The last time they saw her she was cycling to the station.
Emma Alice Smith was a pretty young thing - long dark hair and big brown eyes, with the kind of smile that would have brightened anyone's day in the village.
But one morning in 1926, she vanished. They scoured the countryside for days afterwards but never found a trace.
Had the 16-year-old servant been kidnapped or murdered? Did she run away, or take her own life? The questions have tormented her family and baffled police for the best part of a century.
More than 83 years later a dramatic revelation could finally solve the mystery of Emma Smith. It emerged that an unnamed man had confessed on his deathbed in 1953 he had killed her all those years ago, and dumped the body in a pond.
Now a painstaking police investigation has begun to try to piece together what happened, find her remains - and reunite her with the family that has longed to give her a dignified burial.
She lived with her parents, four sisters and two brothers in Waldron, East Sussex, and was in domestic service for a family in nearby Tunbridge Wells.
Some time in December 1926 she left home to cycle five miles to Horam station, where she would have caught a train to work. She was never seen again. No clues were ever found, no note, and no sign of her bicycle.
Emma's younger sister Lillian had been tending a terminally ill man in 1953 when he confessed he was the killer.
He claimed he had destroyed any evidence and disposed of her body, and the bike, in a local pond. It was unclear why Lillian did not go to the police. But whatever the reason, she appears to have kept the confession private, reportedly recounting it later to her daughter.
Both Lillian and the unnamed man subsequently died. It was only when Valerie began to make her film that a member of Emma's family made contact with police. Detectives immediately reopened the case.
Valerie, who toured the area with detectives, said: 'The police probably didn't take much interest because there was no body. The general belief was that she ran away. Only her father said she would never have done this.'
Indeed the uncertainty about his daughter's fate haunted Sydney Smith for the rest of his life. In the 1960s, he put out a national SOS radio broadcast to help find her and give him peace of mind before he died. He never achieved it.
Detective Chief Inspector Trevor Bowles, of Sussex Police, said the investigation was not to 'point the finger' at an alleged murderer - simply to find Emma.
It will not be easy. It is believed that some ponds that existed in the 1920s have disappeared and many who could help may have died. However, tests that can detect traces of human remains in water will be carried out at various sites.