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

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