Hadleigh/Earls Colne: We live in hope 12-year-old Linda’s murderer will be caught after 53 years

12 year old Linda Smith

12 year old Linda Smith - Credit: Andy Abbott

Just as with Pandora’s Box hope is often the last thing left for the families of murder victims.

Linda's sisters Fiona, Petra, Jane and Sheena

Linda's sisters Fiona, Petra, Jane and Sheena - Credit: Andy Abbott

When all else is lost they seek refuge in the hope that their loved one’s killer will be brought to justice.

For murders that remain unsolved the turmoil of not knowing who, or why, serves only to prolong the pain.

It is a torment the mother and siblings of Linda Smith have known only too well since January 1961 when her body was found in a field in Polstead, near Hadleigh. The 12-year-old had been strangled with her own scarf.

Over the 53 years since Linda was snatched from her home village of Earls Colne, near Halstead, her family have held on to the glimmer of hope that there can still be a breakthrough in the case.

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Known as Little Miss Friendly, Linda may be gone, but she has never been forgotten.

Now, after a dramatic development involving a similar case in Scotland relating to the murder of an 11-year-old schoolgirl in 1957, the hopes of Linda’s family have been rekindled.

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In late January the prime suspect in Moira Anderson’s homicide was named in court by prosecutors as her killer. It came after two witnesses contacted police 56 years later with new evidence lawyers believe would have convicted paedophile Alexander Gartshore had he still been alive.

Although there is no suggestion of a link between Suffolk and the case in Scotland, especially as Linda was not sexually assaulted, it does illustrate how even after so many years crucial evidence can emerge.

Linda’s sister Sheena Croll, who lives near Sudbury, said: “It gives me lots of hope and encouragement that after all these years somebody will come forward. There’s definitely hope as it is a very similar case. There’s very little to go on, there’s very little hope, but it is not all lost.

“This is very encouraging and gives us a bit of light.”

The 64-year-old believes it is possible that someone holding on to a crucial piece of information would want to unburden themselves before it is too late.

“I would say as time goes on their consciences must be pricking them and it would make it easier for them to come forward. There’s a lot of water under the bridge.

“It would really help our cause enormously and would really help my mother. It would be nice to have closure at the end of this especially for my mother who is 84, as well as the rest of the family.

“If someone knows something, or saw something, even after all these years we really need them to come forward with any information they may have.

“I can’t believe that somebody has done this and they haven’t broken down and confessed.

“It is unfinished business for us. It is not fair to my sister’s memory. She doesn’t deserve this.”

Linda Ann Smith was the eldest of six children born to Robert and Patricia Smith.

Her engaging personality led to many knowing her as Little Miss Friendly.

After attending Earls Colne Primary School Linda went to Halstead Secondary Modern.

On Monday, January 16, 1961, she returned to her Earls Colne home after school before going to her great grandmother Emily Sharman’s home in the village.

Sometime after 4.30pm Linda left with a 10 shilling note to buy a magazine for Mrs Sharman from Hughes, the newsagent’s in the High Street, around five minutes walk away.

When Linda did not return to her great grandmother’s home police were called. In the days following her disappearance hundreds of people joined search parties to scour fields in an effort to find her.

However, Linda’s clothed body – which was missing a size one, black, right lace-up shoe – was found in a field beside Stackwood Road, a narrow lane at Polstead, near Hadleigh, by Harold Richardson. The 72-year-old retired farm labourer had been returning home from a walk at around 3pm on Friday, January 20.

Linda’s overcoat still contained the 10 shilling note in her purse.

Eight shoe impressions were found where Linda was dumped, five facing her body, along with a reindeer mint – a sweet sold in Co-op stores.

An expert said she died on the Monday she went missing or the following day.

A subsequent inquest heard a red substance, believed to be paint, and traces of flour were found on Linda. These were matched to the clothing of a man spoken to during the inquiry. His car also contained the traces of the red substance.

However, he was never arrested and police only ever described him as a potential witness.

Suffolk Constabulary stressed it has not given up hope of finding Linda’s killer.

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Smith, of its major investigation team, said: “There’s every reason to believe Linda’s killer is still alive and we would appeal to that person, or those persons, to examine their consciences.

“Time is running out for them to do the right thing. I would appeal to witnesses, particularly those with allegiances which may have changed over the years, to also examine their consciences.

“This is the oldest of a number of unsolved cases that are actively reviewed by the joint investigation team, but the message is that we refuse to give up.”

There are a number of striking parallels between the murders of Linda Smith and Moira Anderson.

Linda was aged 12 when she was murdered in 1961.

Moira was aged 11 when she was murdered in 1957.

Linda was running an errand for her grandmother in her home village of Earls Colne, near Halstead.

Moira was running an errand for her grandmother in her home village of Coatbridge in Scotland.

Both girls were snatched up by their killers whose identities were shrouded in mystery for more than 50 years.

Now nearly 60 years after her murder Moira’s the prime suspect has been named by prosecutors in court as her killer after two new witnesses came forward with apparently damning evidence.

Convicted paedophile, Alexander Gartshore who died in 2006, would have faced prosecution for the schoolgirl’s murder if he were still alive, the Crown Office in Scotland has said.

Moira disappeared in North Lanarkshire in February 1957. Her body has never been found.

Prosecutors say a cold case review has uncovered enough new evidence to indict convicted child abuser Gartshore for the crime if he were alive today.

The Coatbridge bus driver, who was 85 when he died, was the last person to see Moira alive and has long been connected with the case, one of Scotland’s oldest unsolved murders.

A witness came forward to say that in the late afternoon of February 23, 1957, they saw a man dragging a young girl, who matched Moira’s description, by the arms near a bus terminus in Carnbroe, Coatbridge.

The witness was shown a series of photographs and picked out Gartshore as the man she saw. She had not come forward earlier as she had not read anything about Moira’s disappearance.

The Crown said this was the new evidence which would allow them to indict Gartshore.

Another new witness said the summer before Moira’s disappearance, Gartshore exposed himself to her and Moira in a local park. He knew the murdered girl’s name when he called her over.

The announcement of his name in court was welcomed by Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC, who paid tribute to those who campaigned for justice for Moira as well as the cold case unit and Police Scotland officers.

“This will hopefully bring closure to the family of Moira Anderson who have had to wait more than half a century for answers,” he said.

“It is important that unsolved homicides are not allowed to become a forgotten file gathering dust on a shelf.

“The work of the cold case unit will ensure that this does not happen.”

Mr Mulholland emphasised that indicting a person for a crime was not the equivalent of that person being found guilty.

He said: “The trial process is the only place in which guilt or innocence can be determined. We are not saying that the suspect is guilty, only that there is sufficient credible and reliable evidence to indict him and there would be a reasonable prospect of conviction had he still been alive.

“It was only after serious consideration of the circumstances of this case that it was decided to place this information in the public domain.”

The Crown Office said it took the “unprecedented” step of making the information public due to the high level of interest in the case.

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