Elizabeth McCabe, 1980

Templeton Woods, February 1980

Still regarded as a huge mystery is the story surrounding the disappearance and murder of Elizabeth McCabe, a nursery nurse with a kind heart and a new-found passion for socialising and disco-dancing.  Elizabeth’s body was recovered on 26th February 1980 entangled in woodland growth at Templeton woods by two rabbit hunters, 16 days after her ill-fated night out.  Believing that she may have stayed out with a friend, her mother was not overly concerned to see that Elizabeth’s bed had not been slept in the following morning.  However, as the day wore on and she was made aware that Elizabeth had not turned up for work that day, Mrs McCabe became understandably alarmed.  This was completely out of character for shy, quiet Elizabeth.

Police were notified, but it took a few weeks before things began to pick up pace.  Mr & Mrs McCabe scoured their daughter’s favourite haunts around the city in the hope of locating their daughter safe and sound.  As Elizabeth’s parents’ frustrations rose at the little-to-no progress made in their own investigations and those of the Police, they turned to local media for help.  This appeal still yielded no answers and it seemed as though Elizabeth McCabe had literally vanished from the face of the earth.

As the rabbit hunters stalked through the undergrowth on the morning of 26th February 1980, one of the dogs began showing signs of interest in a nearby covered mound.  Horrified, the two men quickly realised that they had stumbled upon a female body, naked but covered by a blue jumper and some surrounding fauna.  Ligature marks on her neck suggested she had been choked to death.  Gossip consumed the city, with many believing there to be a link between Elizabeth’s death and the death less than a year earlier of Carol Lannen, whose body was found close to where Elizabeth’s body had lain.  As vague pieces of Elizabeth’s last night came together, it emerged that she had left her friend, Sandra in a nightclub and had headed outside.  When the idea was posed that perhaps she had gotten into an unknown car, those close to Elizabeth denied this, citing an earlier incident which had made Elizabeth very aware of getting into an unmarked “taxi”.

With this in mind, every single taxi driver in the city was invited for questioning, in the hope that a breakthrough in the case could be made.  In desperate attempts to ascertain anything about Elizabeth’s final moments and her cold-hearted killer, Police even attended a séance for answers, but this too, proved fruitless.  With Carol Lannen’s unsolved murder not far behind them, the search became focused on taxi drivers and little else.  During the course of questioning both the taxi drivers and witnesses, a man named Vincent Simpson was noted a vital witness, as he had been seen and had admitted to being in that area around the time Elizabeth was murdered.  Although his home and his vehicle were searched, there was no evidence linking him to the crime.  Whilst he may have been involved in petty crime in the past, there was nothing to support the theory that he may have been the murderer, and he was released without charge.

The case went cold, and for a quarter of a century, the story of Elizabeth McCabe and any hope for a conviction slowly faded.

When the Scottish police force initiated ‘Operation Trinity’, a number of cold cases were re-opened and evidence re-checked using up to date DNA analysis techniques that were not available at the time of investigation.  Elizabeth’s murder was one of these cold cases, and, once again, she was thrust into the spotlight.  Evidence from the crime scene and the victim was re-examined and, based on this, police arrested Vincent Simpson 27 years after they had first questioned him.  Despite his repeated protestations of innocence, Vincent Simpson stood in the dock at the High Court in Edinburgh accused of Elizabeth’s murder.

During the trial, the Court heard that examination and crime scene protection techniques had changed significantly since 1980.  Protective clothing had not been worn when officers removed Elizabeth’s body from the woods, and no real effort had been made with regards to the contamination of the site by other officers and officials attending the scene.  Swabs taken from the body had been stored in a paper folder inside a filing cabinet, rendering them all but useless.  Once officer told the Court that the mortician did not wear protective gloves during the removal of personal effects from the body.  Whilst unheard of today, these practices were the norm.

Details of Vincent Simpson’s private and personal life were laid bare in the Courtroom as the weeks unfolded.  Despite the onslaught, he maintained his innocence.  He provided an alibi, called witnesses and also provided names of people who may have been responsible, either alone, or in a group for this horrific crime on a loving young woman.  Although DNA evidence has proved culpability and secured convictions in the past, doubt had grown as to the validity of the findings due to their degradation and the overall poor management of the case itself.  As prosecution lawyers argued for their credibility, defence lawyers counter-argued for their dismissal as conclusive evidence.

DNA experts, in their findings, reported that DNA from a specialist who had examined some of the evidence in the past had been found on items, despite the man taking appropriate cautions not to contaminate anything during his initial investigation.  Footage of further investigations revealed that cross contamination was highly likely in this case due to the number of officers handling various items without taking adequate precautions.  Whilst this was denied, it was clear that cross contamination had occurred, and the prosecution’s argument started to flounder.

After a trial lasting seven weeks, Vincent Simpson was found not guilty by a jury and discharged from the dock.  With no more than a quiet “Thank you very much”, Vincent Simpson left by the side door a free man.  To date, no-one has been brought to justice for the murder of innocent Elizabeth McCabe.  Unfortunately for her family and the memory of Elizabeth herself, we may never know the real story of what happened to the pretty 20 year old with a zest for life and a promising career ahead of her.

– DD Tours operates walking tours in Dundee city, covering dark local history such as wars, battles, murders, diseases, riots, disasters and executions. Walk with us for an unforgettable storytelling experience.

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