I have been both fascinated and appalled by the news this week that police have opened the grave of a man buried in Coatbridge, just east of Glasgow, because they think that it may contain the remains of Moira Anderson. She was a schoolgirl who disappeared late one bitterly cold afternoon in 1957, when she was out buying a birthday card for her mother. I am particularly interested in this new development because a couple of years ago, when I was unexpectedly stranded for some time at Peterborough station, I bought Where There is Evil, by Sandra Brown. Sandra Brown is the daughter of Alexander Gartshore, a Glaswegian bus driver and serial rapist and paedophile. The book was published immediately after his death in 2006 and makes a strong case for his having sexually abused and killed Moira Anderson. Moira’s disappearance was noticed immediately, because she belonged to the tight-knit community in which Sandra herself grew up; a large-scale search was mounted for her. Her body was never found. Chillingly, Sandra says that she suspects that Gartshore also killed children who came from the fringes of society; consequently, some of them may never have been reported as missing. Since the news about the exhumation was announced three days ago, she has also compared her father with Jimmy Savile, saying that the number of crimes that he committed was probably comparable. As Savile is suspected of having been, she thinks that her father was probably part of a paedophile ring.
This book made a huge impression on me. I couldn’t get it out of my mind for a long time after I read it. A key reason for this was the sheer matter-of-fact way in which it is written. There is no need for Sandra Brown to sensationalise what she has to say: her horrific story needs no embroidery. Her account of the casual brutality of life in a working-class Glaswegian community also shocks; it goes a long way towards explaining how men like Gartshore managed to hide, like Savile, ‘in plain sight’. As a child, Sandra spent much of her time protecting and supporting her downtrodden mother. She tells the heart-rending story of her mother’s pathetic gratitude when Gartshore gives her the money to buy a new grate for the fire. Sandra’s innocent puzzlement and embarrassment when her friends are forbidden to visit her house (she never finds out why; the implication is that Gartshore has made some kind of obscene overture) also sticks in the mind, as does her recollection of being sent to the bus depot with her father’s packed lunch, to find him on the floor at the back of his bus with a conductress whose knickers are protruding from his back pocket. Sandra herself eventually escapes by winning a place at university and the full maintenance grant (which she shares with her mother and still manages to survive) that accompanies it. She goes on to become an eminent teacher and patron of a charity that helps abused children.
If the remains of Moira Anderson are found in the grave at Coatbridge, I suppose that it may bring some kind of ‘closure’ (that word so well-worn by the media) to her now elderly siblings. But Gartshore, like Savile, will never now be made to face the reckoning. All the signs were there; even his own father said that he thought that his son had committed the murder. How many more children were abused and killed after Moira died because no-one in authority really wanted to listen?