"Beware of a wolf in sheep's clothing."
It was the 1st of June 1986. A Sunday. Elaine Doyle was so excited that evening. She had finished work for the day. She worked at a jewellery store and was looking forward to spending time with her large group of friends. The 16 year old was going to her first ever disco with friends at Greenock's Celtic Supporters' Club. Elaine lived with her parents, Maureen and Jack, and her brother in Ardgowan Street in Greenock, Scotland. As Elaine left the house that evening, Jack said:
"Be careful and watch yourself."
Elaine told Maureen she would be home around 1am. Greenock Celtic Club was on Laird Street and the night had been fun. Elaine left the club with her friend, Lynn McCurdy, and the two girls went to a hamburger stall in Greenock Town Centre. They then went their separate ways to head home around midnight as they lived in opposite directions. Elaine walked along the road by houses. It should have been a straight forward walk home that normally took 15 minutes but she never made it.
When Elaine wasn't home by 1am, Maureen presumed she decided to stay with a friend. But the next morning,the 2nd of June, when Maureen opened the curtains at her home, she saw multiple police cars outside. They were all focused on a lane which was just beside her house, some 40 yards away. Given the amount of activity taking place there, whatever happened must have been bad.
Maureen and Jack's house was so close to the lane that when police began making door to door enquiries, their house was the first one they knocked on. Maureen told the police that her daughter was out the night before and wasn't home yet. Police knew then they would have to reveal some devastating news to the parents.
The lane where Elaine was found
That morning, around 7.30am, as one of the local residents walked to his car so he could go to work, he made a horrifying discovery. In the lane just off Ardgowan Street, he saw the body of a young female lying on her side. It was Elaine. Elaine was naked except for her bra that was still attached to her arm. The items in the lane revealed there must have been a struggle as there were chunks of Elaine's hair on the ground and her broken bracelet was beside her body. There was a large purple mark across her neck. Her clothes , somewhat strangely, were folded neatly beside her body.
Maureen and Jack
Elaine had been strangled to death.The official cause of death was asphyxia due to strangulation by ligature. Elaine had a black eye which indicated she had received at least one blow to the face. The pathologist believed she had been killed as she lay face down on the ground with the killer pulling the ligature tight around her neck from behind.There was no evidence of any sexual assault but due to how Elaine was found, it was believed it was a sexually motivated attack.
A week after Elaine's body was found, her handbag was found on fire outside the library, which was a few blocks from Elaine's home.
Police started searching the area for clues immediately and knocked on every door in the area. A girl who lived close to the lane heard a scream at 00.40 am. Police had a large number of suspects but none of their leads led to anything and the case went cold.
In 2012, the case was reopened and it was discovered that one of the men on the police file had not been spoken to at the time. John Docherty. John was a former soldier and he had recently moved back to Greenock and worked as a bus driver. It didn't seem likely that he would be involved. He had never been in trouble either before or after the murder. John had not been questioned after the murder despite a friend naming him in a statement at the time of Elaine's death. John was 21 years old at the time of Elaine's murder. He claimed that at the time of the murder he was at home with his parents in Greenock. He later admitted to police that he was at the disco. When police asked for a sample of his DNA, he gave it . It matched a sample of DNA taken from Elaine's chest and face . John appeared to be absolutely shocked that it was a match.
John was charged with Elaine's murder. It was the Prosecution's case that John grabbed Elaine by her hair as she walked home and dragged her into the lane. They claimed he struck her on the head, struggled with her, removed her clothing, forced her to the ground and pushed her face into the ground. When she was on the ground, he kneeled on top of her and placed a ligature around her neck and strangled her. To support their case, they relied on the DNA evidence and the testimony of an eye witness who saw a man with angry eyes following a girl that night.
The Defence's case was that John did not murder Elaine. They argued that the DNA evidence could not be relied on as it may have been contaminated. This was not a hollow argument. In fact, a number of mistakes were made when Elaine's body was found. Her body was covered with a blanket and nobody wore any sort of protective clothing at the scene. They also argued that the witness's testimony was not reliable as he had initially thought he saw someone else (a person who he named that was not John).
The Jury agreed with the Prosecution and found John guilty by a majority verdict. At the time of sentencing, John was 51 years old and was sentenced to life in prison, to serve a minimum term of 21 years. The Judge in the case argued that the 21 year minimum must apply given that Elaine was simply walking home after a night out and the callousness and brutality of it warranted that sentence.
The peculiar part of this case is that John was not caught until almost 30 years after the murder. During that time, he had a full time job on a continuous basis. He was a Soldier and then a bus driver for children with support needs. He was in a long term relationship with a partner and had a daughter. Unless there are further crimes that have not been connected to him yet, he seemed to live a normal life after Elaine's murder. Those in his company would have had no idea of the brutality he inflicted on Elaine. He didn't even need to hide. He was living in the area interacting and engaging with others who knew Elaine.