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  • Peter Ritchie

True Crime - A case I was involved with

I’ve told this story many times and still use it in talks. I’ve worked on bigger cases but this one still troubles me. You’ll know why by the time you read it.

BEHIND THE BADGE

Prologue

I probably should explain why I'm writing a short 'true crime' story after spending the last few years writing crime fiction. There are a couple of reasons worth explaining. The first one is that given my own background it would be worth describing something I was involved in to explain that real life is so often far stranger than fiction. In a way I thought it would be a good idea to show how my own experience can give me so many options when I'm writing about Grace Macallan or her colleagues and of course the villains.

Another reason is that this little story often comes to mind and taught me so much in the early part of my career as a detective. I've been involved in all sorts of investigations over the years including murder, serious/organised crime and terrorism. However this is the one that always comes back to me and I think because I still can't make sense of some of it. At its heart was that old cliché of so much drama - the split personality. It's hard to know how to start it because we'll never know when it really began and when it was over left so many unanswered questions that will never be properly resolved.

Over an eight year period some of the incidents described came to be known as the 'Shoe Man' jobs and in the end they were all down to the same man. It will become obvious why this was but in a way the handle 'Shoe Man' trivialised something that should have been solved much earlier and avoided the suffering of a number of women who deserved better than they got from the service. I remember going through a range of emotions when it was solved but mostly an overwhelming sense of embarrassment at our own failure and how poorly we had dealt with the incidents described. It was a classic case of herd mentality with a thick sprinkling of Sods Law which will be explained as we go on.

In the end the accused was identified as Charles Calderwood Hay who was a police officer with over eighteen years in the service much of it spent as a dog handler. He was a pillar of the community, lived in a large house and had children in the same school as my own. Charlie as he was better known was the 'Shoe Man' and this is the story of some of his crimes and how he was eventually arrested.

I've kept many of the details of the crimes and victims vague because of course they suffered enough at the time. The story is more about Charlie and how he managed to avoid being arrested earlier.

A Coincidence Too Far

In September 1978 on an otherwise ordinary day in the busy coastal town of Musselburgh a terrible crime took place during business hours in the heart of the burgh and within sight of the ancient clock tower

In a small shop a mother and daughter were the only occupants other than a man who'd waited till any other customers had left. He later made claims about depression or too much drink at the time and although what he did was terrible there was almost no attempt to cover his tracks so he was always going to be caught. He put the two women through a terrifying ordeal tying them up then subjecting the older woman to a horrific and sustained assault.

The man was identified and later arrested. It was an unusually shocking crime back then and I remember it well although I wasn't involved in the investigations. I was still a fairly junior uniform officer although I had done an assessment period with the local CID and waiting on a full time post. Musselburgh was my home, I had been brought up in the fishing community there so felt very much part of the town and its people. This even went so far as being one of the first community beat officers for the town so I took pride in knowing the place and its inhabitants. When it was necessary I liked to know who was doing what among the local criminals but by the standards of the day what had happened in that small shop was a real shock to the town's people. Apart from the suffering of the victims I knew the accused's in laws who were decent people and devastated by what had taken place. He was locked up so for all intents and purposes it was a straightforward case as far as evidence was concerned. The police were convinced the accused had absolutely no chance of anything other than a guilty verdict on the day. That should have been that, the victims and the family of the accused man should have been allowed to try to repair their lives in a time when support was not what it would have been now. There was a turn of events to come and looking back on it now there are echoes of what is coming to light these days with so many cases where someone was a personality or in authority.

A few days after the arrest the accused man's wife was at home in Musselburgh with her child when there was a knock at her door late in the evening. She must have still been in shock and exhausted with the enormity of what had happened plus the attention of the2 police who'd spent time with her. She asked who it was and a man identified himself as a police officer involved with the case against her husband. She asked for ID and what appeared to be a police warrant card was put through the letter box which was enough to satisfy her that he was genuine. Why would she have thought otherwise in the circumstances? What then happened was the man forced her into her living room and she was subjected to a terrifying ordeal with her child nearby. He told her if she resisted he would kill her child. He tied a pair of tights round her neck and subjected her to a terrible ordeal with the unusual though not unknown element that when he was finished he was almost apologetic about what had taken place, even offering her money. He left and the woman was found distressed and in shock on the street outside.

When the CID were called to Musselburgh they were faced with the wife of the man they'd recently locked up so it must have been tempting for them to take the route of least resistance and that was exactly what they did. The CID went through the motions but to add to the problem for the victim there was no forensic evidence found when she was examined and this was before the advent of DNA evidence which is so often the cornerstone in modern serious crimes against the person.

A local WPC took her initial statement, was supportive and believed her. The problem was that the CID had doubts and they decided to talk to her themselves. This ended up in the woman being so upset that the WPC had to go back in and calm her down. A few of us in the local station believed her story but elements of the CID remained unconvinced. It was the easy line to take but one can only imagine what it must have been like for the victim to lose a husband whose arrest must have shocked her to the core then to have endured the agony of her own assault and the doubts in the mind of the investigators.

One thing that became of real interest years after the event was that the victim had given a detailed description of her attacker to the WPC which proved incredibly accurate and more of that later. Any further investigation at the time was cursory or more accurately almost non existent. It's probably worth mentioning here that for anyone reading my books the victims feature far more than would be the case in most fiction. This was one of the cases that made me think about crime from the victim's point of view even where they were criminals themselves.

The world moved on and the accused for the attack in the shop appeared before Lord Wheatley who was scathing in his address to the man in the dock who was given an eight year sentence.

The following year I joined the CID but like others who'd worked in Musselburgh at the time the attack on the convicted man's family still troubled us and that little had seemed to. have been done to follow up the investigation. Across Scotland there seemed to be a string of serious crimes and murders and Lothian had it's share. It's incredible to look back and realise that during the late seventies through the early eighties we had three serial killers at loose in Scotland but thankfully although it took years they were all brought to justice. It was a time when the Musselburgh incident could easily be forgotten with so many other horrific crimes taking place.

The man who'd attacked the accused's wife wasn't finished he was only getting started.

A Serial Offender

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About two years later the first of a series attacks took place that were eventually identified as part of a pattern and the work of the Shoe Man. In fact this is not quite true because the first one in April 1980 was believed to be the work of The Dolci's Man. It was the same culprit but not recognised in the early years of the situation that developed. This was part of a number of reports from women who'd been called by a man passing himself off as a representative of the shoe chain Dolci's. In one of the cases where the Dolci's man actually visited a victim, he called at a house in McDowell Road, Edinburgh and even brought shoes with him to complete his cover. When he was inside the house he grabbed the women round the neck, threw her to the floor and threatened her with a knife.

The first time a crime was associated to the Shoe Man was in the Spring of 1982 when a man attacked a woman in her sixties in her home in Hercus Loan, Musselburgh barely a hundred yards from the front door of the convicted man's wife who'd been so cruelly assaulted in 1978. He attacked her at the door of her house asked to see what shoes she was wearing, threatened to kill her kissed her and stole her shoes. The woman was in her sixties and from a distance this might not have seemed like the crime of the century but from the victims point of view it shattered any illusion of safety behind her own walls, especially as she lived alone.

A few months later the same woman was in her home when a man came to the door and said he was a police officer investigating the previous attack on her and he wanted to examine her shoes. She described him as wearing what looked like a blue shirt with epaulettes and probably the same man who carried out the previous attack. Fortunately she kept the security chain on and when he tried to force entry she managed to close the door on him.

It was about this time that I was working as a detective constable (DC) in the Midlothian area. Although none of the attacks ever took place in that sub division I always took an interest in what happened in my old area. With the original attack in mind where what looked like a warrant card had been produced, and what the man had worn and said in the recent attacks I asked for a meeting with my Detective Inspector (DI) who would definitely fit the description of 'old school.' It didn't take brilliant detective work to suggest it might actually be a police officer who'd carried out the attacks. I suggested that the attack on the accused's wife in 78 was probably the same man and why not a police officer? To say my inspector was annoyed was an understatement, he virtually ordered me out of the room and told me not to make the same suggestion again. I suppose he took it as a personal insult but anyway I knew I was on my own on this one.

In September the same year in the common stair in Joppa Road, Edinburgh the 'Shoe Man' struck again attacking a young woman and stealing her shoes. This was another one of those strange turn of events because the woman who was attacked originally came from Musselburgh and thought she recognised her attacker as Charlie Hay the policeman. She told a close relation who dismissed the suggestion and told her that her suspicion couldn't be correct. Less than a year later I was part the Caroline Hogg murder squad. She was a young child abducted near her home in Portobello and murdered by the serial killer robert Black.

During the investigation I was involved in door to door enquires in Joppa Road, Portobello and made a routine call on the woman who'd been attacked and filled in a routine form as I was doing for everyone in the area. All those years later after the Shoe Man was arrested she told me that when I visited her during the Caroline Hogg murder investigation it was on the tip of her tongue to tell me about her suspicion that it was Charlie Hay who'd attacked her but just couldn't bring herself to say it. Again the echoes of those current historical investigations. The man was a policeman and pillar of the community so it just couldn't be him!

A number of attacks took place the same month and he seemed to target the Leith area and women on their own who were going into common stairs. However one attack took place about fifty yards from the locus of the original case in Musselburgh against the accused's wife and about a hundred yards from the elderly lady in Hercus Loan who'd been been the victim twice. Again their shoes were stolen.

By this time there was a recognition that the 'Shoe Man' was active and in one of those all to common unfortunate coincidences a suspect cropped up but unfortunately it was the wrong man. There was a reasonable logic behind going for him because although he came from Fife he had been convicted for stealing shoes in 1974 and his description was fairly close to the 'Shoe Man.' Every time an attack took place a team from Lothian's would go and lift him, although for obvious reasons he never admitted anything but the general presumption was that it was him regardless. It could well have been that a more co-ordinated investigation of his alibi's would have ruled him out as the 'Shoe Man' but we'll never know that now.

Another attack took place in March 1983 on the Western edge of Musselburgh where a woman on her own was attacked in a quiet area of the town and again her shoes were stolen.

A year later there was an unusual turn of events in Edinburgh when he attacked two women in broad daylight in bus shelters only a short drive from each other. In both cases a knife was placed at their throats and one of the women also sustained a broken wrist. The witnesses described a yellow saloon being used by the attacker and in fact they managed to identify a partial registration number for his car. This should have been a great lead but Sod's Law struck again. The women described the car as a yellow Escort and it turned out that Charlie had a Passat. The registered numbers were close and years later I came across a file where a local detective sergeant had played about with the numbers and almost got there......but not quite. Another chance to lock up a dangerous man had passed by. The suspect in Fife was lifted again and denied it. Of course he was only telling the truth!

On Christmas week 1985 he attacked a woman in Henderson St Edinburgh by approaching her from the rear forcing her into her home there then carrying out a serious and degrading assault. A scarf that must have had traces from the attacker was used at the time and taken as production by the police. Sods Law once more and when we finally traced Charlie there was no trace of the scarf. It had been disposed of at some stage.

Almost two years on from the incidents in Joppa he called one of the women he'd attacked in the bus shelter's, talked to her about the incident and about the shoes she'd been wearing at the time. Obviously this placed her in a terrible state wondering how her attacker had managed to get her name and telephone number. When I eventually interviewed Charlie and asked him about this the answer was simple. He'd seen what was known at the time as the 'Yellow Perils' and was a printed version of up to date or relevant criminal intelligence or highlighted cases. He got the woman's name from that publication.

Then we come to the last act for Charlie and in a way this was the one that exposed most clearly the failings on our side. It will probably be difficult to read this and wonder how it was so nearly missed again. This was why I've never forgotten this case or the women who were affected by it and what they had to endure.

On a Thursday night in April 1986 a woman was walking home in South Street, Musselburgh no more than a stone's throw from several of the attacks carried out by the Shoe Man. She was subjected to a terrifying assault. He gripped her by the throat, punched her around the mouth and face with his fist, threw her to the ground then stole her shoes. The woman lost consciousness during the attack. Uniformed officers attended the incident and took details from the woman who was driven home. Almost no investigation was carried out and the locus wasn't searched. The victim was in shock, traumatised by the assault and received no support. Even though she had said that the man was wearing a camel haired coat and bow tie that crucial description was not followed up. What the reader might find surprising was that less than one hundred and fifty yards from the locus is the Brunton Hall, a landmark council building in the town and a regular venue for functions in the town. No one thought to check so all that was done was to make arrangements for the Serious Crime Squad to go to Fife and detain the usual suspect again. As I write this I still find it hard to believe but there is more to come.

I came into the CID office in Dalkeith the following morning and sat through the daily briefings of all the events overnight. I was a fairly new Detective Sergeant at the time and still recovering from a spell off after a breaking my ankle. Although it wasn't my area the fact that there had been yet another attack caught my attention. I asked the DCI about it during the open session, he said that it was all in hand and the Fife suspect was going to be lifted. When the briefing was over I got a hold of the crime report which seemed to have too little information for what was clearly a serious crime given the level of violence and the background. To be fair to the DCI he had been promoted out of the Drugs Squad to head the divisional CID and had virtually no knowledge of the previous attacks. I talked it over with him, explained the background and although he was interested he told me to leave it to the local CID and let them get on with it. The problem was that they weren't involved and no local investigation was being carried out. I was due to work through the weekend and knew that there was no local CID on covering the Musselburgh area on the Sunday. I knew I was on a hiding to nothing given what had happened years before with the DI who told me it couldn't be a policeman, but the whole situation was troubling me so I decided to try and make an effort myself.

On the Sunday morning I grabbed one of my own DC's and went down to Musselburgh where I asked around the uniform officers if anyone knew anything about the attack or more importantly what had been done. There was a real negative response from a couple of them including an Inspector who told me it was in hand and the man from Fife had been zresponsible. I still remember how difficult it was to avoid a real fall out and the attitude was no more than why was I sticking my nose in?

We made a couple of local enquiries and established that there had been an 'Old Musselburgh Club' formal occasion at the Brunton Hall on the night the woman had been attacked. No one had thought that worth following that up because the Fife suspect could not possibly be one of the attendees so no connection was made.

We arranged to get a list of who had attended and went to see the woman who'd been attacked. When we met her at home with her husband we were genuinely shocked by her condition. A doctor later described her condition as post traumatic and similar to someone who'd been the victim of an extremely violent sexual assault although this is not what happened to her. With her husband she explained that she had been sure she was going to die when the attacker was choking her and she kept seeing his face close to hers. I was angry when I saw the condition she was in, that she'd been left in shock and in a state of utter confusion. She went on to give the most detailed and ultimately accurate description of her attacker I'd ever seen from a victim. I spoke to her about this several times and was intrigued by her recall of the incident. She explained that it was like a photograph burned into her mind because she thought it was the last thing she would ever see. The detail she gave was incredible even down to where small trace of grey could be seen in his beard. The shape of his bottom lip and details that I later realised I could not have described even though it turned out I had know him for years.

We went to the home of a friend who I'd worked closely with in the past and had been my DS when I was a DC. He was a local man and knew many of the people who would have attended the Old Musselburgh Club. I gave him the description and it took us about two minutes to work it matched two people and one of them was Charlie Hay. As soon as the name cropped up we knew it was him and the previous descriptions all made sense. We established from someone who'd been at the function that Charlie had been wearing a camel coat on the night and from there it was time to move quickly. We called the DCI who understood the implications and turned out himself within an hour.

We decided to go straight for Charlie because one of our best chances was forensic if he denied everything and we didn't want to lose evidence. I must admit at the time I thought that being a policeman he surely would have taken care about traces left on his clothes but we went for it. When we arrived at his home he was friendly which was always his way and extremely plausible. There was only the slightest trace of nerves but he held it well. He said he went home straight after the function and he'd never been near South Street. We asked him if we could take his coat and to my surprise he agreed without any argument. I was sure this meant he was confident the coat was clean. We left it there, packaged the coat up and it went straight to the lab for examination. We took several items of the victim's clothing she'd worn at the time for comparison. The next couple of days were a long haul waiting to see if we had something or nothing. I went to the locus of the attack with a colleague where we found the victim's earring which had come loose during the attack. Just one more example of the failure to do even the basics of the job.

On the third day we got the call that there was substantial cross contamination between the victims clothing and Charlie's coat. He was our man and the issue was what to do next.

The first thing was to form a small dedicated squad because the attacks had been happening over an eight year period but we had no idea when they might have actually started. The other issue was that there was every possibility that Charlie had committed crimes in other force areas or for example when he was attending training courses.

The following day I went with my DCI to HQ in Edinburgh where we detained Charlie in his bosses's office and took him back to Dalkeith. We travelled back in a traffic car with the two tones on and the atmosphere in the car was super charged although not a word was spoken. When we started the interview he denied the attack on the woman in South Street even when he was confronted with the forensic evidence. However later that night he was identified at an ID parade and he knew it was over although with that one but he'd obviously decided that he still wouldn't admit anything he didn't need to. We put some of the other attacks to him and what he did then was admit a couple which were clearly the least serious. So we knew then that Charlie had his own plan and he constantly tried to play the 'job' card but we warned him that wasn't going to work. We were going all out to prove every single case he was responsible for. He appeared at court the following day and was remanded in custody.

We arranged another ID parade at Dalkeith with some of the other victims and remarkably three of them including the victim from 1978 attack picked him out. It was clear from Charlie's face that he never expected this result and when we spoke to him again there was a dramatic change in his demeanour. Up to a point he started to talk but I knew he was still trying to play the game, making the case that it was about shoes and where there was a sexual act it was with the consent of the victim. In other words he was saying that where there had been violent sexual assaults the victims had consented. I'd knew exactly what he'd done to the women, what they'd suffered at his hands and it was difficult not to react to his version of events.

We kept kept the interviews going and there were moments where he'd admit some of the more serious aspects of the crimes then a couple of hours later he'd forget and act as if nothing had happened apart from the theft of shoes. In the end something happened that I only ever witnessed in film and drama but it made my skin go cold. When I was speaking to him on his own it was for all the world like two different people in the room at the same with me. He would be affable Charlie for a while and then when I could get him to the moments he when he was actually there at the locus of a crime there was a complete change in his eyes, voice tone and his non verbals. It was as if he was moving from one person to the other and even the voice was completely different. It was something I've never forgotten and never witnessed again in my career. Unfortunately we ran out of time, he was taken back to prison and remand where he was more or less out of our reach.

We started to work on the investigation and there wasn't a shadow of doubt in my mind that he'd committed numerous other crimes. Our job was to find them and the victims. However a couple of days later I came back into the office and the DCI asked to see me. He dropped the next bombshell and told me that he'd been ordered to close the investigation down immediately and settle for what we had. I had the greatest respect for this man, knew it troubled him and I probably said too much, but after everything that had happened I couldn't believe we were failing once again. What I said to him remains private but these events left me bitter for some time after. I never understood this and it's one more aspect of this case that troubles me to this day.

In the end we reported Charlie for Rape, Serious Sexual Assaults and a number of Assault and Robberies as well as lesser charges. I've mentioned his victims and of course his family were devastated by what had happened. In fact his poor father died during the time he was on remand.

We were sure that the case was safe and we were told it would be unlikely that he would get less than ten years for his crimes but the story still had some twists.

When we went to court the newly elevated judge in this case gave Charlie five years and to this day no one connected with the case could work out why he'd received such a lenient sentence. I can remember faces of the victims who were shattered by this decision and once again the system appeared to have let them down without an explanation.

There are a few footnotes to this little story that are worth telling. I thought a lot about this after the case and when I analysed the events there were a few points that were clear to me. When I looked at the areas where he carried out his attacks the thing that struck me was that there were excellent escape routes and no more so than the ones in Musselburgh where he would have had several options if things went wrong. For me there was at least some pre planning and I believe in a few of the cases he picked the area and then waited for the victims to appear.

The theft of shoes was clearly a fetish and although I've spared the reader the details of the attacks all I can say is that if it was only the desire for the women's shoes then he never needed to use the level of violence and sexual assaults inflicted on some of the women. What is clear that he wanted to hurt and terrify a lot of the victims and in that he succeeded.

We'll never know the true story about Charlie because he died of a heart attack some years ago.

Some time after the events Charlie's family had moved away from Musselburgh and a new owners moved into their house. Apparently when they were digging in the garden one day they found women's clothing, they didn't realise the possible significance and disposed of the items. Again we only heard about this much later and this material was long gone in a landfill site. The God's were against us and for me it just confirmed that Charlie had been a highly dangerous man who took a lot of his secrets to his grave.

There were so many other matters that will be left where they lie but we even discovered that Charlie and his police dog had attended the scene of a couple of his own crimes. Hard to believe but true that he was involved in searching a locus where he was the culprit! Remarkable as it seems people still come forward about this case but I’ll leave it there.

This case is the first true crime case I will report on in the blog and the most troublesome. We weren't always that incompetent but it had the most significant impact on me in the way I treated investigations for the rest of my career. I think by now the reader will understand why.

Truth really is stranger than fiction!

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