In the sixties, a place that is so long ago that for many the era may as well be a Tolkien imagining, there were in the Western world many bad people. They were no more or less the Thugees of India or the roaming bands of Huns from the mists of time. Our society here in the UK was living in either a Halcion era of community and honour in the final days of mass Christian belief or a continued delusion of such things masked by the final days of mass Christian belief.
Today we have a range of tools to trace people and cars for example that the decades that gave us Manson and Hindley were missing. Now we don’t just have the evening news and press we have social media ( however dodgy and half baked it often is) to circulate the faces of the wanted or missing. It would be hard to think that a man could be killed, his car stolen and it be kept as a trophy run around by the killer. Not impossible, but not likely. That the killer would be free to travel and then kill again. Possible?
Yes, I guess even with the eye of Google on us. What about the fact that the killer was only out and about in the first place because he had escaped a psychiatric facility AND because he had evaded capture for 28 days the law back then said he had to remain free?
Let us not delude ourselves, daft laws and decisions are the core of man’s misery and always will be. For me the 60s are grubby. I only lived five years of them and my recollections are by definition infantile, but it was a time of flickering TV sets, oversized appliances and itchy wool garments. It was either the end of grubby or it was the start of our descent into a material grubbiness that invented things that looked good but were a path to distraction from the reality we lived in. The 60s were the start of true delusion.
From that time we got contraception in a convenient form that undoubtedly freed women, we got LSD which is about as far from reality as you can get. We got cheap and readily available electronics, access to car ownership, an increasing ability to ‘ own property,’ well co own with a bank. We had wood furniture hidden by plastics and indoor bathrooms ( I can only speak for my humble UK origins I guess). We also got mass TV watching, clean cut cop shows and down home neighbourly soap operas. All very reassuring, all very plastic. The music was good and loud and off somewhere in the Far East Communism was taking a right hammering before in the 70s it hammered right back.
I think of the 60s as dark. The street lights were dark, the long worn and used deep brown furniture that littered front parlours was dark, the back alleyways were dark and smelt of Sunday roasts perpetually rotting until trash day. Each weekend the scrapings were flung into round galvanised bins to rot away some more. Dogs roamed, seldom a bother but they shit where they liked and no one cared. They wandered out on automatic walks to return home, if they had a home, for meals and sleep. Even the brightly lit convenience stores that we wander around because we are bored at 8 pm were dark back then, a man and wife operation with sweet jars to entice the young and tins and sliced ham. All goods were clad in old nicotine coated wooden shelves and dull beleaguered bulbs shone feint light onto dreary corners.
Yet it couldn’t have been all that. I was very young and very small so to me there was no higher view of restaurants, night clubs and cabaret acts to balance out and even erase the grubbiness. If the Victorian age of crime was mist and cloaked figures doing dastardly things as they flit past poor slivers of gas lit cobbles, the sixties were nasty business done to hitchhikers in and around leatherette car upholstery. If the Victorian age was murder by arsenic and lamp light the 60s was murder done by guns and knives to the aroma of Brylcreem and sweat.
The Ford Anglia is a car I know well, better in my memory, more crystal clear in image than those corner shops. My father had a second job driving for a car dealer. All the classic, as they now are, British motors of that era are in my mind somewhere. If I was not being driven in them I had sat in them in the scrap yard or stood by them as Lennie, my dads boss, haggled over them. The Ford Anglia was a little car that in its last version was a product of the rocket age and all the hope that brought. Cars in the UK copied, in my view, their bigger growlier cousins in the US during the 60s. Big tail sections like rockets, flared wings to the front, even some with Jetson like angles.
On March 7th 1962 a man, George Green, stepped into his older rounder Ford Anglia and set off from his home in Leeds to go skiing. Although only five years old his little black car had been through the wars with bent fenders and a few adaptions. The idea was for the 30 year old electrical engineer to drive to Inverness-shire, a journey of about 400 miles. At just under six feet tall and in good health and of course in the age of good community, Christianity and hope, George’s habit of picking up hitchhikers was a normal wholesome thing. My dad used to do it and I sat there through many journeys as he chatted to soldiers returning from leave, otherwise stranded truckers and students. Either he avoided picking up females while I was in the car or even back then he didn’t like the idea…. I don’t remember girl hitchhikers. Certainly hitching was a widespread practice and mostly when it came to a nasty end it was women who were the victims. There were even warnings about it all as the cops tried to stem the flow of nasty crimes against women.
I try and drain my small boys mind to think about the way that journey would have gone for George Green. He was dressed smart, an anorak, with a jumper, white shirt and a tie. Not what we would wear piling into a car for a 400 mile lone drive today. His bag was in the back and a shovel was in the boot in case on that long wintery journey he had to dig the car out of the snow. The roads obviously had less cars than today but at the same time those cars ran on very narrow and often hazardous roads. I remember them leaking a lot, they smelt of oil and a five year old car of almost 60 years ago would be more like a 15 year old car today. I wonder if it had a radio? Many didn’t, but George’s skill was in electronics so maybe Elvis or Cliff Richard or Ray Charles kept him company.
Somewhere along the way a ‘gnome’ like man actually kept him company. A later account suggests they met somewhere around Pitlochry. Iain Simpson, younger than George by four years was hitching and as we know George didn’t mind that. They fell in together as chance often binds people and along they went. Simpson by all manner of deduction and reasoning (even giving him extreme benefit of the doubt) was a bad man. A man of nightmares and like so many monsters of dreams and sad reality he didn’t look a threat.
I met one once and I can attest that the most dangerous element, the fundamental flaw in our alarm system is when a bad man does not look dangerous. The idle chat they may have had initially started to make George uneasy. Simpson spoke of divine calling, of a stay in a mental hospital and of time spent behind criminals bars. He became agitated on points that only vaguely touched on Christian morality. Still George did not fear him. He was told to go his own way after a bit and undaunted George drove on to a café near Newtonmore where he chatted over an omelette and told staff about his strange passenger. This strange passenger, this gnome like stocky built Simpson, is said to have walked past all bundled against the cold.
Tolerance is a wonderful thing, without it we might be in a constant state of war. Compassion is a wonderful thing, it feeds the poor and comforts the sick. It can also get you killed. From what we can tell, having pieced the accounts of the café staff together, both tolerance and compassion were enemies of George Green when he started driving again towards Aviemore. A short time later he saw the gnome like man again. Although still daylight it was bitter cold and Green took pity on the ‘headcase’ as he had just described him. He stopped, made to apologise for kicking Simpson out, he leaned over to let the little man into the car and Simpson shot Green in the forehead with a bullet from an old .22 pistol.
The brutal circumstances of his death came from Simpson’s mouth later otherwise no-one would know what happened. Even so it is and will always be Simpson’s account. You see the Simpson of the A9 road, the murderer, was driven by God’s calling according to him. He had been obsessed with the word of God for almost as long as he had been alive. Simpson masqueraded as a preacher, as an antique dealer, indeed as a human. Maybe he was tormented by an inner divine struggle for his soul, equally possible was the fact that in the days of hanging the only way out was to convince others of his insanity. The driving power of God, orders to kill, were what Simpson claimed. Yet his actions later in doing everything he could to cover his tracks and evade detection are notably logical and essentially sane.
One of the first indications of his relatively clear thinking was pushing the dead George Green into a slumped position in the passenger seat. Simpson then chose a more discreet back road route in order to look for a place to bury Green out of sight. In doing so he ran across an Army exercise. Soldiers had blocked the road and the officer in charge innocently informed Simpson of the reason for the hold up and thanked him for his patience. Simpson came across as relaxed and even though he was not asked offered the explanation as to why the dead George had not stirred. He had drunk a bit too much cheer at dinner time and was sleeping it off Simpson told the officer. He even joked that when his slumbering companion awoke he would probably not believe that an army road block had stopped them.
Moving on north, with snow all around Simpson became anxious, apparently despite him believing the All Mighty had his back, that he would not find a place to hide his victim. At some point he headed back to the layby where he had been ejected from the car. There on Friday 18th March George would be found by a former copper who was out and about as a water bailiff. The body was in a shallow grave and because Simpson had been hurried and probably operating in the dark he had left one foot showing above the surface. Soon the phones were ringing and the detectives were on the way.
Of Simpson? Well his crazy mind was actually quite collected. He got rid of the car registration and replaced it with a stolen plate. He partially repainted it and even managed to see through the fog of deep mental illness to the point of moving a tax disc from the windscreen and replacing that with a stolen one from a mechanical digger. He kept driving around in it. Well it was almost 60 years ago. There were no automatic vehicle registration facilities and besides for about a week no-one even knew George Green was missing. He had told all he was to be away for seven days.
Simpson was a resident of Manchester but had been born a Scot. He was a long term thief specialising in stealing from churches and crypts. He had done some time in the army and travelled in Europe. He was a con man who ripped people off for money while pretending to be of noble birth. He had girlfriends and his jobs were lowly, he manged with money one way or another.
Simpson, still with George’s car, went for another meander up into Scotland in April where he came across a Swiss man called Hans Grimmi. Hans was enjoying the beauty of Scotland. He worked in Dunfermline but had lodgings in Edinburgh. He was young and enjoying life, he had friends and at only 24 years old was full of life and in many respects was all that Simpson could never be.
Effectively Hans’ life ended when he ran into Simpson in Inveralligin in North Western Scotland. Simpson said he was a university lecturer in Manchester and, as the like of him do, he managed to fit his story in with Hans’ plans which were to travel to London. Funny, Simpson was heading there too, what a surprise!
Over the course of several days they were in each others company but despite his ‘crazy mind’ Simpson did well to stay out of the way when they stayed overnight. Grimmi would sleep in one place and Simpson another. Initially Grimmi had been in company with a girl he had met, later he met with a girlfriend in Edinburgh, but otherwise it was as if Simpson was wary of any close connection with Hans.
Grimmi informed his family he was on schedule for his sister’s wedding and as good fortune would have it this university lecturer was going his way so all was well. They drove south but according to Simpson got into a religious argument. Once again driven by the Lord’s will Grimmi was shot and killed and buried in Twiglees Forest not far from Lockabie in Dumfrieshire. Then this religion addled man calmly stripped £30 pounds and various possessions off Grimmi. He covered his tracks once more and drove to his home in Manchester. There, according to his landlady, he was at pains to clear out the car and scrub it down.
Possibly by now you have detected a trace or even a generous slavering of scepticism about just how religiously demented Mr Simpson was. Well I am sceptical. Insanity is a curious legal phantom. Some very ill people do very bad things. I should know and could answer critics with many years of experience. The thing is really ill, really mad people normally only harm themselves with the way their torment affects them. They hear voices that tell them they are trash or that the world is out to get them. They neglect themselves and as they get nearer a point of needing hospital they plainly display their deteriorating state of mind for all to see.
They are never organised like Simpson. Now that is not to say he was normally functioning. There is a thing called psychopathy of course. Many of those are captains of industry, special forces operatives and the cold calculating man or woman next door. The difference between psychopaths and those that are propelled by the voices of god or demons is that psychopaths…well they behave like Simpson when it comes to murder. They are organised enough to coolly calculate their best chances of avoiding arrest. How good they are at this evasion depends on a lot of factors. Like with all of society you get clever ones and not so clever ones. The point being they might not feel the way we do but they are capable of self control.
Simpson came from poor origins and at school he was not rated as much of a brainiac. That said later he obtained two degrees. Whilst in Germany with the army he picked up the ability to get along in that language. He posed as a preacher successfully which means that his undoubted interest in The Bible paid off because of his ability to retain information. This was indeed a very well functioning ‘madman’.
Cruel fate, horrible luck and a predatory eye had been the downfall of Grimmi and Green. It was only just that the same factors brought Simpson down.
A 19 year old mechanic apprentice, who had a similar ability to retain information as Simpson, was sitting behind a two tone Ford Anglia in Manchester traffic. He noted the bent fender, the fact that the registration did not match the model and he recalled a police circulation over a murder. He followed the car ahead and managed to get the attention of a police officer. Together they tailed Simpson and Green’s Anglia.
The cops in Scotland were delighted when Manchester CID shouted up that Simpson, the car and possessions of the victims had been located. Roddie Fraser, the cop in charge of the murder hunt, drove twelve hours down from Inverness to interview him. Just before he died the officer, a highly decorated Highlander, wrote about his life generally and Simpson in particular in his book The Divine Killer. I just looked on the internet for a copy and saw one for the outrageous sum of £70. Look around and you should find one cheaper, mine cost £7. In the slim volume Fraser recounts the ‘driven by god’ story that Simpson related. The religious arguments that sparks the murders. Then of course only Simpson was left to give a version.
He was scheduled for trial, but was found unfit to stand and remanded into the mental health services tender care.
You could call it divine justice as to what happened to him. In Late November 1976 two very bad men decided to escape Carstairs secure hospital where Simpson was behind bars. Simpson and a Nurse Neil MacLellan were attacked with improvised weapons. Their deaths were brutal in the extreme. The escapees Thomas McCulloch and Robert Francis Mone went on to murder a police officer and seriously injure his colleague and all for a three hour burst of freedom. They were chased down and arrested by armed police near Carlisle.
So what can we take from the tale of the A9 killer. Well one thing I did not mention was that before he roamed the Glens and killed those young men Simpson had been in a psychiatric hospital before. He escaped and an obscure law meant that if he remained free for 28 days he could not be returned to hospital. Sadly he did and it was shortly after he took two lives. So possibly we could continue to look at daft laws that endanger the public. Currently I see no real signs lessons have been learned there.
On a personal security point though…Hitchhiking or picking up hitchhikers is a no no and the practise is rightly unusual in the UK now. From my perspective, having met a few monsters in my time and having been taken in by a few as well, tolerance and trust are things best indulged carefully. Green was uneasy and kicked Simpson out because he felt something was wrong. If you get that feeling I suggest following through with it and getting the hell away from the person you are uneasy about. Millions of years of evolution have provided us with instincts some are still very relevant today.
Please note below are some comments from someone who knew Simpson’s family. They make reference to Simpson not coming from poor origins. My reference to poor origins is not derogatory. Mine mirror his in many ways and I have nothing but good to say about them. Also you might notice that I have replied and said I know people who knew the family. The article is about Iain Simpson and is no reflection on others I do not know.