Little Moira Anderson had run dozens of errands for her grandmother. This time it was her uncle Jim who sent her off to the Co-op on a cold February afternoon, to buy a box of Black Magic chocolates for her mother’s birthday.
Dressed in her trademark pixie hat, long woollen socks and gaberdine coat, the 11-year-old made the familiar trip to the shop in nearby Laird Street, just a short distance from her grandmother’s home in Muiryhall Street in Coatbridge, Lanarkshire.
Clutching a few shillings, she braced herself against the icy winds as she hurried down the road. She was never seen again.
Moira was last spotted boarding the Cliftonhill bus at about 5pm on 23 February, 1957. What began as a routine journey has become one of Scotland’s most enduring mysteries.
Although still described by police as a missing person’s inquiry, friends and relatives from Moira’s home town are certain she was abducted and murdered.
Now, more than 40 years on, detectives are reviewing the case in the light of dramatic new evidence.
Five years ago, Alex Gartshore, the driver of the Cliftonhill bus, was named as the killer by his daughter, Sandra Brown, but the authorities insisted that there was insufficient evidence for a prosecution.
Gartshore, a convicted sex offender, has continued to protest his innocence in relation to Moira’s disappearance. But earlier this month, a national newspaper received a 15-page dossier said to be the deathbed confessions of a convicted paedophile, which appear to contain an eyewitness account of the murder. They identify where Moira’s body was dumped and implicate Gartshore in the killing.
It is claimed the girl was knocked out with chloroform and sexually abused, before being hidden in the seat-box of Gartshore’s bus. Her remains are said to be in the Tarry Burn, which runs from a former ironworks into Witchwood Pond.
The signed confession was from a disgraced church elder, James Gallogley, one of Gartshore’s closest friends, who was jailed for ten years in August 1997 at the High Court in Glasgow for abusing five girls in Coatbridge.
It is understood that Gallogley confided in fellow prisoner Alec Keil in the sex offenders’ unit at Peterhead Prison, before he died in April 1999.
Now, The Scotsman has obtained a letter, sent by Janet Hart, Moira’s sister, to Gallogley. It pleads with him to shed light on the girl’s disappearance and may have been a factor in pricking his conscience, forcing him to reveal what really happened.
In an emotional appeal to Gallogley, Mrs Hart wrote: "You will not know who I am, but I am sure you will be familiar with the name Moira Anderson.
"I am Moira’s sister, Janet, and I have been grieving for my poor wee sister for the past 40 years.
"The day that my dear sister disappeared in Coatbridge was a day that changed mine and my family’s life forever. Each year the anniversary of the day she went missing is a sorrowful one for me and all my family. My mother never stopped hoping to see her daughter again.
"My dear departed parents were never to enjoy a moment’s peace again, and went to their grave without ever knowing what happened to her."
Desperate for any clues about her sister’s fate, Mrs Hart begged Gallogley to make amends for the mistakes he had made.
She continued: "Most of us have done things in this life that we regret. Sometimes by chance, without prior warning, we can be given the opportunity to somehow make amends and to help in some ways to atone for some of the great wrongs that have been done in this world. I would like you to answer me truthfully, and perhaps make your heart a little lighter before God does come to judge you.
"I strongly suspect that Alex Gartshore murdered my sister, Moira. It would mean the whole world to me if you could ease my heartache and tell me anything you know or may have heard about her disappearance. I yearn to know what did happen to dear Moira so I can put her memory to rest before I die."
Mrs Hart, who now lives in Australia, welcomed the latest developments in the case. "When I heard there had been a confession, I broke down in tears," she said. "Now I hope and pray to God they solve this murder mystery, and maybe we can bring this all to an end."
Friends and relatives connected with the case have been convinced for years that there was a cover-up. And last week, it emerged that the hand-written dossier contains the names of senior Crown Office figures, Scottish Office employees and high-ranking policemen who Gallogley claimed were involved in the abuse of children.
Detectives have confirmed they will investigate the new allegations in an attempt to conclude an inquiry that has dogged them for almost half a century.
Gartshore, now 82 and living in Leeds, was jailed two months after Moira’s disappearance for sex offences against a 13-year-old babysitter. Sandra Brown began her own investigation following a family funeral in 1992.
She claims her disgraced father, whom she had not seen for more than 20 years, let slip that he had somehow been involved in the case, and that his own father had believed he had killed Moira.
Sandra’s grandfather had ripped up the kitchen floorboards in an effort to find the body and had pleaded with Gartshore to confess. She accused Gartshore of the killing in a powerful TV documentary and book about the case.
Now Sandra Brown has no doubt in her mind that the mystery has finally been solved. "When I heard of these latest developments, I felt like somebody had kicked me in the stomach," said the former lecturer, who set up a children’s charity in Moira’s name.
"It never went through my head that it would be an offender who would help us solve the mystery. I have always been convinced that my dad had been responsible for the disappearance of Moira. My grandfather accused my dad when he was out on bail. My grandfather lifted the floorboards to try to find the body because he was so convinced he had done it.
"For your own father and your daughter to accuse you is significant. They should be calling this a murder inquiry."
Frustrated by the lack of progress in the case, Ms Brown has accused the police and the Crown Office of years of incompetence and inertia.
"No-one wants to think that a member of their own family is involved. It is agony. But you know your own flesh and blood. It’s a 40-odd-year mystery and we are finally getting somewhere with this eyewitness account and a deathbed confession.
"I believe the mystery is now solved."