:: Sheila Fox :: Unsolved Murder of 1944 ::



New Bury, Farnworth, Bolton

Friday 18th August 1944.

It was Friday afternoon and that brought the prospect of two days playing out with her New Bury mates, two days of hide-and-seek and skipping.

As Sheila planned her weekend fun and games, so the country's leaders were putting the preparations together for the final push that would win the Second World War.

But Sheila Fox would never celebrate the repatriation of France and demise of the German forces.

And she would never taste the jelly and sandwiches served at street parties around the town, as residents later celebrated the end of the war.

At some point as she made her way home to her family's house on Macdonald Avenue, New Bury, Sheila Fox disappeared, never to be seen again.

Within hours of reports that she was missing an exhaustive search of the Farnworth area began.

Young playmates of Sheila told how they had seen their friend riding on the crossbar of a mystery man's bicycle.

Another school friend said she had seen Sheila walking with a man. Her young pal even asked Sheila where she was going. The six-year-old girl is said to have replied: "I am going with this man."

That night police and neighbours combed the district, shouting her name in a desperate bid to find the little girl. Air raid shelters and farm buildings were scoured as the volunteers continued their hunt and hedgerows and fields were systematically searched as fears for Sheila's safety mounted. Over the weekend, the County Police were joined by air raid wardens and Army cadets as their search was stepped up. The hunt went on throughout the weekend, unbroken.

After the Bolton Evening News carried reports of her disappearance, other readers came forward to claim they had seen a child on the cross bars of a bike being ridden by a man. It was the same information that had been passed on from Sheila's seven-year-old friend.

By the end of August several cyclists, who had given rides to children on their bikes on the day of Sheila's disappearance had been ruled out of the inquiry after contacting police officers.

But one cyclist had still not been tracked down.

The man had been riding on Newbrook Road, Atherton, with a little girl on the cross bar who wore a green dress and had ribbons in her hair. Witnesses claimed the child was aged five or six and the cyclist had headed off towards Leigh, riding past Atherton Parish Church.

In 2001, British detectives began digging up a garden of a house that stands on the route that six-year-old Sheila Fox would have taken as she walked home from school 57 years ago. They acted on a tip off that a man had been seen digging in a back garden in the Farnworth area after midnight around the time that the girl went missing. The digging was witnessed by a neighbour who was a schoolboy at the time, and now in his seventies, the knowledge preyed on his mind.

Authorities have established that the man who dug the hole was Richard Ryan, a convicted rapist, who died 12 years ago.

The dig is the latest twist in a mystery that left many people baffled during the war. Sheila, the youngest of five children, was reported to have last been seen on the handlebars of a bicycle ridden by a man. The dig proved unsuccessful.

Sheila's parents said that she would have had to know the man very well because she was very shy. They always believed that Sheila had tried to head to London, as some of her wartime schoolmates were refugee children from the capital.

The youngster’s sister Betty said that she could remember a couple commenting on Sheila about three months before she vanished. She said the couple sounded as if they were Londoners, or from the south. She said she had never seen them before or since, but they commented on what a lovely child Sheila was and said they would have liked to take her with them.

Today, Greater Manchester Police said that, because no body was ever found, the case is still being treated as a missing person inquiry.

If you have any information concerning this case, please contact: Greater Manchester Police 0161 856 5965 or Crimestoppers 0800 555 111

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