Mystery of severed head found on Arbroath beach

THE two little red-haired sisters were playing happily on the beach in the spring sunshine, without a care in the world, when they spotted a black plastic bag among the flotsam near the high-tide mark.

Curious, the girls, both younger perhaps than ten, peered inside. A split second later, they were running for home – horrified after finding the severed head of a dark-haired woman.

Last night, the gruesome discovery – and the subsequent find of a severed hand in a similar plastic bag less then 100 yards away – had sparked what was, in all but name, a huge murder inquiry in the seaside town of Arbroath.

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There have been further developements this morning as police investigating the discovery of the body parts announced that they have found a second hand.

As detectives sealed off the area and began a detailed forensic examination of the beach where the remains were found, police forces throughout the UK were flashed details of the discovery in the hope of identifying the victim. DNA tests, dental records and fingerprints will be used in an attempt to find out who she was.

Tayside Police said they could only treat the macabre discovery as a "suspicious death". But once the cause of death is established, it is certain to turn into a murder investigation.

The drama began shortly after 10:30am yesterday, as the sisters played on the Seagait beach, which is overlooked by a row of private homes and holiday cottages. They spotted the black plastic bin bag on the beach and decided to peek inside.

The terrified children then ran to their home nearby to tell their mother, who immediately telephoned the police.

Officers found the hand in another bag 100 yards closer to the town's bustling harbour.

John Carswell, a builder working on a new house only 50 yards from where the head was discovered,

said neither of the two bags had been there when he removed debris from the sand-and-shingle beach the night before.

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He said: "I cleaned up that beach at 4 o'clock last night – every bit of rubbish on it – and there was nothing there. I have given the police the bag of rubbish I collected at the time. There was some clothing in the rubbish I collected – that's all."

His son, also called John, had been working in the new house when he spotted the two girls on the beach.

He said: "I was working in an apartment, fitting a bathroom beside a window, looking down at the beach.

"There were two red-headed little girls, one aged about six, and the other four or five, and they were playing at the water's edge. They were on their own – everyone around here looks out for the kids and makes sure they're OK.

"I saw them poking about a black bin-bag, when they suddenly took off screaming in a hurry, which I thought was a bit strange.

"I saw them come back with their mother, and I asked her what was going on.

She said she thought the girls had found a head, and that she had called the police. Police officers came down, and then CID arrived. They went to the black bin-bag, and when they opened it up, I saw some hair, and it was plainly a head."

The bag containing the head was covered by a fish box until a forensics team arrived to begin a detailed examination.

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Officers later produced a blue tarpaulin to cover the gruesome find, which was then removed so it can be given a more detailed examination.

Detectives have said it is too early to indicate whether the two bags had been deliberately dumped at the site or had been swept in on the high tide.

The investigation is being headed by Graham McMillan, who was promoted to the rank of detective chief inspector only yesterday. He said: "The remains have been found in what are very much suspicious circumstances.

"This morning, two girls were playing on the beach when they made the discovery. They had looked inside the bag and suspected it was a human head.

"They were obviously very distressed by that and went home and reported the discovery to their parents, who reported it to the police. Officers who arrived confirmed that it was the head of a woman.

The bag was close to the tide line and there is the potential that it was washed up on the beach. There were fairly rough seas and it was quite windy last night.

"A hand was then found in another bag further along the beach towards the harbour. From a cursory inspection, it appears to be a female hand."

He declined to reveal how long the remains may have been in either of the bags.

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Mr McMillan said that officers had swept the beach for about a quarter-of-a-mile in each direction of the grim discoveries but had found no further evidence of human remains.

He praised the two little girls who made the find. "They were obviously upset by their discovery, but they did the right thing. They are being supported by their parents now," he said.

The Home Office Large and Major Crime Enquiry System (Holmes) is being used by Tayside Police to assist in the investigation.

Mr McMillan said: "We are investigating the national missing persons database, and so on.

"We are obviously checking for reported missing persons to see if there is potential there, but we would also like to appeal to anyone who has maybe got concerns for a friend, relative or an acquaintance that they haven't seen for a wee while."

It is understood, however, that no-one whose description matches that of the woman whose head was found on the beach has been reported missing in the area.

Jim Millar, a local councillor, said the gruesome find had stunned the Angus town.

He said: "The community is very shocked, and we are obviously very sorry for the two children who made this grim discovery.

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"This is something you might find in a Rebus book rather than our seaside town."


THE case recalls that of Barry Wallace, whose severed body parts were found dumped in Loch Lomond and in the sea near Troon, in Ayrshire, in December 1999.

The 18-year-old was last seen staggering away from a taxi rank towards a nightclub in Kilmarnock at about 1:30am on 5 December, 1999, having spent the evening at a Christmas party with colleagues from the Tesco store where he worked.

A huge search was launched when Mr Wallace failed to return home. Police divers discovered his dismembered arms and legs during a training exercise at Rowardennan, Loch Lomond, later that month.

Mr Wallace's head was found a week later by a dog walker at Barassie Beach, near Troon, 60 miles away.

His torso was found after a police search at Manse Bay, Balmaha, Loch Lomond. Mr Wallace's killer, William Beggs, then aged 37, took him home before sexually assaulting him and dismembering his body.

Beggs was extradited from the Netherlands to stand trial for murder in Edinburgh in 2001. Judge Lord Osborne ordered him to spend at least 20 years in jail.