Fifty years on from disappearance of April Fabb - police still hope to solve mystery
Half a century has passed since north Norfolk schoolgirl April Fabb went missing. On the 50th anniversary of the day she disappeared, STUART ANDERSON looks back at the tragic case, and the hopes someone could still provide the answer to what happened to April.
Five decades have now passed since the disappearance of a 13-year-old girl who was cycling through the north Norfolk countryside.
And despite one of the biggest investigations carried out in modern times by Norfolk police, what happened to April Fabb remains a mystery.
April went missing on April 8, 1969, a Tuesday and the day after a the Easter long weekend.
She cycled away from her home at 3 Council Houses Metton, near Cromer, at about 1.40pm, heading for an older sister’s house in Roughton, to give a pack of cigarettes to her brother-in-law for her birthday.
She stopped to chat to a couple of friends at Harrison’s farm on Cromer Road, next to a field where donkeys were grazing.
A farm worker saw her just after 2pm riding up Roughton Road, and shortly after her bike was seen in a field by the side of the road. Just seven minutes separated these two events - a short time frame which left wounds that will never be healed and questions that may never be answered.
Retired Detective Chief Inspector Andy Guy, who manages the cold case review team for Norfolk and Suffolk, said the case had never been closed and they still hoped to find out what happened to April.
Mr Guy said: “There are two avenues, as I see it - there could be information from people that we haven’t had before, and there’s the chance of finding April’s remains. They would be game-changers for us.
“April was either abducted by someone from away who just happen to be in the area the time, or it was close to home - somebody she knew. If it was the latter case there may be people in Norfolk who suspect what happened and never came forward.”
Mr Guy said they were still open to anyone who could provide them with “credible information” - which could be a strong suspicion about someone they know.
He said: “There may be somebody who every anniversary acts oddly. Who doesn’t want to have the TV on or want to discuss this particular event. It may be something simple that raises concern amongst other people who live with them.”
Mr Guy said April’s disappearance led to “the biggest enquiry that we have had in Norfolk Police for the past 50 years”, and countless leads had been followed up.
He said a red Mini and a grey van seen in the area had never been identified, but that seemed impossible now as they were no longer on the DVLA database.
Someone had once claimed they had seen something being buried in a well, but this was excavated in 2010 and nothing was found.
Mr Guy said there was “no evidence” to back up a long-held theory that child killer Robert Black was responsible, as he was working in London then, did not have a drivers’ licence and nothing linked him to Norfolk.
April’s two sisters and a number of cousins still live in the area around Roughton, but they are not willing to re-live the pain of her their by talking about it in depth.
Cousin Rosemary Fabb, who was 27 when April went missing, said now that April’s parents, Olive and Albert, had both died, the family simply wanted to move on.
Rosemary said: “As far as the family are concerned, the mum and dad have gone and we just want it to be left now. Every time it’s brought up you live through it all again.”
Rosemary said it was still hard to believe how April could have gone missing in such a short time.
“She was a fairly well-built girl - I thought she would have put up a fight. There’s got to have been two people. While somebody was putting the bike over the hedge, she could have run off, couldn’t she? The terror she must have gone through is pretty awful.”
Rosemary said there seemed little hope of the truth of what happened on that day ever becoming known.
She said: “Why was nothing found, is what I ask? Seven minutes was the gap between when she was last seen to when her bike was found. She talked to her friends at the end of her road before she went up.”
She added: “It is an absolute mystery isn’t it. If they find anything, that would be marvellous, but I can’t think that after all this time they will. I don’t think anybody will ever know.”
-If you think you may know anything about the April Fabb disappearance, please contact Andy Guy on 01953 423819, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111 or at crimestoppers-uk.org.
Reaction: “We were feeling very anxious”
Many people living in Norfolk at the time April went missing have strong memories of that tragic incident.
Valerie Merritt, from Sheringham, was 16 and living in Holt when it happened.
She said: “This was a very sad and worrying time for people especially us young girls around Norfolk.
“I was stopped from bike rides in the country by my parents and sleepy Norfolk changed from that sad time onwards.
“I was always sad that her parents had to live their lives not ever knowing where their little girl was. RIP April.”
Mrs Merritt recalls one time shortly after April went missing she was herself followed by a man in a car when riding her bike. But it turned out to be a policeman working on the investigation, and he thought she could have been the missing girl.
Mrs Merritt said: “We were feeling very anxious when something odd or strange happened.”
Reaction: “I never have been on a bike again”
Jackie Lewin was 12 when April went missing and described it as a “scary time”.
Living in Aylsham, the incident is connected in her memory with the murder of Susan Long, from the same town, the following year.
She said: “Both girls from lovely families and such a shame neither case got solved. RIP April and Susan.”
Marg Kirkham, who now lives in Cheshire, said she went to school with April.
She and her friends also use to ride their bikes around the country lanes of Roughton and Metton. But this came to an end after her schoolmate went missing.
Mrs Kirkham said: “The day she went missing the police woke us up at 12am that night wanting to speak to me. It was so awful. She was such a lovely, quiet girl.
“My mum took my bike off me and I never have been on a bike again. God bless her.”
Tuesday, April 8, 1969: The April Fabb disappearance
1.40pm: 13-year-old schoolgirl April Fabb cycles away from her home at 3 Council Houses, Metton, to visit her sister in Roughton, around 1.7 miles away. She is wearing a wine coloured woollen skirt, a green jumper, a pair of long white socks and a pair of wooden soled sandals with red straps and brass buckles. Riding her blue-and-white bike, she stops next to a field with donkeys in it by Harrison’s farm on Cromer Road to chat for around 10 minutes before carrying on.
Just after 2pm: A farm worker sees her riding towards Roughton. This is the last known sighting of April.
Around 2.15pm: Two Ordnance Survey workers see April’s bike lying in a field by the road just a few hundred yards from where she was last seen. There was only around seven minutes she was unaccounted for.
Around 3pm: A local man is driving his mother home when he sees April’s bicycle in the field. He takes it to the Police House at Roughton where he hands it to the village PC. The cigarettes, money and handkerchief are still in the saddlebag.