The murder of two women shocked Glasgow and prompted fears that a serial killer was on the loose. But the killer might not had been stopped were it not for one crucial mistake.


On October 1, 1982, the body of taxi driver Cathy McChord, then 36, was found crammed into the boot of her cab in Braeside Place, Cambuslang with the meter on her cab still running.

She had died violently, with deep stab wounds to her chest and the back of her head.

Strathclyde Police launched a major murder investigation, one of the biggest the city had seen, interviewing hundreds of taxi customers and drivers, particularly female ones.

However, they quickly discovered it wasn't the first time that Cathy had come to their attention.

She had previously been sentenced to three years in prison in the 1970s for her part in a £143,500 newspaper "Spot the Ball" competition scam.

Papers would publish a photograph from a soccer match and invite readers to guess the position of the ball, which has been removed from the picture.

It was one of the biggest frauds ever seen in Glasgow and made police wonder if there could be a link.

At the time Cathy had been twenty-seven and lived with her husband Eddie, who was the same age and drove a taxi.

She worked as an office clerk at a newspaper where she earned £35 a week.

In 1973, she was appointed Deputy Competitions Clerk with responsibility for various promotions, including the Scottish Daily Express’ Place the Ball.

The paper then offered a weekly cash prize of £1,500 – worth £20,000 today.

This was later increased to £5,000 and then to £20,500 and £22,000 – the equivalent of a modern lottery win.

Cathy and her boss decided to set up a syndicate which included several of her friends.

Those pals in turn located a suitable winner – someone who needed money but would keep quiet.

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Once the bogus winner was selected, an entry form would be submitted in their name, which then won the £1500 Place the Ball prize.

They kept £200 of their winnings, returning £1300 which was divided among the syndicate.

From March 1974 until April 1977, Cathy and her boss fixed 67 Place the Ball competitions.

They also twice rigged two major jackpots of £20,500 and £22,000, collecting most of the winnings for themselves.

As Cathy and her boss did the hardest part of the con, they felt they were entitled to the majority of the proceeds.

For Cathy, it suddenly meant a life of luxury cars, foreign holidays, lavish furnishings, and expensive jewellery.

She bought a new taxi for her husband, a £3,500 car for herself, and moved from Baillieston in Glasgow to an £18,000 house in the suburbs. Cathy also now had £12,000 in a building society account.

She later revealed in an interview that her involvement in the scam may have been due to the fact that Eddie and herself could not have kids.

Cathy said: “I enjoy spending money I like good things, wine, food, travel.

"And I love clothes, particularly trouser suits. I did make flights to London to buy clothes but not as people made out.

“Whenever I had money from the competitions, I would take it to two building societies.

 "I would put between £100 and £300 in one and about the same amount in the other. I did this several times.

“I don’t really know why I became involved in this.

"Maybe it would have been different if we could have had children. I don’t know.”

The syndicate also saw themselves as modern-day Robin Hoods, who gave money to those who needed it most.

Winners were found from all over Glasgow. It seemed the perfect scam until one 19-year-old winner blew the whistle after he was threatened by people, he had promised a share of his winnings.

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Fearing for his safety he went to the police and spilled the beans.

Cathy McChord was jailed for three years, along with her boss after both admitted to defrauding their employer of £143,500.

The police recovered only £4224 of the £143,500 at the time but £139,000 was still unaccounted for.

Could one of those involved in the fraud have been responsible because they felt they did not get their fair share?

After intensive investigations detectives ruled out a connection to the swindle or even organised crime itself.

The beneficiaries of the fraud had been Cathy, friends and colleagues not members of the underworld.

Whoever was responsible was a fare that she had picked up that night.

Cathy was just an innocent woman going about her job when the crazy person had tried to kill her.

But who had done it and why?

What possible motive could someone have for murdering a female taxi driver with such violence?

However, detectives had found something at the scene that suggested that it was more than just a murder.

Inside Cathy’s taxi, a cigarette lighter, an inhaler and her car keys had been carefully positioned in a straight line on the driver's seat.

That suggested there was a ritualistic element to the crime.

The attack caused fear among the city's 1400 black cab drivers, both female and male.

The motive for the attack wasn't clear.

Had it been something simple as a dispute over a fare or the journey taken by the driver?

But surely that would not have promoted such savagery?

The fact that Cathy’s body had been put in the boot of her black hackney cab was even more chilling.

There was talk of drivers being given special panic alarms which they could activate if they were under attack.

Despite deploying major resources and expertise from across the force, police drew a blank in their bid to find the killer and the inquiry was eventually wound down.

But just as the officers were returning to their normal duties a killer struck again.

On December 3, the body of nurse and midwife Elizabeth Walton, 48, was discovered on the grounds of West Coats Primary School, Cambuslang - the school her daughter attended.

It emerged that she had been offered a lift home that night but decided to walk instead.

Elizabeth was dragged from the pavement through bushes, beaten, kicked, strangled and stripped naked.

After death, her body, wrists, and legs were mutilated with a knife in what was described in court as "symbolic and ritualistic wounds".

By her side, lay her clothes carefully tied in neat knots, laid out in a line.

In the same ritualistic way that the police had found the first victim.

There were other similarities to the murder of Cathy McChord.

Both had died violently. In both cases, a knife was used by a left-handed person.

Neither had been sexually assaulted. Both died a short distance from each other.

There was also another fear - that the killings were part of a pre-planned ritual, and the killer could strike again.

Police realised that an extremely dangerous man was on the loose and had to be caught before he struck again.

All the patterns of a serial killer were there.

This was a murderer who wasn't going to stop if he wasn't stopped.

The biggest team of cops Glasgow had seen in years started knocking on doors and an incident caravan was set up near the scene of the crime. It took only three days for their first breakthrough this time.

Detectives had been baffled by both murders and at this stage had no suspects. 

Initial appeals for witnesses failed to provide a breakthrough.

That was until forklift truck driver Iain Scoular arrived at the caravan saying he had information that may help on Elizabeth's murder.

He'd been near the primary school around 11pm on December 2, the time of the killing, and noticed a suspicious-looking man hanging around some bushes.

Scoular gave the cops as much of a description as he could remember.

Scoular was 24 years old, politely spoken, from a good family and lived in a nice house near the scene with his well-to-do parents.

Yet the more detectives inquired into Scoular's sighting of the mystery man, the more intrigued they became about Scoular himself.

Cracks began to appear in his story.

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He had said to cops that he'd been home by 11 pm on the night Elizabeth Walton was killed.

However, his mother revealed Iain hadn't come home until 1am - two hours later than he'd told the cops.

She also said that Iain had been at home with her and her husband the night Cathy McChord had been murdered.

Checking their notebooks, they realised that Scoular had given a different account of his whereabouts.

Scoular was interviewed again and changed his story twice.

Witnesses then identified him as having been seen running fast past the shopping centre in Cambuslang shortly after Elizabeth Walton's murder.

Jean and her husband were concerned by how often the cops were interviewing their son - worried he might be implicated in a very serious matter they believed he had nothing to do with.

They are even said to have complained officially to the Chief Constable about the police's pursuit of his son.

By this time police were confident that the two murders had been committed by the same person.

Could that have been Scoular?

He seemed a bit of an oddball. But that didn't make him a killer, or did it?

Scoular was seen as an outsider, a loner, prone to making up stories and had been treated by a psychiatrist.

Jean Scoular kept a tight leash on Iain, despite him being 24.

When he went out, she sat up waiting for him.

Sometimes she would go out in her car scouring the streets until she found him.

The renewed police activity on the second murder had also prompted people's memories and fresh information from the public.

Two separate witnesses identified Scoular as running away from a taxi the night Cathy was killed.

Then the forensic team made a breakthrough.

Two hairs from the collar of a jacket Cathy McChord had been wearing were found on Scoular's trousers, which in turn had been taken found during a search of the house where he lived with his parents.

They had enough. Iain Scoular was charged with both murders and appeared at the High Court in Glasgow in June 1983 lodging a special defence of alibi.

In other words, he had been elsewhere at the time Cathy and Elizabeth were killed.

During the trial, he seemed unperturbed by the proceedings and even laughed and joked with police officers.

Even when psychiatrists described him as a psychopath, he didn't show a flicker of interest.

His only reaction was when doctors suggested he was sexually impotent.

In his evidence, Strathclyde Police's Chief medical officer William McLay said there was a perverse sexual motivation to the way that the victims had been decimated with knife wounds.

The jury also heard claims that Scoular was an extremely dangerous psychopath.

He was found guilty by majority of stabbing Catherine and unanimously of Elizabeth's murder.

The 14-day trial was a harrowing experience for the jury as details of the murders were revealed and graphic pictures were shown.

Before sentencing him to life Lord Allanbridge said: "I consider you an extremely dangerous young man."

One senior police officer later described Scoular as an "evil, emotionless murder machine".

Few people disagreed.

One of the detectives involved in the double murder investigation was Bryan McLaughlin.

He retired from the force in 1996 at the rank of Detective Inspector after more than 30 years of service and 230 murder investigations.

At the time he was a member of the Strathclyde Police Serious Crime Squad and had been brought in to help local officers.

In his 2012 memoir Crimestopper, he said: "Scoular was interviewed at least ten times about his version of events and had changed his story about his movements on the night of the second murder at least once.

"Then his overprotective mother inadvertently dropped him in it.

"She said she had waited up for him to come home on the night of the murder and had gone out looking for him finally spotting him after 1am.

"That contrasted with Scoular’s story that he had been back home just after 11pm."

Bryan added: "Among key evidence linking Scoular to the second victim was the ligature used to strangle Mrs Walton.

"It was similar to the drawcord from the anorak Scoular wore at work.

"The cord from the jacket was missing and his explanations were unsatisfactory.

"Detectives traced shops and markets to find clothing with similar cords but none were found.

"Scoular’s trousers also had muskrat hair on them.

"The victim's coat was made from muskrat hair.

"Now the net was closing in on Scoular."

The double killer was released in 2003 on parole having served just over 20 years behind bars - now considered safe to return to decent society.

In an interview at the time, Cathy's husband Eddie told of his outrage.

He said the Parole Board ignored his warnings that Scoular could strike again and set him free.

Eddie added: "This man killed my wife. He should never have been allowed out as he will surely kill again. No woman is safe when he is around.

"During the trial, he showed no expression of remorse or concern for the consequences of his actions.

"He used to sneer, chew gum and joke with the police officers in the dock.

"This is a man who killed because of the publicity and notoriety it would bring him. He wanted his 15 minutes of fame, and he will kill again.

"He has finished his sentence but the families of his victims are left with the life sentence. We will take this to our graves."

Following his release, Scoular moved in with a family member in Bothwell, Lanarkshire only a few miles from the scene of the two murders.

Eddie, then 56, said his family had objected to Scoular's release on two previous occasions

He added "Scoular applied for parole last year and it was refused after we objected. "He applied again last month and we objected again.

"This monster has his whole life to look forward to, all we are left with is a grave to tend in a cemetery.

Scoular had previously been allowed out for regular weekend visits to his family to prepare him for life on the outside.

Eddie said: "We weren't told about this either, the first we heard was when friends spotted him in Cambuslang."

In 2018, Cambuslang-born crime writer Gavin Bell - who uses the pen name Mason Cross for the bestselling Carter Blake detective series - revisited the horrific crimes for a CBS tv series, Written in Blood.

The author was just three when Cathy was found murdered close to where he lived in nearby Huntly Drive.

Elizabeth Walton was discovered on the grounds of the primary school which Gavin would later attend.

He said at the time: “I spoke to my dad about it and he remembered being woke up that night by all the flashing blue lights over in Braeside Place.

"His bedroom was at the back of the house at that time. The next day the police came round to canvas and asked him if he had seen anything.

"It was something kids at school mentioned and walking round the neighbourhood you would hear things like 'That's where the murderer lived'.

"Where I grew up in Huntly Drive, we used to cut through the hedge in my back garden to go through Braeside Place all the time. The second victim got the last train home from Glasgow and walked up to Stewarton Drive, and I've done that trip hundreds of times.

"Whenever anything like this happens, you hear the neighbours say, 'It was such a shock, you never expect anything like that to happen in a place like this'.

"I guess the big thing is I never had that illusion that nothing bad can happen in a place. It can happen anywhere."

Little is known about Iain Scoular, who would now be in his 60s.

Four key questions about the case remain to this day.

Why did Scoular go to the police and tell them about the mystery man running away?

Was he playing a game with them or trying to throw them off the scent?

Would the police have ever found out about Scoular had he not gone to them in the first place?