Friday, 29 November 2013

Murder in Torridon?

Murder in Torridon?
A True Tale of the Mountains.
Written by the late Douglas Williamson of Lumsden Aberdeenshire.
With permission to publish kindly granted by his widow  Mrs. Alison Williamson of Lumsden Aberdeenshire, a keen reader of my blog.



It was April  1961 when Iain,Harrold,Douglas and Bill set out for Torridon

in Iain's car. Bill worked in the drawing office of an engineering firm; the

others were Ph.D. students at Glasgow University. We arrived at the

SYHA Hostel at Inveralligin on the north shore of Loch Torridon.

planning to climb Beinn Eighe the next day, which blew a gale with

horizontal rain. After a few hours of struggling just to stand on the

quarzite scree but making little progress even on hands and knees, we gave

up and retreated to the joys of the 'Modem Mistress', as the stove in the

hostel was named  in cast iron letters. The only other occupants, a party of

four, had gone home but there was now a stocky, tough chap in ex-army

gear. He said he was lan Simpson, was camping by the shore and wanted

a bit of warmth and company. A doctor at  the State Mental Hospital at

Carstairs, he just wanted away from it all for a bit.

    That evening, he spoke very  knowledgeably about mental hospitals,

but turned out to be argumentative, proposing that morals had no

defensible basis and challenging us to disagree, which we strongly did - to

our probable  salvation  did we but know. I, Douglas, took a few flash

photographs in the hostel common room though Simpson was extremely

reluctant to be included. However, he obviously knew the area extremely

well and offered advice on approaching the local peaks, warning that the

'Horns of Alligin' should be treated with care as they had been the cause

of fatalities in the past. The next day, Iain and Harold had to return to

Glasgow in the car and, when Simpson heard this being discussed, he

asked  for a lift to lnverness as he needed a haircut and various provisions.

This was readily  agreed and the three left after breakfast, with Bill and I

setting out for Beinn  Alligin.

        We got back triumphant but  tired after a great day, made some

supper and soon went to bed, the only occupants both of the hostel and its

male dormitory, which was a wooden hut in the grounds. A bit after

midnight. I was wakened by a person entering the dormitory and using a

unusual torch with the beam  at  right angles to the barrel. I was annoyed  at

being thus wakened and pretended to be fast asleep, and Bill took a similar

view. The person soon went out. ln the morning, we went up to the main

hostel to get breakfast , whereupon Bill discovered that his food had been

ransacked. We quickly checked our belongings. spread out on adjacent

beds in the dormitory, and realised that my camera was definitely missing.

We both had a suspicion that the intruder might have been Simpson as he

had had the same unusual pattern of torch. In the wet ground outside

there were fresh boot-nail marks and, unusually even then he had worn

nailed boots. But surely he was in Inverness with our friends, so it

couldn't be him. We reported the incident/loss to the warden. Kenny

McDonaid (also shop owner, grave digger, shepherd, garage man and

ferryman, etc.), who phoned Kinlochewe police and had the local bus

stopped but there was nobody on it.

Meanwhile, we phoned Iain and Harold in Glasgow, who told us the

significant news that on the previous day, when they had reached

Achnasheen. Only 20 miles on the way to Inverness, Simpson had asked to

be left there, since he claimed to have belongings, including a motor

scooter stashed  away in a nearby ruined croft. He would make his own

way to Inverness later. By now we were deeply suspicious and checked

information at Glasgow and Carstairs, discovering that there was no

'Doctor ' Simpson, and the police were  told all this.

A couple  of months later, I received I call from the police who said

they had now identified Ian Simpson. "a bad lad" as they said. He had a

string of convictions for petty theft, but was  self-styled pastor of his

own church in Mothewell, a corrugated iron shack, which had a

congregation of around 100 trusting, innocent souls. His last prosecution,

indeed had been for theft of communion vessels from the local church

of Scotland to furnish his own. Subsequently, he had been committed to

Carstairs State Mental institution from which he had escaped and was on

the run when we met him. Sure, he had Carstair's connection but as a

patient not staff! lf he could stay out for 28 days, the law then required

that the process of certification be re-enacted. "No wonder," said the

Police, "he objected to you taking the photograph, and he undoubtedly

came back with the particular purpose of obtaining the camera which he

would then throw in the loch. We have a warrant for his arrest and

we'll find him." (It is another of the coincidences of this tale that

Simpson, it emerged at the trial, had undertaken courses at a Bible

Training College of which my father was principal administrator.)

      Around Easter the following year, the action moves to Craig Youth

Hostel, on the coast north of Diabaig, in a very remote spot about I0 miles

from lnveralligin, only reached by an indistinct footpath over moorland.

Shan, a Canadian researcher student colleague, and her friend Bridget, a

languages lecturer, went there to survey the property with regard to

summer opening. Bridget being the warden. When they arrived, they

found a mathematics student from a London College, who pleaded to be

allowed to stay, although the hostel was not formally open. He also said

that the man who had given him a lift was on his way, having stopped to

buy provisions. The girls agreed and the man duly turned up, introducing

himself plausibly as "lan Fraser", a biologist  at the Ben Eighe Nature

Reserve. When Shan revealed that she worked in the Chemistry

Department of Glasgow University, Fraser pleasantly recalled that he had

met  several people she might  know the previous year at Achmelvich: Iain,

Douglas and Harold! (A curious, self-defeating lie about location.) For

Shan. The  penny immediately dropped and she realised the real identity of

'Fraser' as she had heard our story from the previous year. The two girls

went up to their room, and after closing the door, Shan got an amazed

Bridget to help her move the wardrobe in front of it, while recounting the

whole tale. In the morning, the girls hastened the several miles to the

nearest phone at  Diabaig and called the police, who said they needed to

acquire some paperwork to arrest Fraser/Simpson but meanwhile to "keep

him under observation" and "he's not violent". They explained their

predicament with some irritation and apprehension, but nothing else could

be done. They returned to discover that Fraser/Simpson had disappeared

and the mathematics student knew nothing. On their return to Glasgow,

we heard the whole story and told the police the details, most of which

they already knew. (It is now known that Fraser actually went on to

Achmelvich Youth hostel, where he spent a couple of days then left,

coolly stealing an antique chest whose considerable value he had


            About a month later, I was working in my laboratory when my

supervisor came in stroking his neat moustache, a sure sign of perturbation

and trouble. "Douglas, there is a Detective Sergeant Brown in my office;

he wishes to see you." "Thanks John, I can imagine what that's about." "I

dare say you can," he said, continuing to stroke his moustache with

increased frequency. DS Brown said, "Have you seen the evening paper?"

"No I haven't been out."  He held up the front page which, under banner

headlines exclaiming 'A9 Killer Arrest' , displayed a recognisable picture

of Simpson/Fraser. For a couple of weeks, a double murder had gripped

the press, following the discovery of a body in a shallow grave near

Newtonmore and a couple of weeks later another, similarly, in a wood

near Dumfries. Both had been shot at close range. The number of a car

which seemed to be connected with the crimes (it had belonged to one of

the victims) had been noticed and traced. The trail eventually led to

Simpson's rooms in Manchester, where a huge amount of loot had been

found; he worked as an antique dealer and may have stolen to order.

   In August 1962, he was tried and convicted, but sentenced to be

detained at Her Majesty's pleasure since he was found to be certifiably

insane. It transpired that he believed he was God's vice-regent on Earth,

with a commission to rid the world of evil men. He worked by pretending

to reject morals: if you argued against him you were safe, but if you

agreed you were marked down for death. Fortunately, I and my friends

plus the mathematics student were saintly or just argumentative.

Piecing things together, we realized that, when he gave the lift to the

student and arrived at Craig, he had just  killed the man at Newtonmore,

and when he left, after a couple of weeks, he went South back to

Manchester and en route killed the second man at Dumfries. So the girls

(and the mathematics student who clearly argued) spent a night at a lonely

Craig under the same roof as the murdering psychopath (complete with

gun), said to be non-violent. At the trial, for which I was cited as a witness

but not required, a one time climbing friend related how on Liathach,

roped to Simpson, he was brought up to the ledge on which Simpson was

secured. Simpson untied the rope, smiled and pushed his partner off. He

fell about a hundred feet over rough scree and boulders, sustaining severe

cuts and bruises. He walked away, resolving never to see Simpson again.

Aware of this story, I recall Simpsons warning to us about the 'Horns of Alligin'. He had added "a girl fell to her death there" and then with a

smile I can never quite forget, a mixture of pride and triumph, he went on

"I was the only one that found the body." I sometimes wonder about that.

    There is a solemn and dramatically violent ending, which also had a

moral dimension. Simpson was first confined at Carstairs, and then

for a long period at Craig Dunain, Inverness where he took a

distinguished Open University degree and learned to construct excellent

violins. He was then transferred back again to Carstairs which contained

some extremely violent inmates.  Two psychopaths managed to obtain

axes and broke out, but were confronted by the local policeman whom

they attacked. Fraser/Simpson, hearing the cries, rushed to the assistance

of the constable, but with him was also hideously done to death, his heroic

and courageous defence of morality to no avail. This incident, with its

characteristics of a classical Greek tragedy, took place some twenty years

after the trial.

      Climbing in Torridon has never seemed the same since, even after

forty years. But on my first return, only five years after these events, I was

back in the same hostel having resolved to do the round of Ben Eighe and

visit the great Corrie Mhic Fhearchair wih its triple buttresses. I had

returned and was alone in the hostel when a walker arrived out of the dark.

He was about my own age and not very communicative.  I was extremely

disturbed and must have seemed very strange, I later realised. On being

interrogated, I can put it no less, he claimed to be an RAF officer who had

been doing a long walking trip and was heading for Kyle where he would

meet friends.  He planned to walk over the Coulin pass and, at

Achnashellach, get the train to Kyle. All this was innocuous as it could

be; I had done a similar trip myself, but I was deeply suspicious. I had

a bad and vigilant night but in the morning , which eventually came

without incident, we both caught the local bus, to my astonishment,

the chap got off the bus at the Coulin Pass road end.

   Funny the people you meet in the hills.  I still speculate about the girl

who fell from the 'Horns'.


By Douglas Williamson.
Graham and I had recently climbed  The Horns of Alligin, a few months before I learned of this story.
So here are a few pictures  from Torridon.

Na Rathean( The Horns Of Alligin), Beinn Dearg Liath and Beinn EigheThe horns of Alligin

Ben Alligin Panorama 2
Beinn Alligin

Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair
Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair Beinn Eighe.

Sail Mhor and the Triple Buttress
Sail Mhor and the Triple Buttress Graham's photo.
Liathach ridge path
Liathach ridge path -  it is as bad as it looks.
The scariest path I have ever walked on.
This one made me nervous.
Liathach in cotton wool cloud.
Liathach in cotton wool cloud.


No comments:

Post a Comment