Neighbours in Redbourn, Hertfordshire, were devastated when they heard that popular 71-year-old Sarah Seabrook had been murdered in her North Common cottage – her home for more than 60 years. They were even more devastated when they heard who killed her.

On JANUARY 27th, 1921, Sarah’s daughter Jessie Freeman called at the cottage and found it full of smoke. A chair with some clothes had been left to air, and had fallen into the fire and burned to ashes.

Clearing the smoke away, Jessie found her mother slumped behind the kitchen door, close to death. Her head was covered with blood, one of her ears was almost severed, her left wrist was broken and her neck was severely bruised. A bloodstained poker lying near her was mute evidence to the fact that she had been beaten.

Sarah Seabrook lapsed into unconsciousness and never recovered. Her family, however, could not accept that she had been murdered. “There’s no motive,” her son told reporters. “It’s not as if there was any money in the house.”

So, before the police were alerted, well-meaning neighbours cleaned the cottage from top to bottom. They even washed the bent and bloodstained poker. Then a post-mortem revealed that Sarah had 28 scalp wounds, eight of them with underlying fractures of the skull.

Although vital clues had been innocently expunged, detectives learned that small sums of money had disappeared from the cottage on three recent occasions. And they found a footprint in the garden that was curiously small.

That focused their attention on Donald Litton, who lived two doors away. When Litton was questioned villagers shook their heads in disbelief. For he was just 13 years old.

In the police car on his way to the police station the boy said, “If I tell the truth shall I get summoned? My only worry is if my mother finds out. I have it on my mind that I killed Mrs. Seabrook.”

At the station he said: “I wanted some money to go to the zoo at Easter. I went to the barn and got a hammer and put it in my pocket.” He broke into Sarah’s cottage through a window and was looking for money when Sarah confronted him.

“I struck at her with the hammer,” he went on. “She ran to the window and tried to open it. I caught her wrist and pulled her back on the floor. I hit her with the hammer. Then I ran downstairs and up the garden and buried the hammer behind the barn.

“I went to her house again. She was coming downstairs. I pushed her over and she tried to get up. She kept trying to get up and I hit her with the poker. The chair fell in the fire and I ran out.”

He next climbed down a well at the back of the cottage and soaked himself to remove the blood. Back at home he put his clothes in a pail and sat in front of the fire to dry himself.

Litton was 14 when he came to trial at Hertford Assizes in June. He never explained why he made his second trip to the cottage that fatal afternoon, and the assumption has to be that he did so to silence his victim. Found guilty of murder, he was sentenced to be detained during His Majesty’s pleasure.