by Frederic Lindsay

World’s End Murders

October 15, 2009 | by Frederic Lindsay

IN OCTOBER 1977, two girls were abducted and murdered. They had vanished after an evening in The World’s End, a tourist pub on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. The next day the violated bodies of the girls were found, Christine Eadie on a beach in East Lothian and her friend Helen Scott on farmland a few miles away. Ten years after their deaths, I attended a lecture given by Tom Wood, then Assistant Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders Police. The notion that the case would ever be regarded as closed was so emphatically rejected, his words have stayed with me, as did his humanity and his respect when speaking about the murdered girls.

In The World’s End Murders Woods tells the story of how forensic science and dedicated police work finally identified the two men responsible for the murders and brought the surviving suspect, Angus Robertson Sinclair, to court. Sinclair was born at the end of the Second World War in Maryhill, a tough working class district of Glasgow. His father, who suffered from leukemia, died when the boy was only four and, though there is no surviving record, it seems that the upset made his behaviour sufficiently disturbed to justify his being taken into care. Having said that, when he first appeared in court at fourteen years of age it was for small-time thieving, and even when the following year he was found guilty of sexual assault on a seven-year-old girl it was dealt with by putting him on probation. Six months later, he was in court again. This time the charge was murder. For strangling and raping seven-year-old Catherine Reehill he was given a ten year prison sentence.

Described by the judge as “callous, cunning and wicked”, the chances of Sinclair offending again were obviously high, yet in the way of the system he was paroled in the mid-sixties. After that, however, he gave every indication of having reformed. He’d learned painting and decorating before he left prison as a preparation for returning to the outside world. The Edin-burgh firm that trained him took Sinclair on full-time and found him a capable and conscientious workman. He married a student nurse and they had a son. This interlude of seeming normality ended when he was arrested in 1982. At the High Court in Edinburgh, he was found guilty of eleven charges involving eleven girls, ranging in age from six to fourteen. Three of the children, aged eight, ten and fourteen had been raped. This time he was given a life sentence and the recommendation that he should serve at least fifteen years was accompanied by the strongly expressed opinion of the judge that in Sinclair’s case life should mean life.

By 1997, Sinclair had served his fifteen years, most of it in Peterhead Prison, and was able once again to seek parole. Given the nature of his crimes and that he had never shown any sign of remorse, it should come as no surprise that his application for parole was refused in 1999. He was free, of course, to apply again and once more in his favour there were a number of excellent reports on his conduct in prison. He was a model prisoner, who ran the kitchen and was in charge of ordering supplies. Hard working and conscientious, he was held in esteem by prison staff. Given another year or two of exemplary conduct, there had to be at least a chance that a second or later appeal might be successful. An unexpected development meant that the possibility was never put to the test. It was also a development which would lead at last to the solution to the World’s End murders.

In the spring of 2000, officers of the Glasgow police received plausible information naming a man in connection with the strangling and rape of diminutive seventeen-year-old Mary Gallagher in 1978. In the event the suspect was innocent, but as part of the renewed enquiry samples from the body were sent for DNA testing. In the preceding decade this scientific technique had been refined and it now provided a perfect match with someone already on the national database. His past had begun to catch up with Angus Robertson Sinclair. At the subsequent trial, Lord Carloway, imposing sentence for what he described as a “callous, brutal and depraved act”, decreed that Sinclair should stay in jail for the rest of his natural life.

Contemporary newspapers began to speculate that Sinclair might also be responsible for the murders of Anna Kenny, Matilda McCauley and Agnes Cooney in Glasgow in 1977. The possibility that the five deaths might be linked had in fact been considered as early as 1980 at an inter-force summit conference of senior officers. No record of the meeting survives, but clearly a decision was taken to go on dealing with the cases in isolation. On this, Tom Wood offers an intriguing suggestion about another notorious case. Bible John was a nickname coined by papers to help sell newspapers. The nickname suggests one killer was responsible for the death of the three young women who died after a night out at Glasgow’s Barrowland Ballroom in the 1960s. The nickname possibly misled officers into believing one killer was responsible for the three murders; it’s possible they were committed by different individuals.

Whatever the truth about Bible John may be, for police in Edinburgh, Sinclair seemed to fit the profile of a serial killer after the Mary Gallagher conviction. Confirmation of this was sought from a renewed examination of DNA evidence; the clarity of the account of the process and the scientific issues involved is one of the many merits of Wood and Johnston’s book. At an earlier stage, a stain on the dress worn by Helen Scott had yielded a full DNA profile; but a profile without a match gives police no real clue and for this profile no match was to be found on the national database. Whoever the man was he had no criminal conviction. Now, however, at the opening of the new century, a fresh examination discovered that the original genetic material in the sample had been masking a second and much smaller trace of semen. The DNA profile derived from this found a match when it was submitted to the national databank. The second man was Angus Sinclair.

This was the major breakthrough, but there was still work to be done. Police now believed that the three girls murdered in Glasgow were also victims of Sinclair. For this theory, though, there was no easy confirmation. No physical evidence survived from these cases, which date from a period thirty years prior to the use of genetic fingerprints in cracking police investigations. It makes the care and professionalism of the Edinburgh forensic scientists who preserved and stored the evidence from the World’s End killings all the more remarkable.

Given this situation, Operation Trinity, the inter-force team under Tom Wood as Officer in Overall Command, set themselves the task of compiling a detailed account of all the women murdered between 1968 and 2003. Methods of killing, disposal sites, times – each circumstance was recorded in a uniform format which allowed for comparison with every other case. The resulting mass of evidence though circumstantial seemed to the police to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the World’s End murders and the three deaths in Glasgow from the Seventies were linked.

At the same time, the search for the second man led the police to take a close look at all those who had known Angus Sin-clair. This included, of course, Sinclair’s wife Sadie (nèe Hamilton), and by extension her large family of brothers and sisters. It would hardly be an exaggeration to call the Hamiltons something of a nightmare. Children of a brutal father, some family members suffered from alcoholism, and many had a criminal record. By the time police came to interview those who were still alive, the task was complicated by the fact some of Sadie’s relatives suffered from mental illness while others had memory gaps caused by brain damage from alcohol abuse. It is a cruel irony that Sadie Hamilton who alone among them had the strength of character to make a life and career for herself had the misfortune as a teenager to meet and marry Angus Sinclair.

Attention at first was focussed on the youngest of the Hamilton brothers. His brother-in-law had found him a job with the firm for which he worked. Very openly, he recalled that time for the police, describing how having worked together as decorators on a property, they would on occasion go back and rob it. A feature of these robberies was Sinclair’s propensity for violence. A favourite trick of his was to launch his attack on victims without warning by lashing out at them with a hammer. When this brother’s DNA was tested, however, it proved he had no connection to the murders.

Another brother Gordon then moved to the centre of the picture. He wasn’t thought to be close to Sinclair, but back in 1977 the two men had gone off in Sinclair’s white transit van on what was purported to be fishing trips. Hamilton died in 1996, and seemed at first to have left not a physical trace behind. By a remarkable effort of detection, finally one was found and the DNA profile obtained from it proved to be a match for that produced by the stain on Helen Scott’s coat. At last it was time to confront Sinclair with the case against him.

The chapter in which Sinclair’s interviews are described gives a vivid impression of the difficulties of getting the truth out of a career criminal who practises the defence of silence. Almost sixty, already condemned to life imprisonment, it would have cost him nothing to make a confession which would have offered closure to the surviving family of Helen Scott and Christine Eadie. This was a man, however, who had used extreme violence against men, and moved from the rape and killing of children to the rape and killing of women and back again. For the undersized Sinclair it may always have been more about power than sex.

Almost thirty years after the World’s End murders, Sinclair was brought to court. The trial which followed brought no credit on the prosecution and ended when the judge ruled there was no case to answer. It was a poor return for the efforts of detectives and forensic scientists, none of whom was in any doubt as to Sinclair’s guilt. Despite everything, all felt that the effort put in was worthwhile. As one detective said after the trial, “We owed it to the girls and their families”. In writing this book, Tom Wood and David Johnston have honoured all those who discharged that debt. Any proceeds due him from it are to be donated to Victim Support Scotland.


The World’s End Murders – A Thirty-Year Quest For Justice
Tom Wood and David Johnston
Birlinn, £9.99
pp213 ISBN1841587494

From this Issue

Bohemian Rhapsody

by Lesley McDowell

World’s End Murders

by Frederic Lindsay

Blog / Discussion

x
2
Posts Remaining