THE exhumation of a cemetery plot has failed to uncover the remains of a schoolgirl who went missing while on an errand more than 50 years ago, ending the best chance of giving her family closure in the case.
• 11-year-old Moira Anderson disappeared in Coatbridge in February 1957
• Exhumation of grave fails to discover body
• Alexander Gartshore suspected of killing Anderson, whose body has never been recovered
Moira Anderson was five weeks shy of her 12th birthday when she went shopping for her grandmother in the North Lanarkshire town of Coatbridge on 23 February, 1957.
She was never seen again, and her body was not found. Last year, Scotland’s Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland, ordered coldcase detectives to reopen the disappearance as a murder investigation.
Moira’s surviving sisters, who have long suspected she was murdered by a convicted child rapist, last month successfully raised a legal action before Sheriff Frank Pieri at Airdrie Sheriff Court to exhume eight bodies from a plot where they believed she may have been secretly
However, the three-day operation by specialist forensic personnel concluded yesterday with no evidence that Moira was buried there.
Strathclyde Police stressed that the notorious case would remain open, and vowed to “fully investigate” any fresh information which might arise in the future. For the family, however, the exhumation presented the best possible chance of providing them with closure and bringing to an end one of the country’s longest-running missing persons’ cases.
Forensic experts, led by Professor Sue Black from the University of Dundee, arrived in Old Monkland Cemetery on Tuesday to explore the family burial plot of Sinclair Upton.
Mr Upton, who died aged 80 in 1957, was an acquaintance of Alexander Gartshore, a convicted child rapist who had been linked to Moira’s disappearance.
Gartshore’s daughter, Sandra Brown, has long campaigned to learn the truth about Moira’s fate. She believed that he murdered the schoolgirl before disposing of her body in Mr Upton’s grave.
A radar scan of the plot six years ago uncovered soil anomalies which may have been consistent with the presence of another body.
However, Chief Inspector Kenny Macleod, area commander for Airdrie and Coatbridge, confirmed that nothing out of the ordinary had been found.
He said: “I can confirm that Moira’s remains have not been found in the burial plot – no human remains other than those which were interred in the plot have been found.
“We’ve spoken to Moira’s sisters, who are fully aware of the outcome, and our thoughts are with them at this time. This is obviously not the closure that the sisters, or any of us, would wish for.”
Ch Insp Macleod said it was not his job to speculate on what the force expected to find in the grave, but said he had “brought this line of inquiry to a conclusion”.
Asked what the operation meant for the future of the case, he said: “The case has been subject to several reviews and is currently under another review. If there are any further lines of inquiry identified, these will be fully investigated.”
He added: “Despite today’s outcome, the case will remain open. If anyone has any information relating to this case or any other unresolved case, then please contact us.”
Mrs Brown, who had expressed “fervent hope” that Moira’s body would be found in the
waterlogged plot, said that while the news was painful, her search would go on.
She said: “I’d like to thank the inspector and while I’m very sad about the result of the operation, I’m absolutely satisfied that the police view that it’s not a crime scene is correct.
“Moira’s two sisters now know but I’ve explained that although the grave is closed, it’s not the end of the story and we strongly believe that Moira still wants to be found.”
Mrs Brown added: “We’ve had experts here working with the police with the highest integrity but the people who did this crime were devious in the extreme and their wickedness knows no bounds.
“My belief is that Moira is not far from us but she remains concealed by extremely wicked people. It’s a difficult day but my thoughts are with the Upton family, who can now hopefully have their family members put to rest.”
Mrs Brown said that even if the exhumation did not find Moira, it would “send out a positive message here that any child who disappears deserves to be looked for and it doesn’t matter how much time has gone by.”
A woman from the Moira Anderson Foundation arrived at the scene after the police announcement to pay her respects with a large bouquet of flowers.
Mrs Brown believes her father was a paedophile “in the same mould as Jimmy Savile”, who operated as part of a ring in central Scotland over a number of decades.
She said: “This was our best hope and obviously it is not the result we were hoping for but there is still hope there. She has not been found because she was concealed by very evil and devious people but I still firmly believe Moira wants to be found.
“Victims are still coming forward in light of the Jimmy Savile scandal and as long as that is the case, there will always be hope.
“The tide has turned. We’re no longer in the 60s and 70s when people didn’t discuss things like this. Victims are coming forward and there are more Moiras, believe you me, and we still have to try and find them.”