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Master Detective July 1977
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Picture the tranquil scene as the teenager, dressed in her Sunday best, swings gaily along the paths and lanes from the North Devon farm where she works to visit her aunt some five miles distant on that brilliantly hot summer’s afternoon. If she has a care in the world, she certainly doesn’t show it. Indeed, there seems no apparent reason why she should not be back at the farm, as she was promised to be, that very same evening. Yet this innocent venture by 16-year-old Mollie Phillips nearly half a century ago was to be the curtain-raiser to a puzzle that has baffled residents of the Exmoor countryside ever since. For this youngster would never reach her relative’s home that day. Nor would she return, full of apologies for her tardiness, to her employer’s farm…And nor would any trace of her become evidence until 18 months later, when her remains would be recovered from a notorious local swamp.
And a subsdquent coroner’s inquest did little to shed any light on what had by then become a full-blown mystery. For, by recording a verdict of "Death by Misadventure," it raised more questions than it answerered. Why, for example, did Mollie, who had lived on Exmoor all her life and was well aware of all the local hazards, wander blithely into Codsend Bog? It was surely no place for a girl, dressed in smart clothing she could only barely afford, to stroll. And the danger spot where she was eventually found would certainly not lie on any short cut to her aunt’s home. Also, what about the report of a couple observed locked in an apparent struggle not far from the bog? Was it discounted out of hand by the police investigating her disappearance?
These were just a few of the points which, it was felt at the time, that inquest jury of West Countryfolk might have considered. "Did Mollie fall – or she was pushed?" remains, in view of many people thereabouts, as pertinent today as it was back in 1931.
Finally, we have often highlighted the perils that can confront a police officer working undercover. But when you read the report you will discover that there are still some new twists to this tragic theme.