The Disappearance of Linda Sturley
"You'll have to prove it"
Graham Sturley and his wife Linda had what most would describe as a “tumultuous relationship”, one fraught with arguments and sometimes physical violence. But when Graham discovered his pregnant wife’s infidelity, she promptly vanished in July 1981. Graham kept up the pretence that his wife had run off and it was only after the repeated insistence of Linda’s family that over a year later the police investigation began and detectives were determined to discover what exactly happened to Linda Sturley.
Graham had met Linda Holland, as she was then known, not long after he had finished a 1 year prison sentence. He had been imprisoned for selling stolen goods, something he did during his work as a “shopkeeper”. Graham had many jobs throughout his life, and worked as a private detective, a taxi driver and at the time of his wife’s disappearance he described his profession as a property developer.
It was as a taxi driver that he met Linda, who was considerably younger than Graham but they got married not long after and settled down in Biggin Hill, Kent. Not long after their marriage Graham took a mistress and Linda herself had a lover. However the marriage was not a happy one and the couple would frequently argue and things would get violent.
Despite this, they raise two children and Graham was considered to be on good terms with Linda’s side of the family. Their relationship almost came to an end one day when Graham used his detective skills to tap her phone and discovered she had been speaking to another man and was planning to leave him. However when he confronted her, they reconciled and their relationship continued, but it wasn’t long and the arguing and fighting began again. 29-year-old Linda, was working at a sales representative for the Avon Cosmetics Company and was 6 months pregnant at the time she went missing.The month she vanished, her sister remembered talking with her over the phone. She later told Police that Linda said Graham had struck her in the face, cutting her lip and that he had punched her in the stomach. He did this she said, because he accused her of carrying her lover’s child.
On July 28, 1981, Linda’s sister called the Sturley home to speak with her and was told by Graham that she had left. His vague response was accepted by her family because they had no reason to doubt him, considering the state of their marriage. They assumed she would be in contact shortly as her children were left with Graham. Once Linda was gone, Graham told the young children, a 6-year-old girl and 4-year-old boy their mother was gone and she wasn’t coming back. He then simply carried on with his life as if nothing had happened.
But the police would later discover that someone had forged Linda’s signature and had taken everything out of her savings account as well as cashing her cheques for her maternity benefit payments. A year later in July 1982, Linda’s family finally decided to contact the police to report her missing. Her mother, Ada Webb went to the police and convinced them to question Graham over her daughters mysterious disappearance. Her family told police that Linda loved her children and would never leave them willingly.
The Investigation was overseen by Detective Chief Superintendent Algernon Hemmingway and headed by Detective Chief Inspector George Cressy, however because of the time lapse of a year the inquiry was at a serious disadvantage. On August 17, 1982 the police arrived at the Sturley home to question 38-year-old Graham as to the whereabouts of his wife. Under questioning at the station he told them she had gone away and he did not know when she would be or expect her back at all. The investigators had tread carefully and were limited in their questioning due to Graham’s health problems and so were obliged to handle his interrogation in a gentle manner. He suffered with a heart condition and was on medication despite a strong smoking habit.
Graham then told police about his wife’s affairs and that he was glad to see the back of his cheating wife. Under further questioning Graham admitted to police her had struck her, cutting her lip but denied punching her. His smoking increased, due to the stress her claimed her was under from the police investigation. After speaking to the neighbours, detectives were told that shortly after Linda was gone, Graham burned all of her clothing in a large bonfire.
The police continued to attempt to locate Linda and checked with the family doctor who told them her type of pregnancy would require a C-section. They then checked with every maternity hospital and clinic in Britain and found no records of anyone matching Linda’s description. During police interviews, the officers asked Graham directly, “We know your wife had a string of lovers and she was a bad wife… and we understand that sometimes pressure like that can drive a man to murder”. But Graham steadfastly denied any wrongdoing, and stuck to his story, that his adulterous wife simply left home.
“She had walked out on me so many times in the past I didn’t bother to report her as a missing person… I’m glad she’s gone, I never want to see her again,” He said. Under further questioning Graham challenged the police to implicate him in his wife’s disappearance saying, “you’ll have to prove it”. The police decided to do just that and began to search the Sturley home for evidence of Linda’s body. The floorboards were removed in the living-room and the brickwork was checked for any hidden objects. The police were searching for evidence of blood, believing her body had been dismembered in the house and buried somewhere else. They brought in infra-red and heat-seeking equipment to search within the house as well as the front and rear gardens.
Under questioning Graham exclaimed, “You think I have buried her in the garden, Well I wouldn’t have been so silly, that would have poisoned the flowers”. They then extended their search to the surrounding woods, where they used tracker dogs whilst local lakes, ponds and streams were dredged for evidence. Then 30 miles away someone unearthed the bones of a woman, and although forensic teams were sent to examine, they were not Linda’s. After a three month investigation, Police were confident they had enough to charge Graham Sturley with the murder of Linda Sturley.
As investigators began to compile their prosecution evidence, Graham Sturley died from a heart attack. The murder inquiry was closed and Sturley’s lawyer confirmed his client had left behind a will which disposed of his assets. However there was no confession and he never admitted to having anything to do with his wife’s disappearance. In a final cryptic message, someone left a wreath on Graham Sturley’s coffin, which read “Well you got that out of the way, Sturley, All my love”