SEVENTY years ago, the murder of a four-year-old girl prompted one of the biggest police investigations Glasgow has ever seen.

The killing of Betty Alexander shocked a city that was still recovering from the horrors of the Second World War.

Her death in turn led to Scotland’s biggest ever mass fingerprint operation when more than 1000 local men over the age of 17 had their prints taken in a bid to find the killer.

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The last time little Betty was seen alive was on the afternoon of Tuesday, October 7, 1952, having gone out to play with friends.

She left her home in Buccleuch Street in Garnethill, dressed in a brown coat and kilt to be with the other children.

When Betty failed to return home for her evening meal, her anxious mother Barbara Alexander set out to find her, but without success.

A search-party was formed by friends and neighbours and then the police were alerted.

Later that night, at about 8pm, Barbara thought she heard her daughter shouting “mummy, mummy” from a lane which runs between Buccleuch Street and West Graham Street.

But when she searched the deserted spot there was no sign of her daughter.

Disused air-raid shelters were checked for signs of the missing girl.

Parks were searched and sections of the Forth and Clyde canal dragged.

But still there was no trace of missing Betty.

The girl’s photograph was posted on every police box and the walls of every police station in the city. Officers carried them in their notebooks in case they came across Betty during a patrol.

Local mothers searched Garnethill and surrounding areas at night using torches.

But the little girl was closer to her home than the searchers realised. At about 2pm on Friday, October 10, Agnes Hunter, a 55-year-old cleaner at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children’s dispensary in West Graham Street, went out to the backyard to clean some carpets.

She found little Betty lying on a small flight of steps leading to the dispensary door.

Betty was dead – and had been for some time – having been strangled.

Detectives reckoned Betty had been killed elsewhere and then taken into the locked yard over the wall or a gate.

During their initial search of the area earlier in the week police searchers had passed within a yard of her body but had not gone into the dispensary as the gate had been locked.

After speaking with the family, detectives came up against yet another mystery.

When Betty had gone out her grandmother had put a chrome fastening pin on her kilt skirt.

But when she was found the chrome pin had been replaced by an older plainer brass pin.

However, no-one could tell the police who had done it or why?

The police now had a major job to fill the gap of nearly 72 hours between Betty’s disappearance and when her body was found.

A spokesperson said at the time: “We have established the movements of the girl until 5.30pm on Tuesday night, and to a lesser degree, her movements until shortly after six o’clock. But after that no-one seems to have seen her.”

The murder scene was near where mum Barbara claimed to have heard Betty calling to her on the Tuesday she disappeared.

As news of the discovery spread, hundreds of horrified local people began to gather at either end of the lane where her body was found for news.

Jack Alexander, the girl’s father, was called to the dispensary and had the grim task of identifying his daughter’s battered body.

Around 2000 uniformed officers and 120 detectives were drafted into the murder investigation from across the force. Forensic experts went over the crime scene inch by inch, searching for clues which could lead them to the killer.

The main gate into the dispensary backyard was taken for examination, as was a wooden gate leading to the lane.

The girl’s clothes were also checked for any traces which could link them to the killer.

Sections of the stone steps where her body was found were also tested for clues.

Senior officers believed the killer may well have been local.

They felt that only a local person would have known that no-one would think to search the yard.

The man leading the hunt, Chief Superintendent Gilbert McIlwrick, said: “No particular man is being sought.

“In fact, we cannot even be certain at the moment that it was a man. No possibility is being overlooked.”

A police Alsatian dog called Skipper was given some of Betty’s clothes to sniff and hopefully pick up a trail, but no joy.

By Monday, October 13 police officers had spoken to almost 4000 people in connection with the murder.

They even visited psychiatric hospitals to see if any patients had been released around the time Betty disappeared.

Then came a breakthrough in the hunt for her killer.

Experts had found a fingerprint on the wooden door taken from the spot near where her body had been dumped.

Police records were checked but there was no match.

Other more drastic steps had to be taken.

The print was the only real clue they had, apart from unconfirmed sightings.

The City of Glasgow Police then announced that every man over 17 in the Garnethill area was going to be fingerprinted.

Detective Chief Superintendent McIlwrick said: “We are investigating the possibility of trying to connect up part of a fingerprint which had been found in the vicinity of where the body was found.

“With that end in view we are asking for the co-operation of all males in the vicinity in letting their fingerprints be taken.”

This was the first time in Scotland that such a move had been taken.

A written assurance that all records would be destroyed was made by Glasgow’s Chief Constable Malcolm McCulloch in a bid to encourage as many men as possible to come forward.

As the prints flooded in special teams of officers began the laborious task of comparing them with the print found on the gate.

Unfortunately, none matched and the trail ran cold.

Detectives didn’t know how the killer got Betty into the dispensary yard, or even why that particular spot was picked to dump her body.

But there was one key mystery which was still baffling them.

Why was the shiny chrome pin she had been wearing on her kilt changed for another one?

None of the girl’s family had seen the pin before, so who had put it there?

Betty was buried in Cadder Cemetery to the north of the city on Monday, October 13, with the funeral service being held in her home.

Glasgow Times:

As the little white coffin was carried from the building by dad Jack and three family members, two senior policemen standing on the pavement outside saluted.

More than 5000 people stood silently in the streets to watch the cortege go past, bringing traffic in the city to a standstill.

Eventually like all such inquiries where there had been no arrests, the investigation was wound down and the officers moved to other duties.

In 1955 in an interview with the Glasgow Times, Betty’s parents called for the police to re-open the case.

Jack added: “We won’t rest until whoever murdered our little girl is caught.”

In 2012 it was reported that the murder was being given a cold case review by Strathclyde Police.

It was a chance for officers to use modern forensic techniques on the original evidence to see if they could finally identify a suspect.

At the time forensic psychologist Ian Stephen, who advised on the TV crime dramas Cracker and Prime Suspect, said: “Everything will be looked at again using new methods, including DNA analysis and offender profiling.”

And he agreed with the original police conclusion that the most likely killer was a local person.

He added: “In the early 50s, travel and movement around the country wasn’t as flexible as it is today, so they are far more likely to be looking for someone within the Garnethill area.”

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Betty would be in her mid-70s now, possibly a grandmother having had a family of her own, looking forward to a peaceful retirement after a rich and fulfilling


To this day it is one of the biggest unsolved murders of Glasgow’s past, and sadly with the passage of time likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.