Date: 31 Jan 1958
Ann Noblett's body was found in Rose Grove Wood near Whitwell on 31 January 1958 at about 4pm by a dog walker.
She was last seen in Cherry Tree Corner, Marshalls Heath on 30 December 1957 at 6.30pm, it being thought that she had just got off a bus. The walk to her home in Marshall Heath Lane was 500 yards and unlighted, but she never arrived.
When her body was first found it was described as having been at a very low temperature and it was thought that she had been strangled and then kept in a deep-freezer before later being dumped in the wood, although it was later suggested that that was not the case and that she had died from asphyxiation by natural causes and that her body had been left out in a barn or out-building where it had been exposed to icy-winds resulting it having an unusually low temperature when found.
When Ann Noblett's body was found on 31 January 1958 it was suggested that it could not have been there for more than 24 hours because a local gamekeeper said that he went to the wood near where her body was found each day to feed the fowl and had not seen it previously. The police also said that it was unlikely that her body had lain where it had been found for five weeks without it having been discovered beforehand. However, it was additionally noted that because of the condition of the leaves underneath her body that it was thought that her body had laid where it was found for as much as a fortnight.
Her inquest on Tuesday 15 April 1958 heard that she had not been kept in a deep-freeze but that her body had been placed in a refrigerator after she was murdered, even only for a few hours. Her cause of death was also given as being due to 'compression of the neck'.
The pathologist noted that there was evidence of sexual intercourse.
The police initially said that they did not know whether Ann Noblett had been held captive for at least a week after she disappeared or whether her dead body was hidden somewhere else during that time. When her body was first found the police said that they did not believe that she had been dead for the length of time that she had been missing.
It was not thought that she had been killed in Rose Grove Wood and how she got there was a mystery as the nearest place that a car could have driven was nearly a quarter of a mile from where her body was found. The police said that her body was 75 yards into the wood from the nearest field and 300 yards from the nearest cart track. It was thought that her killer would have needed help in carrying her body nearly a quarter of a mile through the woods and it was not thought that a man could have done that alone, however, it was later said that the theory of her body being frozen at the time it as dumped made the idea plausible.
It was noted that Ann Noblett had weighed 11st 3lb and had been 5ft 8in tall.
It was noted that whoever carried her to where she was found would have had to have carried her through mud, thickets and bushes across the quarter of a mile distance to the nearest track and it was thought that two men had been involved. To get to the wood the murderer would have had to have first left a small road and driven along a muddy cart track that was about 7⁄10 of a mile long before carrying her body along a rutted path through the wood for about 270 yards before then carrying it about 30 yards through thick undergrowth and high brambles before laying her body out and scattering the coins.
It was thought that her killer had been a local man with knowledge of the area and that he had hidden her body elsewhere and then dumped her body in the wood after them main search had died down.
Rose Grove Wood was also referred to as Young Wood and was a game preserve just outside of Whitwell and 7 miles from Ann Noblett's home in Marshalls Heath. Rose Grove Wood was described as being midway between Bendish and Whitwell and isolated, about half-a-mile away from the nearest road. Rose Grove Wood was about 8 miles from Harpenden.
The man that found her body was a leading aircraftman and a fighter pilot at RAF Station Stanmore in Middlesex and had been on leave at the time staying at his parents pre-fab home on the outskirts of Whitwell. He said, 'I went out with my dog Rip and my 14-year-old brother for a walk. We went down a lane which is a short cut between Whitwell and the village of Bendish. We had got about half a mile down the lane when Rip ran into a wood. I went in after him and after I had gone about 100 yards I saw a girl's body in a clearing on its back fully clothed. I did not go any nearer than several yards, but I could see it was a woman. I ran back to my brother and we both raced home and phoned the police'.
The police noted several other peculiarities regarding the finding of Ann Noblett's body:
It was also noted that silver and copper coins were found around and on top of her body. They were said to have come from her purse and it was thought that they had been deliberately placed there to make it apparent that her killer had not robbed her, the implication being that under the new Murder Act, that murder in the commission of robbery would have resulted in the killer being liable to the death penalty, but that the placement of her money on her meant that that was not the case.
It was also thought that the fantastically neat way in which Ann Noblett's clothing had been replaced on her, even down to her slip-on shoes being put on and wearing her glasses, suggested that her killer was anxious for the police to think that she was killed where she was found. However, the police noted that her glasses were not in the proper position and her clothes were not all correctly put on.
During the period that Ann Noblett had been missing a wide search was made for her, including miles of woodland, fields and hedgerows near her home as well as recently ploughed land in the Wheathampstead area. Additionally dogs were used and the police searched the River Lea and dragged pools, deep ponds and water-filled gravel pits, including a pit at Batford Mills, less than a mile from her home.
The search was said to have involved 400 Hertfordshire policemen as well as more than 100 Territorials and 300 villagers. It was later joined by members of the Harpenden Rotary Club. The police said that they planned a yard-by-yard combing of thousands of acres of woods and farmland in the area.
It was said that the search had concentrated on by-roads, lanes, footpaths, ditches and lonely spots.
Mechanical shovels were also used to search through a 400-acre dump where rubbish from East-London was thrown.
The police were also said to have carried out house-to-house inquiries.
The search was later spread out to include the Hitchin, Luton and Hoo areas.
It was noted that the spot in the wood where Ann Noblett's body was found had not been searched previously.
During the initial search for Ann Noblett the police found a mud-stained white handkerchief and a lipstick in some fields near to where she lived, but her parents were unable to identify them.
Ann Noblett was described as:
The police also investigated a report from a Tilbury docker who said that he saw Ann Noblett in a lorry at Gray's in Essex on the Wednesday night 1 January 1958.
After she vanished the police said, 'We cannot rule out the possibility of foul play, she does not seem to be the sort of girl who would leave home suddenly without explanation'.
It was also considered that she had been decoyed away in a car.
Following her disappearance it was noted that Marshall's Heath was only a few miles away from Leverstock Green where Diana Sutty was found murdered in September 1956 for which her murderer, described as a sex-maniac, was still at large.
Ann Noblett was the daughter of a wealthy company director whose company, Helmets Ltd, manufactured helmets, and she had just returned to England in July 1957 after spending four years at a finishing school near Montreux in Switzerland. At the time of her murder she had been studying domestic science at a local technical school and had been hoping to become a children's nurse. Following her disappearance, enquiries were made at the school as well as several hotels in Montreux. Ann Noblett's father was also a poultry farmer.
Ann Noblett had taking driving lessons at the time and had earlier had a driving lesson after which she had been to a rock and roll dance class in Harpenden with a friend. The dance class had started at about 4.10pm and finished at about 5.30pm. The friend that had been with Ann Noblett said that when she met Ann Noblett she had a letter with her from a friend of hers in Leicester and that she was carrying a bag of mushrooms that she had bought for her families supper. She said that their dance class was not due to start until 4.30pm but that it had started to rain and so they joined an earlier one.
After the dance class Ann Noblett was thought to have taken a 391 Green Line bus home to Marshalls Heath near Wheathampstead where she lived with her family. Her friend said that after the dance class that she and two other girls walked with Ann Noblett straight along the lower road at Harpenden to Station Road and that as they were about to cross that they saw the 391 bus going by and said that Ann Noblett said, 'As I have missed that I might as well walk along to Church Green with you and catch the bus there'. Ann Noblett's friend said that they did that and that they left her at Church Green but did not actually see her cross the main road. Ann Noblett's friend said that when they left Ann Noblett, Ann Noblett said, 'I'll see you on Friday', which was the next dance class.
There were reports that Ann Noblett had been seen at the bus stop at Church Green, Harpenden between 5.30pm and 6pm, but on Monday 3 March 1958 it was reported that the police were not certain that the girl that had been seen near the bus stop had in fact been Ann Noblett and appealed for any other girl that might have been there at that time to come forward, noting that one of the clues that they had been following all along might have been misleading.
Ann Noblett was last seen walking off towards her home from the bus stop at Cherry Tree Corner near Marshalls Heath Lane by a local girl, a poultry girl, that had been riding past on her motor-scooter. The girl, who was employed by Ann Noblett's father said that she had just left work at 6pm and was riding her motor-scooter home and that as she went down Marshalls Heath Lane and turned left she saw Ann Noblett who looked as though she was slowly strolling up the road towards her home by herself. She said, 'Although I always leave work about 6 o'clock, I had not seen her before at that time and place. She said, 'Hello' and I replied 'Hello'. I am quite certain it was her'.
She said that Ann Noblett had been about 3 yards round the corner when she had seen her and she did not see whether Ann Noblett turned up Marhsalls Heath Lane. She said that it would have been about 6.03pm when she saw her. She added that there was a bus pulling away at the time but that she didn't see Ann Noblett getting off the bus. She added that she didn't see any other people near the bus stop and noted that it was a very lonely and unfrequented road. She added that she could not remember seeing any other cars or vehicles other than the bus.
Ann Noblett's mother said that she thought that Ann Noblett had missed her bus from the dancing class and had been given a lift to the bus stop near the muddy lane that led to their house. She said, 'Our poultry girl saw her there just after six o'clock and they said goodnight to each other. But Ann did not arrive home'.
When she didn't return home when expected her parents called the police and a search was made for her, but nothing developed in the search until 31 January 1958 when she was found in Rose Grove Wood, about 10 miles from where she lived.
When she was first found it was considered that her body temperature was too low to have occurred naturally and it was thought that she had been kept in a deep-freeze in the interim period between her going missing and the discovery of her body.
The Meteorological Office were approached and they provided records of the night and day temperatures over the period that Ann Noblett was missing and it was said that they indicated that the weather had been quite mild, indicating that her body had been stored in a freezer. It was also reported that a full record of the day and night temperatures for the region was supplied to the police by Rothamstead Experimental Station, the agricultural institution at Harpenden.
A botanist from the Government's Rothamsted Experimental Station at Harpenden examined samples of leaves, moss and soil flattened by Ann Noblett's body. It was reported that he had been asked by the police, 'If you can tell us how long the growth of the plant life was interrupted by the weight of the body we may be able to decide exactly when the body was put there'. It was also reported that the botanist was also asked to decide whether the soil sticking to Ann Noblett's clothes came from the wood or whether it was of a type not found there, indicating that her body had been lain somewhere else.
It was reported on 6 February 1958 that a full size model of Ann Noblett was made from plaster and dressed in clothes and taken to Rose Wood where it was left by botanists in an attempt to reconstruct the scene and allow them to confirm, by plant changes, exactly how long Ann Noblett might have lain among the trees before her body was found. The model had been 5ft 8in tall and had weighed 11st 8lb. Temperature changes were also taken at regular intervals and the rate of growth and change of colour of vegetation was examined and noted.
It was reported at the same time that detectives had been satisfied that they knew the route taken by the murder when dumping Ann Noblett's body in the woods.
Extensive enquiries were made in the villages surrounding Wheathampstead amongst people that had deep freeze equipment. It was noted that freezers were commonly used by farmers for storing poultry and that the use of refrigerated vehicles was also common for transporting ice cream, vegetables, fish and other fresh produce about the region and country. The police said that they thought that there were nearly 200 deep-freeze plants in use in the district.
The police also approached firms that installed and maintained deep-freeze equipment in the hope of finding out the number of such plants in the area and where they were situated.
It was also reported that the police searched a number of underground ice-houses, rooms that had been dug in the 17th century, 300 years earlier, and then packed with winter ice and used to preserve food.
With regards to the use of a deep-freeze to store Ann Noblett's body, it was said that the police were considering two questions:
It was reported that the two key questions in the case were:
It was reported that a man that worked at a farm at Ayot St Lawrence said that when he and his wife were returning home for lunch in thick fog on Thursday 30 January 1958 that they noticed a car parked on a road about 200 yards from the wood. The vehicle was described as a large black saloon trimmed with cream and that sitting in it had been a powerfully built man.
When her inquest opened on 11 February 1958 the pathologist gave her cause of death as asphyxia due to pressure on the neck, although he added that it was not necessarily manual strangulation.
It was reported after the inquest that the police knew where she died, but were keeping the location secret. It was also said that the police knew that two men had carried Ann Noblett from a parked car to where she was found and it was said that they had done so not more than 24-hours before she was found.
It was also reported that the police had determined that Ann Noblett had died within hours of her vanishing, it being noted that they had found food in her stomach that she was said to have eaten earlier in the day that had not fully digested.
However, on Sunday 16 March 1958 it was reported that the pathologist that made the original determination changed his opinion following a more detailed examination and said that he thought that it was more likely that she died from asphyxiation by natural causes. He added that there was no indication that Ann Noblett had been strangled as first thought and that neither were there any marks of violence about her neck or body and it was said that the police were considering the possibility that her death had been accidental, perhaps from asphyxiation brought on by acute emotional excitement or severe mental strain.
It was then said that it could have been that in those circumstances that the man that had been with her had panicked and had decided to hide her body until he could safely get rid of it.
It was added that it was thought that Ann Noblett had undressed herself, possibly in fear after being threatened, but it was said that the police believed that someone else had dressed her after her death as they had put some of her clothing on back to front.
However, it was said that despite the possibility that her death might have been accidental, that the police were still continuing their enquiries as a full-scale murder investigation.
Her inquest later returned a verdict of murder by a person or persons unknown on 14 April 1958. The police said that they had interviewed 2,000 people and checked up on many cars. They said, 'So far we have not obtained sufficient satisfactory evidence even to allege who could have been responsible'.
The Coroner recorded a verdict that Ann Noblett died at some place unknown between 30 December 1957 and 31 January 1958 and that her cause of death was asphyxia due to compression of the neck by some person or persons unknown, and that she was unlawfully killed by some person or persons unknown.
The pathologist at the inquest said that he thought that Ann Noblett had died on the night that she disappeared and that her death was not accidental and that the compression of her neck, which had caused her death, was not self-inflicted.
When the pathologist was asked whether he could say with any degree of certainty when Ann Noblett died, he said that he could not, but said that from the findings in her stomach and additional examinations since that he thought that it would have been within a reasonable period of her disappearance. When he was pushed for a time the pathologist said, 'The position is this, she had a completely undigested meal which was the one she had before she left home and the implication of that is that she died, at the outside, 12 hours from the time she had that meal which was at 2.30pm. But there is a variation in the rate of digestion. In this case I should say it was considerably less than 12 hours'.
When he was asked whether he thought that her death was caused by some person or persons unknown and that it was an unlawful act, the pathologist replied that he could think of no accidental cause for her condition, adding that there was no suggestion that her injuries had been self-inflicted.
It was additionally noted that it was initially thought that Ann Noblett's body had been kept in a deep-freeze plant after her death, bit it was later suggested that a more probable explanation for its low temperature when it was found was that it had been left in a barn or out-building for some time exposed to icy winds. However, this theory was also not maintained at the inquest.
During the investigation, the records of hundreds of men convicted of sexual assaults was brought up from the Criminal Records Office at Scotland Yard for examination.
Ann Noblett was a student. the police said that they were compiling a dossier of Ann Noblett 's life history in which events were being carefully investigated and linked together in the hope of revealing some clue as to the identity of her killer.
Ann Noblett's father said that he was sure that Ann Noblett had no men friends.
The police said that they thought that her murderer had been a local man and that if she had been given a lift in a car that it would not have been from a stranger. It was said that in country areas that everyone knew everyone and that Ann Noblett knew many people by sight.
It was noted that a man who was well-known to Ann Noblett was interviewed several times by detectives at Harpenden Police Station.
Reports of a shooting-brake type van having been seen near the woods in the early hours of Friday 31 January 1958 was investigated by the police.
An anonymous letter was sent to the police at Harpenden detailing a car registration number and an old man later went to the police to say that he had been the writer.
On Tuesday 7 January 1958 it was reported that the police were trying to trace a man with a bandaged hand that was said to have lived in Luton and who had been seen on a Luton -bound but from Wheathampstead about two hours after Ann Noblett disappeared.
It was later reported that detectives were certain that a woman knew who the murderer was and that she was the killer's wife and that she was shielding him. The police said that it was possible that the woman had probably helped to re-dress Ann Noblett before her body was dumped.
It was also reported that the police thought that the killer had hired at least one local farm worker to help him dump the body.
On Tuesday 18 February 1958 the Daily Mirror published an article entitled 'Seven Questions That Baffle Scotland Yard'. They were:
The article concluded by stating that the police were convinced that the murderer had been helped by at least one other person and added that there might have even been a third person involved, someone that new where her body had been hidden.
Two men were questioned by the police at Southend on Wednesday 2 April 1958. They were said to have been questioned for 13 hours before being taken home by the police. It was reported that they were arrested after the police swooped on two houses in Westcliff.
One of the men was described as being short and stocky, aged about 40 and with thinning black hair whilst the other was described as being tall, with dark brown hair and a moustache and aged about 30.
Ann Noblett's funeral took place on Friday 14 February 1958 in Wheathampstead. It was reported that shops closed for her funeral.
On Tuesday 8 April 1958 a 25-year-old man, a material handler from Maidenhall Road in Luton was jailed for 6 months at Luton for wasting a murder-squad's time. He admitted 10 of 35 charges of making improper phone calls in connection with the murder of Ann Noblett as well as calling Ann Noblett's mother, her aunt and the man that found Ann Noblett's body. It was said that 17 of the calls were made to the police whilst the other 18 had been made to other people. It was noted that the called had been made to the police, people that lived near to Ann Noblett's home as well as people with no connection to the investigation. It was said that he had started making the calls three days after Ann Noblett's vanished. The police said, 'It is with this background that this man made 35 anonymous telephone calls to various people. It is also with this background that the threats which he made to some people were taken perhaps more seriously than they would have been otherwise. Most of the calls were reported and considerable wastage of police time was involved because they had to investigate the calls and placate people who received them.
It was said that the first call was made three days after Ann Noblett vanished and had been to the Hemel Hempstead police station in which he had said, 'If you contact Hatfield 3211 and check the whereabouts of a man (giving his own name) there, just released from Borstal, he should be able to help'. It was said that he then called Ann Noblett's mother three times and the man that found Ann Noblett's body twice, each time mentioning himself. It was said that in the second call that the man had said, 'We shall be over to get him' and that the man had been so worried by it that he had slept with a shotgun under his bed. It was also heard that he called the man's wife and told her that 'her little boy' and his brother would be put 'in the deep freeze'.
In January 1960 a man called a newspaper and confessed to the murder of Stephanie Baird as well as to the Wheathampstead murder, meaning Ann Noblett, but another man was later convicted for the murder of Stephanie Baird. Stephanie Baird was murdered in a YWCA Hostel in Edgbaston on 23 December 1959. The call was found to have come from a public call box in Luton.
Ann Noblett's murder was also linked to the murder of Mary Kriek who was found dead in Boxted, Essex on Monday 6 January 1958 and whose murder is still similarly unsolved today. It was said that they were both last seen at bus stops and were both believed to have accepted car lifts.
On 22 December 2017 the Hertfordshire Constabulary made a 60 year appeal for information regarding Ann Noblett's murder.
see National Archices - MEPO 2/10039, MEPO 2/10040, MEPO 2/10041, MEPO 2/10042, MEPO 2/10043, MEPO 2/10044
see Watford Observer
see News Shopper
see Surrey Comet
see St Albans Review
see Weekly Dispatch (London) - Sunday 16 March 1958
see Manchester Evening News - Wednesday 02 April 1958
see Shields Daily News - Thursday 03 April 1958
see Beds and Herts Pictorial - Tuesday 11 February 1958
see Manchester Evening News - Thursday 06 February 1958
see Aberdeen Evening Express - Monday 03 February 1958
see Daily Herald - Friday 05 December 1958
see Daily Mirror - Tuesday 15 April 1958
see Daily Herald - Tuesday 15 April 1958
see Daily Mirror - Wednesday 08 January 1958
see Western Mail - Tuesday 04 February 1958
see Daily Herald - Monday 10 February 1958
see Birmingham Daily Post - Monday 03 March 1958
see Sunday Mirror - Sunday 09 February 1958
see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Thursday 07 January 1960
see Halifax Evening Courier - Tuesday 04 February 1958
see Daily Mirror - Monday 20 January 1958
see Daily Herald - Thursday 06 February 1958
see Daily Mirror - Tuesday 18 February 1958
see Beds and Herts Pictorial - Tuesday 15 April 1958
see Belfast Telegraph - Thursday 02 January 1958
see Daily Herald - Monday 03 February 1958
see Western Mail - Wednesday 05 February 1958
see Daily Mirror - Thursday 02 January 1958
see Beds and Herts Pictorial - Tuesday 07 January 1958
see Leicester Evening Mail - Tuesday 07 January 1958
see Manchester Evening News - Tuesday 08 April 1958
see Daily Herald - Saturday 04 January 1958
see Shields Daily News - Saturday 08 February 1958
see Birmingham Daily Post - Tuesday 04 February 1958
see Beds and Herts Pictorial - Wednesday 09 April 1958
see Birmingham Daily Post - Tuesday 04 February 1958
see Halifax Evening Courier - Saturday 01 February 1958
see Newcastle Journal - Monday 03 February 1958
see Daily Mirror - Wednesday 05 February 1958
see Aberdeen Evening Express - Monday 03 February 1958