Obituary: DCI Angus MacLeod, murder squad officer

Born: 23 October, 1927, Isle of Lewis. Died: 21 September, 2013, in Paisley, aged 86
DCI Angus MacLeod: Murder squad officer who started his working life as an Isle of Lewis ploughman, aged 13DCI Angus MacLeod: Murder squad officer who started his working life as an Isle of Lewis ploughman, aged 13
DCI Angus MacLeod: Murder squad officer who started his working life as an Isle of Lewis ploughman, aged 13

Detective Chief Inspector Angus MacLeod, who was involved in 31 Scottish murder cases in Strathclyde, all of which were solved bar one, has died at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, aged 86.

He was born on the MacLeod family croft and brought up in the village of Swordale on the Isle of Lewis, where his first language was Gaelic.

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He learned only faltering English at Knock School, which he left to go to work as a ploughman at the age of 13.

Angus was the second oldest of six children born to Catherine and Alexander MacLeod.

He was a popular young man in Point where, with his horse called Jimmy, he tilled the fields of every family in the small crofting community.

He took the boat to the mainland and joined Dumbarton Burgh Police Force on the 19 March, 1949.

Angus was the last officer to be recruited by that small force before it was disbanded and integrated into Dunbartonshire Constabulary, which later became part of Strathclyde Police.

The beat allocated to him by Chief Constable Bert Gunn was Dumbarton High Street and the working class communities of Brucehill and West Bridgend.

Big Angus, as he was widely known, developed his English on the beat, making himself hugely popular in the community where people loved his friendly ways and his lilting accent.

The children especially liked him for the fact that he chased them for playing football in the street or stealing apples from gardens in nearby posh Kirktonhill but never seemed to be able to catch any of them.

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The recalcitrants and criminals in the West End were wary of him however because he seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to finding out who had been involved in a fist fight or carried out the latest housebreaking, robbed a gas meter or stole someone’s purse.

Angus was transferred to Dunbartonshire CID in 1960 after his potential as a detective was spotted by Chief Constable William Kerr, who had himself been a member of Royal Protection Squad.

MacLeod moved swiftly through the ranks of detectives and worked under some notable police officers including Kerr himself and later Acting Chief Constable Sir David McNee, who became Chief Constable of Strathclyde and Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police

Sir David had stepped in after Chief Constable Kerr, one of the detectives in the Stone of Destiny case, was seriously hurt in a helicopter accident in the grounds of the police HQ at Crosslet, Dumbarton.

One of the first murder cases MacLeod was involved in was as a young constable in the notorious Dumbarton Surgery murder on his beat in West Bridgend.

It began when a 14-year-old apprentice walked into a police station and told the officers he had been coaxed into a disused shop by a fat man with a scar on his face who offered him ten shillings to help lift a fireplace grating.

The stranger produced a gun and tried to tie him to a chair and gag him, but the youngster escaped and ran home to his father who took him to the police.

Detectives were sceptical at first until they found paint in the empty shop used to black out the windows and a chair similar to that the victim had told them about.

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The shop owner said the premises had been rented to a “Mr Green” whose description matched that given by the boy, but despite extensive inquiries in July 1962 the trail to “Mr Green” went cold.

Then a few weeks later Fred Dowden, aged 15, vanished from his home in Dumbarton.

A massive hunt drew a blank. Police who scoured the town with tracker dogs failed to find Fred.

Reports stated the inquiry was going nowhere until the then PC Angus MacLeod – “an eagle-eyed police constable” – noticed someone had used paint to black out the windows of Dr Alexander Forrester’s old surgery at 66 West Bridgend.

Remembering his briefing to be on the lookout for anything that might bear a similarity to the earlier incident, MacLeod peered inside and saw a horrific sight that turned his stomach.

Tied to a chair was the body of the young victim who had been asphyxiated, his face and mouth covered with sticking tape. The surgery had been rented to a man with a scar calling himself “Mr Black”.

Then police discovered a “Mr Blue” had rented another empty building in Govan, Glasgow, a few weeks earlier.

Inside were rolls of sticky tape. The killer was obviously planning to snatch another victim. But who was the murderer?

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Police eventually arrested Philip Givens, 35, who pleaded guilty at the High Court in Glasgow in March 1963 to abduction and murder and was sent to the State Hospital at Carstairs.

Another high profile murder Detective Inspector MacLeod was involved in was the case of Dumbarton sex killer Robert Gemmill, a gardener who was raised in the town and who was recognised as a psychopath from the age of 16.

Yet Gemmill, who had spent 14 years in mental hospitals and previously attacked four young women, was freed from Carstairs before he murdered the daughter of a Nottingham millionaire.

Lynda Jane Walters was stabbed to death in the grounds of luxury Stonefield Castle Hotel near Tarbert, Argyll, while she was holidaying in Scotland with parents.

MacLeod discovered that the gardener and handyman was a notorious sexual sadist who attacked women and had been held for eight years in maximum security in the State Hospital.

Gemmill was originally accused of murdering Lynda-Jayne but the Crown agreed to reduce the charge to culpable homicide and Lord Kincraig sentenced him to be detained indefinitely.

The murder mystery DCI MacLeod and his Strathclyde colleagues failed to solve is still on the books of newly formed Police Scotland.

Although Angus often said privately that although he was convinced he knew who had killed photographer “Wee Eddie” Cotogno who lived in Valeview Terrace, Bellsmyre, Dumbarton, in July 1979, the criminal might never be brought to justice due to lack of evidence.

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The body of Cotogno, 63, was discovered in his burning flat but scene of crime experts quickly established that he had not died as a result of smoke inhalation or flames.

Firemen had been on the scene so quickly there was little damage and they even saved thousands of sexually explicit photographs strewn around his body.

DCI MacLeod retired from Strathclyde Police in 1980 with distinction after 31 years in the force.

He was married to Mairi, a nursing sister, who died from cancer in December, 1988, aged just 45.

The couple had married in 1970 and they are survived by their daughter, Lorna, and son, Angus, and seven grandchildren.

Angus was a long-time member of Dumbarton Rotary Club after he retired from the police and Mairi joined the Inner Wheel Club.

Angus was latterly cared for, through a long illness, at an Eventide home in Dumbarton.

He has been buried at the Aignish cemetery on Lewis, near his beloved home village of Swordale, where the policeman started out his working life as a ploughman.