Man Arrested In Connection With Murder Of Linda O' Keefe

April 02, 2022

On Friday July 6th 1973, an 11 year old girl named Linda O’Keefe went missing while walking home from Lincoln Intermediate School in Corona Del Mar.

 She would usually ride home on her bicycle, which would take around 15 minutes or so, or get picked up by her mother, but on this occasion she walked. She had gotten a ride from her piano teacher around 8AM that morning, so she was unable to ride her bike back.  

Linda waited to see if her mother would pick her up after school and walked around a local market before calling her. Her mother was busy and since they didn’t live too far from the school she told Linda that she should just walk. The 11 year old sulked and got upset at the prospect of having to walk back on foot, but hung up the phone and headed in the direction of home.

She was a pretty young girl, timid but polite, with long brown hair, blue eyes and a spray of freckles across her nose. Although a little moody due to her age, she was generally well behaved. She was creative and loved music as well as arts and crafts. The young girl may have inherited her creative side from her mother, Barbara, who was a fantastic seamstress and was always making pretty dresses and book bags for her children.  On the day she went missing Linda was wearing a dress that her mother had sewn for her, it was white with a blue repeating floral design and dark blue piping along the neck and sleeves- perfect for a cool summer afternoon. She wore a green jacket over her outfit to keep the chill off her shoulders and blue tennis shoes paired with white bobby socks. Her long hair was pulled back into a neat pony tail and tied with a ribbon.

Linda never made it back home that day. She disappeared in broad daylight at around 1 in the afternoon near a seaside town in Corona Del Mar, Newport Beach.

When she failed to return to her Orchid Avenue home by sunset, the police were alerted and began to search high and low trying to find her. Volunteers from the local community joined in on the 14 hour search and all involved hoped and prayed that she would be found safe. They entertained the idea that perhaps she had been distracted on the way home and was just talking her time or maybe she couldn’t resist the pull of the beach on a July afternoon. Police looked in local parks and checked the Corona Del Mar Youth Center, they searched the area on foot, cruised around in patrol cars and utilized a helicopter to search by air, but there was no sign of the missing child.  Her mother, Barbara, stayed back at the family home just in case Linda came back. She paced back and forth past the windows, wringing her hands with worry and hoping that her daughter would eventually return, but night fell and the sun came up and there was no sign of Linda O’Keefe.   

Barbara had been glued to the phone since Linda had been reported missing. She had a suspicion that the child may have went on a boating trip with a friend and her family and tried desperately to get in contact with them. Linda’s older sister (18 at the time) also subscribed to the idea that Linda had gone off on a sailing trip and neglected to tell their parents, but the seriousness of the situation began to dawn on her as more time passed.

The following morning, a man looking for frogs in the grass as part of a nature study class found something else entirely. As he brushed aside plants to observe local specimens he accidentally happened upon Linda’s body which had been cruelly discarded in a ditch along the roadside. She lay flat on her back, her legs stretched out straight in front of her, her green jacket still worn over the dress her mother had sewn. She must have looked as if she was sleeping, as the man attempted to shake her awake before finally accepting that she was deceased. She had been murdered and the cause of death was later determined to be strangulation.  There was evidence of a sexual assault.

 An investigation into who was responsible for the murder was launched.

Witnesses who saw Linda walk home that day came forward to report a suspicious man in a dark turquoise van. One of her classmates said that she saw the van approach the missing girl, however she couldn’t hear what was said.

Another woman came forward with her daughter to report seeing the same thing.  They said they thought the van was suspicious as soon as they saw it. They attempted to write down the number of the registration plate but lost sight of the vehicle as it drove around a corner. A resident who lived nearby the site of the crime scene admitted to police that she had actually heard a girl or young woman yelling at someone to stop hurting them but didn’t report it.

A description of the man in the van was used to create a composite sketch, but with no other leads the case went cold. The murder of 11 year old Linda O’Keefe went unsolved for 45 years, until the summer of 2018, when there was a breakthrough. With the advantage of modern forensic technology, DNA from the crime scene was used to generate an image of Linda’s killer, both at the time of the crime and age progressed.

 In order to garner attention for the case, the Newport Beach Police department began tweeting as Linda under the hashtag #lindasstory, describing what happened to her that day in the summer of 1973. They posted the generated images of her killer and appealed to anyone who may have information leading to his identity.

 This month, after 45 years of searching, a suspect has been named in the media. A Colorado Springs resident in his early seventies named James Alan Neal was arrested on the suspicion of the murder of Linda O’Keefe. Yet again, genealogical DNA databases have aided in identifying the perpetrator of a decades old cold case. After identifying Neal as a suspect investigators secretly followed him in order to obtain a DNA sample to test against the DNA found on the victim, connecting him to the crime. Police discovered that the suspect had legally changed his name from James Albert Layton, Jr. to James Alan Neal. An older photograph of the man, which was taken closer to the time of the murder, has been published online in an attempt to call forward any witnesses. 


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