HUNT FOR A KILLER
How advances in DNA testing finally snared evil Sinclair
THE two girls’ bodies were discarded with such casual contempt that, surely, they must have held an abundance of clues.
These were not so much careful, calculating killers as shameless savages who exhibited the extent of their depravity in the state in which they left their victims.
Christine Eadie was found on her back, her wrists bound with one leg of her tights. The other leg had been used to strangle her. Her pants were stuffed into her mouth and her bra was around her head, holding the gag in place. She had been beaten, bitten and raped.
Helen Scott was found hours later, face down, naked below the waist, her coat belt binding her hands and Christine’s belt around her neck. There was a stamp mark on the side of her head with a tread pattern that matched a footprint at the site where Christine was found. She had been raped, too, and may well have watched her friend die before the killers turned on her.
These were brazen, sexually motivated murders which cried out for justice. And yet, for almost 40 years, none came.
In the 1970s, forensic science was a much blunter instrument in crime detection than it is today. DNA profiling would not be known for a decade or more. But there was still plenty to be gleaned from old-fashioned
‘Cruel luck hampered the investigation’
police work. Eyewitness accounts, for one. The World’s End pub had been packed when Christine and Helen arrived there with their friends Toni Wale and Jacqueline Inglis shortly before 10pm on October 15, 1977. Someone inside must have seen the two girls after Toni and Jacqueline last did.
It turned out quite a few had. But, even in those early days of the murder inquiry, a streak of cruel luck was hampering it. Virtual doppelgangers for Christine and Helen had been in the pub just before they arrived. Many of those who gave information had seen the ‘wrong’ girls.
Those who really had seen Christine and Helen told of two men who had been in their company. The stockier one wore trousers with distinctive patches at each pocket. His friend had a thick, dark moustache.
Policeman John Rafferty came closest to witnessing the tragedy unfold. As the pub closed, the 50-year-old officer had seen Christine fall and had helped her to her feet. He then became aware of a man staring at him close to the door of the pub. He stepped forward and offered the girls a lift to ‘ wherever they wanted to go’, recalled Mr Rafferty.
The policeman next saw the girls heading down St Mary Street with the same man and another. For years, speculation would run riot about the identity of these two men. Were they the killers? The truth would finally come from the unlikeliest of sources – Sinclair himself, when he made the unwise choice to take the stand and confirmed that he and his brother-in-law Gordon Hamilton had spirited the girls away that night.
Back in 1977, detectives spent a great deal of time trying to track those men down. The manpower Lothian and Borders Police threw into the murder hunt was unprecedented. At its height, 60 officers were working full-time on the case. They chased up numerous leads, many of which turned out to be entirely false. One witness in the pub thought one of the two men seen with the girls mentioned an Army background. And one of them had an unfashionably short haircut. As a result, every squaddie in Scotland was spoken to.
Underworld figures, such as Glasgow crime boss Arthur Thompson and his son Arthur Jnr were also interviewed – but that was only because their enemies had passed false information to the police just to needle the Thompsons.
There was precious little in the way of clues which might have pointed Sinclair’s way. But one was the sighting of a van outside the World’s End pub, and a similar one parked outside a phone box in the East Lothian village of Drem, three miles from where Helen’s body was found in a field near Haddington.
Sinclair had a Toyota Hiace camper van. Could this have been the vehicle which was seen?
Then there were the knots in the ligatures. Those binding Christine were reef knots – indicative of a killer with knowledge of knot-tying. As it happened, Sinclair had made fishing nets during his first spell in prison. A much more rudimentary granny knot had been used to bind Helen, which suggested two men were involved.
There were other reasons to suspect two killers. Two would be able to control a couple of teenagers, possibly fighting for their lives, much more easily than one.
By spring 1978, the investigation was running out of steam. Mountains of files, statements, tip- offs and eye-witness accounts seemed to point nowhere in particular.
Effectively, the case remained in cold storage for a decade. Significantly, however, all the girls’ clothes were scrupulously preserved.
This, police say today, was testament to the determination of everyone involved with the case to ensure whoever was responsible for such a horrifying crime would be caught.
It was as if they somehow knew that, one day, science would have much more to say about the eviden- tial material stored in the police archives.
In 1988 a prisoner at Edinburgh’s Saughton jail claimed he had heard two inmates talking about the murders in a way that suggested inside knowledge. Archy Motion and Colin Coyne were each interviewed but turned out to have alibis for the time of the murders.
The episode did prompt a fresh look at the case, however, and a very basic DNA profile from a semen stain on Helen’s coat was extracted. But no match was found.
By 1996 huge advances in DNA profiling allowed a 12-band profile to be extracted from the same stain and for this to be checked against the national DNA database set up the previous year. But again there were no matches.
Police therefore tried a different approach. They began a process of ‘intelligence-led DNA swabbing’ involving hundreds of potential suspects who were not on the database. Those approached for swabs were promised their DNA profiles would be checked for this case only and then destroyed. In order to rule themselves out, the vast majority were happy to comply.
It was a massive exercise which took several years but, ultimately came to nought because the DNA profile police held belonged to a man who was not on the database. Gordon Hamilton had died in 1996 and it was simply bad luck they had
‘At long last the police had a name’
not managed to extract Sinclair’s DNA.
But their l uck was about to change. In 2000, during another cold case review, forensic scientist Lester Knibb untied the knots on the tights used to strangle the girls.
From the material which had been inside the knots, a ‘ soup’ of DNA belonging to more than one person was recovered. Nothing of use could
be extracted from it at the time but this area of science was moving very quickly. In time, DNA profiles corresponding with both girls and both killers would be found in the knots.
In the meantime, a new DNA process involving the comparison of Y chromosomes, which are passed down the male line, was coming on-stream. A previously untouched section of staining on Helen’s coat yielded two DNA profiles, a dominant one and an underlying one.
A police source said: ‘The dominant one gave sufficient material to do a low copy profile and we got a completely different DNA profile coming up. We ran it on the DNA database and it came back as Angus Robertson Sinclair. I knew of him. He was in jail for murder.’
At long last, police had a name. Not only did his DNA profile fit, his criminal profile fitted too. Any officer examining his record would have had no difficulty in believing the Glasgow- born monster was capable of committing the World’s End murders.
But whose was the mystery DNA profile? A thorough trawl of Sinclair’s past associates threw up the answer. Hamilton had entered Sinclair’s orbit when he came to stay with his sister Sarah Hamilton in Glasgow. Sinclair, a painter and decorator, was her husband.
In the summer of 1977 the two men planned a series of weekend trips in Sinclair’s van. They were supposedly fishing trips, but there was no evidence of fish having been caught when they returned home.
What were they really doing on these trips? Hamilton, dead for ten years, was in no position to tell detectives. And Sinclair, in prison since 1982, was not of a mind to do so.
Ultimately, a search of a flat in Glasgow’s Dennistoun would provide the DNA match that proved Hamilton was Sinclair’s accomplice. Hamilton had erected ceiling coving when he lived in the flat and had left his DNA on it. Thirty years after the atrocity, detectives finally knew who was responsible for it. The answer was a serial killer and his loner, misfit brother-in-law.
Nothing that happened in the subsequent trial of Sinclair in 2007 altered the police’s view of who was behind the murders.
Instead, when the case collapsed following a motion of no case to answer from Sinclair’s counsel Edgar Prais, QC, police voiced astonishment.
Sinclair had lodged a special defence of incrimination, blaming his dead brother-in-law for the murders. But seven years later, there was no mistake.
Angus Sinclair, a man without compassion or remorse, was the serial killer responsible for two of Scotland’s most chilling murders. It had taken much too long to nail him.
Carefree teenagers: Helen Scott, left, and Christine Eadie, right, pictured with their friend Jackie Thomson
Murder hunt: Police searching near the spot where Christine’s body was found
Brother-in-law: Gordon Hamilton
Vital clues: Sinclair’s Toyota Hiace camper van, above and right
Questioning: Angus Sinclair being interviewed by police