Scots woman spends over 30 years trying to prove her own dad was a child killer

Sandra Brown has spent more than 30 years trying to prove her own dad was a child killer.

But her persistent regret is how the body of Alexander Gartshore’s victim has never been found.

Sandra was only eight when

vanished without trace in the middle of a blizzard on February 23, 1957.

But as the 65th anniversary of one of Scotland’s biggest cold-case murders approaches, the 73-year-old is more determined than ever to prove beyond any doubt that her dad was responsible for the 11-year-old schoolgirl’s abduction and death.

Despite major efforts, police have never been able to find the remains of Moira, who vanished in Coatbridge, Lanarkshire.

Sandra, whose dad abandoned his family when she was a child, was spurred into a 30-year quest for the truth after he made a chilling confession at a family funeral in Coatbridge in 1992.

She said: “It is obviously hugely disappointing and a matter of enormous regret that, despite everything, Moira’s remains have never been found.

“My father escaped justice twice and we would dearly love to be able to see Moira properly laid to rest and to give her family that final closure.”

Moira Anderson vanished without trace in the middle of a blizzard on February 23, 1957
Moira Anderson vanished without trace in the middle of a blizzard on February 23, 1957

Moira Anderson was on an errand to buy lard for her grandmother when she disappeared on February 23, 1957.

Despite no body ever being recovered, it was believed by most that Moira had fallen victim to a predator.

However, it was only in 2012 that the case was finally declared a murder inquiry.

Witness testimony painstakingly gathered over the years has pieced together a credible account of her last-known movements, starting with her arriving at her gran’s house just before 4pm on the afternoon she disappeared.

Her gran, who lived in Muiryhall Street, in Coatbridge, was unwell and Moira’s uncle Jim had sent her to the local Co-op store on the errand.

Moira, just a few weeks short of her 12th birthday, was wearing a navy school coat and blue scarf and was also wearing a distinctive navy blue pixie hat with red bands.

She is thought to have found the shop closed due to the blizzard.

She was then spotted waiting for a bus to the town centre.

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She was said to have been excited about meeting up with her cousins ​​to go to the Regal Cinema for a 5pm showing of Guys And Dolls.

The driver of the bus that passed Moira’s way was Alexander Gartshore, then aged 36.

Bus driver Gartshore was on bail for sexual offenses relating to another young girl when Moira vanished.

He had been allowed to work again while he awaited trial and was driving the bus which bright and bubbly Moira boarded. She was never seen again.

Gartshore kept secret any involvement in her disappearance for more than three decades until he revealed at a family funeral: “My father never forgave me for Moira Anderson.”

Sandra, from Coatbridge, who had little previous contact with her father, started digging into his background.

The discovery of his previous sexual convictions, together with compelling circumstantial evidence she unearthed, convinced her to report her concerns to the police.

She not only confronted him with the allegation that he was a cold-blooded child killer but also took on the Scottish Police and Scotland’s Lord Advocate – as well as members of her own family – in her quest for justice.

She said: “It has been a traumatic experience and there have been new revelations and disclosures in the last couple of years.

“A cousin, Jim Clark, coming forward just last year and revealing that my father had admitted to my grandfather about killing Moira and that he too had known about it was devastating.”

The circumstantial evidence against Gartshore in 1957 was compelling
The circumstantial evidence against Gartshore in 1957 was compelling

The circumstantial evidence against Gartshore in 1957 was compelling. He was known to have been driving the bus Moira boarded the day she vanished.

She had left her grandmother’s house to run a quick errand to the local Co-op at about 4pm.

It’s thought she found the shop closed due to the blizzard and, for some reason, perhaps because she had been planning to go to the cinema with her cousins ​​later on, had decided to get the bus into the town centre.

Sandra insists there can be little doubt that the “botched police investigation” fell far short of expectations, even by the policing standards of 1957.

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The BBC was only asked to broadcast Moira’s picture on television in May that year, despite her parents urging the force to launch a public appeal.

Sandra said: “It seems inconceivable now that, despite Moira having been spotted on a bus by a number of witnesses, the driver of that bus and the conductress were never interviewed by detectives on that basis alone.

“But the fact that my father was already facing child sexual abuse charges makes it incomprehensible that police failed to home in on him as a suspect.”

Gartshore was accused and later convicted of sexual offenses involving a young girl and served 18 months in jail.

But even that, insists Sandra, worked in his favor as it removed him from the police inquiry at the height of the investigation into
Moira’s disappearance.

Officers also failed to interview Moira’s best friend Elizabeth, who had been playing with her just prior to her disappearance. She died in October 2019 never knowing what she had become of her childhood friend.

Decades later when, thanks to Sandra, the justice system was presented with another opportunity to correct that earlier wrong, it again failed Moira.

In the early 90s, Gartshore was interviewed in Leeds on suspicion of murder and also relating to charges of other sexual abuse.

But prosecutors declined to bring charges against Gartshore who, by then, was in his 70s. He died in 2006 aged 85, never having revealed his role.

Sandra said: “There were unfortunately fatal flaws in the original investigation. Had it been done differently, I believe there would have been a very different outcome and my father would not have escaped justice.”

Her father’s shock confession had a seismic impact on Sandra’s life.

She said: “The discovery in the early 1990s that my father had involvement in Moira’s disappearance had a staggering impact at the time and I’ve only come to terms with it gradually over the years. The ripple effects continue and have actually never entirely ceased.

“But my husband has been a rock throughout and my two children my strongest supporters. It changed the direction my life was going in. Making the decision to speak out and try to seek justice for Moira led to the loss of some relationships, both in the family and externally.

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“That was hard but I’ve realized in these situations you have to stay strong and hold on to your integrity.

“I never fail now to be surprised at the secrets some families are prepared to guard over generations and they either can’t see that it is misplaced loyalty or their agenda is about self-protection.

“I had trained as a teacher, taught many primary youngsters, then lectured on child care to adults. I could not turn my back on everything I had advocated to others when it comes to keeping youngsters safe.”

Her father's shock confession had a seismic impact on Sandra's life
Her father’s shock confession had a seismic impact on Sandra’s life

Sandra wrote a bestseller, Where There Is Evil, about the case and in 2000 proceeds from the book helped her set up the Moira Anderson Foundation to help young victims of sexual abuse recover from their trauma.

Sandra, who has received an OBE for services to child protection, said: “We raise awareness of childhood sexual abuse, build trust with survivors and offer a range of therapeutic services in a safe and caring environment.

“Sexual abuse is the Everest of childhood trauma and its adverse effects are only properly recognized now. Among my goals was driving change in society’s attitude.

“That is happening bit by bit. So many positives have come our way and so many incredible people to help me that I believe we are being guided in our work.

“The Moira Anderson Foundation has been a catalyst for change.

“There is a remarkable legacy now in one little girl’s name that I can be very proud of.”

Sandra wrote a bestseller, Where There Is Evil, about the case
Sandra wrote a bestseller, Where There Is Evil, about the case

Sandra has kept in close contact with Moira’s sisters, Marjory and Janet, who now live in Australia.

She said they remain hopeful that, with Police Scotland’s cold case team still committed to the case, they will eventually achieve closure.

She added: “That Moira has never been properly laid to rest and that her family, sisters Janet and Marjory, have not been able to draw comfort from that after all these years is heartbreaking.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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