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Byline: John Dingwall

Crime writer Alex Gray knew there was only one way to make her first novel dead accurate.

But her trip to the mortuary not only gave her the background detail to ensure her plot rang helped inspire her best-known character.

Alex asked pathologist Marjorie Turner for help and soon found herself face-to-face with a dead body in Glasgow City Mortuary.

That encounter led to a string of gripping crime thrillers such as Never Somewhere Else, Sleep Like the Dead and A Pound of Flesh.

Alex returned to the mortuary last week and recalled: "I started coming down here years before my first book was published for information to authenticate it.

"On my first visit, I actually saw a post mortem take place. That was before the days when health and safety would stop an ordinary person doing that.

"Somebody made a body come out of a fridge drawer all by itself and I went, 'Wooah!' But it was just somebody playing tricks by creating a backdraft from the postmortem room.

"Realising that women pathologists worked here planted a seed in my head and I created the Rosie Fergusson character who has slowly come to resemble Marjorie."

Ever since that first mortuary visit, Marjorie and Alex have worked to ensure Rosie wields her scalpel with deadly accuracy.

Alex said: "Marjorie is a huge support. Knowing that I have someone here who can tell me what it is all about makes me feel very safe in my writing.

"I feel like I am in safe hands when I am describing what someone is doing.

"I might be able to write about it but I don't think I could take a scalpel and cut somebody down the middle, take out their thoracic area or scoop out the lungs.

"I did Higher biology but I still don't think I would enjoy that experience very much.

"It is fascinating though. The postmortem has such a vital role in solving the mystery of why somebody has died."

Standing in the post mortem room of one of Scotland's most historic mortuaries, it's hard to believe that every week more than 50 bodies are wheeled in with conveyor-belt efficiency.

The brightness and shiny surfaces areunexpected inside the low, humdrum, red brick building facing Glasgow's Saltmarket, once the scene of public hangings. It could be mistaken for a doctor's surgery if it wasn't for the viewing platform that looks on to the three stainless steel tables, pitted with drainage holes for blood.

Marjorie said: "This is a very busy mortuary.

We do post mortem examinations as instructed by the fiscal - and it's not just murders.

"There are also sudden natural deaths, where no one can issue a death certificate, cases of suicide and accidents.

"There is always a pathologist on call for a suspected homicide, ready to go out to the scene if needed. The post mortem examination will be held here."

Yesterday, Alex, Marjorie and Strathclyde University's director of forensic science, Professor Jim Fraser, gave a sell-out talk - Fascinating Forensics: Blood And Guts - at the Bloody Scotland crime-writing festival, in Stirling.

Marjorie had decided forensic pathology would be the career for her in her early teens after reading about the infamous Jigsaw Murders in September 1935.

Indian-born physician Buck Ruxton killed his wife Isabella and her maid Mary Rogerson and mutilated their bodies before scattering body parts in Moffat, Dumfriesshire, in a bid to make them unidentifiable.

But his victims were identified using forensic anthropology to superimpose a photograph over ay of a victim's skull and forensic logy to identify the age of maggots and t the approximate date of death.

the X-r entomol work out It was forensic convict murder Manche Marjo library a identifie "I thou about pi Now in has take former Y s one of the first cases in the UK where c evidence was successfully used to a killer. Ruxton was found guilty of the s and hanged at Strangeways prison, ester in May 1936.

orie said: "My dad got a book out of the about the Ruxton murders and how they ed the victims and I read it too.

ught it was fascinating how they went iecing it all together."

nternationally renowned, Marjorie's job en her all over the world, including the Yugoslavia where she helped prepare evidence against perpetrators of war crimes. She and her colleagues and predecessors have also been responsible for helping to solve some of Scotland's most notorious murders.

She said: "The victims of Bible John and Peter Manuel probably had their post mortems done in this mortuary in the 50s and 60s.

"The job is the same now as it was then. We need to find out how someone died and, if they died because of a criminal act, try to help the police and prosecutors secure justice."

Later this year, the historic mortuary will be mothballed as it makes way for an new facility at Glasgow's Southern General Hospital.

Marjorie admits she will miss the place, a handy five minutes away from the High Court where she is often called to give evidence based on her findings.

She said: "I have a fondness for the city mortuary. It's a very distinctive building and part of Glasgow's history.

"I used to come up to the city at Christmas, driving past here with my uncle who would point out the mortuary and I found it fascinating.

"Sadly it is probably going to close at the end of this year when we move to a new purpose-built facility. The mortuary in the Southern General is huge but I will miss this place.

"A lot of people think it's a nasty place to be. I was speaking to a lawyer the other day who thinks the building is horrible. I hope it's not.

"We try very hard to make the place as pleasant as possible for the relatives who come to view or identify the deceased.

"In a murder, the family are brought down straight away.

"The police will go to the door and inform the next of kin and ask them to come down to the mortuary.

"Our staff do their best to make it not clinical. They bring in flowers and put pictures on the walls."

It seems author Alex has also become attached to the old place.

She said: "There is something about this old building. I am going to continue using it as a mortuary in all my novels to come.

"It won't die. It's just the people who die."


KILLER DOC Forensic probe into Buck Ruxton, left, fascinated Marjorie; the bath from his home in Lancaster was brought to Glasgow to be examined; and the City Mortuary DEAD CERT Crime writer Alex, left, and pathologist Marjorie Turner in the mortuary last week
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 16, 2012
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