In the latest of our Glasgow Crime Stories podcast, we turn to the Scots killer branded “truly evil” after the cruel murder of a young student nurse Karen Buckley. Listen to the episode on streaming platforms now or read the extended story. 


It was Saturday in Glasgow's busy west end and nurse Karen Buckley was enjoying a night out with friends.

As the evening drew to a close, they headed to the Sanctuary nightclub in Dumbarton Road, arriving at 11.45pm.

Karen had only been in the city a few months after moving there to study for a Masters' degree in occupational health at Glasgow Caledonian University. 

She and her friends were new to the city and were exploring different venues - one of them being Sanctuary.

Around 1am Karen left the club and began talking to a stranger she met in the street. 

For some reason they walked to his car in nearby Church Street and drove off together.

It was the last time she was seen alive.

At around lunchtime the following day, Karen's worried friends reported her missing and a massive police operation was launched.

Karen who left her jacket behind was seen on CCTV talking to the mystery man in Dumbarton Road.

They were then seen walking together to where he parked his car about 100 yards from the club.

Concerns about Karen's welfare began to grow after a handbag found by a member of the public in Dawsholm Park in nearby Klevindale and handed into police.

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Her worried parents flew from Ireland to make an emotional plea for her safe return. 

She had graduated from University of Limerick as a nurse with flying colours. She got a job in England, then decided to further her education by signing up for an master’s in science in Glasgow.

She had travelled the world and was known to be cautious as a result. 

Karen's friends who had gone with her to Sanctuary told police she had no plans for the night other than to get home and get a good night's sleep.

Why had a street wise girl new to Glasgow got into a car with a complete stranger?

Suspicion quickly turned on to hulking giant Alexander Pacteau, 21, who had been in the same club that night.

After the last sighting of Karen footage showed Pacteau's grey Ford Focus driving along Dumbarton Road around 1am then turning into Kelvin Way and reappearing at the other end 12 minutes later.

Detectives would later conclude she had been murdered by Pacteau in his car during that 12-minute window.

In fact, he had repeatedly clubbed her on the head with a large spanner.

He then took her body to his flat in Dorchester Avenue after dumping the handbag in Dawsholm Park.

Glasgow Times: Missing student Karen Buckley... No 11 Dorchester Avenue, Kelvindale, the home of Alexander Pacteau who was the last person to see Karen Buckley with police activity and the entrance cordened off with Police tape..Picture shows forensic police officers en

A total of 1,900 hours of CCTV footage were reviewed by officers working on the case in a bid to build up a case against him.

They showed chilling images of Pacteau spending the following Sunday morning driving to various supermarkets and DIY stores in the west end to pick up supplies to cover his tracks, including caustic soda.

One shot showed him calmly loading up his basket with the bottles, which he would then use to try to dissolve Karen's body. 

While his flatmate was out, Pacteau carried Karen's beaten body into his bathroom and placed her in the bath.

He submerged her body in caustic soda and then tried to clean the flat of any trace of the nurse.

However, Pacteau's flatmate was due to return home, forcing the killer to drain the bath and wrap his victim's body in a duvet overnight.

During this period Pacteau went to the Forth and Clyde Canal and threw the blood-stained spanner into the water. 

He drove to another supermarket and asked a shop assistant to recommend a cleaning agent for removing blood from a mattress.

After spending more than an hour trying to clean Karen's blood from the duvet and mattress, Pacteau decided to burn everything she had come into contact with. 

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Later, he bought a 220-litre blue plastic barrel which he filled with caustic soda before placing her body in it.

At one stage a neighbour saw him struggling down the stairs from his flat with the large blue barrel unaware that it contained Karen's body.

That afternoon, Pacteau took the barrel to High Craigton Farm, near Milngavie, where he used to store fireworks. 

He agreed a deal with the farmer to rent an outhouse for £10 for a week and hid the barrel inside, placing a cotton sheet, paper shredder and bicycle wheel on top.

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Within moments of him arriving home, police knocked the door of his flat in Dorchester Avenue. 

Pacteau answered and said to the officers: "I was just coming to see you."

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When he opened the front door, the officers were hit by an overwhelming smell of bleach. 

Pacteau admitted that Karen had been in his flat.

They had consensual sex and she left - alive and well - at 4am.

He admitted he had got rid of some stuff from his flat and burned it - having panicked when he heard Karen was missing.

Pacteau agreed to go to Helen Street Police Office in Govan to give a witness statement.

He was allowed to leave the station late that Monday night.

By Wednesday following the CCTV trawl police decided they had enough evidence to treat him as a suspect.

Pacteau was detained in Starbucks in Nelson Mandela Place in Glasgow city centre shortly before 2pm and, again taken to Helen Street Police Office.

He was searched upon arrival and officers found a handwritten note, on hotel-headed paper, which detailed the version of events he had earlier given.

Around an hour later, a member of the public contacted police with information about High Craigton Farm. He explained how he worked with Pacteau when they sold fireworks together and they used to store their goods at a farm.

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This vital tip-off led police to the farm - and ultimately to Karen's body. 

A post-mortem examination revealed she had fought for her life.

Despite his "elaborate plan" to dispose of Ms Buckley's body, the forensic evidence was damning.

Tiny blood spots were found in his car, bedroom and bathroom. He even left a fingerprint inside the barrel used to hide the body.

Although he had his car valeted, a police dog also detected a body had been in the boot. 

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More than 500 police officers and civilian staff had been involved in the investigation.

They poured over more than 1,000 hours of CCTV footage taken from 50 cameras to build up a damning picture of his guilt 

On August that year Pacteau appeared at the High Court in Glasgow and admitted a charge of murdering Karen.

It transpired he had arrived at the club with seven pals around the same time as Karen and her pals.

The boys had booked a booth for which they had paid £250.

He left the club alone around 1am, telling a steward he was going to get something from his car.

Karen walked out of the club alone around the same time and met Pacteau.

It's believed he offered the nurse a lift to her flat in the city's Garnethill area but instead drove a short distance to Kelvin Way, near Glasgow University.

There he struck Karen with the spanner up to 13 times, leaving its imprint on her head. He fractured her skull and caused a massive bleed to her brain.

Karen was 5ft 4 and Pacteau 6ft 4 but she fought bravely, covering his hands and arms with scratches. 

Both had been on a night out at the same venue at the same time. A tragic coincidence for Karen.

Neither had met or spoken until both left the building shortly after 1am.

It is not known what Pacteau said to Karen when he met her outside or why she got so willingly into his car.

She disliked taking taxis and trusted the kindness of a stranger got into his car, which initially drove off in the direction of her flat in Hill Street in Garnethill before turning into the Kelvin Walkway. 

Sentencing three weeks later in September in Glasgow was recorded by television cameras.

Karen's parents John and Marian had travelled from their home in Cork and were seated on the public benches.

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Defence QC John Scullion said his client could offer no explanation for his actions in killing a complete stranger.

He claimed he was now 'remorseful' but admitted his apology would sound hollow to the victims's family.

He said his client had been "extremely intoxicated" and could recall little about why he killed Karen.

Mr Scullion added: "His recollection is that he and Karen Buckley began to argue. He took exception to something she said about the males in the club. His recollection is that this trivial argument was the trigger of his actions." 

 "He has instructed me to convey an apology to Karen Buckley's family and friends. 

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"But he understands that such words are unlikely to give any comfort to them."

As he stood impassively in the dock with his head bowed Lady Rae told him.

"Your conduct after the killing succeeded only in adding even more pain and suffering on to the Buckley family.

"By the time of your first encounter with the police, you must have been aware that her family was anxious for news of her because there had been extensive media coverage seeking information as to her whereabouts, but you kept silent.

"I question how anyone doing all of what you did over several days can seriously suggest to this court that he did so in a panic."

Lady Rae also appeared to criticise the prosecution's decision to drop a charge of 'attempting to defeat the ends of justice' in relation to the disposal of her body which prevented her from handing down a lengthier prison term.

She added: “Your killing of this young woman combined with the extraordinary lengths to which you went to cover it up, display the actions of a callous and calculating man.

"You now, through your counsel, claim to be remorseful. Remorse was, however, only expressed for the first time when you pleaded guilty.

"From a perusal of the criminal justice social work report, it is apparent that in the course of your lengthy interviews with the social worker, at no time did you ever demonstrate or express any regret for what you had done."

Pacteau was given a mandatory life term and told he must serve at least 23 years before he can be considered for parole.

Lady Rae said the minimum sentence would have been 25 years, but for his guilty plea. 

The killer, dressed in a grey suit, white shirt and blue tie, showed no emotion and refused to look at the victim's family in the public benches as he was led handcuffed to the cells. 

After Pacteau had been sentenced John Buckley spoke for his wife and three sons outside court.

He said: "All Karen was doing was making her way home when she was randomly targeted and murdered by a cowardly, vicious criminal.

"No words of ours can do justice to our feelings towards him. He is truly evil and we hope he will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

"Our hearts are broken at the thought of Karen's final moments in this world.

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"The thought of her alone, frightened and struggling for her life haunts us.

"The last face she saw and the last voice she heard was of that cold-blooded, cowardly murderer, who calmly set about trying to dispose of her body so she would never be found.

"Not only did he rob Karen of her precious life and future, he robbed us of our beautiful daughter and sister."

Senior officers who had investigated Karen's disappearance said that Pacteau had remained calm when being quizzed about the murder.

At one point while being held in a cell at Stewart Street Police Office he calmly sat and read a book.

Speaking after the end of the trial, Detective Superintendent Jim Kerr, who led the investigation, admitted any female could have suffered at Pacteau's hands that night.

He said:" I think there was premeditated plan that night to find some victim.

"He has been calculated and callous. They're complete strangers and he's made a concerted effort to destroy any evidence as to Karen's whereabouts.

"He had the opportunity at various times during this investigation to tell us exactly where she was and he didn't do that either." 

Mr Kerr added: "He's a well-educated individual. He was intelligent and measured in his response to us from the word go.

"He enjoyed the game if you like, in my opinion. He didn't tell us where Karen Buckley was. "Although he could have."

It emerged that Pacteau had previously told work colleagues that the "perfect murder" would involve dissolving the victim's body in acid, reminiscent of scenes from the television programme Breaking Bad.

He had kept Ms Buckley's body in his flat for two days while attempting to dissolve her body in caustic soda in his bath before buying the plastic barrel.

Another office involved in the murder investigation Detective Chief Inspector Allan Burton said of Pacteau:"We found him in the bedroom. He had his iPhone on with the torch on and he was cleaning the floor.

"Alexander Pacteau had an answer for everything. When he gave a statement, he gave enough information that he thought would satisfy us. He was not appearing distressed or nervous." 

Mr Burton said that Pacteau appeared to enjoy being interviewed by the police adding:"He was articulate, he was intelligent, and he could be charming when he was speaking to some of the officers in the investigation."

After his conviction it emerged that Pacteau had been cleared on an attempted rape charge in 2013.

In a case that bore striking similarities to Karen's brutal murder, he was accused of having attacked another woman, also 24, in Glasgow after she too was on her way home on a night out.

Pacteau also had a conviction in 2014 for forging bank notes worth £6,000, by scanning real paper money and printing out the copies.

Glasgow Sheriff Court heard he had run out of cash from his disability benefits - which he had received following his 2013 car crash - and he was let off with a community payback order of 225 hours' unpaid work. 

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It also emerged that he came from a good home and had three siblings.

He had gone to prestigious fee-paying Kelvinside Academy in Glasgow's West End.

After his parents split up in 2013, he went to live with his father. That year he also had a car accident which left him severely injured.

Later he moved to a flat in Drumchapel, and although he still saw his friends and family occasionally, Pacteau became increasingly isolated. 

Pacteau would spend days surfing the internet in his bedroom. He rarely went out, ordering Chinese takeaways and pizzas. Eventually his weight ballooned to 21 stone.

One one interview after his conviction, psychologist Dr Mairead Tagg said."Pacteau is a serial killer in the making, there's no doubt about it.

"The best prediction of future behaviour is past behaviour.

"He is definitely a sociopath and quite possibly a psychopath. He shows no guilt or remorse."

Pacteau will only be released at the end of his sentence if a parole board decide he is no longer a risk. 

His earliest release date is 2038 when he will be in his mid 40's.

Speaking at the time Detective Supt Kerr said: "I think it would be a very brave parole board that would decide to let him out at that point in time."