Cold-hearted killer may have targeted others

DETECTIVES are probing whether convicted double killer Robert Chalmers was behind more murders, it emerged today.

• Robert Chalmers, caught on CCTV here, was found guilty yesterday of the murder of 25-year-old Samantha Wright

The twisted 59-year-old, nicknamed Papa Smurf by locals, was yesterday convicted of the murder of Samantha Wright, whose body was found dumped in his wheelie bin in his back garden.

Following the jury's verdict, it emerged that the father-of-11 had stabbed to death a drinking buddy nearly 38 years ago and served nine years of a life sentence.

It is understood that police are now examining unsolved murders and missing persons cases, which may be connected to Chalmers, although no links have yet been established.

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Neighbours of Chalmers in Duddingston's Magdalene Drive feared that he had killed more victims after police spent two weeks digging up his garden and ripping up floorboards in his ground-floor home.

Detectives said they had not been searching for more victims at the address, but were now seeking evidence of any links between Chalmers and other crimes. A source confirmed "we are looking at other cases". Friends of 25-year-old Ms Wright told the Evening News that Chalmers would entice teenage girls back to his home in Magdalene Drive for drinking sessions.

He would often encourage the youngsters, usually teenage runaways and girls who had absconded from secure units in the city, to stay the night.

The Big Issue seller hung around with street drinkers in Hunter Square, where Ms Wright, originally from Stevenage, was known to frequent.

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Described by detectives as a "cold-hearted and callous killer", police admitted they may never know how Chalmers met his victim, or how she was killed.

Sid Pringle, 27, who was a friend of Ms Wright and also lives just doors away from Chalmers' former home on Magdalene Drive, said: "Chalmers used to get wee lassies to come back to his house.

"It would be girls about 15 or 16 years old from secure units or runaways, or just girls who were hanging around Hunter Square. He would invite them back home to drink. We knew him and thought he was a paedophile.

"He would always be eyeing up young girls. He would just stare at them and it made you really uncomfortable. He had mad, freaky eyes.

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"My girlfriend's pal was drinking in Chalmers' house one time and he tried to take advantage of her, but she managed to get away."

Mr Pringle said he met Ms Wright in Hunter Square in early 2008.

He said: "Samantha would hang about up the town where homeless folk were drinking."She was a really nice girl who liked talking to everyone.

"When she disappeared, we thought she had moved back home to England."

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Ms Wright was last seen at a Jobcentre in High Riggs on June 12 2008, although she was not reported missing until January 2009 after failing to contact her family.

Hundreds of hours of painstaking police work led detectives to discover CCTV footage from that day showing Ms Wright walking with an older man in Hanover Street at the junction with Rose Street.

The image led police officers to the home of Robert Chalmers, and a search of the property on October 12, 2009, uncovered Ms Wright's body in a wheelie bin concealed in bushes at the rear of the garden.

A biology expert gave evidence in court that plant growth in the area showed that Ms Wright's remains had not been moved since around the time she disappeared, indicating that Ms Wright had lain dead for around 17 months.

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Mr Pringle added: "My girlfriend and I noticed a funny smell coming from his back garden. It was really bad but we just thought it was a dead animal or something.

"When the police arrived we thought it had been Robert Chalmers who had been murdered. I was shocked when I found out that it was Samantha and she had been lying right next to our flat.

"The police put a white tent up and kept digging in the garden and searching the house for two or three weeks after Samantha was found.

"We thought they must've been looking for other bodies. With all the young girls who used to go in and out of his house, we thought it was possible there were more victims."

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By the time Samantha's body was found pathologists told the trial that it was impossible to tell how Ms Wright had been murdered, but it had to be "an act of violence".

Ms Wright's father, wood machinist Jeremy Wright, 49, and her mother, Catherine Gibson, 48, from Stevenage, Hertfordshire, sat through all the harrowing details revealed during the trial.

As they left court, Mrs Gibson said: "I am glad Robert Chalmers has been brought to justice as he has destroyed so many lives, not just ours but those of Samantha's friends, as well as his own family, by his evil actions."

"Samantha was such a beautiful, lively young woman who had everything to live for and so much more to give, but Robert Chalmers cut her life short."

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Detective Chief Inspector Richard Thomas said: "It is clear by his actions that Robert Chalmers is a cold-hearted and callous killer, who took the life of a sociable but vulnerable young woman and dumped her remains as if they were rubbish.

"At this time I would like to pay tribute to Samantha's family, who provided invaluable assistance and unwavering support to the officers investigating her disappearance, and who have carried themselves with dignity throughout what has been a harrowing ordeal."

Judge Lord Malcolm will sentence Chalmers next month.

TIMELINE

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June 12 2008: Samantha is seen at the Jobcentre in High Riggs. CCTV footage later recovered by police shows her walking with Robert Chalmers on that day in the city centre.

January 2009: Ms Wright's family contact police after she fails to contact her family over Christmas, or for her birthday on January 5.

February 24 2009: Police horses used to carry out search of Saughton Park, near to where she lived.

February 26, 2009: Ms Wright's mother, Catherine Gibson, makes a public appeal for information.

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July 2009: Police search derelict buildings used as drug dens in Baxter's Place, close to the Edinburgh Playhouse.

August 25 2009: Police released CCTV footage of Ms Wright walking with an older man in Hanover Street.

October 13 2009: Chalmers is charged.

May 12 2011: Chalmers found guilty of murder.

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THE VICTIM

SAMANTHA Wright was described as a free-spirited "social butterfly" who was always keen to make new friends.

She moved to the Capital four years ago from her home in Stevenage after falling in love with the city on a family holiday.

She worked initially as a waitress and rented a home in Stevenson Drive, Saughton, but she later fell into a "haphazard" lifestyle, and began socialising with homeless people who gathered in the city centre.

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Her former boyfriend, HGV mechanic Simon Sawers, 24, went out with Ms Wright while she was living in Edinburgh.

He told the trial: "I thought she had a very interesting personality. She was very charismatic. She was very friendly, very approachable."

He described how they hit it off during a 15-minute walk after they both tried to help a drunk woman who had tripped over on North Bridge.

The trial also heard how she struck up a friendship with John Holgate, 61, who lived on Edinburgh's Royal Mile and took her to a local soup kitchen.

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Mr Holgate told the High Court in Edinburgh he had warned her about speaking to people there.

"I said 'Stop talking to these people. You are a young girl and they will get the wrong impression.'"

She told Mr Holgate: "It is nice to be nice. I just want to be nice to people."

THE KILLER

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CONVICTED killer Robert Chalmers swigged beer and watched television just feet away from where the naked mutilated body of his victim was dumped in a wheelie bin in his garden.

A jury heard that Chalmers, known locally as Papa Smurf because of his white beard, stopped tending the garden so that bushes would grow to camouflage the green bin.

He rigged up his own security camera with monitors in living room and bedroom to warn off intruders who might stumble on his secret while a pair of binoculars lay on his bed. Chalmers also took to keeping a can of fly spray handy as he watched TV, surrounded by air fresheners.

The trial heard that Ms Wright's blood had soaked into a mattress in his spare room as he sliced off her right breast and tried to cut off her head.

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But instead of getting rid of all the tell-tale bedding, Chalmers had simply flipped the mattress over.

Advocate depute John Scullion, prosecuting, suggested to the jury that Chalmers had lured Ms Wright to his home, hoping for sex, but had killed her when something went wrong.

Following the guilty verdict, the court heard that a young Chalmers had murdered a friend, William White, 47, after a row in Mr White's home in Johnstone, Renfrewshire in December 1973. After release on life licence Chalmers - a handyman and labourer who once worked making children's playgrounds - eventually came to live in Magdalene Drive.