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The BBC's Kevin Bocquet
"Police have spent hours sifting through top soil, looking for a possible solution to a 57 year old mystery"
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Wednesday, 6 June, 2001, 04:08 GMT 05:08 UK
Dig for wartime girl's body resumed
Police officers
Police say the search will be slow and painstaking
Detectives searching for a girl who went missing in the 1940s are resuming their excavation of the garden of a house that belonged to a man later convicted of rape.

Six-year-old Sheila Fox vanished 57 years ago - in August 1944 - after leaving her school in Bolton, Greater Manchester.

Richard Ryan, a 20-year-old man who was later convicted of rape, lived at the property in Barton Road, which was on the route between Sheila's school and home.

We have a duty to the family to find out what happened

Detective Chief Inspector Paul Buchanan

No trace of her was found despite a massive search by special constables, air raid wardens and neighbours.

Police re-opened the investigation after a witness, who was a young child at the time, came forward to say he had seen a man digging a hole in the back garden of a nearby house at midnight.

The neighbour, who is now in his 70s, said it had preyed on his mind, but he had not wanted to lead police on a "wild goose chase".

Sheila disappeared as she made the short journey from St James' Primary School to her home on Macdonald Avenue.

She was last seen riding on the crossbar of a bike with a man who had befriended her.

Mysterious disappearance

Detective Chief Inspector Paul Buchanan, who is leading the inquiry, said the excavation would be a "slow and painstaking process" which would last several days.

Sheila Fox
Sheila Fox disappeared in 1944

He said: "The disappearance of Sheila has remained a mystery for over 50 years and this is the first piece of information we have received in that time relating to her whereabouts.

"It is very early days for this line of inquiry and at this stage I don't want to speculate whether or not we will be successful in our search for Sheila."

Police said they hoped the operation might jog the memories of residents who might have information about the girl's disappearance.

Officers stressed that the current owner of the house moved to the property long after 1944 and was not connected with the inquiry.

Family traumatised

Mr Buchanan went on: "We have a duty to the family to find out what happened. The whereabouts of this little girl are still not known.

"The family are still clearly traumatised by her disappearance."
Police dig up the back garden
Forensic teams were digging at the house all day
Sheila's older sister Rene, 69, who was told about the lead last month, said: "I've hardly been able to sleep properly after I found out about it. I hope to God she is there so I will at least know where she is then."

She told the Bolton Evening News: "I will be so glad if they do find her because it was so sudden. It left us all feeling so empty.

"It was a terrible time. We never even found her shoes or a ribbon. It was just as if the earth had swallowed her up."

Rape charges

Neighbour Ann Howarth, 54, said her aunt, Linda Neary, who died when in her 80s, lived next door to Sheila Fox's family.

It was just as if the earth had swallowed her up

Sheila's older sister Rene

She said: "They always said at the time that Sheila was killed by someone she knew. She was so timid and soft she would not have gone with a stranger."

Mr Ryan, a miner, died 12 years ago.

He moved from the house in 1948, then in 1950, six years after Sheila's disappearance, he was convicted of rape.

In 1965 he was charged with indecently assaulting a child.

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