You might recognise the names of some of the world’s most infamous gangsters such as Al Capone or Bugsy Siegal, but Glasgow had its own gangland leaders including” the Licensee”. Read the extended Glasgow Crime Story or listen to our podcast on all popular streaming platforms. 

He was one of Glasgow's most notorious gangsters, said to have made a £30 million fortune from a life of crime.

Most of the proceeds were laundered through legitimate enterprises such as ice cream vans, taxis, pubs, security firms, and properties both at home and abroad.

During a criminal career spanning more than 35 years, Tam McGraw was feared and hated in equal measures.

He maintained an iron grip at the top of the city's underworld, while appearing immune from the law. McGraw had the nickname the Licensee.

To some that was a reference to the Caravel Bar that he and his wife Margaret ran in Hallhill Road, Barlanark, for more than a decade.

To others it meant he had a licence to commit crime by the police in return for information on other lawbreakers.

In his criminal career he rarely stood trial and when he did he was usually cleared or the charges dropped.

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On the rare occasions he was convicted he rarely spent more than a few months inside.

During his adult life he was linked to the murders of a family of six, the attempted murder of a police officer, the death of two underworld figures and a multi-million-pound drug smuggling operation.

But McGraw appeared to be Teflon coated, nothing ever stuck.

The police have always denied there was a deal, but McGraw did seem to lead a charmed life.

Over the years, he built a reputation as an untouchable crime lord right up to the time of his death.

In his 2011 memoir - Gangsters, Killers and Me - retired detective Gerry Gallacher was critical of the slack cut by the police hierarchy to the established crime boss during his time in the force.

On one occasion when Gallacher tried to arrest McGraw, the hood complained directly to his boss branding him a pitbull.

Gallacher wrote: "It was clear from his reaction that he had been given too much leeway by certain police officers over the years."

So, who was Tam McGraw?

Glasgow Times: Tam McGraw

He was born Thomas McGrow in Lennoxtown, Stirlingshire, in 1952 before moving to live in Glasgow's east end where he changed his name to McGraw.

At an early age he became involved in petty crime and was in and out of young offenders institutions during his teenage years

McGraw and wife Margaret had been childhood sweethearts and they wed at a Glasgow register office in 1971 when McGraw was just 18.

In the early 1970s the couple moved down to London to escape the attentions of the police where they both found work on the buses and in factories.

It was while in London that McGraw was said to have become an expert at busting alarms and breaking safes.

He also earned thousands in compensation when he fell into a vat of chemicals during an accident at an electroplating plant.

McGraw then returned to Glasgow - where he set up the notorious Barlanark team - who carried out a series of post offices robberies across Scotland using McGraw's skills to disable the alarms.

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All the members lived or came from that one Glasgow housing estate.

There were also break-ins to off sales, warehouses and shops with high value thefts of anything from sweets to whisky.

The gang were reputed to employ military precision in planning their raids, in the main evading capture.

By then McGraw was beginning to establish a ruthlessness that set him apart from other petty crooks.

However, in 1978 while fleeing a robbery scene he crashed into a police barricade overturning his car and almost killed an officer.

Caught inside his upturned car, he was charged with attempted murder and robbery.

But the charges were mysteriously dropped amidst rumours he had turned informant to escape justice.

Thus, the myth or legend of The Licensee began.

In the early 1980s McGraw disbanded the Barlanark Team and began to focus on his other interests including ice cream vans.

At that time, they were a lucrative business in Glasgow's sprawling housing estates.

Because of a shortage of late opening shops the vans could legitimately make £200 profit a week (£700 now) selling food, soft drinks, sweets, and cigarettes on top of the traditional cones and wafers.

However, for the more unscrupulous they also provided a means for selling stolen goods and even drugs like heroin.

McGraw was attempting to expand his own ice-cream van business and, along with others, had been known to use violence and intimidation to secure the most lucrative rounds for himself.

Glasgow Times: Tam McGraw

When 18-year-old Andrew Doyle refused to bow to intimidation, he and his family were targeted with horrific consequences.

One evening in late February 1984, shots had been fired through the windscreen of Andrew's ice cream van in Balveny Street, Garthamlock, while he was working with his 15-year-old girl assistant.

Unlike those who ordered the attacks Andrew and his family were known to be hard-working and law abiding.

Seven weeks later a mystery man armed with a petrol can mounted the stairs to the family's top floor flat in Bankend Street, Ruchazie and set fire to an outside store cupboard at 2am.

Within minutes the early morning blaze had spread through the family home and of the nine people sleeping inside, only three survived.

The tragic victims were Andrew, his father James Doyle, 53, sister Christina Halleron, 25, her 18-month-old son Mark and two brothers James, 23, and 14-year-old Tony.

At the High Court in Glasgow later that year Thomas "TC" Campbell, 31, and Joe Steele, 22, were found guilty of killing the Doyles.

Both were given life with Campbell told he must serve at least 20 years until he could apply for parole.

In March 2004 in Edinburgh three appeal judges finally quashed the convictions - following a 20-year campaign by both men - after hearing new evidence.

It's been claimed over the years that McGraw was responsible for ordering the hit on the Doyle flat.

The intention had been to frighten the Doyle's, not kill them.

Though McGraw was questioned about the murders, he never stood trial.

In an interview in 2019, Joe Steele said: "I believe Tam McGraw was involved . I don't believe he lit the match - but he was behind it."

It was in the 1980s that McGraw was said to have made his entry into the city's growing heroin trade, alongside other criminals such as Arthur Thompson Jnr - the son of crime godfather Arthur Thompson Snr.

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It was where the real money was.

Buying large consignments of drugs and breaking them down to sell to small-time pushers on the streets.

In 1985 young Arthur was charged with dealing heroin and sentenced to 11 years - which left the field clear for McGraw and others.

Six years later in August 1991 Arthur Jnr, then 31, was shot dead outside his home in Provanmill Road while on a weekend 'training for freedom' leave from prison as he was coming to the end of his sentence,

A month later two suspects for his murder Joe Hanlon, 23, and Bobby Glover, 31, were found dead in Hanlon's car outside the Cottage Bar in Shettleston.

It was the same day as the funeral of young Arthur and seen as revenge by his father for his son's murder.

Rumours has it that McGraw knew more about the killings than he was letting on and some blamed him for their deaths.

It was even claimed that the dead bodies of Hanlon and Glover were kept in the Caravel, before being returned to the car.

Around that same time a live grenade thrown into the pub but amazingly it didn't go off.

Paul Ferris, then 28, stood trial for young Arthur's murder but was found unanimously not guilty at the High Court in Glasgow in June, 1992.

The following year Glasgow's crime godfather Arthur Thompson Snr died from a heart attack at his home.

That left the way open for McGraw to be the main man in the city.

By 1996 the Caravel had ceased trading and was bulldozed to the ground.

It was claimed that the demolition of the building was to hide any lingering forensic evidence of Bobby and Joe five years earlier.

However, the McGraws maintained that the decision to close the doors was simply a business transaction.

Glasgow Times: Tam McGraw

The couple sold the land to a development company to make way for 22 homes.

McGraw had grasped a long time ago that while he earned his loot illegally, it was smart to invest in a legal business.

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However, in 1998 he stood trial on drug smuggling charges.

Justice was finally catching up with the Licensee or so it seemed.

Underprivileged children from Glasgow were taken on minibus holidays to Morocco and Spain.

The bus, however, was specially-adapted, with a raised floor, so that drugs could be stored below it and under the kids' seats.

Police acting on a tip intercepted the Mercedes bus on a return and 220lbs of cannabis was found.

But again, after a 55-day trial at the High Court in Edinburgh, McGraw walked on a majority not proven verdict.

However, a family member who was arrested alongside the Licensee wasn't as fortunate, he went down for 10 years.

By the early 2000's McGraw was one of the wealthiest businessmen in Glasgow, with security companies, taxi firms as well as properties in Scotland, Ireland, and Spain including Tenerife

At this time, he was said to have made £20 million from his legitimate business enterprises.

However, the money was unable to buy him security and peace of mind.

Time was finally running out on McGraw and his position as Glasgow's Gangster Number One.

In 2002, he was attacked less than a mile from his East End home and stabbed several times, suffering wounds to his arms, wrists and buttocks. Protected by a bulletproof vest, he avoided serious injury.

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That same year trusted lieutenant Trevor Lawson, 32, died after being struck by a car as he ran across the M80 towards his home at Denny, Stirlingshire, following a fight in a nearby pub.

Gordon Ross, 37, a loyal pal was then fatally stabbed after being lured from a pub in Shettleston.

And in April 2003, McGraw's enforcer Billy McPhee, 38, was stabbed to death in a pub in Baillieston.

Around this time McGraw and his wife split separated - said to be over his drinking.

He decided to take measures to improve his looks and had Botox sessions and his teeth fixed.

He was also rumoured to have had a relationship with a young lap dancer who became pregnant and later had a daughter.

McGraw even agreed that a book could be written about him to counter the claims about him by gangland rivals in their biographies.

In 2004, he was declared bankrupt over a £12,700 income tax debt for undeclared earnings.

His lawyer Donald Findlay QC said in court then that McGraw "does not pay tax and he does not like paying tax".

In 2005 McGraw made more headlines when he drove two associates to hospital after a shooting in the Royal Oak pub in Nitshill on the south side of the city.

That same year he was given a year's ban for drink driving after being stopped by cops in Mitchell Street in the city-centre at twice the legal limit.

At the end of the day the Licensee went out with a whimper rather than the bang of an assassin's gun as some had suspected.

The gangster died aged 55 in Glasgow Royal Infirmary in July 2007 after collapsing at his home in Mount Vernon, Glasgow from a heart attack.

He hadn't been well for a while and was suffering various health problems linked to his heavy smoking and lifestyle.

Official documents lodged after McGraw's death detailed The Licensee had just £621 in his bank account when he died.

The only other item mentioned was a life insurance policy worth £33,508.94

His bungalow home in Carrick Drive, Mount Vernon, was worth around £400,000 but was not in his name.

The bank account - containing £621.02 - was held at his local branch of the Halifax in Baillieston Road.

One underworld figure said at the time of his death: "It was probably the best way for him to go.

"He had homes in Tenerife and he wanted to retire there, but too many people were still on to him as a key player.

"He was, but he wanted out. He knew others were after him, but it turns out a heart attack got to him first."

McGraw was laid to rest the following month and around 300 mourners gathered at Daldowie Crematorium, near Glasgow.

The minister the Rev David Locke revealed that McGraw was a Science Fiction nut and had collected every episode of Doctor Who ever made and was also a great fan of the Star Trek television series.

As he drew the red curtain around the drug lord's coffin before the cremation, he said: "You wonder if, right now, Tam would say, 'Beam me up Scotty'."

Mr Locke told the mourners he could not say whether McGraw was the gangster described in the media.

He added: "A book written about Tam asks, 'Was he a man standing on the edge looking over his shoulder? Who was the real Tam McGraw, gangland figure or wise investor? Or was he a friendly family man who loved his family?

"Did he have a criminal past or was he a businessman who made some wise financial decisions?" 

Despite his fearsome reputation, McGraw was not regarded as a typical hardman.

His power lay in his ability to persuade other crooks with reputations for violence to back him up.

Unlike gangster before and after him he managed to stay under the media radar for much of his life of crime.

He had only really come to the public's attention for the first time when he was arrested and charged with drug smuggling in 1998.

The claims and counter-claims surrounding McGraw's actual crimes have made it impossible sometimes to tell fact from fiction.

For every associate of McGraw's to talk of his criminal exploits, there have been rivals to label him a police informer.

Three months after McGraw's death his older brother Francis McGrow was murdered in his own front room in Springboig.

The man responsible was given a life sentence and ordered to serve at least 17 years and six months before he could be considered for parole.

In 2009 Margaret married a friend of her husband, ironically the son of a former police officer at Bothwell Bridge Hotel in Lanarkshire. They honeymooned in the Caribbean but the marriage ended in 2012.

That same year she even had a book published about her life titled Gangster's Wife: An Empire Built On Cards - a reference to her love of Tarot card readings.

A further tragedy was to follow.

The body of Tam and Margaret's adult son William was discovered at his flat in 2013.

The death certificate showed he died from drug and alcohol intoxication.

That same year a movie the Wee Man was released about the city's underworld starring Line of Duty star Martin Compston as Paul Ferris, while McGraw was portrayed by John Hannah.

Four years later it was revealed that Margaret had sold off the McGraw's taxi firm interests for £1.4million.

She passed away at the relatively young age of 66 in 2018 from cancer, more than a decade after the sudden death of her gangland husband

Margaret was known as the jeweller because of her love of bling - though no one would ever say that to her face.

People that knew McGraw believe Margaret was the brains behind his rise to power.

He would usually turn to his wife for advice before making big decisions, relying on her common sense to run their "legitimate" businesses and keep him out of trouble.

She left behind a multi-million-pound family fortune - and it remains a mystery to this day where it all ended up.