HE WAS nicknamed the "Quiet Man" but nothing could be further from the truth when describing Gilbert McIlwrick's impact on policing in Glasgow.

In a fascinating career lasting almost 40 years he arrested a major IRA terrorist, returned the stolen Stone of Destiny to Westminster Abbey, and initiated Scotland's first ever mass fingerprinting exercise in a bid to find the killer of a four-year-old girl.

As head of the City of Glasgow CID, McIlwrick was responsible for solving five murders and the city's biggest ever bank robbery after they had all taken place in the same week.

Born in 1897 in Cumnock, East Ayrshire, he joined the police at the end of the First World War and within two years had become a detective.

Glasgow Times:

In April 1921, when only 24, he was responsible for the arrest of a senior member of the IRA, Frank Carty.

Carty had escaped from prison in Londonderry in February that year and fled to Glasgow to seek refuge from republican sympathisers in the city.

McIlwrick was part of a team that arrested him in a house in Springburn.

The following month, while being taken to Duke Street Prison by prison van, there was a failed attempt him by gunmen to free Carty, during which a police inspector was shot dead.

In the 1930's the then chief constable Sir Percy Sillitoe put him in charge of a newly formed commercial section. What we now know as the fraud squad.

Over the next four years he headed up a number of major investigations into embezzlement and corruption that saw three councillors and eight members lawyers put behind bars.

McIlwrick's reputation was such that he was often asked to help solve other forces’ crimes.

In 1941 he was invited by the then Moray and Nairn Constabulary in the north of Scotland to help track down the killer of a 17-year old-shop assistant whose body was found in a wood. Within four days a young soldier had been arrested.

By 1946, McIlwrick was promoted to detective superintendent and was responsible for solving the murder that year of a retired colleague. A case which best illustrated his policing skills.

James Straiton, 62, had been shot dead while trying to foil a burglar who had broken into a neighbour’s house in Edinburgh Road, Carntyne.

Around 8.30pm on March 26, James and Annie Deaken had asked for his help suspecting someone had broken in while they were out.

Without a thought for his own safety he fetched his old police baton and went immediately to help.

Mr Deaken offered to climb in one of the rear windows and open the door from the inside, while Mr Straiton covered the front.

Once in the house Mr Deaken saw two men at the top of the stairs.

One was armed with two guns which he carried in both hands.

When the intruders tried to flee the house, Mr Deaken tried to block their escape.

The older of the two armed intruders opened fire but narrowly missed him.

There was a violent struggle and Mr Straiton hit the gunman on the head with his old police baton.

The blow knocked the intruder to his knees and in retaliation he shot Mr Straiton in the stomach.

Both burglars then ran off, leaving the retired police officer dying in the garden.

There had been two previous burglaries in the Dennistoun area involving a firearm where the intruder got in through a drainpipe. In one in Whitehill Drive, a bullet was fired to force open a door.

In the second in nearby Golfhill Drive, a gun was used to threaten the owner after he disturbed them.

Superintendent McIlwrick decided to search for criminals between the ages of 20 and 25 who had previously broken into homes using a drain pipe.

Their fingerprints could then be compared to a fingerprint which had been left at the scene of the Golfhill Drive break-in.

If they could get a match they would then have a credible suspect for the murder.

They quickly found one belonging to John Caldwell, a 20-year-old soldier, who lived in Bridgeton, Glasgow.

Caldwell stood trial at the High Court in Glasgow in June 1946 where he was found guilty and sentenced to hang.

Five years later, McIlwrick was made head of CID at the City of Glasgow Police at the rank of detective chief supt.

Glasgow Times:

One of his first tasks was the return of the Stone of Destiny.

It had been stolen from Westminster Abbey in December 1950 by four Glasgow University students causing a national scandal.

It was dumped at Arbroath Abbey four months later and taken back to Glasgow by his officers.

McIlwrick was responsible for getting it out of Glasgow police headquarters in Turnbull Street and back to London without fuss - a difficult feat with the nation's press gathered outside.

But the quick-thinking detective hoodwinked the gathering reporters and photographers by sending the famous artefact off in an unaccompanied Jaguar which slipped away unnoticed.

Instead, the press followed the car which was being given the official police escort.

Glasgow Times:

McIlwrick was also in charge of the search for the killer of four-year-old Betty Alexander, whose body was found in a locked hospital backyard near her home in Garnethill in October 1952.

He came up with the idea of fingerprinting all men in the area over the age of 17.

Nothing like that had ever been tried before.

More than 800 men agreed to give samples but the murder remains unsolved to this day.

That same year he took charge of an investigation into the murder of a police officer in Hyndland by bank clerk Edwin Finlay.

Finlay was suspected of stealing £1000 (£30,000 now) from his bank and when two local beat cops went to arrest him in the street he shot one of them dead and injured the other.

Following a chase and shootout, Finlay turned the gun on himself.

In 1954, McIlwrick led one murder investigation that was the most sensational of its time.

The actor George MacNeill had been found dead in his flat in August that year in Govan with a head injury having been attacked with an axe.

He had been a cast member in the radio show The McFlannels, a popular and long-running soap of the time.

The main suspect was 24-year-old criminal John Gordon whose finger prints had been found in the dead man's flat.

He was arrested in Spain and brought back to Scotland by detectives to stand trial at the High Court in Glasgow in February 1955.

Gordon was found guilty after less than an hour by the jury following a two-week trial and sentenced to death.

However, he won a reprieve and was given a life sentence and released after 19 years.

It was during the summer of 1955 that McIlwrick was given the biggest challenge of his career.

Five people had been murdered in a seven-day period over the Glasgow Fair holiday.

The violence began on Friday, July 15, when a man was killed during a street fight in the Gorbals. 

The next night, Mary MacLeod was battered to death by her husband at their home in Bath Street.

The third murder took place on Sunday, July 18, when 45-year-old Sunday school teacher Bob Cummings was stabbed to his death near his home in the Gorbals.

The following weekend, 47-year-old steel worker Joseph Cholsworth died in Shettleston Road after being punched in the head.

Twenty-four hours later, a baker was murdered in his flat in Pollok.

At the time McIlwrick referred to the crime spree as “heatwave madness”.

The spate of murders coincided with the biggest bank hold-up ever seen in Glasgow.

On Wednesday, July 20, four men stole a bank van in Ibrox and escaped with £45,000 (more than £1m today).

By September, four arrests had been made and, in January 1956, six men went on trial at the High Court in Glasgow with three receiving hefty jail terms.

McIlwrick received high praise for his work, with a news report of the time saying: "Five murders and a £40,000 bank raid in the space of seven days would surely bow any ordinary man."

He retired in the late 1950s after almost 40 years police service and died in 1985 at the age of 88.

When asked once about his remarkable career, he responded: "The unsolved cases - these are the ones that you remember most."