Former Edinburgh cop who cracked infamous ‘Shoe Man’ case speaks out about how he caught serial sex offender 35 years on
PC Charles Hay was jailed for five years at the High Court in Edinburgh in 1986 after admitting 13 charges of attacks on women. One of the police officers who worked on what became known as the ‘Shoe Man’ case, Peter Richie, now a crime fiction writer, describes the series of events that led to his capture…
The below story will be published in the next issue of 1919 Magazine which is out on Tuesday.
I probably should explain why I am writing this short ‘true crime' story after spending the last few years writing crime fiction. This is the one that always comes back to me and I think it’s because I still can't make sense of some of it. At its heart was that old cliché of so much drama – the split personality.
In September 1978, on an otherwise ordinary day in Musselburgh a terrible crime took place in the heart of the town. A mother and daughter were working on their own in a small shop when a man entered and put the two women through a terrifying ordeal after tying them up.
He was quickly identified and arrested after going on the run.
A few days later, the accused man’s wife was at home with her infant child when there was a knock at her door. She asked who it was and a man identified himself as a police officer involved with the case against her husband.
She asked for ID and what appeared to be a genuine police warrant card was put through the letterbox. The man forced his way in where she was subjected to a terrifying ordeal with her child nearby. He told her he would kill her and the child if she resisted.
One of the unusual features that became important years later was that during the attack he licked the victim’s boots. When he was finished, he was apologetic, even offering money.
The woman was subsequently found distressed and in shock on the street outside.
The CID were called and faced with the wife of the man they’d recently locked up for serious sexual assault.
There was no forensic evidence and this was before the advent of DNA. One can only imagine what it must have been like for the victim to have her husband locked up only to endure the agony of her own assault.
About two years later, the next of the series of attacks took place that were eventually identified as part of a pattern and the work of what became known as the ‘Shoe Man’ cases.
Initially there were a number of reports from women who’d been called by a man passing himself off as a representative of the shoe chain Dolcis. In one case, he visited a victim in Edinburgh, brought shoes with him and when he was inside the house grabbed the woman round the neck and threatened her with a knife.
In 1982, barely a hundred yards from the front door of the woman assaulted in 1978, a victim was attacked at the door of her house and the man asked to see what shoes she was wearing.
A few months later, the same woman was in her home when the same man came to the door. She described him as wearing what looked like a blue shirt with epaulettes (a shoulder piece). Fortunately, she kept the security chain on when he tried to force entry.
In September the same year, in a common stair in Joppa Road, Edinburgh he attacked a young woman and stole her shoes. This was another one of those strange turn of events because the woman who was attacked originally came from Musselburgh and thought she recognised her attacker as a policeman who lived in the town.
She told a close relative who dismissed the suggestion and told her that her suspicion could not be correct.
The attacks continued and he seemed to target the Leith area. By this time there was a recognition that the Shoe Man was active and in an unfortunate coincidence, a ‘promising’ suspect cropped up but it was the wrong man.
There was a logic behind going for him because he had been convicted of stealing shoes and his description was fairly close to the Shoe Man. He was interviewed several times over the years.
There was an unusual turn of events in Edinburgh when he attacked two women in broad daylight in bus shelters only a short drive from each other. In both cases a knife was placed at their throats.
The attacks continued and in another bizarre turn, he telephoned one of the women he'd attacked in the bus shelter, talked to her about the incident and about the shoes she'd been wearing at the time.
In April 1986, a woman was walking home in the same area as some of the other attacks where she was subjected to a terrifying assault. She was half strangled, punched around her face and her shoes stolen.
The woman lost consciousness during the attack. She was in shock, traumatised by the assault.
Cracking the case
Less than 150 yards from the locus is Brunton Hall, a landmark council building in the town and a regular venue for functions.
Although it wasn’t my area, on the Sunday morning I went down to Musselburgh, made a couple of local enquiries and established that there had been an Old Musselburgh Club formal occasion at the Brunton Hall on the night the woman had been attacked.
I went to see the victim and she went on to give the most detailed and ultimately accurate description of her attacker I had ever seen from a victim. I spoke to her about this several times and she explained that it was like a photograph burned into her mind because she thought she was going to die.
I obtained a list of who had attended the formal function at the Brunton Hall and as soon as I saw the name Charlie Hay, I knew it was him - and the previous descriptions all made sense.
Charlie was a long serving police dog handler and pillar of the community.
A few days later we went to police HQ where we detained Charles Calderwood Hay. He denied the most recent attack. However, later that night he was identified at an ID parade and he knew it was over.
Even the woman as far back as 1978 was able to pick him out.
When I was speaking to him on his own it was for all the world like being with two different people in the room at the same time. He would be affable Charlie for a while, then when he was describing a crime there was a complete change in his eyes, voice tone and his non-verbals.
It was as if he was moving from one person to the other and even the voice was completely different. It was something I've never forgotten and never witnessed again in my career.
We started to work on the investigation and there was no doubt in my mind that he'd committed numerous other crimes.
We'll never know the true story about Charlie. He did his time and died of a heart attack a few years later.
Other information came to us through the years (even quite recently) that confirmed there would have been more to find, but unfortunately can’t be investigated now. He even attended two of his own crimes as the dog handler.
Truth really is stranger than fiction.