DECEMBER 30, 1969, is without doubt one of the darkest days in the history of policing in Glasgow.

Shortly after 4pm two officers were shot dead by a man seen acting suspiciously outside a flat in Govanhill on the south side of the city.

Their suspect had just taken part in an armed robbery and was carrying the proceeds into the Allison Street tenement in suitcases.

When the two cops followed their man into the ground floor apartment, unaware of the earlier hold-up, he pulled out a gun and shot them dead.

The double murder was all the more shocking because it was carried out by a former police officer and colleague.

Glasgow Times:

A few hours later Howard Wilson, married with a young family, was sitting in his police cell in nearby Craigie Street Police Office confessing both murders to his bewildered lawyer Joe Beltrami.

Nineteen years later in his memoir Tales of the Suspected, Beltrami wrote: “As I listened to him. I kept asking myself what could have possessed him.

“He looked more like a businessman than a criminal.”

Glasgow Times:

Wilson had quit the City of Glasgow police in 1968 after 10 years’ service when he failed to get promotion to sergeant.

Instead he opened a greengrocers, The Orchard in nearby Mount Florida. But the outlet, along with another shop he’d bought, was losing money.

His two best friends former prison officer Ian Donaldson, 31, and ex-cop John Sim, 21, both had young families and were also strapped for cash.  During one late evening drinking session they joked about robbing a bank to solve all their financial worries.

However, the morning after the night before it began to sound like a plan.

Who would suspect two former cops and a prison officer? They had no criminal records and their fingerprints were not on file.

The money would also be used to pay off debts so it would disappear as quickly as it had been stolen.

Thus the pieces of a jigsaw were put in place that would result in a cold blooded double execution almost six months later.

The trio recruited a fourth man – Archibald McGeachie – to be their getaway driver, and bought a Russian pistol from the president of the Bearsden Shooting Club, of which all three were members.  On July 16, dressed in smart suits and carrying briefcases they walked into the British Linen Bank in Giffnock, East Renfrewshire, and escaped with £20,876 (£270,000 now).

All three, however, were broke again by Christmas and, having got away with it once, planned another heist – this time a branch of the Clydesdale in Linwood, Renfrewshire on December 30.

However, McGeachie took cold feet and declined the job of getaway driver, leaving his three pals to do the job on their own.

On December 23, a week before, the second hold up, he disappeared from his home and was never been seen again.

His fellow robbers escaped this time with £14,000 – much of it in silver coins – which later proved significant when they were all spotted by a suspicious Inspector Andrew Hyslop transporting the suitcases.  He recognised Wilson who he had once trained in the use of firearms.

Inspector Hyslop also suspected the trio were carrying stolen whisky, as he didn’t know about the bank robbery.

He confronted all three in Wilson’s ground floor flat, having called in reinforcements from Craigie Street.

When the inspector bent down to open one of the cases, his former colleague shot him in the face.

 

Glasgow Times:

Glasgow Times:

Detective Constable Angus MacKenzie and PC Edward Barnett, above, were then both shot in the head when they tried to arrest him.

As they fell, Wilson calmly stepped up to DC MacKenzie and shot him again, killing him outright.

His accomplice Donaldson had fled the flat, while Sim watched in horror.

Wilson turned his attention to another former colleague PC John Sellars, who had taken refuge in the bathroom to radio for help but he couldn’t get through the door.

Wilson then noticed Inspector Hyslop beginning to move on the floor, and went to finish him off.

A fifth officer, Detective Constable John Campbell flung himself across the hall at Wilson before he could fire again, saving his colleagues’ life.

DC Campbell managed to wrestle the gun from Wilson just as his fellow officers alerted by the sound of gunfire rushed into the flat.

There they found a scene of unimaginable horror. DC MacKenzie had been killed outright while PC Barnett would die five days later in hospital.  Wilson only seemed to regret only what he had done to DC MacKenzie, whose wife June he knew personally.  As he was led away, he asked the arresting officers if they  would apologise to her on his behalf.

When the three appeared at Glasgow Sheriff Court on February 6, 1970, Wilson admitted the murders of Detective Constable McKenzie and Constable Barnett, attempting to murder Inspector Hyslop, threatening to shoot Constable Sellars, and to the bank robberies at Giffnock and Linwood.  A week later, at the High Court in Edinburgh, Wilson was sentenced to life, with a recommendation that he should serve a minimum of 25 years. Donaldson and Sim were given 12 years each for their parts in the robberies.

Later that year it was announced that the Queen had approved awards of the George Medal to Inspector Hyslop and Detective Constable Campbell.  Awards of the Queen’s Police Medal for Gallantry were posthumously awarded to Detective Constable McKenzie and Constable Barnett.  In 1971, PC Sellars was awarded the Glasgow Corporation medal for bravery by the Lord Provost.

Detective Constable McKenzie left a widow, June, and Constable Barnett a widow, Margaret, and two children.

Of the three officers who survived, Inspector Hyslop suffered most as bullet parts had been left deeply embedded in his neck. After many months on sick leave Inspector Hyslop returned to duty.  But the shock of his terrible experience had left him unfit to carry on and in June, 1971, he had to  resign from the force and died on the island of Islay in 2000, aged 74.

Glasgow Times:

Retired police inspector Alastair Dinsmor, MBE, who is now curator of Glasgow Police Museum remembers the murders well because it was only his second day as a new recruit in the City of Glasgow Police.

Glasgow Times:

Glasgow Times:

The following week he was given the task of guarding the murder house and later attended the funerals of both men.

The museum has Inspector Hyslop’s George Medal on display and the story of that fateful day is narrated on one of the walls.

READ MORE: Glasgow Crime Stories: Meet the lawyer who defended Tony Miller, 19,  before he was hanged at Bar-L

Glasgow Times:

Glasgow Times:

In December 2009, on the 40th anniversary of the murders, Alastair organised a memorial service at Linn Crematorium in Castlemilk where the two officers are buried side by side, attended by their widows.   Last year wreaths were laid on their graves on the 50th anniversary of their deaths.

Alastair who retired in 1998 at the rank of Inspector said: “Two police officers were murdered for simply doing their job.

“At the time the whole force was in shock that one of our own was responsible. It was one of the darkest days in the history of the police in Glasgow and one that the city should never forget.”

In September 2002, Wilson was finally freed after almost 33 years behind bars despite strenuous objections from the Scottish  Police Federation.

At the time its chairman Norman Flowers, said: “We feel that anyone who murders a police officer should never be released. Life should mean life.”

READ MORE: Glasgow Crime Stories: The murder of Frank McPhie

Glasgow Times:

Following his release Wilson moved into a small flat in Perth where he is believed to live to this day.

So what had prompted a respectable former police officer to turn  killer?

In his 1988 book, Beltrami said Wilson had simply panicked after being caught red-handed by his former colleagues.

Glasgow Times:

However, Alastair, who is also chairman of the Glasgow Police Heritage Society, believes that Wilsons actions were more cold and calculating.

He added: “It was a brutal double murder, particularly when he tried to shoot Angus McKenzie for a second time to finish him off.

“That makes the blood curl, this was more than someone panicking and shooting  wildly.

“Why he did what he did we will never know.

“Only Howard Wilson can answer that question.”