The World’s End Murders and the Amazing Forensic Team who Never Gave up
Thirty-seven years of investigating, two trials and a change in law final convicted Angus Sinclair.
On the night of 15th October 1977, Christine Eadie and Helen Scott were out with friends. Like any seventeen-year-olds of the 70s, they were dressed up to appear older so they could drink alcohol. Unfortunately, the two friends they were with left for another party leaving two girls in the Worlds End pub with a couple of strangers. The pub was a popular drinking establishment located on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.
At the end of the night, approximately 2230, the girls left together to go home. However, they never made it home; family thinking they were staying at each others house, were not overly worried until they failed to return home the following morning. When both families realised the girls were missing, they called the police. However, they immediately started to panic when they heard two bodies had been found.
Two bodies are found.
It didn’t take long to locate Eadie. A body had been called in that morning naked and dumped on Gosford Bay, East Lothian. Shortly after this, a second body was found in a cornfield in Coates Farm, six miles away; it was also naked. Both girls had been beaten, tied up, raped and strangled with their clothing. No attempt had been made to conceal their bodies. Instead, the killer had dumped them like trash.
The Lothian and Border police started an investigation. They compiled a list of over five hundred suspects and took thousands of statements. Forensics stated that the knots on the restraints were from two different perpetrators. This fitted with the theory police had about the two men last seen drinking with the girls. Unfortunately, despite widespread media attention, they failed to locate the suspects, and authorities scaled back the investigation in 1978. That would have been the end of the case if not for the work of the forensic team, who diligently preserved the samples in case someone needed them later.
Cold case review
In 1997, the police, during a cold case review, instructed forensics to re-examine the evidence. There had been considerable advancements in DNA profiling, and it was hoped these could move the case forward. The result was positive, as they isolated one DNA profile on both girls. But, unfortunately, the DNA failed to match any of the previous suspects. So the police enlisted the help of the Forensic Science Service to search profiles countrywide to obtain a match.
It was a success, and the match came back to Angus Robertson Sinclair. Sinclair was already serving a life sentence for the rape and indecent assault of eleven girls. He had also been living in Edinburgh at the time of the murders. On 31st March 2005, he was formally charged with the murder and rape of the two girls. The second person in the abduction was named as Gordon Hamilton. Hamilton was Sinclair’s brother in law who died in 1996 from a heart attack during an operation to fit a pacemaker.
Angus Sinclair on trial
The trial commenced on 27th August 2007 in Edinburgh. The prosecution decided to not focus on the DNA evidence, which was still considered unreliable. Instead, they focused on Sinclair’s history and last crimes to establish a pattern of behaviour. Sinclair had been charged in 1961 at the age of 16 with culpable homicide of an eight-year-old. He had sexually assaulted and strangled her in the family home. He had also been charged in 2001 with the murder of Mary Gallagher in Glasgow.
The lack of DNA evidence, though, provided Sinclair with the chance he needed. At the start of the trial, he lodged two defence statements. The first was that sex had been consensual and the second that Hamilton was responsible for the murders. Without the forensic evidence from the knot, the prosecution could not prove Sinclair had been involved in the violence; all the evidence was circumstantial. On 19th September 2007, following legal arguments from both sides, Judge Lord Clarke upheld the defence argument. There was no case to argue he formally acquitted Sinclair. Sinclair would escape justice under the current double jeopardy law, where a person can not be tried twice for the same crime.
Looking like the murders would forever remain unsolved, a change in the law in 2011 gave the families the closure they deserved.
A change of law
In 2011, Scottish Parliament passed the Double Jeopardy Act; the act made various provisions for when a person can be tried twice for the same crime. It stated there needed to be new evidence, not just evidence previously not presented. For the third time, the police turned to forensics, who went to work on the evidence. They discovered more DNA that tied Sinclair to both murders. They also proved that Scott had made the walk to her death.
Justice at last
On 13th October 2014, Sinclair was found guilty of the murders, thirty-seven years after the friends had lost their lives. He was sentenced to a minimum of thirty-seven years, one for each year the crime had been unsolved. The sentence was the longest ever given by a Scottish court.
Whatever dreams they had, they turned into nightmares shortly after they left the World’s End Pub, the name of which has become synonymous with these notorious murders. — Lord Matthews
Sinclair died on 13th March 2019 of multiple strokes; he was seventy-three.
There were another four women murdered between 1977 and 1978 who were connected to Sinclair. Police could not charge him; the forensic team in Glasgow had not preserved the DNA evidence well enough. The success of the World’s End murders is a testament to the forensic experts who preserved evidence for almost forty years and never gave up hope that science would help them find a killer.