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So who killed Columbo?


In 1984, the seaside town of Troon was shocked by the murder of Jimmy 'Columbo' McAulay. Almost two decades after his death, police are still trying to piece together the jigsawIT was a bloody crime which shook a quiet Scots seaside town. When Jimmy 'Columbo' McAulay's body was found battered and partially hidden among the bushes of one of Troon's golf courses, few knew that his brutal death would remain a mystery for nearly 20 years.

Almost two decades on, Columbo's murder still haunts the well-heeled streets of the Ayrshire resort.

For his family, the wait to convict his killer goes on and the file on the case has never been closed.

One man was arrested in connection with the murder, but was later released without charge on the advice of the Crown Office.

Others, including some police sources, suspect the involvement of a notorious double killer.

Yet the case remains one of Scotland's greatest unsolved mysteries, despite new information recently coming to light in bizarre circumstances.

Earlier this year, detectives re-examined the files on Columbo's murder after an informant gave new details from his deathbed.

The new evidence, including a DNA sample, was produced in the summer and police once again focused their attention on the case.

But the sample came back as a negative match to crime scene stains.

Police remain tight-lipped about who gave them the information and what exactly was said, confirming only that "certain aspects" of Columbo's killing were being investigated.

However, the re-investigation into the case after so many years meant that interest in the horrific murder was rekindled.

And for the victim's family, it raised hopes that they were finally going to have the answers to exactly what happened to their brother 17 years ago in the upmarket coastal town.

For Larry McAulay, 71, the anguish over his brother's violent death has never diminished.

The retired industrial chemist, who still lives in Troon, explained: "Like every loss, it fades with time. But I still want to know who did it and it niggles away."

Jimmy McAulay was one of Troon's characters and his death on May 3, 1984, shocked the community.

Nicknamed Columbo because he wore a white raincoat similar to the scruffy American TV detective played by Peter Falk, the 44-year-old unemployed bookies' marker was well known around the resort. He had grown up in Troon with Larry and their brothers Bobby and William and when he left school, he went to work in Troon's then-booming shipyards.

When the industry went into decline, he worked behind the counter at a bookmaker's in nearby Saltcoats before returning to Troon to work part-time in several betting shops.

Columbo was a popular figure, described by those who knew him as "just one of the gang".

One female friend said: "He was just one of the men. He enjoyed company, liked to laugh and was a gentleman.

"Jimmy never had any enemies and never even got into so much as a verbal argument."

She added: "He was funny, good natured and no-one ever had a bad word to say about him - not that I ever heard anyway."

Some described Columbo as a scruffy man, a wanderer who liked a drink in the local pubs where he was a regular.

But his brother and others in the town remember him differently.

Larry said: "He might have worn an overcoat, which did nothing for his appearance, but underneath, he was okay.

"The description that was circulated when he died was something I always took issue with."

A friend added: "He was always clean and tidy and he took a pride in his appearance and his work."

Columbo lived with his brother Bobby in Mossgiel Street, in the Muirhead area of Troon.

On the night he was killed, he had been out drinking with Bobby and their mother, Helen.

They went to the Railway Club, which is now a modern pub, then got a taxi from the Shore Street bar at 11.30pm to Helen's home in Templehill.

Columbo left shortly afterwards, cutting over the Darley golf course as he walked home - but he never made it.

The following day, his battered and partially-hidden body was found by a greenkeeper behind a water tank near the municipal course's first green. He had been viciously beaten to death.

In a bizarre and gruesome twist, his body had been strung up with rope on a piece of machinery. Police believed at first he had been strangled.

Strathclyde Police serious crime squad were called in to investigate, with Detective Superintendent John Orr - who would go on to become Sir John as chief constable of the force - in charge.

Police issued appeals for several witnesses whom they believed may have vital information about Columbo's death. To this day, some of those witnesses have still not come forward.

On May 28, Ronald Farmer, 23, a handyman originally from Wick, Caithness, was arrested in an amusement arcade and charged with the murder of Jimmy McAulay.

THE evidence gathered against Farmer appeared to put him in the right place at the right time and police believed they had found the killer.

Farmer appeared in court, but 10 weeks later, he was freed on the instructions of the Crown and he returned to Caithness.

A source close to the investigation said: "The police did everything by the book.

"They gathered the information and put the report in to the Crown who took the decision to begin proceedings.

"But further down the line, there was a U-turn and Farmer was freed."

Others believe Farmer was an easy capture for the police in the absence of anything more concrete.

But Larry believes that another line of inquiry, which he said had not been fully explored, was the possible involvement of double killer Andrew Cameron.

Labourer Cameron was caged for the brutal murders of Ayrshire teenagers Kay Wyllie, 19, of Ayr in 1984, and Nancy Nicol, 18, of Kilmarnock, in 1985.

He was ordered to serve a minimum of 20 years for their killings.

One of the murders was committed on the first anniversary of Columbo's death and, according to Jimmy's brother, it was too strong a coincidence to be ignored.

Larry said: "The fact that it happened a year after Jimmy's murder just made me think about the possible connection.

"But the police seemed to have their own ideas and they did not appear too interested. The coincidence puzzled me."

A police insider said there were always strong suspicions about Cameron - but the evidence simply wasn't there to back up the concerns about his possible involvement.

The source told The Record: "I can't look past Andrew Cameron for Columbo's murder.

"The killing of Jimmy McAulay was a different type of murder to the girls he killed.

"But he was one of the last people seen close to the spot Columbo died and the proximity of a killer like that to a case like Columbo's carries a lot of weight."

THE file on Columbo's death remained open, but no further arrests were made and no-one was ever convicted of his murder.

He was buried in a cemetery plot just 40 yards from the murder scene.

Larry said that 17 years after his brother's murder, he still wonders if the killer is at large.

He said: "The killing shocked the town at the time, at least for a little while. Whoever did this may have been drunk, on dope or just homicidal."

Bobby, who is now 67 and still living in Troon, is reluctant to talk about the case.

Bobby, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the face featured in the grainy black and white photograph of Jimmy which was circulated at the time of his violent death, said: "It seems a pretty cold trail, to be honest.

"There's no point talking about it now. If I thought it would achieve anything, I would."

Strathclyde Police are also reluctant to talk about the case in any detail.

Ayr-based Detective Inspector David Swindle said that he could only confirm that some aspects of the Jimmy McAulay case were being re-examined and he could not comment further.

Larry said the years since his brother's mysterious death have been difficult for the family.

Larry added: "Gradually the pain has gone away, but it is something which still niggles at the back of your mind.

"Jimmy wasn't a violent man in any way. He would probably not even have fought back against whoever attacked him."
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Nov 17, 2001
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