Police have reopened the case of a teenage servant who vanished from her home 83 years ago.

Emma-Alice Smith’s family contacted police after a short film was made about her 1926 disappearance.

They told detectives her killer confessed years later on his deathbed that she was buried in a pond near her home.

The amazing twist in the all-but-forgotten tale came after a film version of Miss Smith’s story was screened on Sunday.

Detective Chief Inspector Trevor Bowles of Sussex Police’s major crime branch stood up after the film and told the stunned audience he would review the case.

At the time of her disappearance, Miss Smith was living with her parents in Waldron, near Heathfield, and working as a servant in Tunbridge Wells.

She was last seen cycling between her home and Horam Railway Station - which was demolished 40 years ago - on her way to work.

DCI Bowles said he is confident of finding her body and said ponds in the area can be tested to see if her remains are inside without resorting to dredging.

He said: “We have been approached by a member of Emma-Alice's family who has indicated that there is a possibility that she was murdered close to Waldron or Horam and that her body was disposed of locally.

"We know where Emma-Alice lived, we know where she was intending to go, and we know there are ponds along that route.

"We will do all we can to find her and to, rightly, return her to the family to have her buried in accordance with their wishes."

He said he aims to return Emma-Alice's remains to their rightful place - buried beside her father, Sydney, near a churchyard memorial plaque in Waldron.

Emma's disappearance was reported to police at the time and there was coverage in the newspapers of the circumstances of her going missing.

Mr Smith then put out a national plea on the radio in the 1960s asking for help to find Emma-Alice and give him peace of mind before he died.

The case resurfaced when village playwright Valerie Chidson spotted a picture of the village stoolball team during a photo exhibition in 2000.

She said: "I was looking at the picture, the row of girls' faces, when a man just came up to me, pointed to this very pretty girl aged about 16, and said: 'That girl disappeared, you know?'”

Mrs Chidson said she was told by two relatives - who she has not named - that the murderer made a deathbed confession to Miss Smith’s family in the 1960s or 70s, but they decided not to go to the police at the time because they did not want the publicity.

In the film Miss Smith - whose name is changed to Esther at the family's request - is seen travelling to work when she is attacked by a man in the village who objects to her relationship with an Irish labourer working there.

The villager kills her as she cycles to the now-closed Horam station to take a train to her job as a servant girl, then dumps the body in a local pond and throws her bike in after her to cover up the death.

When Mrs Chidson started work on the film the girl's relatives then eventually decided they did want police to look into the case.

Valerie said: "These two people felt justice had not been done for this young woman and something should be done about it.

"I put them in touch with the police, and they gave the police information with which they feel honour bound to reopen the case."

DCI Bowles said: “I am keen to hear from anyone locally who may recall the disappearance of Emma-Alice being spoken of.

“A number of local people have already assisted us and have been able to fill in some of the many gaps which exist.

"We have been told also that family members may be aware of further information that will help this investigation. We are very confident of making some progress in this inquiry."

Mrs Chidson, who runs local amateur-dramatics society the Waldron Players, spent six weeks filming Finding Esther with actors from the group in June and July 2008.

She won a £20,000 Awards For All National Lottery grant to help with funding costs for the film, which premiered at the Picture House cinema in Uckfield on Sunday.