A California police department has given voice to a little girl found dead in 1973, hoping to renew interest in the case and bring about an arrest.
Linda O’Keefe was just 11 years old when she was abducted while walking home from school. Her body was found the following morning in a nearby nature preserve.
On July 6, the 45th anniversary of Linda’s kidnapping, the Newport Beach Police Department took to social media to narrate her final hours in her own voice.
“Hi. I’m Linda O’Keefe (or Linda ANN O’Keefe, if I’m in trouble with my mom),” began the series of tweets, which all ended with the hashtag #LindasStory. “Forty-five years ago … I disappeared from Newport Beach. I was murdered and my body was found in the Back Bay. My killer was never found. Today, I’m going to tell you my story.”
Linda spent the last day of her life at school.
She stepped out of her family’s modest home on Orchid Avenue and got a ride from her piano teacher to summer school, where she had been working to improve her grades.
"Time for first period," the police wrote in Linda’s voice. “Here we go. School isn’t really my thing. I get Bs. Cs. A couple of Ds. And I *hate* doing my homework. I’m not too fond of school in general, I guess. But – not to brag – I’m really good at spelling. And I love science class."
Linda spent most of her day at Lincoln Intermediate School, using her break time to buy gum at the nearby market. When class was over for the day, Linda went to the school office to call her mother to pick her up.
“Usually, I ride my bike to school,” the tweets noted. “The ride home is easy, because it’s almost all downhill. But today, I got a ride to school, so no bike.”
But the administrator told Linda she had to wait before she could call, so she headed back to the market, passing her friend Brenda along the way.
“A turquoise van is driving up Harbor View Road,” the tweets said. “Brenda … will later tell the police that the van stops next to me a couple times as I’m walking along, but she’s too far away to hear if anyone talks to me."
Linda returned to the school, where she called her mother to ask for a ride home, but she was reportedly told to walk home. Described as a sensitive child and an “easy crier,” Linda broke down.
"Still sniffling, I leave the office," the tweets said. "I know they say I’m lazy, but I just reeeeaaaallly don’t like walking. My parents get annoyed when I ask for a ride home from school, because it’s such a short walk. But I hate it. I wish I had my bike."
Linda sat on the curb outside of school, stewing for some time before making the trip home.
“Late tonight, the police will talk to a young woman named Jannine,” the tweets continued. "She and her mom are driving up Marguerite right now, and they see something they won’t forget for a long time. It’s me. And a turquoise van."
Jannine would later tell police she saw Linda standing beside the open passenger side door of the parked van, which was driven by a white man in his mid-20s to early 30s.
“Jannine’s mom is suspicious,” the tweets said. “It must be a mom-instinct. As she turns on to San Joaquin Hills Road, she slows down and then pulls over.
"'If that van drives by, write down the license plate number,' she tells Jannine. But the van doesn’t drive by. Her heart sinks a bit as she sees the van go straight up Marguerite. She can’t see how many people are inside."
Though Linda had recently been acting out and had gotten in trouble for staying out past her curfew, her mother knew something was wrong when three hours had passed and her daughter still had not returned.
"Mom starts calling around to see if I’m at anyone’s house," the tweets said. "I have several friends in the neighborhood, and friends from school – Cathy, Jim, Stacy, Mona, Mary Lou – but no one has seen me since I walked away from Lincoln Intermediate."
When Linda’s father came home that night, the family went out to look for her, and called the police when they were unable to find her. They continued to search, as Linda’s mother stayed by the phone.
"My mom has made about 40 phone calls by now, trying to track me down," the tweets said. "Officers are searching everywhere. Back then, there were vacant fields south of Pacific View and east of Marguerite. They search the fields, the reservoir, the neighborhoods, the streets. Nothing … My mom knows I’d never stay out past dark."
The O’Keefes’ hopes were raised when they realized Linda’s friend’s family had sailed to Catalina that day and, hoping she went with them, they traveled to the docks.
"The officers find some men on a boat in the next slip and interview them," the tweets said. "Yes, the men saw the boat leave a few hours ago. With six adults on board. And no little girls.”
As police and her worried family continued to look for Linda, "A lady in the bluffs above Back Bay hears a female voice outside, screaming 'Stop, you’re hurting me,'" the tweets said. "She listens, but hears nothing more. She doesn’t know that I’m missing. That I’ll be dead by morning. That I’ll be found a couple hundred yards from her home."
The following morning, a man on a bike with his 4-year-old son set out to explore the Back Bay with friends. Looking for a spot to find frogs, the man discovered Linda’s body in a ditch on the east side of Back Bay Drive.
"My hand," the tweets continued. "He sees my hand. He screams, trying to rouse me. His friends come over when they hear him screaming. Peering through the cattails, they gasp. They don’t know who I am, of course … or who I was."
Linda had been strangled. She was still wearing the white dress with light blue flowers on it that her mother had made.
"Was it someone I knew?" the tweets said. "A stranger? The man in the van? There are so many questions."
A sketch of a person of interest was later released to the public, but the case went cold.
Investigators continued working on the case, and using modern technology to analyze the DNA left at the scene, released on Saturday a composite of what they believe the man responsible for Linda’s killing looked like at the time of her death and in present day.
“But now, 45 yrs later, I have a voice again. And I have something important to say. There is a new lead in my case: a face. A face that comes from DNA that the killer left behind. It’s technology that didn’t exist back in 1973, but it might change everything today.” #LindasStory pic.twitter.com/GsZClKFwPj— Newport Beach Police (@NewportBeachPD) July 7, 2018
"It’s technology that didn’t exist back in 1973, but it might change everything today," the tweets said.
Police said they have never been able to connect a suspect to the evidence they have on file.
"We've never given up on finding Linda's killer," police said. "We are hoping that this is the last anniversary of her death that goes by where we don't know who he is."
Anyone with information is asked to call the Newport Beach Police’s cold case tip line at 949-644-3669.