The murder of Anne Theresa Noblett (1940 – 1957) has been dubbed the “Deep Freeze Murder” because when she was found, her body was frozen.
On Dec 30, 1957, just after 6pm, Anne Noblett got off the bus. The bus stop was on the corner of Lower Luton Road and Cherry Tree Lane in Wheathampstead, UK. From there, it was a short walk, less than a quarter of a mile, to her home on Marshalls Heath Lane.
Anne (17) lived at home with her parents and brothers. Her father was a successful businessman.
Anne had attended a rock-and-roll dance class with friends at Lourdes Hall, Harpenden, in Hertfordshire. I wonder who knew that she took that class. Was this a weekly routine? Did someone follow her? Did she ever tell her friends to be afraid of someone?
After class, Anne hopped on the Green Line 391 bus and got off at the stop at Cherry Tree Corner. She told her friends “I’ll see you on Friday.”
She was last seen by another local girl, Shirley Edwards. Shirley passed Anne in the lane towards Anne’s house. Shirley was on her scooter; Anne walked. That was the last time that anyone saw Anne Noblett alive. Her parents reported her missing immediately. Anne’s remains were found on January 31, 1958, one month later, about seven miles away in Rose Grove Wood near Whitwell, Hitchin, UK.
Anne Noblett was a domestic science student at Watford Technical College. Did she like her school? Did she have any enemies? Were any of the other girls maybe talking about someone stalking them? I have not found any information about her school, ambitions, hobbies aside from the dance class, or if anyone in that area had reported harassment.
After the Nobletts reported Anne missing, the woods were searched on New Year’s Eve. Police used tracker dogs. After that, several searches took place with as many as 300 volunteers assisting the police. Many of those volunteers were locals so yes, there was every chance that her killer(s) were among them.
The initial investigation was spearheaded by the senior officer in charge Detective Chief Superintendent Robert Elwell of Hertfordshire CID. Senior Scotland Yard Detectives supported the Hertfordshire Constabulary. This was common at that time. The Yard was better equipped to help with extensive searches involving hundreds of officers, police dogs, the military, and volunteers.
Finding Anne Noblett
On January 31, 1958 Leading Aircraftman Hugh Symonds, of R.A.F. Stanmore, who lived at Whitwell, and his 14-year-old brother Brian, were out in the woods walking their dog, Rip. Suddenly, Rip pulled away. They followed. About 100 yards further in a clearing, Mr. Symonds saw a woman’s body. She seemed to be asleep. What was her body position? On her back, face down, on her side? Where were her arms? The papers reported that there were no signs of dragging so that leaves someone carrying her remains to that clearing. That made me wonder about her body position because as mentioned, she was frozen.
Mr. Symonds told police that Anne’s body had not been visible from the lane. However, if you veered off, she was. Anne was found near a cart track that was used as a shortcut by the locals. How often was it used at the end of the year and in mid-winter? Maybe just sporadically however, during the month that Anne was missing, nobody who knew the woods well, not even gamekeepers, reported finding the body of a woman. So, how likely is it that she had been there since the day that she went missing? Not very.
If Anne’s remains had been out there for a month, we should have read about some damage done to her body by the elements and by wildlife scratching at her remains. I did not read anything about that except for the part below under the autopsy section.
When Anne was found, she was fully clothed and was wearing her overcoat. However, it turned out that Anne had been stripped by someone (or stripped under duress) and was then redressed. Her underclothes were not buttoned right. Was this done by her killer(s) or did she herself make this mistake due to the stress of the situation? It is not clear whether Anne was sexually assaulted but the stripping and the redressing make it seem likely.
I have not found if Anne was wearing shoes or (snow) boots and if she was wearing those when found dead.
Anne was still wearing her glasses but I read that they were not properly on her nose. Either it was placed back or it had shifted slightly due to the elements or wildlife.
Cause of death: strangulation but I have not found whether that was done manually, or with an object, or with a ligature.
The autopsy was performed by the Home Office pathologist, Dr. Francis Camps. Anne disappeared and was found in winter. The season had been relatively mild thus making frozen by nature most unlikely. So, was the natural weather pattern cold enough to have frozen solid Anne’s body if it had been left outside? No.
Another point here: how deeply frozen was Anne? I know it is morbid to discuss this but bear with me and read on below.
The autopsy further showed that the food she had eaten during the day was still undigested in her stomach.
The authorities asked biologists to help determine how long Anne had been lying in the clearing. Their conclusion was at least two weeks as “there was at least a two weeks’ difference in the growth of snowdrops and ferns underneath Anne’s body and those around it.”
I wonder if any of Anne’s bones were broken as a result of being attacked/killed, frozen, or carried frozen into the clearing.
Time-line and crime scenes
So how does the above support or disprove the “deep freeze” theory? We need to know how well frozen she was. This sounds utterly disrespectful but there are stages of freezing. You cannot just overnight freeze a human body. How long does it take to freeze a human being solid? And, how long does it take to thaw a whole body? Can we see from veins and soft organ tissue that the body had been frozen solid? Or, was Anne frozen but superficially/chemically? It changes the timeline.
If she was placed (I assume frozen) in the clearing two weeks before being found (as per the biologists’ estimate) where was her body kept while freezing and when finally frozen? Or, was her body already thawed when she was placed in the clearing? This goes to the ease of carrying her in there. Can one person carry a frozen body and manoeuvre it into that clearing? It seems that it would be easier if the body was pliable. If frozen solid it may have taken two people to carry her.
But even if we know this it conflicts with the information that nobody had found her body in those two weeks, no walker, no gamekeepers, nobody. Someone reported seeing a black car in the area. The driver was a middle-aged man with horn-rimmed glasses. However, this man was never found and we have no clue as to his identity.
In other words, we have gaps in the time-line:
- We cannot prove when Anne was strangled or where (so there are several crime scenes that we do not know about),
- we don’t know where she was frozen (another crime scene) or how and how fast, and
- we do not know exactly in what state her body was when it was carried (by one or several) into the clearing e.g. frozen solid or had thaw set in.
Why kill a seventeen year old? Why strangle her? Why freeze her remains? Why place her in the clearing?
Her house was less than a quarter of a mile from the bus stop so if she vanished during that walk, I am fairly sure that she got into a car with someone she knew. This brings us back to the family and their circle of friends, enemies, jilted lovers, unbeknownst to the parents, maybe boyfriends, etc. Could it be that someone might have targeted Anne to get to her father? I found that “Anne came from a relatively affluent family, known in the local community for owning a now-defunct motorcycle helmet business.”
If sexual assault were the motive then it could explain her improperly buttoned underwear but it does not explain the freezing.
The freezing is either a clumsy attempt to hide traces of assault or a clever ploy to throw off the exact time of death hence creating the ability to establish a solid alibi. In either case, someone read up about forensic in their early stages. Someone had an interest or knowledge of refrigeration. Someone had read somewhere about the importance of the time of death and had the insight to hide the real time of death knowing that they would need an alibi. To me this means an intelligent person, with a background or job in refrigeration or science, someone with an interest in police investigations, or maybe someone who was a lab technician.
“No shred of physical evidence survives from the police investigation, meaning no DNA profile of the killer can be created.“
Police did check all farms in the surrounding area that were known to have big freezers where poultry was kept in freezing temperatures until the market prices went up and the poultry was sold.
To be certain that Anne’s body temperature really could not have been so low by lying in the clearing, police asked the Meteorological Office for advice. They collected the day and night temperature records for the period in which Anne went missing. The night temperatures were not as low as average hence the theory that Anne had been kept in a freezer.
The authorities even checked on companies and owners of refrigerated vehicles ranging from trucks transporting frozen food to insulated moving vans. There were many such vans around in the area as they were near London.
I got this quote from the papers. “A company executive told police: ‘Really low temperatures can be achieved merely by plugging in a cable from the van to an electric point’, and that drivers would load and unload unsupervised. It was possible, he said, for a body to be carried about in such a vehicle for weeks. It might even have been possible to have kept her body frozen in a bed, by inserting sticks of dry carbon dioxide, of the type used to keep ice cream frozen in boxes and pulling the bedclothes over her to prevent gas escaping.”
Police knew that the man would have to be strong or had an accomplice. Anne was over 11 stone so over 154 lbs. She had to be carried from the lane into the clearing without being dragged as the papers stated there were no dragging signs.
I read about this twist in the papers and it fits with what I said before: we are dealing with a cunning person.
In 1957, the capital punishment debate flared up again. I looked it up. Those in favor of abolition declared victory with the new Homicide Act 1957. The Act distinguished between capital and non-capital murder. It limited drastically the murders for which one could still be sentenced to death. From now on, there were only five categories of murder punishable by death:
- (a) any murder done in the course or furtherance of theft;
- (b) any murder by shooting or by causing an explosion;
- (c) any murder done in the course or for the purpose of resisting or avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest, or of effecting or assisting an escape or rescue from legal custody;
- (d) any murder of a police officer acting in the execution of his duty or of a person assisting a police officer so acting;
- (e) in the case of a person who was a prisoner at the time when he did or was a party to the murder, any murder of a prison officer acting in the execution of his duty or of a person assisting a prison officer so acting.
So indeed, rape-murder Anne and you avoid the death penalty. But murder-robbery could get you the ultimate sentence.
Anne had around thirty shillings (£1.50) with her. I did not read anything about possible jewelry that she might have worn. Still, by having these coins with her, the assumption would be that she was not robbed unless we know how much money she had with her in the first place. My guess is, that we don’t.
If Anne left the house for her dance class without any money in her purse, these coins could have been placed on her to avoid the death penalty if caught. IF this happened, the killer was alert to changes in the law, cunning enough to anticipate an arrest, and cold enough to consider what his defense had to be to avoid death.
However, if the coins were Anne’s they could have been in her purse from the moment that she left home. According to the papers no fingerprints were found on those coins. This is strange. It would mean all coins were cleaned?
Another point is: how many coins make thirty shillings? Was it usual for Anne to carry that amount around?
While reading the papers the thought did pop up that this might have been an experiment gone wrong. Like in the movie ‘Flatliners’ I was suddenly thinking along the lines of science students experimenting with freezing a person to research the possibility of thawing and awakening them. Were there any popular movies or books out at that time exploring this theme? Did the Watford Technical College have a science lab and a freezing unit at that time? Of course, freezing experiments would not necessarily explain the strangulation.
I wonder how many locals had a car in 1957. I wonder how many people had a freezer at home or in a work-related location. I wonder what interested Anne in science and what subjects she followed at college.
The person or persons responsible for Anne’s murder are now either very old or dead. If they were slightly older than Anne, say born in 1937, they are nearing 83 today. Any indication of their guilt would be a journal entry, a story they told someone and made them promise never to repeat, a deathbed confession, or if they are still alive, a confession to police.
I found this in the papers: “Police investigating the murder of Mary Kriek, 19, a Dutch girl found battered to death at Boxted, Essex, on January 6, 1958, joined forces for a time with the Scotland Yard/Hertfordshire investigation into the murder of Anne Noblett. There were similarities in the two cases, in that each girl was seen getting off a bus, alone.
In 1959, police arrested two suspects at Southend, and questioned them about both murders. One of them turned out to be a refrigeration expert. Both were released without charge.” I have not been able to find more information about these suspects.
Kriek’s cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head. She had seventeen lacerations possibly made by a tire lever or hammer. So in this aspect, her case is different from Anne’s.
If you have any information, please
- call the Hertfordshire Constabulary non-emergency number 101 or
- call the incident room on 01707 355666 or
- call the independent crime-fighting charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or
- use Crimestoppers’ anonymous online form at www.crimestoppers-uk.org.
Rest in peace, dear Anne Theresa Noblett.
St Albans & Harpenden Review
The Watford Observer
Thank you, Grace Youhas, for the editorial clean-up!