Edinburgh unsolved: ex-boxer murdered ‘in mistaken hit’

Neil McCann was murdered in Craigmillar in the early 1970s.
Neil McCann was murdered in Craigmillar in the early 1970s.

In a series on unsolved crimes in the Capital, Andy Shipley looks at the case of a former boxer who was murdered in what detectives thought was a mistaken gangland hit.

Blood pouring from a head wound and screaming for help, gentle giant Neil McCann was found dying in a Craigmillar street.

The former boxer was just yards from his girlfriend’s home in Craigmillar Castle Loan when a silver or bronze Ford Capri screeched to a halt. Two killers jumped out before battering and stabbing Neil and leaving him for dead.

The murder had a devastating impact on the 37-year-old’s family, not least his mother Flora who died five years later.

“It haunted her the way he died,” Neil’s sister Mary told the Evening News in a fresh appeal in 2001. “Tore her to bits just thinking about it, her heart was just broken.

“Even now, after all this time, whoever did it should go to jail. They should pay the price for what they did.”

Born into a well respected family of boxers in Tollcross, it was inevitable “Nealie” would lace-up the gloves.

He served his country and was a champion boxer in the army before going on to coach son Neil junior and nephew Tommy in the sport.

“The boys adored him,” said Mary. “Even though he could be a bit of an army man with them and make them polish their shoes until they shone. But Neil was like that, he wouldn’t go out of the house, except for when he was working, without a shirt and tie on. He had to be smart at all times.”

He was close to Flora too and moved back in with her after demobbing and returning to the Capital.

It was February 1974, and Neil had been out for drinks and a game of darts at the International Pub, Tollcross, and the Green Tree, Gorgie Road.

Was Neil’s drinking buddy that night, Charlie McGranaghan, the intended target? He was found stabbed to death in London seven years later.

“He hadn’t seen Charlie in years,” said Mary. “They just bumped into each other that night and it was just a case of going for a catch-up.”

Or had Neil been unwittingly pulled into a gang feud after working the doors of city clubs?

Neighbours alerted by Neil’s blood-curdling screams gave detectives detailed descriptions of the men responsible. The police investigation lasted nine months and thousands of people from Craigmillar were interviewed.

Officers travelled to an oil rig in the North Sea and to London based on tip-offs from sources – but the killers were never caught.