45 Years After This 11-Year-Old Was Murdered, Police Have Released An Image Of Her Killer’s Face

It’s a summer morning in California, and 11-year-old Linda O’Keefe leaves her family home for the last time. Hours later, she disappears, and a frantic search leads to a body left in the undergrowth. It’s a sickening story – and one made worse by the fact that for 45 years, Linda’s killer has eluded justice. Now, however, police are finally getting closer to the truth.

In July 1973, Linda was living with her parents and two sisters in Newport Beach, a seaside community in California. The middle daughter, she was an artistic child who enjoyed painting and crafting. Moreover, she also loved the piano, and would often play the organs in the local Hammond store.

That year, Linda was spending the summer studying at the nearby Lincoln Intermediary School. Apparently, she was not overly academic, although she enjoyed science class. And at 11 years old, she had just started to gain some independence. In fact, her parents had recently begun allowing her to go to the beach without adult supervision.

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However, Linda was also developing some worrying habits. Apparently, she had begun to grow moody, punishing her parents by staying out later than she was supposed to. But the neighborhood was considered a safe one, and the 11-year-old’s adolescent tantrums didn’t leave her parents particularly concerned.

At around 8:00 a.m. on July 6, Linda left her home on Orchid Avenue. Despite the season, the day was cool, and she wore a green coat over her white and blue floral dress. Apparently, her mom, Barbara, had sewn it herself. Although the O’Keefes were not wealthy, you see, Barbara always made sure that the girls had pretty clothes.

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On a normal day, Linda would ride her bike to school. But that morning, she caught a lift with her piano tutor. And for the next few hours, there was nothing to suggest that the O’Keefes’ world was about to be turned upside down. Then, the school day ended – and events took a tragic turn.

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Although Linda’s home was not far from the school, the young girl hated walking. And without her bike, she had no other way of getting home. So, she went to the school office to see if she could call her mom for a lift. However, the woman in charge told her to wait, and she wandered to a nearby store to pass the time.

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On the way there, Linda ran into a classmate, Brenda. And as the pair separated, Brenda saw a van with turquoise paintwork stop next to her friend. Later, she would flag up the driver’s suspicious behavior to police, but at the time both girls simply went about their day. And eventually, Linda returned to the school to try and get hold of her mom.

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Yet although Linda was able to call her mom this time, the response was not what she had been hoping for. Apparently, Barbara was in the middle of something and told her daughter to walk the short distance back home. Sulking, Linda hung around on the pavement outside the Lincoln Intermediary before finally deciding to trudge back to her house.

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Exactly what happened next remains a mystery to this today. Apparently, a woman and her daughter were driving along Marguerite Drive – the route that Linda would have taken to walk home – when they spotted the same turquoise van that had been trailing the girl earlier in the afternoon.

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According to the witnesses, the van pulled up next to a girl who matched Linda’s description. And when they saw her climb into the vehicle, they grew suspicious. They tried to take down the license plate but were thwarted when the driver continued in a different direction.

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Back at Orchid Avenue, Linda’s family waited for her to return home. At first, they believed that she was staying out late to punish her mother for not giving her a lift. But after three hours had passed, Barbara grew concerned and began calling people in the neighborhood for news of her daughter.

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When that didn’t work, Linda’s father and older sister began driving around the neighborhood looking for her. But by 6:45 p.m. – some six hours after Barbara last spoke to her daughter – there was still no sign of the girl. Concerned, her parents called the police to report her missing, and a large-scale search began.

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By the next morning, Linda was still missing. Meanwhile, a man arrived in Newport Beach’s Back Bay area to scout out locations for a study of the local wildlife. However, what he found was far more gruesome – a pale hand, attached to the lifeless body of a young girl. Tragically, Linda’s sad fate had finally been discovered.

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Apparently, the cause of the little girl’s death was strangulation. And later, it emerged that there had been a solitary witness to the violent deed. Around midnight, not far from where Linda’s body was found, a woman heard a female voice crying out, “Stop, you’re hurting me!” Sadly, she knew nothing about the missing girl.

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With the help of the mother and daughter who had spotted Linda getting into the turquoise van, police compiled a sketch of the person of interest. He was a young, white man in his 20s or 30s. However, they were unable to track down any leads in the little girl’s murder, and eventually the case went cold.

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For 45 years, Linda’s case remained a gruesome footnote in the annals of California history. Then, on July 6, 2018, her long silence was broken in the most bizarre way. On that day, the Newport Beach Police Department’s Twitter feed was taken over by someone purporting to be the missing girl.

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In a series of Tweets, the author recounted the events of Linda’s last day alive, right up to her eventual murder. They also noted the failure of the authorities to catch the culprit. “Was it someone I knew?” one message read. “A stranger? The man in the van? There are so many questions.”

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Eventually, on July 7, the Tweets revealed their true purpose. They were a publicity stunt aimed at drawing attention to the closed case. But there was more to it than that. Thanks to developments in D.N.A. testing, investigators had been able to produce a phenotype from evidence found at the scene. This is a type of digital sketch that revealed the face of Linda’s suspected killer.

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Now, investigators hope that the image – which shows a man with blond hair – will help solve the mystery for good. “It’s an old case from 45 years ago. [So] it might be hard for people to form an emotional attachment to that,” a spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times in July 2018. “But we think Linda is due that.”

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