The Elaine Doyle Murder

The Elaine Doyle Murder

Episode Summary

On 23 March 2016, 49 year old John Docherty was arrested for the murder of 16 year old Elaine Doyle in 1986. Police officers involved in the case were relieved that Elaine’s killer had been caught and charged. However, Elaine Doyle’s murder inquiry had been anything but straightforward.

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Special shout out to Hayley and Eddie, two of our wonderful listeners who suggested we cover this case. Thank you!

Please Be Advised – This episode may contain content that some may find distressing. As always, we advise listener discretion. This episode is not suitable for anyone under the age of 13.

Listen on:

Elaine Doyle murder: Killer John Docherty loses appeal – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Brother tells of night she died – BBC News

Elaine Doyle: Trial hears of teenager’s final night – BBC News

Elaine Doyle: Parents unaware daughter lay dead nearby – BBC News

Elaine Doyle: Man ‘wanted to confess’ to murder – BBC News

Elaine Doyle: Evidence at scene ‘suggests a struggle’ – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Police ‘blunder’ after body found – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: John Docherty guilty of 1986 killing – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Scotland’s first cold case trial – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Trial judge begins directing jury – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Witness saw man ‘following’ girl – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Investigation ‘not good enough’ – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Witness questioned over car ‘tail’ – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Man accused by former friend – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Bullying claim over confession – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Man denies being sketch ‘suspect’ – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Witness admits giving false alibi to police – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Witness unaware he was named as killer – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Killer witness halts murder trial – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Trial told of crime scene ‘guess’ – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Claim over conflicting evidence – BBC News

John Docherty jailed for 21 years for killing Greenock schoolgirl Elaine Doyle | HeraldScotland

Elaine Doyle: ‘Ginger hair put me in frame’ | The Scotsman

Elaine Doyle’s murderer brought to justice

First Cold Case Unit indictment served for historic murder case.

Elaine Doyle Murder: John Docherty Can Appeal Without Any Limitations – Criminal Defence Lawyers Edinburgh

HOW Police Persistence Finally Paid Off In The Elaine Doyle Murder Inquiry – Inverclyde Now

Elaine Doyle Killer Jailed For Life – Heart Scotland

Murder detective: ‘It was an honour to get justice for Elaine Doyle’s family’ | Greenock Telegraph

Who was Elaine Doyle? The murdered Greenock teen killed on way home from Celtic supporters’ Club – Daily Record

Man held over 1986 killing of Elaine, 16 | UK | News |

Man Found Guilty Of Elaine Doyle Murder – Heart Scotland

John Docherty jailed for 21 years for killing Greenock schoolgirl Elaine Doyle | Glasgow Times

Elaine Doyle verdict: Elaine’s killer found guilty 28 years after she was murdered | Glasgow Times

Documentary to tell story of 28-year hunt for murderer of Greenock teenager Elaine Doyle, strangled to death in 1986 after returning from night out at Celtic Supporters’ Club – The Scottish Sun

Elaine Doyle’s killer snared after 28 year-old murder is solved by new DNA tests | Daily Mail Online

Elaine Doyle murder: Former soldier John Docherty found guilty of teenager’s killing in 1986 – Daily Record

Greenock Visitor Guide – Accommodation, Things To Do & More | VisitScotland

Steven McIntyre jailed for murdering Jack Doyle in Greenock – BBC News

John Docherty denies 1986 Elaine Doyle murder | The Scotsman

Man in court over 1986 murder of Elaine Doyle | Glasgow Times

John Docherty in court over Elaine Doyle death in Greenock – BBC News


Elaine Doyle’s father appeals in ‘cold case’ murder – BBC News

Dad of murdered Elaine Doyle dies without ever finding out who killed his daughter – Daily Record

Elaine Doyle murder: Accused ‘reacted’ to police hunt jibe – BBC News

The killer of Elaine Doyle was in the same class at school as her brother – Daily Record

Watt Institution : Historic Buildings & Conservation : Scotland’s New Buildings : Architecture in profile the building environment in Scotland – Urban Realm

Collective Architecture

Elaine Doyle went to her first grown-up disco in 1986 – it was her last – Daily Record

Elaine Doyle Killer John Docherty during police interview afterview – YouTube

Elaine Doyle Murder: John Docherty Can Appeal Without Any Limitations – Criminal Defence Lawyers Edinburgh

Elaine Doyle murder: John Docherty guilty of 1986 killing – BBC News


It was suggested by two of our wonderful listeners that we cover this case. So, thank you Haley and Eddie for the suggestion. I hope I’ve done this sad and complex case justice.

49 year old John Docherty was arrested for the murder of 16 year old Elaine Doyle. Police officers involved in the case were relieved that Elaine’s killer had been caught and charged, however, Elaine Doyle’s murder inquiry had been anything but straightforward.

Hi Wee Ones, it’s just me Dawn today, so let’s get started.


It was the morning of Monday the 2nd of June 1986 and Jack and Maureen Doyle awoke after having a restless night’s sleep. Their daughter, Elaine, had been out the previous evening and had been due back about 12:30am, however, she had not turned up. Jack and Maureen had assumed that Elaine had decided to stay at her friend Lynn’s house for the night instead, as she often did. But still, until they knew Elaine was safe and sound, they couldn’t settle. Not wanting to call Lynn’s parents and wake them up to check that Elaine was there, they decided to wait and call in the morning and speak to Elaine then. So that morning Maureen opened the curtains, and was faced with a large amount of police presence on the street outside. She immediately began to have an awful feeling, which only deepened when she called Lynn’s home to find out that Elaine wasn’t there. Maureen quickly called round Elaine’s other friends but was met with the same story, Elaine was not there, and had last been seen about midnight walking towards her home. Just as panic was setting in, there was a knock at the door. Maureen opened the door to find two police officers standing there. She invited them in and immediately told them that her daughter had not come home last night and asked if the police presence was anything to do with her daughter. Elaine Doyle lived at Ardgowan Street in Greenock with her mum Maureen, dad Jack, and older brother John. Greenock is a town located in the West Central Lowlands of Scotland by the Firth of Clyde, about 25 miles or 40 kilometres west of Glasgow. According to visit Scotland, Greenock is the home to the world’s first Burns Club, with many of the founding members having known Robert Burns himself.  The Doyle family lived in a block of flats located a two-minute drive from the town centre. 16 year old Elaine worked during the week as a jewellers assistant in Greenock, but on a weekend she enjoyed nothing more than spending time with her friends and attending a local disco. She just loved dancing. The group of friends weren’t really interested in boys and they just enjoyed hanging out, having a laugh and dancing. Elaine had a good relationship with her mum Maureen and Dad Jack, who was a postman, however, Elaine and her brother John, who was 21 at the time, had been drifting apart and hadn’t been talking much to each other. Elaine’s brother, John, would later say that they would disrespect each other and get on each others nerves. He saw Elaine as his annoying little sister. However, Elaine didn’t let the conflict with her elder brother stop her from enjoying herself and, on Saturday the 31st of May 1986, Elaine and her friends spent the evening at their local pool hall. Elaine then stayed the night with her best friend, Lynn Ryan. The two parted ways on the Sunday afternoon and Elaine headed into town to buy some leggings for both of the girls, before heading back to her own home to get ready for going to a disco that night. After spending hours getting ready, and eventually settling on wearing a black and white dress with her favourite blue leather jacket, Elaine said bye to her parents, with her dad saying in reply “Watch yourself”, before she headed off to meet up with Lynn and their other friends, with the group then heading to the disco, which was on at the Greenock Celtic Supporters Club in Laird Street, about a ten minute walk from Elaine’s house. The group of friends had a good night, they laughed, danced lots and had between one and two pints each. Elaine called her parents about 8:30pm to say she would be home about 12:30am and not to wait up, before carrying on enjoying herself. About 11:30pm, the group of girls walked to a hamburger stall located in Cathcart Street, about a ten minute walk from the disco, where they bought a burger and chatted about their night out. About midnight Elaine said bye to her friends, turning down a drive home from a friend’s brother as they lived in the opposite direction from Elaine, and Lynn saying in reply “Okay, I will see you tomorrow.” Elaine then began to walk the 15 minutes home. This would be the last time Lynn would see her best friend again.

On Monday the 2nd of June just after 7:30am, the Greenock police received a phone call from a member of the public who had gone to their car to go to work and had instead found a body lying in a lane off Ardgowan Street next to an Air Training Corps Hut. PC Alan Stewart was asked to attend the scene, and he did indeed see a body. He saw a naked female lying on its side with a blue leather jacket, a black and white dress, and a pair of shoes nearby. Sadly, PC Alan Stewart confirmed that the female was dead. Senior officers and forensic officers were immediately dispatched and the surrounding area was cordoned off, and a murder inquiry was launched. It was immediately noted that the scene of the crime suggested that a struggle had taken place as a clump of hair was found on the ground near the body, and the female also appeared to have a black eye. Following the post-mortem, it was surmised that she had been struck on the head and either made to remove her clothes or they had been removed. It was then thought that she’d been forced to the ground, had her face pushed into the ground, while her murderer sat or knelt on her and placed a ligature around her neck, believed to have been a rope, but this was never found, and strangled her. The official cause of death was “asphyxia due to strangulation by ligature”. The attack was thought to have been a sexually motivated one due to her being naked, but it is believed there was no conclusive evidence of sexual assault.

While forensics were working on gathering evidence from the scene, police officers were given the task of starting door-to-door inquiries. PC Alan Stewart and PC William Carmichael teamed up and approached the block of flats that was closest to the scene where the body had been found, firstly knocking on the door of a Mr and Mrs Doyle. Following Mrs Doyle explaining to the police officers that her daughter hadn’t come home after a night out, she invited PC Carmichael and PC Stewart into her home to give them more information about her missing daughter Elaine. She was asked to describe her daughter and what she had been wearing the previous evening, at which point both police officers believed that it was very likely that the dead female lying in the lane 50 yards or 46 meters from the flat they were in and Elaine’s home, was Mr and Mrs Doyle’s missing 16 year old daughter Elaine. Elaine had made it within reaching distance of the safety of her home before being brutally attacked and murdered. Armed with a description from Mr and Mrs Doyle of what Elaine had been wearing the night before, the two PCs then left the Doyle household and returned to the scene of the crime to inform their superior officers of their findings and thoughts. The superior officers also agreed that they had likely found out the identity of the body. However, a member of the Doyle family would have to be asked to formally identify the body. This couldn’t be arranged immediately as Elaine’s body was still at the scene as evidence was still needed to be collected.

Now, due to where the body was found there were quite a number of flats that were overlooking the scene of the crime and it had been noted by police officers that members of the public could see exactly what was going on, as well as looking directly to where the body was lying. At this time forensic tents didn’t exist and so in order to preserve the dignity of the victim, officers decided to hang blankets obtained from the back of police cars over the fence in front of the Air Training Corps Hut to try and obscure the view of Elaine’s body. Which would have been fine, but one police officer also wanted to give Elaine some dignity and so placed a blanket over her body. Although seemingly a kind gesture, this could impact on any forensic evidence that may have been found on the body, although such things were relatively new back then so would certainly not have been done maliciously. When forensic officers came to forensically examine the body, firstly they were annoyed that a blanket had been placed over the body. But also when they began to use strips of tape to try and collect any hairs or fibre that may be on the body, their samples were contaminated by fibres from the blanket. Back in 1986 DNA and forensic evidence was still in its infancy, and it wouldn’t be until almost two years later before a DNA sample found on another murder victim led to the arrest and conviction of the murderer. But the forward-thinking forensic officers at the scene did deem it prudent to use strips of tape to collect what evidence may be on Elaine’s body, despite the extra fibres from the blanket, even if nothing was able to be done with it at the time. The samples were checked to see if any of the killer’s hair had been taken from Elaine’s body, but sadly nothing was found. The strips of tape samples were carefully and correctly stored in the hope that one day forensics would advance enough to be able to use them. Once forensics had taken samples from Elaine’s body she then was able to be transported to the mortuary, where Elaine’s dad, Jack, and her brother, John, did formally identify the body as being Elaine.

Following the identity of the body being confirmed as Elaine, a massive press appeal by the police and the Doyle family was made for any witnesses to come forward with any information they had. However, the police believed they may already have a line of inquiry. While all of Elaine’s clothing had been found at the scene, her bag was not found. Police believed that it had been taken by Elaine’s killer, and so appealed for information about this too.  However, this line of inquiry fizzled out a week later when Elaine’s bag turned up on the steps of a library, a three-minute walk away from where Elaine’s body was found. The bag and contents were burned and there were no clues from this discovery. But who had placed it there? Had the killer burned it and placed it there, or had the killer discarded it and it had been found by someone else who had burned it and put it there? If it had been the killer who had left Elaine’s bag there, then this was even more chilling, as it meant the killer was a local. Sadly these questions were to be left unanswered. Even more discouragingly, following the appeal for witnesses, although police did receive a vast number of calls, sadly, no one appeared to have any evidence or leads for the detectives. Meanwhile the close-knit community of Greenock were in shock by what had happened to Elaine, especially as Ardgowan Street was such a quiet place in a well-off area of town, with wide tree-lined streets and big old Victorian houses. They couldn’t believe there was a murderer in their midst, walking their streets. Parents were fearful of letting their children out and people became suspicious of others. Which wasn’t helped when in August 1986, according to BBC News, a witness had reported seeing a ginger or auburn-haired man acting suspiciously in a stairwell in Greenock. An artist’s impression was created and released and then the fingers really started to be pointed, with one disgruntled employee even pointing the finger at his boss. It was a scary time if you happened to have ginger or auburn hair in Greenock. Another man, Stephen Friel, reported that as soon as the artist’s impression was released it spread like wildfire that he had killed Elaine Doyle, just because of his hair colour. It was also reported to police by a witness that while Stephen had been on a night out in Greenock he had been attacked by a group of youths for saying “That wee girl, I did it.”, a claim which Stephen denies ever happened.  Going on to say in the Scotsman Newspaper on the 13th of May 2014 that it was “evil people” that were to blame for the rumours. All of the finger pointing red herring reports had to be investigated though. 

As well as this, while PC Stewart and PC Carmichael came across Mr or Mrs Doyle on their very first door-to-door visit, there still were many many more houses and flats to be visited to gather as much information about Elaine Doyle’s murder as possible. In fact the area to be covered was so large and the endeavour so massive that many other officers were drafted in from other police forces to help with the inquiry. The aim was to speak to every single tenant that lived along the route that Elaine would have taken from leaving the hamburger stall to her home in Ardgowan Street. The fact that Elaine had deliberately, and sensibly, walked along more open well-lit streets in order to be safe, only made the number of houses or flats she passed that needed to be visited even more. Plus, to be absolutely sure they had spoken to everyone who may have seen anything at all, the police also included an extra couple of streets around Ardgowan Street to their door-to-door inquiries. They also did their best to track down and speak to every single person who had signed in at the members only Celtic Supporters Club that evening, who they had been with, and if anyone had seen or spoken to Elaine. As well as appealing for any witnesses who were in the area that evening to also come forward. A mobile police unit was set up near Ardgowan Street for any witnesses to more easily give witness statements. The door-to-door inquiry took seven to eight months to complete, with some tenancies having changed hands a couple of times before the police got round to visiting. It was a massive operation, but the police were determined to track down Elaine’s killer. All in all, at the end of the inquiry, 14,000 names featured in the investigation, 4,500 statements had been taken and almost 2,400 door-to-door forms were completed. Every single bit of evidence, witness statement or potential suspect had to be investigated and, while there were some red herrings and obvious misdirection when it came to the reporting of people with auburn or ginger hair colour being involved in Elaine’s murder, there were other witnesses and suspects whose statements had to be investigated, some of which really did give the police food for thought.

Firstly, there was the witness statement from Elaine’s friend, Lynn Ryan. When asked if she could think of anyone who would want to harm Elaine she mentions a William Campbell, who was known as Daft Willie. She said that he spent a lot of time around the pool hall and would speak to Elaine. She said Elaine would joke with Willie that he was her boyfriend when he was feeling low, just to cheer him up. It was reported that he had learning difficulties and was easily wound up, and he did have auburn hair. According to the BBC news on the 9th of April 2014, Lynn stated that she “wouldn’t have been surprised if he had turned violent.” When questioned, William Campbell said that his hair may have been auburn, but it was a different style to the artist impression one. According to the BBC News, a police report said that he and Elaine were “on talking terms at the pool hall.” Lynn also mentioned that Elaine told her and other friends that in the weeks leading up to her death she thought that a blue car was following her.  Police now had another line of inquiry.

When Lynn was shown the artist’s impression released in August 1986, she said she thought it looked like a man called Francis McCurdy, who was known as Spike. Francis McCurdy was ruled out, and actually went on to marry Lynn, Elaine’s friend.

Following on from Lynn’s revelation that Elaine thought she was being followed by someone driving a blue car, the police were keen to speak to 19 year old Donald McKirdy. Donald worked as a clerical assistant for Strathclyde Police back in 1986 and had permed his collar length dark brown hair. When questioned by the police, he said that he did borrow his dad’s silver blue Vauxhall Nova car and did enjoy driving around the streets of Greenock on a night, either alone or with his friends. He said he didn’t go out specifically to look at girls, but invariably did. In fact he thought he had probably looked at thousands, but he denied ever looking at Elaine. However, after thinking about this, he then stated that he may have looked at Elaine, but as he didn’t know her or what she looked like, he didn’t know it was  Elaine. He said he hadn’t recognised her when he saw her photo in the newspapers. According to BBC news on the 2nd of May 2014, around the same time another female had reported that a male with curly hair, driving either a green or blue car, had asked her if she wanted a lift. At the time, Donald McKirdy also borrowed his mum’s car, which was green.

Another man to be questioned was 18 year old Allan Cleary, who had known Elaine from visiting the jewellers shop where she worked where he bought an earring, and he had often been walking past the jewellers as Elaine was putting down the shutters of the shop at the end of the day. He told detectives that she was good looking, but that he didn’t try to chat her up. He also told detectives what he had been wearing that night, as well as the fact that he had seen Elaine on the night of her murder at a hamburger stall in town in the early hours of the 2nd of June 1986. A week after giving his statement to the police and seeing that police were appealing for witnesses to come forward again, and realising that Elaine had last been seen at the hamburger stall before going home at about 12 midnight not the early hours of the morning as he had falsely told the police previously, he asked a friend of his to give him an alibi. His friend refused.  Allan Cleary went back to the police a week later and told them he had lied, told them that he’d been wearing entirely different clothing and that he had been at home watching TV with his parents at the time of the murder. He said he lied because he had been scared that he may have been walking around by himself alone at the time of the murder, and so he made the story up.

Also walking about the streets on the evening Elaine Doyle was murdered were two ex-prisoners, 19 year old Robert Brown and 17 year old Brian Buckley, who were looking for affluent houses to break into and rob.  When Robert was questioned by the police, he said that he had only been showing Brian where the more affluent houses were, as Robert was from Greenock, then he had returned to his home. He said that Brian Buckley turned up at his house later carrying a guitar and cans of lager he had stolen. According to the BBC news on the 30th of April 2014, Robert told police in his statement that he didn’t think Brian would commit a murder, although went on to say “He is a bit of a nut case.” When questioned, Brian Buckley told a different story, saying that both men had in fact been out to rob houses that evening. They had found a house that had a window open so Brian climbed inside and Robert was supposed to wait outside as the lookout, but he lost his nerve and ran away, leaving Brian in the house alone. Brian admitted that he was angry he had been left.

Police also questioned 35 year old James Wilson who told the police that he had been kerb crawling in the area for years, where he would stop and ask attractive girls if they wanted a lift. He also admitted driving to Glasgow where he would pick up sex workers. He was married to a nurse who worked the “twilight shifts”.

The police were also keen to speak to 24 year old Colin Dominick when one of his friends made a statement to the police, which, according to the BBC News on the 7th of May 2014, said “He keeps on bringing up the subject of the murder and told me she had been killed by the use of a car aerial and a belt.”  Colin’s friend said he had dismissed these claims thinking that Colin was just acting big. Another statement made also said that Colin Dominick would park his father’s blue Datsun Bluebird car in the town centre on the weekends where he would watch girls going in and out of pubs and clubs and would often make inappropriate remarks. When questioned by the police, Colin Dominick denied all of these allegations, saying he knew nothing about a belt or a car aerial. But police were very suspicious as one of the items found near to Elaine had been a car aerial, a fact that had never been released to the public. If this had just been a guess, it was an incredibly good one.

Detectives also visited and took a statement from 16 year old Colin McIntyre, who worked in a nearby club and who knew Elaine from attending the pool halls. Colin McIntyre told detectives where he had been the evening Elaine had been murdered and, apparently satisfied, the detectives had left. However, apparently later the same day it is alleged that Colin McIntyre visited the police station and made a further statement, very different and much more graphic than the first one. The reason I say alleged is because Colin has denied that he ever wrote the unsigned statement. He has said that he was terrified by threats of violence by the police and has alleged that a detective Langford-Johnston, a detective working on the case, and his colleagues, bullied him and made up the statement.  The statement supposedly by Colin is very graphic and detailed. It says that Colin and three of his friends, one being called Wilks, met up with Elaine, who they knew, and the four agreed to walk Elaine home, before the five of them went down the lane where Elaine’s body was found. At this point one of Colin’s friends apparently began kissing Elaine and taking her clothes off. A struggle ensued and Elaine had apparently sat down on the ground, naked. Elaine then apparently tried to stand up but fell backwards and hit her head, lying there not moving. Allegedly, then Wilks picked up a piece of string and put it around Elaine’s neck, killing her. Then they apparently all left in a panic. Following the statement being made, Colin was then released.  However, Colin McIntyre had an alibi, which checked out, and he was never charged with wasting police time.

While the police were speaking to as many people as they could and sifting through all the information they had been given, a glimmer of hope appeared in the form of 24 year old Martin Brown. Martin, who used to live in Greenock but had moved away, had returned to Greenock for a few days to visit his parents, who still lived there at the time of Elaine’s murder, to watch the World Cup with his friends. Around the same time that Elaine would have been close to Ardgowan Street and the safety of her home, Martin was walking back from friends to his parents house, walking near Ardgowan Street. He said that he witnessed a female walking towards Ardgowan Street, being closely followed by a male who looked like he was hurrying to catch up with the female. While he said he only caught a glimpse of the man’s face, he would forever remember it due to the man’s big eyes and angry expression. Martin thought that perhaps they had been a couple, and by telling the police he thought that they could be identified and questioned, and in turn eliminate Martin, as Martin was going back to his home in London the next day and he didn’t want it to appear suspicious. Martin initially said that the man had auburn or ginger hair, but later changed his statement saying he couldn’t be sure as he was colour blind. But he was able to describe the male as being tall, slim and with military tattoos. Sadly, Martin was not able to say whether the female he saw was Elaine or not from the pictures he was shown.

Armed with this new lead of a potential description of Elaine’s killer, the police doing door-to-door inquiries were given this description to see if it matched any males they came across. However, despite the vast number of male residents that were included in this inquiry, no male matching this description was found.

Despite the massive number of police officers involved in this case, the truly amazing amount of information that had been collected by police officers from members of the public, witness statements, numerous possible suspects, and the fact that the Serious Crime Squad had taken over this case, sadly the case began to go cold, the inquiry was scaled down, and Elaine’s murder went unsolved. Elaine’s family however never gave up hope that one day their daughter’s murderer would be brought to justice. Elaine’s dad, Jack, was particularly active and campaigned relentlessly for justice for Elaine. The Doyle family maintained a great relationship with detectives and they kept in regular contact to keep the family updated,  despite there being no new leads. As the years passed by, Elaine’s parents, Jack and Maureen, and Elaine’s brother, John, tried their best to remember Elaine how she was and the good times they spent together, but life would never be the same again. Life did go on for the Doyle family though and John married and had a son, who he called Jack, and a step-daughter called Sarah Jane, but Elaine and getting justice for her was never far from the family’s mind.

While Elaine’s case was reviewed periodically, it wouldn’t be until 2005 when the first forensic review would be carried out. It turned out that the clothing Elaine had been wearing on the night of her murder had become contaminated over the years, however, the forensic officers back in 1986 who had used strips of tape to collect any evidence from Elaine’s body, despite the blanket having been placed over the body, had made sure that these samples had been stored in such a way that they had not been contaminated, and so were sent off for the forensic lab to see if they had captured anything from Elaine’s body at the time. And lo and behold they had. From samples from Elaine’s face and back, a DNA profile was obtained of who detectives believed was Elaine’s killer. The police database, sadly, however, did not find a match to the profile obtained, but it was a huge breakthrough, they just needed to find a match.

Due to the breakthrough, a small team from Greenock police continued to work on the case, going through the witness statements and the over 14,000 names that came up in the initial investigation. From this, a list of 722 potential suspects was collated, and the arduous task of tracking down each person that was on the list and collecting a DNA sample from began. This was such a massive endeavour that it would take years to get to the point of actually collecting DNA samples. But for the small team of officers carrying out this massive inquiry help was on the way in the form of the Cold Case Team, which had been set up in 2011, who would be carrying out a cold case review, which would be led by Detective Superintendent Bobby Hendren. The cold case review of Elaine Doyle’s murder inquiry was called Operation Evergreen. At that point the small team became 40 strong, a whole floor in the Greenock Police Station was taken over and every single bit of information was gone over with a fresh pair of eyes, and finally the team were ready to begin to collect DNA samples from the males on the list. This included asking Australian and Canadian officials to collect samples from six of their residents. It also included tracking down and obtaining a DNA sample from many men named John Docherty, whose name had been missed in the initial investigation, who lived in the Greenock area at the time of Elaine Doyle’s murder. A John Docherty had apparently been at the Celtic Club with his friend the same night Elaine had been murdered.  His friend had been questioned by the police in 1986 and he had told the police this information, and they had written this information down with a note that said, John Docherty should be tracked down, interviewed and eliminated. However, sadly, this note had been overlooked at the time of the initial investigation and John Doherty had never been interviewed.

While the Cold Case Team were working hard on Elaine’s case, on the 2nd of June 2011, which was the 25th anniversary of Elaine’s murder, Elaine’s dad, Jack, made a televised appeal asking for information on Elaine’s murder. He said “For Maureen (Elaine’s mother) and I time has not healed the wounds. The passage of time teaches you to cope with the heartbreak, but as any parent who has lost a child will know, the pain Maureen and I feel on a daily basis is as real as when we first received that awful news. What Maureen and I are asking for today is for answers to these questions. Elaine was so young and had so much to offer others. We have been robbed of the opportunity to watch her grow into adulthood and become a mother herself. We know nothing can bring Elaine back to us, but if we could just have some of our questions answered then I know that this would bring us some comfort and make our daily lives just that bit more bearable.”  Tragically, this would be Elaine’s dad Jack’s last appeal for information, as on the 6th of January 2012 he passed away at the age of 69, having lost his battle with cancer. In an absolutely horrendous twist, Jack passed away three days after finding out that his 17 year old grandson, also called Jack, had been murdered. The teen had been stabbed through the heart and left for dead. His murderer was caught, tried and sentenced to life imprisonment, to serve a minimum of 15 years. At the trial it was reported that had Jack received medical attention immediately, he could have survived.

Having come across the name John Docherty from the initial investigation, detectives from Operation Evergreen began the task of tracking down and obtaining a voluntary DNA sample from any John Docherty who lived in Greenock. However, the name John Docherty was a very common name in Greenock and detectives would find at least three living in very close proximity to each other, one of whom was appalled at the very suggestion he had ever set foot in the Celtic Supporters Club as he was a massive Glasgow Ranger supporter, a rival football team. However, eventually detectives finally tracked down the correct John Docherty and discovered that he was still living in Greenock. And so in May 2012 two detectives visited him at home to ask for a voluntary sample.

John Docherty had been 21 at the time of Elaine Doyle’s murder. He had gone to school with Elaine’s brother John, but it was unclear if he knew Elaine or if Elaine had known him. At the time of Elaine’s murder, John Docherty had been living with his parents at Ann Street in Greenock, which is a 19 minute walk away from Elaine’s home, and he’d been engaged to a Linda Hargie. This relationship had lasted on and off until 1995. A year after the murder, John Docherty had left Greenock to join the army, where he served six years, before returning once again to Greenock where he became a driver for the council. Over the years, after his relationship ended with Linda, John Docherty met and moved in with another female, who he had a young daughter with.

When police officers asked John Doherty to give a DNA sample they said that he was more than willing to give one and told the detectives quite casually that he had also been at the Celtic Club that night, appearing to be forthcoming and open with officers. The DNA obtained from John Docherty was then sent to be forensically tested and compared with the DNA profile that had been found on Elaine’s body. It wouldn’t be long before Detective Sergeant Mairi Milne, part of Operation Evergreen and who had worked on and off on the case since 2008, received an email saying that the sample taken from John Docherty was a match to the DNA profile found on Elaine’s face and back. Former Detective Sergeant Mairi Milne said in the Greenock Telegraph on the 11 of October 2019 “I was stunned. I read the email and it said we had a one in a billion hit.” 

While the initial reaction to this was absolute relief for all involved, the hard work didn’t end there. Now John Docherty’s life had to be gone over with a fine-tooth comb in order to find out everything possible about him, such as what was he like, what had he been like back in 1986, who did he know, where did he work, who were his friends, was he definitely at the Celtic Club, and was there any chance that Elaine and John Docherty had come into contact at the Celtic Club that night? Speaking on the Crime and Investigation Channel TV show Murder Town The Elaine Doyle episode released on Monday the 28th of October 2019, former Detective Mairi Milne said that they also had to track down all of John Docherty’s friends from 1986 and find out what they could from them without raising any suspicions. Again, this all took time and planning. The detectives also contacted Martin Brown, who back in 1986 had said he had seen a man with big eyes and an angry face following a female close to Ardgowan Street, bearing in mind that when Martin was initially spoken to he had said that he wasn’t able to say if the female he saw was Elaine, he didn’t think so. However, over the years, and having seen other pictures of Elaine, he had been quite definite that, yes, the female he had seen was indeed Elaine. Now detectives approached him with more photographs, including one of John Docherty back in 1986, in the hope that he would be able to identify him. They wouldn’t be disappointed. Martin was able to identify that the big-eyed, angry-faced man he had seen that night back in 1986 had been none other than John Docherty.

Armed with this information, and having gleaned all of the information they possibly could from John Docherty’s former friends, as well as having obtained a further DNA sample from John Docherty for absolute confirmation, which also matched the DNA profile taken from Elaine, they were finally ready to bring him in for questioning on the 22nd of March 2013, 26 years and nine months after Elaine Doyle had been murdered. I’ve included a short clip of John Docherty being interviewed on our website, but he basically denied knowing anything about the murder other than what he had read in the papers. He said he had been at his parents home watching TV with them on the night of the murder, however, sadly his parents had both passed away so were unable to corroborate his alibi. Although being questioned thoroughly, John Docherty was unable to give a reason why his DNA had been found on Elaine’s back and face. And so on the 23rd of March 2013, John Docherty was arrested and charged with Elaine Doyle’s murder, appearing in court a few days later for a private hearing where he was formally charged and remanded in custody. However, in a strange twist John Docherty was granted bail and was able to live his life as a free man until his trial. John Docherty then made his first public appearance at the High Court in Glasgow on the 10th of February 2014 where he faced the charges of murdering Elaine Doyle, as well as theft of her bag and assault to injury, where he was accused of assaulting his then fiancée Linda Hargie between 1990 and 1995. At this preliminary hearing, John Docherty denied these charges and lodged a special defence of alibi and incrimination. A trial date was then set for the 24th of February 2014 at the High Court in Edinburgh. This case was the first to come to trial following a Cold Case Team investigation.

Following John Docherty’s arrest being made public, Elaine Doyle’s family, as well as all the residents of Greenock, breathed a sigh of relief, finally the killer had been caught.  However, there was also a huge amount of shock from the community, as well as from John Docherty’s colleagues, that this man had been living and working in Greenock pretty much since the murder. His colleagues were incredulous that this quiet family man had committed such an atrocious murder.

So, when the trial started on the 24th of February 2014 it attracted a lot of attention. It was explained in the opening days of the trial to the jury that the special defence of incrimination that John Docherty’s Defence Queen’s Council, Donald Finley, had put forward meant that from the list of 722 potential suspects the police had investigated, a short list of 41 names had been put forward by the defence as potentially just as likely to have committed the murder as John Docherty. The names of the 41 males put forward by the defence took to the stand in the trial for questioning, but I’m only going to cover just a few of these potential suspects testimonies, some of which I have mentioned previously. First up was Donald McCurdy, who was 19 at the time of Elaine’s murder, who worked as a clerical assistant at Strathclyde Police and who liked to borrow his dad’s blue car and his mother’s green car to go around the streets of Greenock on a night looking at girls. At the time he had categorically denied that he had known Elaine or even seen her, not recognising her from photos, however, on the witness stand under questioning he admitted that he did know Elaine as she had regularly walked past his then home, which was located not far from Ardgowan Street. When asked why he had lied he said he didn’t know. When it was put to him that he was in fact the man driving the blue car Elaine had seen following her weeks before her death Donald McCurdy said “Not to my knowledge, no”, but on further questioning said it was quite possible. Donald McCurdy denied killing Elaine Doyle. Allan Cleary, who had been 18 at the time, was next on the stand. Allan Cleary had initially lied to police about seeing Elaine at the hamburger stall in the early hours of the morning when actually Elaine had already been murdered. He lied about what he’d been wearing and asked a friend to give him an alibi. Under questioning, Allan Cleary admitted making a terrible error of judgment. When asked why he had misled police in their inquiry into Elaine’s murder, possibly suggesting he had an ulterior motive, he replied “I don’t have an answer.” He was asked what kind of man goes out of their way to lie about something so serious, unless they have something to hide? In reply he said “An evil man.” He was then asked if he wanted to admit to murdering Elaine Doyle, to which he replied “No, because I had nothing to do with it.” The jury was told that Allan Cleary had been at home with his parents watching TV at the time of the murder. Next in the dock to be questioned was Robert Brown, who was 19 at the time and one half of the pair who were out looking to rob houses on the night Elaine was murdered. Robert Brown was asked if he knew if his partner in crime, Brian Buckley who was 17 at the time, had been anywhere near Ardgowan Street on the night of their robbery attempt, to which he said he hadn’t known where Brian Buckley had gone. He was then asked if he had been aware that Brian Buckley had accused him of murdering Elaine. He said he had not. Apparently after a televised appeal in 2008 a man claiming to be Brian Buckley had telephoned police saying he had information about the murder. Apparently Brian Buckley had got Elaine’s surname wrong but had given other very accurate information. When Robert Brown was asked why he thought Brian Buckley would do this Robert said that the defence would have to ask Brian himself. Defence Counsel, Donald Finley, then said in reply that they would be asking Brian Buckley this question, however, was Robert aware that Brian Buckley was currently serving a life sentence for murdering a young woman? Robert was shocked and replied that he hadn’t known this. Shortly after this Robert asked for a break. Then it was the turn of Brian Buckley himself. The court was told that 45 year old Brian Buckley was serving a life sentence having been convicted of strangling his 25 year old partner to death four years earlier, as well as having a long history of dishonesty and assault. Brian was firstly asked about the night Elaine Doyle had been murdered and Brian told his side of the story, admitting that he had been angry that his friend had abandoned him on the robbing expedition. The defence, Donald Finley, then suggested to Brian that he had been looking for someone to take his anger out on, which is when the “no comments” started. Brian Buckley replied no comment to many questions after this, including when being asked how he had strangled his girlfriend and why he had killed her, with the Defence Counsel, Donald Findlay, suggesting that there were similarities between the murder of Elaine Doyle and Brian Buckley’s girlfriend. The final tipping point for Brian Buckley was when Donald Findlay asked the question “Why are you not prepared to tell the jury what kind of man you are?”, at which point Brian swore at the defence and stepped down from the witness box. He was immediately surrounded by security, to which he stated “Do you want me to start fighting?” Brian Buckley was then removed from the courtroom. Colin Dominick, who was 24 years old at the time of Elaine Doyle’s murder, had been questioned by the police due to his friend making a statement that Colin had kept bringing up the murder and told his friend that Elaine had been killed using a car aerial and belt, with Colin Dominick denying this or of knowing anything about an aerial or a belt, despite an aerial being found close to Elaine’s body. In court, Colin Dominick said he wouldn’t have known Elaine if she had walked passed him. When he was asked about allegations supposedly made by his ex-girlfriends about him stalking them after their relationships had ended, of repeatedly sounding his horn outside their houses late at night, or of one ex-girlfriend being dragged into a shop doorway and being punched, he denied these, saying he had never been violent towards a woman in his life and didn’t know why they were telling such lies about him. Then it was the turn of Colin McIntyre, who had been 16 at the time of the murder and who, after giving the police an initial statement, had apparently gone to the police station to give another one, but this time it was much more graphic, saying that he had stood by and watched Elaine be stripped and strangled. Colin McIntyre contested this statement though saying that he’d been threatened with violence from police officers and that police officers had actually written the statement, a fact that defence QC, Donald Findlay, disputed. He put it to Colin McIntyre that he did actually confess to being involved in Elaine Doyle’s murder, either for attention or because he was involved. Colin McIntyre reiterated that no, this was not correct, he had been forced to confess for fear of threats of violence from the police and that he’d been scared. Ignoring this response, Donald Findlay continued by saying that it sounded like a statement from somebody who’d actually been there, asking Colin McIntyre if it was him, to which he said no. But Donald Finlay pushed on, asking Colin to tell everyone now who had killed Elaine, with Colin McIntyre stating that he didn’t know. Donald Findlay finished up by asking why officers would put their careers and pensions on the line by fabricating a story, to which Colin McIntyre said “I think about it a lot, and I don’t know why.” A stream of potential other suspects came and went one after another, until finally it was the turn of witness Martin Brown, who had been 24 years old at the time of Elaine’s murder and had been walking back to his parents home when he happened to see a female being followed by a male with big eyes and an angry face. He told the court that the male he had seen had been wearing dark clothing and had big eyes, but that he’d only seen his face for a split second, although had glanced twice at the female walking in front of the male. When cross-examined by Donald Findlay for the defence, he first asked Martin how he could be so sure the female he had seen that night had been Elaine after ten years, when he hadn’t recognised Elaine from photos at the time, after describing her at the time as being about 20 years old with shoulder length hair, with much of the description from Martin Brown not matching Elaine. Martin replied that he hadn’t recognised Elaine as being the female he had seen that night initially, however, upon being shown newer photos to the ones in the newspapers of Elaine, he instantly recognised her. Donald Findlay next asked Martin how he could be so sure that the male he had seen that night following close behind Elaine was John Docherty, to which Martin Brown said that in 2012 when police had brought him 12 mug shots to look at he had been able to narrow them down to three and there was one that he thought was similar to the person he had glimpsed the night of Elaine’s murder back in 1986. Donald Findlay continued by stating that according to Martin Brown’s statement the male would have caught up to the female pretty quickly,  to which Martin agreed saying he would have caught up to her in a second or two. Donald Findlay then jumped on the fact that if the male had caught up to the female within a second or two and a struggle had taken place then surely Martin would have heard this, to which Martin Brown said “I would have heard her. I would have heard something. I heard nobody.” Next on the stand was forensic scientist, Pauline McSorley, where she described testing the DNA that had been found on Elaine’s body, going on to see that two results had been found on Elaine’s back and face that could not be accounted for, until a DNA sample that had been volunteered by John Docherty in May 2012 had been tested, and it was reported in the BBC News on the 17th of June 2014 that the results showed that it was 560,000 times more likely it came from the accused than any other unrelated male. The defence also brought up the fact that a blanket had been placed over Elaine’s body possibly contaminating any evidence that was found. However, the question still remained, how did John Doherty’s DNA get onto a blanket taken from the back of a police car? Then, in a further blow to John Docherty’s case, his ex-fiancée, Linda Hargie, who had been in a volatile on and off relationship with John Doherty from 1984 to 1995, took to the stand. It was explained that she had been approached by police after John Docherty’s arrest when they were trying to glean as much information about John as possible, and what Linda had to say was very interesting. Apparently, Linda had been aware that John Docherty had been at the Celtic Club on the evening before Elaine Doyle was murdered, and when appeals were being made for anyone who had been at the club that night to come forward, she suggested he should go to the police.  But, according to the BBC news on the 4th of June 2014, his response was that he had no intention of contacting police, going on to say that it was unlikely they would come to the door for him because he hadn’t signed the visitors book. She went on to say that one day, a few years later, when the relationship had become more turbulent and when John Docherty was in the army, the couple had an argument just as John was leaving to go back to the army and Linda had brought up the murder of Elaine Doyle again saying something along the lines of “I wonder what would happen to your army career if they knew you had not fulfilled your obligation.” She said that John Docherty reacted very angrily to this remark, turning and pushing Linda by the throat or shoulders against the wall, holding her there while saying “Never say that again.” Despite being aware that John Docherty had been at the Celtic Club on the night of Elaine’s murder, Linda made the decision not to come forward to the police, despite being aware of media attention around the case over the years, going on to say that she was “totally shocked” when John Docherty had been charged with the murder.

After 52 days of evidence, and following the closing statements, Judge Lord Stewart, who had been presiding over the trial, began his legal direction to the jury, which consisted of eight women and seven men. He told them they must put aside emotion and follow the evidence they accepted to its logical conclusion, whether the outcome be conviction or acquittal. Lord Stewart also made it clear that the jurors had to be satisfied that the DNA found on Elaine’s body had got there during the commission of a crime. The jury then retired, but it would take only four short hours before the jury were back with a verdict.

On the 17th of June 2014 John Docherty was found guilty. So, despite all of the noise produced by the defence by bringing in 41 potential other suspects to the trial, the jury was sure, beyond a reasonable doubt that on the 2nd of June 1986 John Docherty had indeed murdered 16 year old Elaine Doyle. John Docherty’s sentence would be a mandatory life sentence, but Judge Lord Stewart asked for reports on John Docherty before he handed down the fixed term that John Docherty must serve before being eligible for parole. Sentencing was deferred until August and John Docherty was remanded in custody.

The conviction of John Docherty brought a close to one of Scotland’s longest running unsolved murders. A sense of relief was felt by all following the verdict, with Elaine’s brother, John Doyle, saying he thought it was a just verdict, and Elaine’s mother, Maureen, saying that “The result at court doesn’t make our day-to-day living any easier. The pain doesn’t go away. But my son John and I take comfort that we now have justice for Elaine.” Maureen went on to thank everyone who had been involved in the case since 1986, as well as the people of Greenock for their continued support over the years. Detective Superintendent Bobby Hendren, who had led the cold case review, also said that he was extremely pleased with the verdict. Going on to say that he hoped it gave the family some comfort.

John Docherty then appeared to hear his sentence on the 5th of August 2014. He was given a life sentence and ordered to serve 21 years before being eligible to be considered for parole. John Docherty’s Defence Queen’s Council, Donald Findlay, said that his client was adamant that he had been a victim of a miscarriage of justice, that he did not kill Elaine Doyle, and that he intended to fight until he proved he’d been a victim of a miscarriage of justice. John Docherty went on to appeal the verdict, as well as appealing that the minimum term of 21 years was excessive. It was reported in the BBC News on the 20th of May 2016 that John Docherty’s appeal had been rejected, with the Lord Justice General, Lord Carloway, saying “This was a compelling circumstantial case and the appeal against conviction is refused. This was a murder of an innocent 16 year old girl making her way home along the public streets after a night out in central Greenock. It is a crime of rare callousness and brutality and, as the trial judge said, it caused widespread public revulsion and anxiety and terrible anguish for the deceased’s family over many years.” John Docherty will be 70 years old when he is eligible to be considered for parole in 2035.

And that’s the end. If you’ve enjoyed this episode and know just the person who’d also like it, please share it with them, don’t keep it to yourself.


Please also get in touch on social media if you have any questions, comments or suggestions, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. All social media and contact details are on our website, as well as all the source material and photos related to this episode.


So that’s it for this week, come back next time for another episode of Scottish Murders.

Dawn and Cole:

Join us there. Bye.

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Scottish Murders is a production of Cluarantonn.

Scottish Murders is a production of Cluarantonn

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Researched and Written by Dawn Young

Produced and Edited by Dawn Young and Peter Bull

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We've Upgraded!

Hey everyone, just wanted to let you know that since we always strive to keep on improving, we have upgraded our microphone to a Shure MV7! We have trialled this on our episode available on Tuesday 25 January, let us know what you think? However, from April onwards we will be using the new microphone as standard. We hope you enjoy!



Episode Summary

Trigger Warning Wee Ones – This story may be upsetting and does contain crimes targeting children and child abuse, so listener discretion is advised.


One wee girl’s trip to the corner shop and another wee boy’s passion for pigeons, would result in heartache for two Aberdonian families. 

Please Be Advised – This episode may contain content that some may find distressing. As always, we advise listener discretion. This episode it not suitable for anyone under the age of 13.

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Blood and Granite: True Crime from Aberdeen

by Norman Adams


Blood and Granite is a chronicle of the most notorious homicides committed in Aberdeen over the last hundred years. Written by Norman Adams, a journalist who reported on many of the chilling crimes he now recalls so vividly, it is compelling reading for those who are too young to remember – and those who cannot forget. All are human tragedies from the dark side of life, including:

  • The grudge that ended in death in an East End pub when butcher James Harrow brutally stabbed two workmates in 1901.
  • The grisly discovery of a woman’s arm on the Torry shore in 1945 that signalled the start of a mystery which to this day remains unsolved.
  • The tragic love affair that led to the gallows in 1963 – the first hanging in Aberdeen for 106 years.
  • The double life of brilliant scientist Dr Brenda Page of Aberdeen University, battered to death in her flat in 1978. Her murder remains unsolved.


One wee girl’s trip to the corner shop and another wee boy’s passion for pigeons would result in a heartache for two Aberdonian families. 


Hi Wee Ones, it’s just me Dawn today. So, before I start this week’s episode I need to give you a trigger warning, as both of the cases discussed today are particularly horrific and graphic and does contain crimes targeting children and child abuse, so listener discretion is advised.

It was early evening on Sunday the 8th of January 1961 and 26 year old Maureen Higgins was on her way to choir practice. She was walking briskly along Printfield Walk when she saw what she thought was a wounded dog crawling slowly along the gutter. As she got closer though she realised with horror that it was not a dog but a small child, and that the child’s clothing was drenched in blood. Six year old June Cruickshank was a popular girl. She had many friends and was well known in her area. She lived in the middle flat of a tenement block on Printfield Walk in the Woodside area of Aberdeen with her mum Anne, her dad David and her brothers and sisters, Brian aged 12, Norma aged 11, Anne Marie aged four, and David aged two. Printfield Walk is a six minute drive north of Aberdeen, and Aberdeen is a city in the north east of Scotland. It is Scotland’s third most populous city, and according to Visit Scotland you may just see a pod of dolphins playing in the waters there. However, back at the flat in Printfield Walk Anne, June’s mum, was getting the tea ready for her family. She realised that she needed a packet of custard powder for their dessert and so she gave June a sixpence, which is about five pence or six cents in today’s money, and asked her to go to the local shop for her, which was located about 135 yards, or 123 meters, away from the flat. It was getting dark now as June made the short journey to the shop, but just before 6pm June was paying for her purchase and received a half penny in change from the shop assistant. She then left the shop and headed for home. Meanwhile, Anne, June’s mum, realised that she was short of another item and so sent her son Brian to the corner shop to buy it. When Brian returned to the flats he said that there had been no sign of June. Becoming worried, Anne popped her head out of the window for flat to look for her daughter. Down on the street outside June’s tenement block, Maureen Higgins had minutes before found June in the gutter just outside the tenement block, covered in blood. Maureen had immediately gone to June and placed her coat over her. She had then shouted to a passing shipyard worker to get help, before turning back to June to offer her comfort. She then noticed a woman looking out of a flat window in the tenement block and shouted to her if she was looking for a wee girl, to which the reply was yes. Maureen shouted back that there was a girl down on the street. Panicking, Anne ran from the flat down to the street, only to find that it was her six year old daughter, June, that was lying there covered in blood, unmoving, and still holding the custard powder in her wee hands. The police and ambulance arrived but there was nothing that could be done for June and she sadly died. Anne Cruickshank was devastated, shocked and unbelieving. What had happened to her wee  girl? At first she assumed that June had been struck by a car, that was until her husband, David, arrived home from the police station and told her just what had happened to their wee girl. June’s throat had been slashed.

A murder investigation was launched by the police, which became the largest Aberdeen murder investigation since the murder of Helen Priestly in 1934, which is a case that we will also be covering. The area where June’s body was found was cordoned off and every available officer was involved in searching the murder scene and the surrounding area, including an Alsatian tracker dog called Rennie, as it was believed that June may have been attacked elsewhere. This search quickly led to the area where the actual attack had happened, which was a lane sandwiched between a hut and a petrol pump, directly across the road from the local shop June had visited. This area was also cordoned off and searched. Detectives quickly determined that there would have been no reason whatsoever for June to have voluntarily crossed Great Northern Road as the local shop was on the same side of the road as her flat on Printfield Walk. So they believed that upon June leaving the local shop she had most likely been lured across Great Northern Road and into the dark lane, where her killer had then barbarically cut her throat. It would appear then that June had found some amazing strength and courage and after her throat being brutally cut she’d managed to walk back across Great Northern Road and make it all the way home, where she finally collapsed outside her flat. She just couldn’t make it any further.  Sadly, June’s desperate attempts to make it home and get help, while bleeding profusely, went unnoticed as it was dark at this point and, even if she had been seen, people may not have realised what was happening as they wouldn’t have been able to see the blood streaming from her neck wound. It seems incredulous for June to have crossed such a busy road while trying to make it home and not be seen by any passing cars. However, this would appear to be the case, as when the police made an appeal for people to come forward not as many people did as the police would have liked. An appeal by the police went out at 10pm on the day of the murder, Chief Constable Alexander Matheson held a press conference and asked for witnesses to come forward if they had seen a man or a youth with June or if they had seen a man or youth with blood on his clothing in the Woodside or Printfield area. Police officers also went door to door from one end of Great Northern Road to the other, and yet at a press conference on Monday, the day after June’s murder, Chief Constable Matheson said that they were struggling with this case and they weren’t getting any leads. He also said that they were appealing for five men and three women to come forward as it was believed that they could help them with their inquiries, giving the description of one of the men as having tussled hair. He went on to say that this was a motiveless attack, June had not been sexually assaulted or robbed, and she still had the half penny change from her trip to the shop, which at the time seemed pretty insignificant.

While June’s mum, Anne, was attending to June on the street, a woman who was passing by happened to see something shiny beside June and so picked it up. It was a shilling. Assuming it was June’s, she handed it to June’s mum, who in turn, and not thinking straight, assumed it was June’s change from the shop. She wouldn’t think about this until later, but when she did she realised how odd it was as June wouldn’t have had this much change, and so she told the police and they took it into evidence. This discovery wasn’t disclosed to the public at the time, but would become very significant. But I’ll come back to that later. Following the door-to-door inquiries, a statement was released from the police who were keen to speak to a total of 19 individuals now, mostly men, that had been seen in the area at the time of the murder. However, discouragingly, only two people responded to this plea, which was really frustrating for the police. As hardly anyone was coming forward, the police were getting no solid leads and the case was going cold. A reconstruction also took place where June’s 15 minute journey from leaving her home to go to the corner shop to being found in the gutter outside her home was re-enacted, but again there was very little that came from this either. The police also carried out an extensive search for the murder weapon within a one mile radius, which was thought to be a sharp edged instrument, but again this brought no results. Things weren’t looking too good in the hunt for June’s killer. Frustrated by the lack of leads, June’s dad, David, made a statement through the Scottish Daily Express Newspaper saying “To whoever is sheltering my daughter’s killer, for God’s sake please come forward and tell the police all you know, before there is another terrible tragedy.” Following this, a Mr Robert McIntosh generously offered a £1,000 reward, which is around £22,700 and $31,200 in today’s money, for any information which led to the arrest and conviction of the killer. June’s dad, David, was a taxi driver and Robert McIntosh was his employer. Now, news of what had happened to June had spread like a wildfire. Mothers in the area were shocked at what had happened and in fear for their children. The school June had attended had allowed the pupils to go home early each day while it was still daylight, but most mothers were collecting their children from the school gates. One mother, whose child was good friends with June, said to the Evening Express Newspaper “It is all so terrible. June was such a lovely girl, and she and my youngest lassie were such great pals.” Another mother was reported as saying “I will do all of my own messages from now on.” In Scotland we call shopping messages.

On the 12th of January 1961, four days after the brutal murder, with the police still not having received any viable leads into the identity of June’s murderer, June’s family gathered for her funeral. It was a cold day in Aberdeen and the snow was lying on the ground, as four funeral cars and June’s tiny white coffin left from the family’s address at Printfield Walk, as mourners congregated on the pavement across from the family’s home to pay their last respects. The funeral took place at Trinity Cemetery, located a seven minute drive south east of the Cruickshank’s family home, and was a private service.

Following June’s funeral, with still very few witnesses coming forward and no new leads, the lead detective working on June’s case, Chief Inspector McIntosh, attended a football match at Pittodrie Stadium in Aberdeen where, over a loudspeaker, he appealed to everyone at the match to please come forward if they knew anything or had seen anything, anything at all. Again though, frustratingly, nobody came forward. And while the police had been appealing for possible witnesses to come forward that had been seen in the area, which had by this point now increased to 35 people, still only two had come forward. Even if they hadn’t seen anything why not just come forward to rule themselves out? It was so frustrating for the police, they just couldn’t understand the reluctance. A wee girl had been murdered. One man the police were desperate to locate was a man who had been seen the night June had been murdered on a bus, as he had been seen with blood on his forehead and face. I mean he may have had nothing to do with the murder, but why not come forward and rule yourself out? However, it doesn’t look great having been seen with blood on you when a wee girl has been murdered, and they may have been frightened or maybe they didn’t have an alibi for the time. But it was still really frustrating for the police. While the police didn’t get any new leads from the appeal at the football match, it did touch a couple of supporters hearts, who travelled to June’s grave and laid a wreath.

As the police continued to receive radio silence from potential witnesses, Chief Constable Matheson decided to try another tactic. He agreed to conduct a television interview, and, according to the Blood and Granite book by Norman Adams, this was the first of its kind ever given by a Scottish Chief Constable. The Chief Constable was very frank saying that they were making very little headway in the investigation, and once again pleaded with any witnesses to come forward.  He tried to alleviate any fears about talking to the police, going as far as saying that witnesses could write to him directly with their name and address and he would send an officer to take their statement. So the police were really doing everything they could, but it just wasn’t enough.  Apparently, a few people came forward following this appeal, but there was nothing they could add to the investigation. This incredible reluctance of witnesses to come forward was also frustrating a Highland novelist, Jane Duncan, who wrote a letter to the Press and Journal Newspaper. She urged people to come forward to help solve “the most depraved of all crimes – child murder”. Going on to say that by not coming forward with any information basically made you “an accessory” to the crime. Which was a pretty strong statement to make, and sadly it didn’t work either. The police continued to receive anonymous misdirection tip-offs, which all had to be checked, of people pointing the finger at other people with nothing to substantiate it and rumours circulating, mostly ending up being false. One such rumour, which I got from the Blood and Granite book by Norman Adams, where actually I got a lot of the information for this story in, was that a primary school in the area had shut its doors and sent all its pupils home after two girls had been attacked. Obviously this caused even more panic and fear among parents in the area, however, once investigated it turned out that, yes the school had closed its doors and sent the pupils home, but not because anyone had been attacked, but because there had been a burst water pipe and the classrooms were flooded. The police didn’t really need to be constantly dealing with this misinformation, which was causing more fear among the community, while they were getting no further forward with finding the murderer of June Cruickshank.

There was a bit of hope that they might have a lead when Chief Constable Matheson was contacted by his counterpart in Paisley, which is about 160 miles or 257 kilometres south west of Aberdeen, who thought that he might have found a link between June’s murder and a murder of a six-year-old boy in a park in Paisley in August 1960. Glasgow’s top detective, Detective Inspector Tom Goodall, and Detective Fred Pender from CID in Paisley, reviewed the two cases and visited the murder scenes, however, while they determined there were similarities, nothing else came of this, as, according to the Blood and Granite book, they came to Aberdeen for one night and then left and that was the end of that. And that’s as far as the murder investigation would get, until nearly three years later when the case was finally blown wide open.

George Forbes was a seven year old boy who lived with his parents Mary and John, both in their 40s, and his older siblings; Billy who was 14, Helen who was 12, and Kenneth who was ten, in a tenement block on the corner of Justice Street and Commerce Street in Aberdeen, which was located about a nine minute drive south east of June’s family home. George loved nothing more than going in search of pigeons. He loved pigeons, and could regularly be found down at the docks feeding the birds. At 7pm on Sunday the 7th of July 1963 George said bye to his mum and dad, via sign language as they were both deaf, saying that he wouldn’t be long, before turning on his heels and running out to play, his parents no doubt assuming that he was off to feed the pigeons. George’s tenement block was actually really close to the cemetery where June’s funeral had taken place, being a mere three minute drive away, and a seven minute drive away from June’s home. As it was the school holidays, George would have known that he was allowed out a bit later, but as darkness fell, the hours passed and still there was no sign of George, fearing the worst, George’s mum and dad reported him missing and a massive search took place, which covered a one mile or 1.6 kilometre radius from George’s home. George’s dad and his brothers and sisters were also out searching daily. With George’s habit of going in search of pigeons being known and reported to the police, derelict buildings and sheds were checked, as well as the harbour where George liked to feed the birds. Even business owners around the harbour area, who had closed down for the holidays, were asked to open their premises up to check if George had perhaps made his way inside and was injured. Members of the public were approached and asked if they had seen George, who, according to the Bloods and Granite book, had been wearing a blue fleck v-neck pullover, a grey shirt, light khaki shorts and black gym shoes. Rennie and Colonel,  two sniffer dogs, were even brought into help with the search, and door-to-door inquiries were carried out, but George was not found. He had vanished.  However, worryingly, and even more so with George having not been found with the extensive searches, the police had two witnesses come forward saying that they had seen George at the harbour messing about on the rocks. So they were leaning towards the fact that maybe he had fallen in and drowned, especially as none of the searches had turned up anything. The searches however went on and George’s mum was reported to be still holding out hope that George would return, although within a couple of days the newspapers were reporting on another story, appearing to have already come to their own conclusion about what had happened to George. A press conference finally took place outside the Forbes’ family home, where detectives stated that nothing had been turned up by the thorough and extensive searches and that they were working on the basis that George Forbes had likely, sadly, fallen into the sea and drowned. However, George’s body was closer than anyone could have imagined.

The months would have gone past slowly and agonisingly for the Forbes family, just like the Cruickshank family before them, with no resolution to what had happened to their child. Until that is on Tuesday the 19th of November 1963, just over four months since George had gone missing and just over two years and 10 months since June Cruickshank had been brutally murdered, when the front page of the Press and Journal newspaper announced that a man had been charged with June’s murder. Apparently, a witness had come forward but for something completely different.

So, a couple of seven year old boys had been in a greenhouse or an allotment that had belonged to a man they knew as Jimmy. While they were in the greenhouse, Jimmy had put a rope around one of the boy’s neck, put the other end over a hook and pulled, leaving a red welt on the boy’s neck. The boy’s friend had got such a fright that he’d legged it out of the greenhouse, but thankfully the boy that had the rope around his neck was freed. Anyway, when he got home his dad saw the red mark around his neck and asked him what had happened. The boy told his dad the tale and his dad quickly took his son to the police station to make a statement. The friend of the young boy who had escaped was also questioned and he corroborated his statement. When the boys were being questioned about whether they had seen any other boys in this man’s allotment greenhouse, one of the boys mentioned George Forbes. The police found out that the greenhouse belonged to 39 year old James John Oliphant and so they brought him in for questioning about putting the rope around the boy’s neck in his greenhouse. But when the police turned the interview to George Forbes’ disappearance and asked Oliphant if he knew anything about this, they were shocked by what they heard next. According to the Blood and Granite book Oliphant said in reply to this question “Will it make it any easier on me if I tell you? I’ll take you to where that loon Forbes is. He’s down at my greenhouse. He started screaming and I cut his throat with a knife.” So, just to let you know that a loon is what Aberdonians call a boy. So, with the detective still in shock about what Oliphant had just confessed, a young Police Constable remembered the murder of June Cruickshank, which prompted the officers to ask Oliphant if he had anything to do with her murder. And according to the Press and Journal newspaper, Oliphant replied “Aye, it was me. I gave her a shilling. I took her round the back of the petrol station. Later she screamed. I ken I’ll get hung for this. I’m finished”, and apparently then he started to cry. So, for everybody outside of Scotland, ken means know. So, he knows he’ll get hung. He kens he’ll get hung. However, where had this man come from suddenly, having not come up in June’s murder investigation at all? How had he been missed? Well, because the police thought that June’s killer had been known to her and so restricted the search areas to a one mile or 1.6 kilometre radius, but Oliphant actually lived in Market Street, which was about 2.9 miles or 4.6 kilometres away from June’s family home in Printfield Walk. The murder of June Cruickshank and the disappearance of George Forbes had never been put together, because it was assumed that George had drowned.

On Saturday the 16th of November, four months after George went missing, police descended on Oliphant’s greenhouse on the allotment and began digging. Four hours later, a bundle wrapped in tarpaulin was carried from the greenhouse to a waiting van, to be taken to the morgue for a postmortem to be carried out. Which showed that George’s throat had been cut in almost exactly the same way to June’s. Both June and George’s parents were informed about the confession to their children’s murder, and George’s parents were asked to attend the police station to identify the clothes found with the remains in the greenhouse. They were identified as being George’s clothes. All the hope the couple had kept hold off for the past four months would have evaporated, and they would have been absolutely devastated.  And the devastation continued, as you will never guess where Oliphant’s allotment and greenhouse was located. Right behind the Forbes’ tenement  building. In fact their kitchen window looked right onto the allotment and greenhouse where their son had been buried. And, sadly, they would have to endure that until they could be moved to another address, which wasn’t forthcoming. June’s parents were equally as distressed by the news. Obviously they welcomed their daughter’s killer being found, but June’s dad, David, was now suffering with stress and was very unwell. It was unimaginable pain and grief that the families of June and George were going through.

James John Oliphant, who was 39, was formally charged with the murder of June Cruickshank and George Forbes, as well as three offences of indecency and one of assault, all directed towards young children. He was remanded in custody so further investigations could be carried out, which would be overseen by Chief Constable William Smith, who had taken over from Chief Constable Alexander Matheson who had headed the June Cruickshank murder inquiry, as sadly Chief Constable Alexander Matheson had died at the age of 55, never having seen June’s killer be brought to justice.

So the question was, what was Oliphant doing hanging about the shop where June had been? Apparently he was there for work. He worked for Aberdeen sewage department. He was known to his colleagues as Big Jim and they had been working near where June lived at the time of her murder. So just wrong place wrong time. June should have been perfectly safe walking to her local shop just a few hundred yards from her home. Oliphant appeared at a brief hearing on Monday 3rd of February 1964, where the attendees at the hearing were told of what led to Oliphant’s confession of murdering both June and George, the story about the shilling and his admittance to giving June this, as well as detailing the subsequent manhunt for June’s killer and the search for missing George. To me it’s crazy that nobody suspected Oliphant at all, not his work mates, his neighbours or the police. The police never had him as a suspect because of the distance he lived away from June’s home, and because the murder of June and the disappearance of George were not linked there would be no reason to have extended the search radius. As this was a massive manhunt, it’s possible that police did question some people working in the area, however, according to the Blood and Granite book, Oliphant was not one of them as he was ruled out because of where he lived. Helpfully though the police did question all of its colleagues after he confessed, where they said, according to the Blood and Granite book, that he had behaved perfectly normal at the time of June’s murder. Also at this hearing Oliphant, with absolutely no emotion, pleaded guilty to the culpable homicides of June and George. Now he had initially been charged with murder, however, after psychiatric review, he was deemed to have diminished responsibility, with the reason being rooted in his childhood. Oliphant was the eldest of eight siblings. He didn’t know his biological dad but he had a stepdad, and this is where things get even more twisted. Oliphant’s stepfather forced the young Oliphant into a sexual relationship with him. He would frequently tie up, gag and beat young Oliphant with a stick, all so his stepdad could satisfy some sick, twisted sexual desire. Psychiatrist, Dr Henderson, went on to say in his report that this abuse that young Oliphant suffered had driven him to try and force young children to suffer as he had. Oliphant had eventually run away from home and found work in a farm, where he slaughtered pigs by cutting their throats. He never really had any friends and was pretty much a loner, apparently wandering about at nights on his own. Dr Henderson also said that at no point did he ever show any remorse for what he had done to his victims or their families. A Doctor Andrew Wiley, who also carried out a review of Oliphant, said that he was of low intelligence and had been certified as mentally defective in 1942. When Dr Wiley was asked in his professional opinion if Oliphant were to be released into society would he likely commit offenses again he replied “I am off the opinion that he would be liable to commit such offenses again.” Other medical professionals also backed this statement up. After listening to all the reports, Lord Strachan, who was residing over the hearing, was ready to give his verdict. James John Oliphant, now 40, would be sent to the state hospital at Carstairs without limit of time. It was confirmed by the Scottish Daily Express Newspaper and reporter Bill Beatty that without limit of time meant a life sentence when talking about a mental health hospital. The only way Oliphant could go free is if the Scottish Secretary agreed to this, and there would have to be pretty solid grounds for this decision to ever be made. As it turned out, Oliphant died in the state hospital at Carstairs in February 1988, 24 years after his sentence.

The Cruickshank and the Forbes families would never come to terms with what had happened to their children, wee June and George, and Oliphant’s sentence would not have given them much comfort, but they forever would have a connection and an understanding. After Oliphant had been convicted, the two families came together at the Forbes’ flat, where they had a cup of tea and shared their heartache. Over time the allotment, the Forbes’ tenement block and the corner shop where the terrible tragedy all began, were all knocked down and rebuilt on, but for the two families at the centre of the tragedy rebuilding their lives would not be that easy.

All the background information about Oliphant came from the book Blood and Granite by Norman Adams. I know I’ve mentioned this book a few times but it really does warrant it I think. I’ve read all the stories in this book about murders from Aberdeen and it’s full of information and it’s really well written, so I think it deserves to be mentioned a few times.


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Scottish Murders is a production of Cluarantonn.

Scottish Murders is a production of Cluarantonn

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