14-year-old Caroline Glachan was found dead on the banks of the River Leven on 25 August 1996, about a mile from her Renton home – She had been murdered
Despite numerous appeals detectives have never found Caroline’s killer.
She was last seen as she walked to a friend’s house from shops on the Ladyton estate at Renton after spending the evening with friends.
Police are still trying to trace a man in a hooded top who was seen standing around 30 yards from Caroline as she walked along Dillichip Loan at about 12.15am on the day of her murder. Someone fitting his description was spotted about half an hour later running down the main street of Alexandria with another man and both have yet to be traced
Caroline’s killer was covered in blood. Do you know who it is? – 2001
BY DAY it’s a pretty path, overhung by trees with the River Leven flowing along beside.
By night, it’s dark, lonely and daunting. Even the bravest of souls would think twice about taking it.
But pretty Caroline Glachan had known this shortcut all her life. She could see it from the window of her home.
On the night of August 25, 1996, she tossed aside her friend’s worries with all the confidence of a 14- year-old, and at 11.30pm took the path that was to lead to her death.
At some point along it she was killed in a frenzied attack, her head smashed open. She was then dumped face down in the river.
Police described the violence done to her as “brutal” and the callousness of her killer became all too apparent when it was revealed that she was still alive when she was put in the water.
She died from drowning.
Today, Caroline’s killer still roams free. Many believe that he – or she – still lives and socialises in the small tight- knit community of Alexandria in Dunbartonshire.
On the night of Caroline’s death, her killer had to be covered in blood. The violence done to Caroline was too great for the attacker or his clothes to be untouched.
And yet, despite an appeal on TV programme Crimewatch, vital pieces of the jigsaw are missing. Det Insp Allan Kirk, who now leads the murder hunt, said: “Someone somewhere has information about this killing that they have not come forward with.
“Caroline’s killer had to be covered in blood and someone must have seen their clothes.
“We know that someone has to be living with that secret and they should come forward and speak to us.”
Earlier, on that tragic Saturday evening, Caroline had been out with her best friend, Joanne.
The pair had been larking around in the shopping precinct of Bonhill’s Ladyton estate.
Caroline told Joanne she was going off to meet another friend in Renton and she intended walking along the river path to get there.
Joanne pleaded with her friend not to go. She knew what that path was like at night and described it as a “nightmare walk”.
But Caroline would not be swayed. It was the last time Joanne saw her.
As she walked along, her killer or killers pounced. They gave her no quarter and left her to die, dumped in reeds at the edge of the river.
Her mum, Margaret Glachan, 43, has made numerous appeals.
She lives every day not just with the pain of her daughter’s vicious death but with the knowledge that she may even know Caroline’s killer.
As she walks down the street in Bonhill, he may be the man she has just said `hello’ to or the girl she has nodded to in passing.
MARGARET said: “I am convinced that Caroline must have known the person who murdered her.
“And if she knew her killer, the chances are that I did too.
“Caroline was a chatterbox. She couldn’t help talking about the people she knew.
“Even if I didn’t know the person by appearance, I would recognise his name.
“People from here don’t tend to drift away. I am sure he is almost certainly still living around here.”
Caroline was an only child, a precious baby born to Margaret after four miscarriages. She was tiny, and at only a few weeks old, fought for her life.
After Margaret and her husband, ex-soldier William divorced, Caroline and her mum became even closer. They were best friends.
The day police told Margaret that her daughter’s body had been found was her 40th birthday.
She has never lost a strange feeling in her chest, the pain that gripped her heart as she watched a policeman and woman approach her home to report the discovery of her daughter’s body. Margaret has since remarried. But she said: “I can’t rest. No one has been brought to justice for what happened to Caroline so I can’t go to pieces – and I can’t move on.”
Margaret waited six months to bury her beloved daughter while detectives held out for a breakthrough in their investigation.
She has moved house, out of sight of the spot where Caroline’s body was found, but is still haunted by the question of why and who murdered her daughter.
Mr Kirk said: “Nothing can lessen the severity of this crime or the heartache it has caused.
“But these things can be eased by knowing that the killer has been brought to justice and that there are some answers for what happened to Caroline.
“We would urge anyone with any information to come forward. Our inquiry is still very active .”
Detectives still want to speak to a sharp-featured man aged between 20 and 25 who was wearing a green hooded jacket and was in the area on the night.
He might know something that would help.
They would also like to interview someone on a scrambler motorbike with yellow mudflaps and two young men seen running at Kippen Dairy.
A swarthy man with a moustache and cap and a dog called Bruno or Buttons is also on their list.
Each of these people might have the vital piece of information that will at last give Margaret Glachan some peace.
WHO was the sharp-featured man in the green-hooded jacket walking along the river bank?
WHY has he not come forward?
WHO was the rider on the scramble bike with the yellow mudflaps ?
Why were two men running as they passed Kippen Dairy ?
WHO was the swarthy- looking man out walking his dog along the path?
Mothers story: From 2002: Caroline Glachan was beaten to death at 14. Five years on, her mother is still haunted by the fear that the killer is close by
I bought an underwear set and socks because I just wanted her to look pretty. She would never forgive me if she went to meet her maker without any underwear. Caroline was very much a prude. She wouldn’t let me see her naked. And she hated to wear socks.
In the neat living room of Margaret Glachan’s house in Alexandria, a photograph of her daughter Caroline stands upright on a sideboard, her long brown hair cascading across the collar of her school uniform. Other family snapshots are dotted at intervals around the room, reminding Margaret of precious stages of her daughter’s life. ”People say time heals,” she says, her head shaking in disagreement, ”but it hasn’t happened that way. I can’t see me feeling better about what happened until someone is caught for killing her.” She stops for a minute. ”If I could swap my life for hers, and give her all the things that she should have had, then I would.”
Margaret attempts to smile, not with her mouth, but with her eyes and I am struck by the sadness that consumes her. She can barely come to terms with what happened to her daughter just over five years ago. She knows, of course, the details and the timetable police have for Caroline’s final movements, but she simply cannot understand why it happened.
”That’s the burning question. And who? I cannot see myself living the rest of my life not knowing who killed her. Whoever did it had to have a reason, although it will never justify it. There was no sexual motive. She wasn’t robbed. But I need to know why. I’m also realistic. If they’re caught they will not get the sentence that I would like, but at least I’ll know they’re not walking about. And they’re not watching me trying to live my life and they’re not having their happy birthdays, and Christmases when I’m not. There will be justice and there will be an answer. Maybe then I will have a little closure, some kind of end.”
The Leven, the second fastest flowing river in Scotland, runs from Balloch to the Clyde Estuary at Dumbarton. It is also the feeding river for Loch Lomond, where it meets the salt water of the River Clyde, and is about eight miles long. Fishing for salmon and sea trout is available from either bank of the Leven, although work permits are required for the fishing season which usually lasts from February until October. Scots law dictates that there is no fishing allowed on a Sunday. At night, when most sea trout fishing takes place, the banks are lined with anglers.
At the Black Bridge, on the Renton side of the Leven, known as a haunt for drug addicts, fishing had stopped for weekend closing time at midnight on August 24, 1996, a Saturday. It was highly unlikely any anglers would have been in the vicinity of the river banks. For 14-year-old Caroline, from nearby Bonhill, their absence proved fatal. That night the youngster, a bubbly girl who seemed to have no real enemies, failed to return home after she had gone to the village to meet a new boyfriend. By the end of the night she would be dead.
The following morning her severely battered body was found by a drug addict, hidden in shrubbery beside the river, immediately behind Vale of Leven Academy and the neighbouring St Martin’s Primary School, just a mile from her home in nearby Bonhill’s Ladyton estate. Caroline was lying with her head in the water and her feet on the steep embankment. Wearing black denims, sweatshirt and training shoes, she had earlier refused the offer from a friend to walk her home. The police did not reveal how the teenager died, but confirmed it was a ‘violent attack”, although she had not been sexually assaulted. Given the severity of the attack the killer was almost certainly blood-stained.
More than five years later, the apparently motiveless murder has still not been solved and, although police took an open view of the murderer’s motive at the time, fears quickly emerged within the tight-knit community of Bonhill that either drug dealers or someone in the community was responsible for Caroline’s death.
Police inquiries revealed Caroline, a fourth-year pupil at Our Lady and St Patrick’s High School in Dumbarton, had dabbled in drugs in the weeks leading up to her death. Several months earlier she had also run away from home, but was traced safe and well after two nights when it was found she had been staying with friends. That disappearance, coupled with the fact that she often stayed out late at night, prevented the alarm being immediately raised when she failed to return home on the night she died.
”When I go to bed,” says Margaret, looking simply stranded, ”my mind wanders down roads that I don’t want to go down. Pain was not her strongest point. If she had a scratch she would need stitches. So I know, and I can imagine, what she would be like if she was beaten to death. The police never went into any real details, but I often wonder if she was crying for me at the time and I just can’t bear it.”
The night Caroline died was Margaret’s 40th birthday and she had been out celebrating with friends. When she arrived home Caroline’s friend Joanne was in her daughter’s room, along with two young boys. ”They were all lying on the bed. Nothing was going on, they had just fallen asleep. I realised that I hadn’t seen my Caroline so I woke Joanne up. She said she was out but she’d expected her back before now. Caroline was probably too afraid to come home because she would have known that I was back in the house. I fell asleep.
”I didn’t want to phone the police but as time went there was no phone call. I called my sister. Nothing, they hadn’t seen anything. This was Sunday afternoon now and I was getting a bit worried. I called her again. My sister’s always the first one to say ‘don’t worry’, but she said to me ‘yes, maybe you should call’. At this point I didn’t know, but a lassie had been found.
”I put the phone down and started to panic and began to feel a pain in my heart. I sat rocking. I phoned the police, gave a description and they said they would come out. Meanwhile, Joanne came back to the house and asked if Caroline was back yet. She blurted out that a lassie had been found and they think it’s Caroline. I told her I would know if anything had happened. The two boys were down the stairs and they asked me if I wanted them to go down the Renton to see if she was there. Yes, I said, and tell her to get her backside back up here.”
Caroline had left friends at the Ladyton shopping precinct around 11.30pm, an area yards from her home, saying she was going to Renton. She headed across the park and the last sighting was around 12.15am, when she walked from Main Street to Dillchip Loan. Her route would probably have taken her along the Leven towpath – now part of the cycle track from Glasgow to Balloch.
A taxi driver, who had known Caroline since she was a child, saw her and wondered what she was doing out so late by herself. There was someone behind her, although that person wasn’t necessarily the murderer. He could have been walking home. The police were never able to discover who he was. A witness heard screams around 12.15am or 12.30am.
The most troubling aspect of the case, says Margaret, her face virtually misshapen with grief, is that the killer is almost certainly someone from within her community. As a result, she is wary of even venturing out of her house because, when she does, she mentally attacks people. She talks of the isolation, blame, guilt, fear and the loss of trust. Everyone around her becomes a suspect, and her sense of helplessness simply increases. ”Because this (Bonhill and Renton) is a small place, I’m quite sure she knew him, so there’s a good chance that if she did, then I would as well and that’s very hard to accept. ”If I walk by someone I find myself thinking, ‘Was it them, do they know something?’ That’s an awful feeling to describe. My greatest anxiety is that I might actually nod and say hello to someone, and it might be them. I don’t want to think like this but I can’t help it.”
Two months after Caroline’s death police issued an artist’s impression of a hooded man, an identikit picture of a potential suspect: someone’s father or son, grandfather or brother. The drawing – morphed images of various features identifying the killer of a 14-year-old girl – quickly became a face recognisable to locals. ”It looks like so and so,” they would say, but no one was ever willing to point the finger. And now, until he is caught, everyone in the community remains under suspicion and fear.
Caroline Glachan was born on January 8, 1982, in Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry, Northern Ireland. Margaret’s ex-husband, William, was in the army and stationed near there (they split in 1996, before Caroline’s death). Their daughter was born a fighter, delivered by caesarean section, and weighing only 2lbs. The nurse shrouded her in a sheet.
Asked to identify Caroline’s body after the murder, Margaret stood behind a glass partition and looked at a television screen, which showed her daughter’s head shrouded in a white cloth. She looked like an angel, almost baby-like, fighting again for her life. The physical pain in Margaret’s chest was overwhelming; her heart was breaking. The pain sat in her gut like a broken bottle. ”I didn’t get a chance to touch her and I would have liked to. Murder is never a normal death and so from start to finish there was nothing I could relate to.”
What seems like a lifetime ago to her now, Margaret lost five babies during pregnancy before Caroline. There was one baby that went full term, but was stillborn. Like Caroline, he weighed just over 2lbs. With Margaret’s case history, and her age, there really is no chance of other children. Caroline was her last chance. She was born, and then lost weight, but fought and pulled through. ”Sometimes, I wonder why she fought at all. I’ll never understand it,” says Margaret. ”But that’s why I always felt she was God’s gift, because the night before the doctors came in, they told me they were going to do a section because they didn’t want to put a stress of labour on Caroline. I had nothing to lose so I told them to do what they had to do. I prayed like I’ve never prayed before, and I still pray now, that God would give me just one child and I would be happy. My prayer was answered the next day. She was a gift to me from God.”
Parents expect to be able to protect their children. They want to shield them from the darkness and the bogeymen and the long walks home at night. And when this is no longer possible their world falls apart. The horror of Caroline’s death resonates all the more because it corresponds to so much love.
Although Margaret would never pretend and say her daughter was a saint, they had a great relationship. Caroline would tell her mum anything, often things she really didn’t want to hear. And she was always asking questions. But that was Caroline. She was very open. Margaret was her mother, but also her friend. ”I was the only person in the whole world that would never lie to her. If she wanted to know anything about sex or relationships, or whatever, I would tell her. I would make her feel secure that way.”
Caroline rarely arrived home when she was supposed to and she went to places Margaret didn’t approve of. That’s what teenagers do. She loved Celine Dion and she was never too wild, nor too quiet. As a child she was strong-willed and stubborn; years later she smoked and thought her mum never knew. ”They forget that you were young once,” says Margaret, laughing. Caroline wanted to be a teacher. Whether or not she would have been a good one is another matter. She would have been one of those teachers, says Margaret, ”that all the weans hate”.
At 14 she always tried to be older, but still sucked her thumb when she was tired. As a baby, when Margaret fed her a bottle, she had to suck Caroline’s finger to relax her. And, as a teenager Caroline still slept with her mum. Margaret still had to suck her fingers to help her sleep. ”It was getting ridiculous. But she wouldn’t stop coming into my room. I would get annoyed by it. Caroline always told me she was lonely.” She stops and picks at the sleeve of her jumper. ”It’s funny how much I miss her sleeping beside me.”
Renton was created and subsequently developed as a direct result of the bleaching, dyeing and printing industry which started up in the middle of the eighteenth century. By 1786 Renton was laid out as a model village for workers. In the 1930s and following the war housing was built in four areas around the village. The removal of much of the previous 200 years of architecture, planning, sense of place and civic pride got underway in 1959 when the Dumbarton County Council Plan proposed demolition of the majority of the sandstone tenements and shops. They were replaced with five-storey maisonette blocks, deck access blocks, four-storey tenement common areas and the closure of many traditional streets.
In 1978 worse was to follow when the council moved residents to New Bonhill. The 40-year-old housing in Renton was demolished, leaving enough vacant ground for a number of football pitches. Renton is distinguished by many things, including the reputation of once being a winner of football’s World Cup. Nowadays, despite attempts at regeneration, much of the area is rundown and dilapidated, as if someone had ordered a skip to be dropped from the heavens.
The surrounding area is made up of several villages, including Balloch, Jamestown, Bonhill and Alexandria itself. Over the past 100 years, the various villages have merged into one urban area, although each one retains its own individuality. The name Alexandria is sometimes misused to refer to the Vale of Leven and while the postal address is Alexandria, the locals prefer to call it the Vale – The Beautiful Valley where the Leven flows. If the killer, as Margaret suspects, was known to Caroline, the chances are that he lives around here. And that someone is sheltering him.
To get to where Caroline died from Margaret’s old house, is a short walk down towards Bonhill before arriving at the river, then across the bridge to the other side, which is in an area behind the Vale of Leven Academy. It is a difficult area to navigate, which is why, for anyone to be there, they had to be local. A visitor would never have known the way. It is a short cut. ”A stranger would never have known that was a short cut,” says Margaret.
Some murders are solved very quickly but others, like this, just go on. Unsolved murders in Strathclyde are subject to constant review and that’s the position with Caroline’s case. Detective Chief Inspector Steven Ward, of Dumbarton CID, who took over the inquiry in March earlier this year, continues to investigate it. While dismayed at the lack of progress he is still extremely positive about the inquiry. ”We’re confident we’ll get whoever killed Caroline,” he says, bullishly. He refuses, of course, to elaborate on whether he believes the killer to be local and whether drugs were involved, but insists he cannot rule out anything.
When Caroline was murdered Margaret couldn’t bury her daughter’s body for six months and it lay in a Glasgow morgue. Usually if someone dies under what are accepted as normal circumstances, they are buried almost immediately and that becomes a point of closure. From then, the bereaved try to get on with things. ”In the morgue Caroline couldn’t be at rest,” says Margaret. ”She was alone, even though she was dead. It was as if no one cared. I actually thought she could feel the cold. At times I wanted to go up and bring her a jumper.”
While Margaret and her mother have kept their Catholic faith, her father has lost his. ”Just mention God to my dad and he says, ‘where was he that night?’ That’s not the way it works, I tell him, it wasn’t God that did it, it was a human being and they’ve got the choice to do right or wrong. He doesn’t visit her grave but just goes for walks by the area where she was killed. My mother thinks it’s morbid, but he gets his comfort there. She goes to the cemetery. He can’t. Maybe one day he will, in his own time.
”My faith helps me to know that she’s in a better place, although I would much rather she was here with me. At least she won’t be harmed any more and God’s there to look after her. There’s always a need to go to the cemetery although I can’t go up all the time. The wounds are closing slightly but they are still terribly raw and sore. I still get a knot in my stomach thinking that he won’t be caught. But what gets me up in the morning is the thought he will be caught. If you take that away I don’t have anything.”
Margaret’s life has been overtaken with daydreams of her daughter. Mostly the dreams are unbearably heavy, reminding her of the things she has lost and the things she will never have, like grandchildren. Nor will she ever see her daughter marry. But sometimes, on a good day, these dreams can feel like miracles. Secret meeting places where her dead 14-year-old can meet her mother and smile at the things that made them both happy in the past. ”She was a great people person who loved company. She loved a party, but was also very family-oriented. They were so important to her. By the same token she was also very outspoken and very abrupt. If she liked you it was great, you had a friend, if not she also made it clear. That’s what I miss about her, her feisty honesty.”
It took a few months after Caroline’s death before Margaret went to see where her daughter had died. Nowadays she can barely look in that direction. She has moved away from Bonhill to a new house in Alexandria which she shares with Alan McKeech, her second husband. Her living room window in the old house looked out on to the route Caroline took before she died, and the area she was found. To move on emotionally she needed to move physically. But the emotion still makes her head spin.
I leave Margaret as she wrestles in vain with her memories of Caroline, and take a walk along the Leven towpath where the girl died. The River Leven is running with sea-trout and salmon. The last hour of daylight and the first few hours of darkness are usually busiest with men trying to catch them. It’s a winding river, full of turns and twists. But it harbours a terrible secret. Caroline Glachan was murdered here. I turn my collar up against the cold.
”He’s still out there.” Margaret’s words follow me home.