In the latest episode of Glasgow Crime Stories… Was a master hitman behind the murder of one of Glasgow’s most feared and ruthless underworld figures?

The sniper had taken up his position on the top floor of the eight-storey tower block shortly before 9pm.

He tried to make himself as comfortable as possible while waiting patiently for his target to appear in view through the telescopic sight.

The concealed spot where he was positioned was normally used by residents to hang out their washing.

But today the concrete drying green had a far more sinister purpose.

A few minutes later, father-of-five Frank McPhie was lying dead outside the tenement flat where he lived in Guthrie Street, Maryhill shot once through the head with pinpoint accuracy.

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His 11-year-old son had been playing nearby and saw his dad fall to the ground.

The victim's wife hearing the shot rushed from their ground floor flat in a vain bid to try and help her husband.

The killer calmly walked off leaving behind the deadly weapon that had just delivered the fatal bullet - a Czech-made ACZ Brno rifle.

It's thought he may even have passed the various people who had gathered around McPhie as he lay dead on the ground.

The murder weapon was the most accurate available and popular with terrorist gunmen.

The IRA was once thought to have dozens of these types of rifles in concealed weapon dumps across Ireland.

It also had a less sinister purpose and was often used legally by farmers for pest control.

But not this day.

Frank McPhie was one of the city's most feared and ruthless underworld figures with involvement in serious and organised crime going back to the 1970s.

It was a brazen attack in a public place which could have resulted in innocent residents being caught in the crossfire.

His death, shortly after 9pm on May 10, 2000, shocked the local community where he lived, but not one of the police officers tasked to investigate his murder.

Six weeks earlier, Detective Sergeant Gerry Gallagher had stood in McPhie's flat which was only a short drive from Maryhill Police Office.

He'd been sent to deliver a threat to life warning, also known as an Osman Warning.

They are issued to criminals where police have credible intelligence that violence is being planned against them.

Mr Gallagher said McPhie was unconcerned about the threat to his life and also made it clear his visitor was not welcome.

In a recent interview in the Glasgow Times, he recalled: "I knew McPhie like most officers in the city by reputation and as a violent individual.

"But it was my first involvement with him personally.

"Though he was not tall, he was powerfully and stockily built.

"During our short meeting, he bristled with aggression, but it was his eyes that told you everything.

"They held neither warmth nor humour.

"I told him that I was there to give him a warning that his life was in danger and he should take precautions regarding his movements.

"But he was not interested in hearing this.

"[McPhie] said: 'You've given it, now goodbye’."

The Detective Sergeant then became a key part of the murder investigation team and five months later was involved in identifying a prime suspect.

The tower block from where the gunman opened fire was in Carrsbridge Drive directly across from the victim's home.

DS Gallagher added: "The sniper just bided his time until McPhie came home.

"After he had fired the shot, he just disappeared into thin air.

"There was no sign of a man running off or cars being driven away at high speed.

"It's possible he had a bolt hole in the same tower block where he could hide until things quietened down.

"He may even have just slipped away and joined the crowds in the street.

"We later discovered that our main suspect was a local man who lived nearby so he would not have stood out or attracted any suspicion."

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But who was Frank McPhie and why did someone want him dead?

He had been born in Lennoxtown on the outskirts of Glasgow on October 21, 1948.

His parents then moved to Edinburgh when McPhie was 12 years old, before relocating to Maryhill.

He would spend the rest of his life living in the area which would later become his own personal fiefdom.

Being the only boy in a family with five sisters, McPhie learned to look after himself and his sisters from an early age. His mother came from a travelling family, which she gave up as her family started to grow.

McPhie and his sisters also spoke "Sheltie". A language used by the Irish travelling community like Brad Pit in the movie Snatch.

But he was also said to be embarrassed when his mum spoke it in front of his friends.

By the early 1970s, McPhie was associated with major criminals like Glasgow crime boss Arthur Thompson Snr.

His contacts in the underworld and ability to inflict extreme levels of violence had made him someone to be reckoned with.

Around this time, McPhie regularly visited Ireland where it was said he had friends amongst the paramilitary communities from both sides of the sectarian divide.

In the early 1980s, he began renting ice cream vans and was doing well in the trade.

The vans did a roaring evening trade supplying groceries, chocolate and cigarettes at a time when most local shops were closed.

Like others, he got caught up in the violence and intimidation that became routine for the van owners in the housing schemes of Glasgow at that time.

When a relative based in Castlemilk was having some bother with rival van owners it was only natural that he should turn to McPhie to help him resolve his little local difficulty.

It was said that shots were fired and people were beaten up. Problem sorted.

It was around the time that McPhie also became known by the nickname Iceman.

The same nickname was later given to another major gangland figure who was gaining prominence around the time of his murder.

However, McPhie was always seen as the real Iceman.

It may have had something to do with his involvement in the ice cream trade.

But it was also said the term suited his ruthless and calculating personality.

One underwood figure explained: "He was cold as ice when working on robberies or when inflicting violence on others.

"Not a man to be crossed under any circumstances."

McPhie's rising reputation in the criminal community understandably made him a target for the police and they did have some success.

He was found guilty of a robbery in 1978 and given five years in prison.

He repeated the crime in 1986 and got another five-year sentence.

In 1990, McPhie was charged with, but not convicted of, a further armed robbery before being involved in a £200,000 drug deal in 1992, which earned him an eight-year term.

At one time, he was also a prime suspect in the murders of two underworld figures Bobby Glover and Joe Hanlon in September 1991.

They in turn were believed responsible for the murder of Arthur Thompson Jnr - son of Arthur Snr - a month earlier.

McPhie was alleged to have kidnapped Glover and Hanlon after they had been lured to a pub in Barlanark in the northeast of the city.

He is said to have jumped into Hanlon’s Ford Orion without warning.

There he stuck a sawn-off shotgun into the back of the driver seat and said: “Lovely night for a drive”.

McPhie allegedly ordered both men to drive to an open field where they were forced to get out.

A car is believed to have turned up with Arthur Thompson Snr inside.

The crime boss is then said to have got out and shot both men before ordering Frank to dump the bodies.

They were found the following morning stuffed in the same Ford Orion outside a pub both Hanlon and Glover frequented in Shettleston.

Chillingly, the discovery was made on the same the same day as the funeral of young Arthur.

The role played by McPhie in the double murder has more recently been attributed to another crime figure, also now dead.

However, it is a demonstration of his fearsome reputation that rumours of his involvement persist to this day.

Another underworld insider said: "Whether he kidnapped the two men or not, Frank was one of the few at the time able and willing to carry it out."

At the time of his own murder, McPhie was also one of the biggest dog fighters in Europe.

He trained and conditioned the animals, turning them into lethal fighting machines.

Some say Frank had plans to make Scotland the dog-fighting capital of Europe, with him as a major player.

In a chequered criminal career, McPhie was also famously cleared on two separate murder charges.

One involved the death of a fellow inmate William Toye at Perth Prison in 1996 for which he was cleared in 1997.

However, it was the second murder in 1997 - three months after he came out of prison - that brought McPhie to public attention.

The victim Christopher McGrory, 25, was not only a close friend but McPhie had been an usher at his wedding in Dublin two weeks earlier.

McGrory was found strangled in the back of his own van at the side of Dougalston Golf Club, in Milngavie.

It had been done by someone using their bare hands.

McPhie was arrested along with 29-year-old Colin McKay - Christopher McGrory's best man.

Both were cleared at the High Court in Glasgow in 1998 and cheered by a jubilant crowd of 50 as they left the building.

To this day no one else has stood trial or been charged with his murder.

It was thought that McGrory, who owned three horses, had been slain over a drugs deal gone wrong.

A family member said at the time: “Chris was splitting away from them both, saying he wanted to do his own thing.

 “He did not like the level of violence that Frank would inflict, he did not like the way Colin was so eager to participate in this violence.”

Chris McGrory was last seen at his stables being forced into the van by two men.

He and his wife had only been back from their honeymoon for three days when he was killed.

His second acquittal cemented McPhie's reputation as a major player.

He now did not need to fear or be wary of offending other criminals - or so he thought.

McPhie was shot after parking his van on nearby Kelvindale Road to walk the 20 yards to his flat.

Was this assassination revenge for the murder of Chris McGrory three years earlier or did the answer lie closer to home?

McPhie had also been involved in a previous road rage incident on Balmore Road, in nearby Lambill, with a young member of a notorious crime family.

The same man was later ambushed and stabbed outside a local Chinese takeaway.

McPhie was also said to have pulled up his mask to let his victim know who was responsible.

That enraged some of his relatives and retaliation was threatened.

McPhie even turned up at the crime family's scrap yard in Maryhill, to show that he did not fear any reprisals.

It was this series of events relayed to police that had led to DS Gallagher issuing the threat to life weeks earlier.

He added: "I wondered whether his having twice been cleared of murder had given McPhie a sense of his power or invincibility.

"I always remember my father telling me when playing football that no matter how cute, hard or dirty a player you thought you were, there was always someone cuter, harder and dirtier."

Police understandably hit a wall of silence during their investigation into McPhie's murder.

Public appeals for information fell on deaf ears.

No one was speaking up and most local residents were relieved he was gone.

A photofit of a possible suspect seen in the area at the time of the murder failed to elicit a response.

Detectives had little or no evidence and there was also a lack of eyewitnesses.

The man leading the murder investigation Detective Superintendent Graham Vance, said at the time: "I am bitterly disappointed at the poor response from the public and the local community."

Given the reputation of the victim and those he may have crossed, it was not surprising people were remaining tight-lipped.

DNA was later discovered on the weapon, but it belonged to one of the police forensic scientists.

One underworld figure said at the time: "This assassination was one of the best-planned ever to go down in Glasgow. Whoever did it, knew what they were doing"

While a detective on the case commented: "He had been a dead man walking for years. For McPhie, the end was always going to come like this."

Officers discovered McPhie made several phone calls as he drove home.

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But they never found out who he called or what they spoke about.

It was also never established how the gunman knew what time his victim was about to arrive home.

It is unlikely that he could have lain at his spot in the drying area for too long in case he was spotted.

At one stage police thought the assassin might have been an Ulster terrorist given the professionalism involved.

However, in reality, the answer lay much closer to home.

Several months into the inquiry Mr Gallagher and a colleague working on the case got the breakthrough they were looking for.

They discovered that the gun that killed McPhie had previously been used as target practice on a telegraph pole in a farmer's field near Kilmarnock in Ayrshire.

A witness gave them a name and a 37-year-old man from Maryhill was arrested for the murder.

He also happened to be a key associate of the crime family that McPhie had crossed in the weeks before his murder.

The witness was put on a protection programme.

Security was so tight that not even Mr Gallagher was told of his whereabouts or potential new identity.

The suspect appeared at Glasgow Sheriff Court on October 6, 2000, but the charges were later dropped due to a lack of evidence and the 37-year-old was never prosecuted.

DS Gallagher added: "It was a slog for the police because of who the victim was and the family said to be behind the murder.

"There were not many tears being shed for Frank McPhie.

"In these types of inquiries, the general public understandably do not want to get involved.

"The problem was that we did not have any eyewitnesses.

"All we had was the evidence from the farm but that was not enough to go to trial."

In 2014, leading criminologist Professor David Wilson theorised that the murder had been carried out by a master hitman.

The Scot examined 27 murders carried out by 35 hired assassins, including the unsolved murder of Frank McPhie.

They interviewed McPhie's former neighbours and analysed newspaper archives and court transcripts.

Professor Wilson who lectures in criminology at Birmingham City University, said at the time: "Hitmen are familiar figures in films and video games, carrying out hits in underworld bars or from the rooftops with expensive sniper rifles.

"With the exception of McPhie, the reality could not be more different."

The academic identified four types of British hitmen - the novice, the dilettante, the journeyman and the master.

The novice is classed as a beginner who carries out a murder for the first time while a dilettante is slightly older and unlikely to have a criminal background.

The journeyman is experienced and reliable, while the master hitman is least likely to be caught and probably has a military or paramilitary background

Professor Wilson added: "It's quite clear that McPhie's killing was carried out by a master hitman.

"Like most master hitmen, McPhee's murderer was never brought to justice."

The man who was arrested by police - but never stood trial - lived near McPhie and was a senior member of the crime family that the victim had crossed.

Wilson added: "We can describe in some detail the hitman who gets caught but the profile we develop of those who evade justice is very different.

"The conversations I had with McPhie's old neighbours were off the record, but the majority were relieved he was dead."

More than 20 years later, McPhie's assassination is now a cold case investigation subject to occasional reviews by Police Scotland.

The force says it is still interested in hearing from anyone with information on the murder.

DS Gallagher added: "Whoever did it knew what they were doing. It was well-planned and executed.

"People may not have mourned Frank McPhie's passing but every murder victim deserves justice regardless of reputation."