The unsolved homicides of Sally Shepherd, Margaret Lightfoot, and Clara Kirton feature as Cold Cases of the Month for September 2017.
While reading about Sally’s and Margaret’s cases, I saw the article mentioned the unsolved case of Clara Kirton. Of course, I cannot leave her out.
In each of Sally Shepherd, Margaret Lightfoot, and Clara Kirton’s cases we need more advanced technology and a lot more media exposure. Until the time we have that technology and absent confessions, these unconnected cases remain unsolved. But that does not mean we can forget about Sally Shepherd, Margaret Lightfoot, and Clara Kirton. Here are their stories.
On November 24, 1975, Margaret Lightfoot left her home in Loughton to walk her dog in nearby Epping Forest. She was seen by a neighbor. Later (the article does not say how much later) another neighbor saw the dog running loose in the streets, picked up the dog, and brought it home by leaving it in the yard.
Here is my question: why not ring the front door bell? Did this neighbor see anything suspicious? Was this neighbour cleared as a suspect?
When Margaret didn’t come home she was reported missing by her husband. What time was that? Has he been cleared as a suspect? Did he see the neighbor bringing the dog back? If so, was that the time he raised alarm? If not, where was he? At work? Can anyone confirm that? Were the daughters at home?
I have not found Margaret’s date of birth, exact time of death, or her age at death. Also missing in the article is the exact time the search started but we know it was called off after dark. It resumed the next sunrise. That’s when Margaret’s nude body was found somewhere in the heavy undergrowth of Epping Forest. The article doesn’t say exactly where. Who found her? Was this person cleared as a suspect? If you have links to newspaper articles that answer my questions, please contact me.
Margaret had been strangled to death. Was this done manually or with an object? Was she assaulted? Police interviewed more than 100 potential suspects but could not find their killer.
The new detective team found a very detailed report written by the officer in charge in 1975. They also found exhibits e.g. pieces of evidence. According to acting Detective Inspector Susan Stansfield, an officer from the Metropolitan Police’s cold case unit, all these items need to be re-examined with modern technology. DNA and especially touch DNA can shed a new light on this case.
The BBC article mentions that after Margaret’s husband saw something on TV he called police. Was that when he reported Margaret missing? What exactly did he see on TV? If that didn’t matter why was this detail reported? If you report it why not elaborate? This is a very vague and confusing statement. If you know what the BBC referred to, please let me know.
Margaret’s Wellington boots that she wore that day were found underneath her body. The heels would be a superb place to check. If the killer pulled them off they could find touch DNA. Trouble is that old techniques might hinder the latest methods. The boots were searched for fingerprints in 1975. The old technique used then may affect the results from modern tests. It all depends on how well you can separate traces and prints from the 1975 technicians so they can be eliminated now.
I also wonder about her clothes. Were they ever found? What did the autopsy report say about the order in which trauma was inflicted? Was Margaret dead before she was strangled or was strangulation the cause of death?
In Margaret’s case we need to await a technique to look at her rubber boots that have been previously treated to search for fingerprints. How much usable touch-DNA can we find? Is it a lost cause due to contamination? Can we eliminate all officers and scientists who have handles the boots?
Sally Shepherd’s body was found in a builder’s yard located behind a police station. The article does not state where exactly this yard was and on what date in December of 1979. The article does not state either who found Sally or whether this person was eliminated as a suspect in her murder. If you have links to newspaper articles that answer my questions, please contact me.
Sally was the restaurant manager at the Young Vic theatre, London. She was brutally attacked (but no details how) and sexually assaulted as she walked home late at night after getting off a bus in Peckham, south London. The exact extend of her injuries is not discussed in the BBC article. There is no mention of an autopsy report either.
It takes guts to drop a body or to kill someone so close to authorities. That sounds like someone who knew when the least number of officers would be in the building. Someone so familiar with the area to know when the least traffic would be around. About 44 suspects were identified but also eliminated from the investigation. This included the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe.
Police revealed in 2016 that they have a potentially vital clue: three strands of hair that could be from the killer. Where they were found is not mentioned in the article. Problem is that the hairs are rootless. Rootless hairs can be used to determine ethnicity (phenotyping) and that can help narrow down the field of suspects. It can also help firm up the identity of a suspect police had their eye on. But rootless hairs cannot give us a high-quality full DNA profile to make a match with 100% certainty.
“At the moment, that nuclear DNA that we normally find in the hair root is so degraded and so poor quality on a hair shaft that there is no way that we can normally get a result,” says David Ballard, an expert in DNA analysis at King’s College, London. Without the guarantee of results, scientists are “very cautious” about examining hairs because there’s a danger they’ll use up the sample as it undergoes testing.
So until we have a better method these hairs are locked in a vault. They cannot be sacrificed. I do wonder about mitochondrial DNA testing though. Would that consume the hair sample?
DI Stansfield mentioned the November 1985 case of Clara Kirton in the same BBC article. Clara was last seen at 10 (am or pm?) on Saturday November 16, 1985. Apparently this was a few days before her 86th birthday. Clara was known as a friendly neighbor. However, she’s also known for leaving the key in the door so visitors could let themselves in.
Clara was attacked with a broken beer bottle in her flat in Southwark, Victoria Buildings, Great Suffolk Street, London. The bottle was from a John Courage Strong Bitter beer that was only available in pubs. Her killer slashed her throat. I wonder whether the slash can tell us if they were right or left-handed.
Apparently her face was mutilated which usually hints at a very personal crime so she was most likely attacked by someone who knew her. Clara died from inhalation of blood and crush injuries to her face and neck. She was in the early stages of dementia, had diabetes, and was near housebound.
Her youngest son Brian found her in the lounge of her ground-floor flat. Police suspect it was a burglary gone wrong. They think the attack took place the day before between 4-6pm. Some of Clara’s drawers were ransacked however only her purse was stolen. This is strange as Clara had a lot of cash hidden in her apartment. Who knew this? And then why only take the purse? Was the goal not the money but a personal struggle with Clara? There was no evidence of a break-in but then again, the door was open.
According to the article Clara got daily visits from her son Brian but also from a meals-on-wheels service and a district nurse. I wonder whether the last two were cleared as suspects.
In this case there are no pieces of exhibits left to re-examine with modern technology. But we have one thing. It is a long shot but why not. The beer bottle came from John Courage Strong Bitter beer that was only available in pubs. How many pubs are in walking distance from Clara’s house? Who were the known patrons who can tell us about the pubs clientage? Does anyone remember people drunk the day before Clara was found? Most likely this was already done but it cannot hurt to remind people this case is still unsolved.
In all three cases only new technologies or confessions can move it forward. But renewed media exposure just might help to get people talking again, to make them realize that these cases are still unsolved.
The UK Officers can be reached at 020 7230 4294, via 101 or @MetCC or you can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
In the series “Case of the Month” I highlight old cold cases. These posts are not an in-depth analysis. Often more information is online or in newspaper archives. The goal of these posts is to get the cases back in the spotlights, to get people talking again, and if anything to make sure that we do not forget Sally Shepherd, Margaret Lightfoot, and Clara Kirton. Just because their cases are cold does not mean that we can forget about them.
If you have any thoughts about the cases of Sally Shepherd, Margaret Lightfoot, or Clara Kirton I encourage you to post them on your social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, etc.) Every time that we mention them online we enhance their digital footprints. We must make sure that they keep their web presence if we ever wish to find answers in these cases. You can help by linking to or sharing this post.
Thank you for remembering Sally Shepherd, Margaret Lightfoot, and Clara Kirton with us.