Mum says daughter’s killer still on loose 30 years later

Ann Ballantine's mother Isobel and sister Grace. PIcture: Neil Hanna
Ann Ballantine's mother Isobel and sister Grace. PIcture: Neil Hanna

THE mother of a young woman brutally murdered in the Capital says she still holds out hope for justice 30 years later.

Ann Ballantine was just 20 when her body was discovered floating in the Union Canal.

She had been strangled and dead for weeks before her killer got rid of the body.

The find gripped the city with fear – could there be a crazed killer on the loose?

But there were to be no further slayings, the police ultimately drew a blank and Ann’s family were left to grieve alone.

Now, 30 years on, Ann’s family say they know who did it – and the realisation that her killer still walks free makes their grief rawer still.

“It’s difficult knowing he’s about, it makes my blood boil,” says mum Isobel, 69. “He’s probably with his family and Ann is six-feet under. Why does he deserve that? I’m very bitter.”

But how did it come to this? A fun-loving rock music fan snuffed out in her prime.

“Ann was my first-born and I was only 18 but she was a good baby,” says Isobel. “She was such a happy child – a real happy-go-lucky kid.”

Ann attended Broughton Primary before going on to Trinity School. She left home at 18 to pursue an independent life.

She volunteered at the Conongate Youth Project for disadvantaged children. “She wanted to work with those less fortunate,” says Isobel.

“She got her own flat in Fountainbridge but would come back every week because she didn’t have a washing machine so she’d come back to do her washing, hang it up to dry and take some food, like kids do when they move out.”

Younger sister Grace, 48, recalls a typical sibling rivalry. “Me and my sister used to fight like cat and dog when she lived at home, like sisters do.

“But when she moved out, we were really close, I miss her terribly,” adds Grace, who still wears Ann’s ring on a chain around her neck.

Everywhere around the comfortable living room of the family’s Bonnington home are poignant reminders of Ann.

Her last photo gazes down from a bookcase, a pencil portrait commissioned while in Spain on holiday, a footrest full of newspaper clippings.

The last time Isobel saw her daughter was on November 18, 1986, after Ann had visited a family friend in hospital.

“She was just her normal self and I asked her if she’d still be down for Christmas,” recalls Isobel.

“She loved Chri-stmas and would always come home on Christmas Eve and stay the night. We’d open one present on Christmas Eve.”

Unbeknown to Isobel, that chat would be her last with Ann as her daughter vanished, signalling a downward spiral of despair.

“She’d been missing for so long,” says Isobel. “I’d been up to the flat three or four times putting a note through the door with some money – £5 and a 5p asking her to phone me.”

Police spoke to Ann’s ex-fiance, family and friends but there was no trace of her. The Ballantines, meanwhile, grew more fearful with every passing day.

It was to be the front page of the Evening News that brought the grim reality home to Isobel and husband Graham, now 70.

“It was just another ordinary morning and Graham said he was going up to the garage with the car,” says Isobel.

“He went and my brother phoned and asked me if I’d seen the paper yet – it said a body had been found in the Union Canal, the body of a young woman.

“Graham came back and said he didn’t know what was going on but there was police everywhere. I told him a body had been found and he said ‘Oh my God’.

“Those few days were a living hell, not knowing if it was her. We got ready for it and prepared for the worst.

“I got friends and relatives, as many people as I could pack into the house.”

Grace recalls: “I got a taxi back home and ran into the back bedroom. I can’t even remember who came to ask me if I was coming through to sit with everyone.

“But I just said I don’t need anyone to tell me it’s my sister. I just had a feeling it was her, I just knew.

Isobel adds: “After a few days they phoned us to tell us it was Ann. It was like living in a nightmare from which we couldn’t wake up.”

Ann’s body was so badly decomposed, she was identified by dental records and a distinctive scar on her head.

Grace says: “We never got to say goodbye because we weren’t allowed to see the body but we did get a lock of her hair and we still have it.”

A heavy metal fan, Ann had a ticket to an upcoming Alice Cooper concert in Edinburgh when she disappeared.

In a cruel twist of fate, Isobel later met the rock fan who would have been sitting next to Ann that night had she lived.

“I was working in a restaurant on Rose Street with this guy who told me he was supposed to be sat next to her at the concert but the seat was empty.”

Police frogmen trawled the canal for clues and photographs were reportedly found scattered on a footpath near where Ann was found.

A massive manhunt was launched. A number of items were found missing from Ann’s flat – a black leather jerkin, a brass petrol lighter engraved with her initials, a photo album, camera and black shoulder bag.

Were these taken as momentoes by the murderer – adding weight to the serial killer theories? Or was Ann killed by someone she knew?

There was initial hope of snaring the fiend – a group of workmen spotted a man dumping something in the canal.

Police eventually came up with a suspect and sent a report to the procurator fiscal but there was insufficient evidence for a prosecution.

Isobel found solace in a London-based charity of parents of murdered children, before setting up an Edinburgh branch to help others like her.

“I got a lot of comfort from talking to mothers who had lost their kids. I made a lot of nice friends. I used to go out and visit people who’d lost kids. It was hurtful but also uplifting to know you’re not on your own.

The investigation may have stalled but Ann’s family are convinced they know the killer’s identity. Graham said once: “We know who it is but we’re not allowed to say. He’s a sociopath, he has to be.”

The family has a photograph of the man they suspect taken at a family party, looking at Ann with “pure evil” in his eyes.

And then there are the last words of Ann herself. “Ann kept a diary and the last comment in it was ‘there’s somebody knocking at my door, I think I recognise the knock, I think it could be XXX,” says Isobel.

“I just don’t know how he can live with himself. He kept her and dumped her body. If he’d found her in the flat, why couldn’t he of phoned the police anonymously,” she adds, the pain still there behind her eyes.

Ann’s case is still officially open and is one of many being handled by Police Scotland’s specialist cold cases unit.

But the Ballantines are left to mark family landmarks without their beloved Ann.

She would have turned 50 last September and the family made a pilgrimage to Moreton Hall Cemetery.

“We went to the graveyard and I had a special wreath made up of dark purple roses which was her favourite colour,” says Isobel.

Former Rowntrees factory worker and care home handyman Graham was diagnosed with dementia five years ago and is now in nearby Letham Park Nursing Home.

One of the toughest realities facing Ann’s family is that Graham will now never see her killer caught.

Grace says: “He hoped and he prayed one of these days we’d see justice done. She missed me getting married. She missed me having kids. She was motherly and very family orientated but she never got to have kids. I’ve brought up all my kids to know who their aunt was.”

For Grace, Christmas is particularly difficult: “I go into a room by myself and think about my sister for half-an-hour or so.” Isobel adds: “There’s not a day goes by when I don’t think about her and wish she was still her with us. We still hope for justice.”