 'Yes' but added that she could not remember when it was or what she asked for.

When the Coroner in his summing up referred to the flour found on the bakers clothing and on Linda Smith's clothing, he said, 'You can get flour on you in a good many ways. The mere fact that there was flour on them you may find it difficult to believe is conclusive evidence that there was contact between the baker and this little girl. The flour is fairly easily explained and may have got on the child anyhow. The red particles are more difficult. They are unusual. No one can tell you what the source of the red particles could have been. You have got it down and you will attach to it such weight as you think right. Remember that you must be reasonably sure that these particles, or some other evidence, points to the baker as being the person who killed this little girl'.

The Coroner added that he felt that heel marks found in the field where Linda Smith's body was found were 'not very strong evidence'.

It was noted that when the Coroner summed up that the baker had been sat with his arm round his wife's shoulders and that only a yard separated Linda Smith's parents, who were sitting on the same bench, from them.

Five months after her murder a private investigation was carried out which concluded in new evidence being presented to the police which it was said was enough to apply for a warrant and it was said to have been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions for consideration. The investigation was said to have involved 600 people from Earls Colne having been questioned and to have included results of tests on clothing and articles removed from cars.

A file prepared by the Director of Public Prosecutions against the baker was prepared although no charges were made and is currently held at the National Archives in Kew, London, reference number DPP 2/3262, but it is currently closed and not open to the public until 2054.

Linda Smith's funeral took place at the Baptist Church at Earls Colne on Thursday 26 January 1961.

The location where Linda Smith was found dead in the ditch was noted for being only a short distance away, about 1½ miles  from the scene of the 1827 murder of Maria Merten which is commonly known as the Red Barn murder. Maria Marten was described as a local beauty and was shot and knifed to death in a red barn at Polstead in May 1827 and her body buried there. The murder was discovered after Maria Marten's mother had three successive dreams showing her where her daughter's body was buried and after she found it William Corder, a local farmer was tried and convicted for her murder and executed in August 1828.

It was also noted that to have got to the newsagents that Linda Smith would have had to have crossed the A604 Colchester to Cambridge road and that it was on that road, 18 miles away, that 20-year-old Jean Constable was found dead two weeks earlier and only six miles away from where Mary Kriek, a Dutch girl, was last seen alive, having been battered to death in Boxted near Colchester on 6 January 1958.

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

see find.galegroup.com

see National Archives - DPP 2/3262

see BBC

see "Linda Smith's Body Found In Ditch." Times [London, England] 21 Jan. 1961: 6. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 4 Mar. 2013.

see "Linda Smith 'Strangled By Person Unknown'." Times [London, England] 22 June 1961: 6. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 4 Mar. 2013.

see Belfast Telegraph - Wednesday 07 June 1961

see Belfast Telegraph - Thursday 26 January 1961

see Aberdeen Evening Express - Wednesday 21 June 1961

see Daily Mirror - Wednesday 21 June 1961

see Diss Express - Friday 20 January 1961

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Saturday 21 January 1961

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Tuesday 24 January 1961

see Birmingham Daily Post - Saturday 21 January 1961

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Tuesday 24 January 1961

see Birmingham Daily Post - Thursday 22 June 1961

see Birmingham Daily Post - Friday 27 January 1961

see Birmingham Daily Post - Friday 10 March 1961

see Birmingham Daily Post - Friday 27 January 1961

see Sunday Mirror - Sunday 22 January 1961

see Birmingham Daily Post - Wednesday 21 June 1961

see Birmingham Daily Post - Saturday 17 June 1961

see Birmingham Daily Post - Thursday 22 June 1961