This poor 17 year old girl would have potentially lived a long and full life had someone not intercepted her in 1957. There is no DNA evidence and it is likely the offender is long dead but the curious nature of this unsolved case still offers a glimmer of hope that it could yet be solved.
The Brief Circumstances
MS Noblett was from a comfortably set family in Marshalls Heath, Hertfordshire which is about 25 miles north of London, UK. At about 6pm on the 30th December 1957 she parted from friends when she got off a bus at the Cherry Tree pub on Lower Luton road. From there she only had about a quarter of a mile to home. This meant she had to walk past a stretch of houses but largely the rural route was along a dark lane. On the way she passed a friend who was riding a scooter.
A witness said they thought they saw the tail lights if a car parked on the lane at about that time but otherwise the lane was quiet.
Ms Noblett’s body was found a month later in scrubland as two dog walkers made their way through Rose Grove Woods. This is several miles to the north of where Ms Noblett went missing. If you trace a route along country lanes you could have driven pretty much unseen in winter from Marshalls Heath to where the body was found.
Ms Noblett was fully clothed and even had her glasses on. Her belongings were close by and she had been strangled to death.
The curious thing about this case is though the weather had been mild for that time of year Ms Noblett’s body was frozen. The eminent pathologist, Dr Francis Camps, declared that going on the stomach contents she had died on the day she disappeared. In addition it was likely that her body had been stored in a freezer unit for approximately the first two weeks.
Ms Noblett’s clothing had probably been removed and then she had been redressed because buttons were not fastened properly. Even her glasses were not placed properly on her face. It is said she was likely to have been the victim of a sexual assault.
Another issue the police highlighted was that there were no drag marks to where the body was found. Ms Noblett is reported to have weighed about 11 stone ( 155 pounds, 70 kilos). I have seen it said that the offender must have been strong in order to carry her about 300 metres from the road.
On the Monday night she disappeared she had been dancing in Harpenden and so all those who had seen her were interviewed along with two thousand others. Nothing came of the enquiries. Ms Noblett had seemed perfectly normal that evening and had said to friends she would see them on Friday.
A later review of the case said there was little chance of the offender being traced. The manner of the investigation at the time had been old school policing. It entailed talking to witnesses and likely suspects and no evidence was preserved from which a DNA sample could be extracted.
Due to the body being frozen anyone with refrigeration units that were big enough were interviewed. The scale of that line of enquiry was over a 30 mile radius sadly it came to nothing.
There is even less for us to go on than the police had back then. Often old cases are full of updates and appeals. There are usually arrests or sightings of cars or people. In 1957, in winter and in a rural setting, few people would have been about at 6 pm. The ownership of cars was low and so if a vehicle type had been reported that alone would have been a huge boost for the police investigation. Of course there was little of that sort of lead. I have seen it said a black car and a man were sought but I don’t know the original source.
There was another case where a frozen body was found in woods. There the offender had kept the body in a freezer for much longer. Leanne Tiernan was found near Otley, West Yorkshire. Her killer, John Taylor, was a delivery man who lived on the same housing estate as his victim in Leeds.
Ms Tiernan had also got off a bus and walked along a secluded area in order to get home when she was abducted. She was about the same age as Ms Noblett and she had been strangled to death. Taylor was too young to have been involved in the murder of Ms Noblett and I only mention it as the method was similar. Also the ability to freeze a murder victim and transport them in the year 2000 was very different than it would have been in 1957.
So who could have had that sort of freezer and have a vehicle and be strong enough to carry a reasonably heavy frozen body 300 metres in those days?
Of course there is a potential hole in the logic here. What about two offenders? I am inclined to give the cops the benefit of the doubt. It is not reported that they identified one set of footprints around where the body was found. I assume though there were only one set for the police to have said the offender must have been strong. They obviously were taking note of any marks on the ground because the lack of drag marks is specifically mentioned.
The weather was mild but there had been a period of a week when the temperature in the area was decidedly wintery. As a result the forensic examiners would have found it hard to pin down how long Ms Noblett had been in the woods before she was discovered. Apparently they based much of their estimate of two weeks on the difference between plant growth under her body and plant growth nearby.
The distance between Marshalls Heath and where Ms Noblett’s body was found is about 4 miles by road.
( A little note on details: Almost everywhere it is said that Rose Grove wood is 7 miles from where Ms Noblett lived. I trace it out at 4 miles by road.)
Given the scarcity of vehicles back then and the out of the way location she was last seen it would suggest a very local killer. It is easy these days to think of anyone in the past travelling the same distances we are prepared to now. The roads were very much different then. The network was not developed into the motorway system, major roads were what we would call minor roads and rural lanes were often no more than glorified farm tracks.
I find this case fascinating and as I write my schedule for the day is already being torn to pieces by this interest. My take is that Ms Noblett knew her killer and that she was targeted. I also suggest that the coppers at the time probably knew who her killer was or at least had very strong suspicions.
I cannot escape the idea that the offender somehow thought that by placing her body clothed and in the woods in winter it would make the police think she had wandered. I think they maybe thought her frozen body would be found as if she had hiked off that night or run away from home only to succumb to the elements.
Not only were the times quieter, the understanding of forensics by the general public was way less than today. Much ‘true crime’ information came from newspapers and pulp fiction magazines. I find it very likely that the killer thought by freezing the body they would support the accidental death theory. I have not forgotten that she was strangled to death. So how would signs of strangulation be overlooked by the killer?
Well there is ignorance of how strangulation is determined. Maybe they had the hope that by redressing her, and removing the item used to strangle her, they would throw police off the trail. There is also the hope that the discovery of the body would have been in the far future. By that time maybe the elements would have covered all trace of how she died.
It is of course all speculation, not conclusion. The Noblett family were reasonably wealthy. They were involved in a very successful business manufacturing safety helmets in Wheathampstead. I have put more detail below. I wonder if a motive of kidnapping was considered? I saw nothing to support it but the fact that she died shortly after the time she was last seen and had been sexually assaulted does not rule it out. Violent callous plans tend to go wrong after all.
I mentioned there might still be hope that the case is solved. It has been along time since this poor girl was killed. The passage of time dulls memory and possibly sooths guilt. The passage of time also frees people from obligation and as they pass maybe a scrap of a note book or a photograph might emerge. it is a feint possibility I know. I will hold on to it all the same.
So what are your thoughts?
Footnote: Sometimes after finishing writing I keep looking. I found this article in the St Albans Review. Lots of detail and a suggestion there were two arrests. Another murder ( Mary Kriek 1958) was tentatively linked to this case and two guys were interviewed. One of them, the article says, was a refrigeration expert. No charges were laid. Just thought for the sake of balance I would put the link, The article suggests there was even a way of freezing a body in a bed. It also points out that any refrigerated vehicle could have had Ms Noblett contained without her being noticed.
Almost everywhere it is mentioned that the Noblett family ran a business manufacturing motorcycle helmets. The link below is to an interesting PDF history of Helmet Ltd. This was no cottage industry. During the war and immediately after the firm had government contracts. Later they would go into motorcycle helmet manufacture but their history covers manufacturing all manner of protective head wear and even specialist military equipment.
Managing director of this was Tom Noblett from 1948 to 1975. In turn his father had been a previous MD. It was a family concern with works in near by Wheathampstead. Mr Noblett is reported to have bought a place in Marshalls Heath around 1939. The plan was to set up some piggeries as aside line. This venture was to be Cromwell Piggeries and the land is still called that at the time of writing. Reference: History of Helmet Ltd