POLICE forensic experts today began digging up a Bolton back garden, searching for the body of a six-year-old girl who disappeared 57 years ago.

And as the dig began, the Bolton Evening News can reveal that a Farnworth boy who lived nearby was murdered four years later and his killer -- described as a 'sexual maniac, a madman' -- was never brought to justice.

Senior detectives, scenes of crime officers and two forensic archaeologists today made up the team which started a painstaking search of the garden plot of a house in Barton Road, Farnworth, in the hunt for missing Sheila Fox.

The little girl was last seen on August 18, 1944, as she walked to her home in Macdonald Avenue, Farnworth, from the nearby St James' Primary School. Despite a huge search she was never found and no one was arrested or charged in connection with her murder.

Today, just after 6.30am and after receiving dramatic new information that a man had been seen digging in the back garden in the middle of the night at the time of Sheila's disappearance, the team began work.

Senior detectives admit the operation is one of the most unusual ever staged in Bolton.

Det Chief Insp Paul Buchanan, of Bolton CID, said: "In 25 years in the force I have never been involved in an investigation of this nature.

"The witness was a child at the time and it has taken him some time to put things together. The man who was seen digging in the garden is known to be dead."

But as the grisly task continues, the BEN can reveal that Farnworth residents were rocked by the murder of an 11-year-old boy just four years after Sheila vanished without trace.

Jack Queintin Smith, who lived on Bradford Road, Farnworth, was savagely attacked on April 12, 1944, as he and his young friend walked through Farnworth.

The schoolboy's body was discovered close to the Bolton to Manchester railway line. He had suffered extensive head injuries.

His nine-year-old pal David Lee staggered home in a blood soaked shirt after being stabbed in the chest and lower abdomen, to raise the alarm.

In an ironic twist, David's parents lived just a few doors from the family home of missing Sheila Fox.

At the time of the brutal attack David's father James told the BEN that doctors treating the injured child had described the injuries as "the work of a sexual maniac -- a madman".

Queintin's killer has never been brought to justice, although the 1940s case was reopened by detectives in 1976.

As the evidence was re-examined into Queintin's killing, his mother, Nellie told the Bolton Evening News: "What has been done once can be done again if he, or she, is still living.

"I would be relieved if they found whoever had done it."

Queintin's brutal murder brought the spotlight once again on to Sheila Fox's disappearance, four years before in 1944.

And five weeks before the schoolboy was murdered, Farnworth parents reported other attempts to accost children.

In March 1948 six year old Brenda Hulme was approached by a man as she walked along Piggott Street, just yards from where the new police investigation and forensic dig was taking place today.