Study of Scots police files reveals 77 unsolved murders

<em>Picture: Michael Coghlan</em>
Picture: Michael Coghlan

By Allan Laing

A total of 77 murder cases remain unsolved by police in Scotland, ranging from the three female victims of the serial killer Bible John in Glasgow in the 1960s to the mysterious shooting of Nairn banker Alistair Wilson on his doorstep in 2004.

But the list includes murders which go back a lot further than the Sixties. The oldest case still on a Scottish force’s books is that of Janet Henderson, a young woman hacked to death with an axe in the kitchen of her brother’s farm at Forgandenny in Perthshire 1866.

The number of unsolved killings came to light after researchers from BBC Scotland asked the country’s eight police forces how many murder investigations they still had open on their files. Most of the 77 cases were post-1975, the last time Scotland’s police service was restructured.

However, Tayside Police had two unsolved murders still on their books which dated back before the First World War. Janet Henderson’s was one of them; the other was that of Jean Milne, a wealthy 65-year-old spinster found battered and stabbed to death at her home in Broughty Ferry in 1912. Detectives initially arrested her former lover, a Canadian, but later released him when his alibi checked out.

Strathclyde Police, Scotland’s biggest force, said it had 53 cases still open but only those murders carried out since 1975 were kept on its central database. However, it did offer the BBC details of killings carried out before then as a result of a cold case review into unsolved murders of women ordered by the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland.

The review, carried out for ACPOS by Lothian and Borders’ then deputy chief constable, Tom Wood, covered, among other cases, the Bible John murders in Glasgow and the World’s End murders in Edinburgh.

In 1979 two 17-year-old girls, Helen Scott and Christine Eadie, were raped and murdered after a night out in the capital. They had last been seen alive in the World’s End pub in the city’s Royal Mile. Some 30 years later, a 62-year-old man, Angus Sinclair, was tried for their murder, but the case collapsed.

Lothian and Borders Police has six unsolved murders, according to the research, including the World’s End victims. Only two forces, Central, and Dumfries and Galloway, said they had no unsolved murder cases.

While the killers’ identity in many of the open murder cases remain a mystery – even to the officers investigating them – in others detectives are sure they know exactly who carried out the crime. They just don’t have enough evidence to bring them to justice.

In addition, Scottish forces are also still looking closely at two convicted serial killers – Peter Tobin and Robert Black– both of whom are suspected of carrying out other murders north of the Border.

In November, 2006, after Tobin was found guilty of the murder of Polish student Angelika Kluk, Strathclyde Police launched Operation Anagram in a bid to analyse a timeline for the killer’s movements and share information with other UK forces which would enable them to see if he had links to other unsolved murders.

Tobin has also been convicted of the murders of 15-year-old Bathgate schoolgirl Vicky Hamilton and 18-year-old sixth former Dinah McNicol from Essex.

Lorry driver Robert Black, from Grangemouth, was found guilty in 1994 of the kidnap and murders of three young girls, five-year-old Caroline Hogg, 10-year-old Sarah Harper, and 11-year-old Susan Maxwell. In the 1980s. Like Tobin, police suspect that he carried out more killings.

  • Jim Reid

    What ,no comment from Richard Baker blaming the SNP for the appalling number of unsolved murders in Scotland.
    Seriously it is a pity no journalist got off the mark quickly to ask him for a comment on this, he would have blamed the SNP.

  • Labour has been getting away with murder in Scotland for generations. Let’s hope the electoral jury have the nous to find them guilty on May the 6th.