As part of the second TTCE Trilogy, I am thrilled to deliver the second part of the latest guest piece TTCE has written for the fantastic UK True Crime Podcast. Please take the time to check out the episodes 39 and 40, entitled “A Life Of Violence” (parts 1 and 2 respectively), as well as all of the other great featured episodes. Links to the UKTC Podcast can be found at the footer of this blog post.
It’s now November 1976, Carstairs Hospital. Robert Mone has been here almost nine years now. He now looks a far cry from the clean-shaven baby-faced ex soldier who was sent there many years before. He is by now 28 years old, has long fair hair and is stockily built, and where he once shunned and rejected any form of learning, he has by now settled down to studying – gaining three A levels and developing a vested interest in the law. He had even started a long-distance law degree with the University of London and would, by his own accounts, spend hours poring over law books in his room on Carstairs’ Tweed Ward – which at the time was considered the “trustee” ward. He still by his own account tended to feel a loner and not a mixer, but was involved in a capacity for writing features for the Carstairs’ hospital magazine The State Observer. He was later to use this as a means for a more nefarious purpose. Mone is also involved with the hospital’s drama group, a project that had been implemented by a new doctor to the ward, John Gotea-Loweg. Under his new doctor’s direction, Mone had also written a one-act play as a contribution that was celebrated by a BBC Scotland Arts Festival, and had become a “peer tutor”, helping educationally challenged patients prepare for the O levels that they could undertake as part of the Carstairs education programme. By all accounts, Mone was responding well to treatment and would be preparing to move towards being in a different, lower security facility. Reading this list, it certainly seems this is the resume of a model patient, and that a move would be on the cards.
But Mone’s one negative trait was an obsession with a fellow patient two years younger than himself, called Thomas McCulloch. McCulloch was a violent and weapon obsessed drink and drug user who had been sent to Carstairs in 1970 following a bizarre episode where he attempted to murder two staff at a hotel he had just eaten at – in an argument over a bread roll! One of his victims had to have major reconstructive facial surgery after being shot in the face, and another never worked again after receiving a gun blast to the shoulder. Following a 30-minute siege, similar to the one Mone himself had been responsible for, McCulloch was overpowered and arrested. Found unfit to plead due to his mental state, he was sent to Carstairs without limit of time. Soon after meeting, McCulloch and Mone had become inseparable, and a deep friendship soon graduated to a homosexual relationship. McCulloch, although the younger man, was clearly the dominant one in the relationship, and was considered as being sly and manipulative by fellow patients and nursing staff alike.
By 1976, the two had a plan to escape from Carstairs underway, and McCulloch and Mone spent six months preparing for it. The drama group was a bit of a godsend – because it provided them with a good cover that they needed. McCulloch, who had been a painter and decorator before he had been incarcerated at Carstairs, involved himself with the drama group alongside with Mone. Expressing no official interest in performing, McCulloch instead offered to use his creative skills to help with the set and props. This afforded him a cover and time to fashion a deadly arsenal of weaponry and to collect items that would be useful for their escape. The cunning pair managed to ingeniously conceal all the items they had collected and fashioned behind a false wall they had created in a cupboard in the west wing. By the end of November 1976, the pair had managed to create two wire garrottes, a hand axe, several sharp knives, and a short sword. McCulloch had also managed to create a lengthy rope ladder out of sashes of cord and wooden struts, and they had stolen false beards, moustaches and bits of uniform from the drama group. The pair had spent months creating forged identity cards, McCulloch’s being a faked Building Industry of Scotland Apprentice Scheme Inspector’s card, with his picture but in the name of Shaun Collins; and Mone’s a photographic identity card showing the name “Thomas Hunt”. They had also amassed a torch, two homemade nurses’ hats, and £25 in cash that they had managed to amass through visitors and theft from other inmates. At 6:00pm on 30th November 1976, the pair were ready to make their break.
The drama group had just finished reading extracts from what was to be their next production, John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”, and as the rest of the group filtered back to the ward, Mone and McCulloch hung back. McCulloch pulled on a homemade belt that carried three knives, and the home-made hand axe. Mone had knives concealed in his shirt and trousers, and by all accounts believed that the weapons the pair had would be enough of a visual deterrent without being needing to be used.
Events were to prove otherwise.
Shortly after 6:00pm, Mone and McCulloch entered a large store cum safe-cupboard in the Carstairs social club, where their supervising nursing officer, Neil Maclellan, was talking to another patient, Ian Simpson. The four men were the last ones in the social club. Mone then threw paint stripper into the eyes of Simpson, whilst McCulloch did the same to Maclellan. The plan was, by Mone’s own account, to use the paint stripper to incapacitate any resistance, and the victims would then be bound, gagged and locked in the store cupboard, thus allowing the remainder of the escape to proceed unhindered. But both Simpson and Maclellan fought back powerfully, causing McCulloch to attack Simpson from behind with the axe. He struck him so hard that parts of Simpson’s skull were later found entwined in Mone’s heavily bloodstained clothing. McCulloch then turned his attentions to officer Maclellan, slashing at him with one of the home-made knives and shouting to Mone:
“Get the fucking keys”
Mone managed to find the keys, which had been dropped in the struggle, but whilst doing so, noticed Simpson stirring and reaching for one of the home-made knives that had been dropped in the struggle. Noticing a pitchfork that had clattered to the floor in the struggle, Mone picked it up and stabbed Simpson in the chest with it, leaving the implement sticking out. The next part of the escape did go as planned, as Mone used the keys to gain access to the nursing office, and managed to cut the internal and external telephone lines. But as the pair were about to don the disguises and uniforms that were integral to the escape, McCulloch claimed he was going back to get the drama room door keys. This, by his own account, surprised Mone as the doors were already open. It transpired that McCulloch was going back to satisfy his blood lust – because he went back and using a larger axe that he had found and was by now in possession of, and smashed in the heads of both the already nearly dead Simpson and Officer Maclellan. He only stopped when the devastation was so complete that it was apparent at a cursory glance to anybody that both men were clearly dead. The deranged McCulloch even sliced off both of Simpson’s ears and scalped him, before returning to the waiting Mone. The badly mutilated corpses would not be discovered for nearly another hour, and the nursing officer who found the bodies, John Hughes, was to describe the scene years later in graphic detail. He said:
“I found Neil and knew in my heart he was dead as soon as I walked in that room. I bent over Neil and I didn’t recognise him. I felt a drip on the back of my neck and put my hand to my head. It was Neil’s blood dripping off the ceiling. They had hit him so hard with the axe, his blood had sprayed everywhere. His face was blown up with the pressure of the axe and was smothered in blood and fluid. All I could see was bone. The back of his scalp was open wide where they had used a fireman’s axe to slice open his head. I didn’t recognise him. He didn’t have his glasses on. They were broken and on the ground. Then I saw the little tin he used to keep his cigarettes he rolled himself. They had cut the back of his belt to take his keys and dropped his tin. That was when it hit me.”
By that time, the pair had managed to get outside and used their well constructed rope ladder to scale the outer barbed wire fence, and in the darkness, had found themselves on one of the main roads within the greater hospital precincts. It was time for the execution of the next integral part of the escape plan. Whilst Mone lay down in the middle of the road, posed like an accident victim, McCulloch stood waving his torch to signal a car to stop. Soon enough, and still without their escape being discovered, a dark Volvo car stopped. The driver was a man named Robert McCallum, who stopped his vehicle and got out to give assistance to what he believed had been a serious accident. It is very likely, bearing in mind what had just transpired minutes before, that those steps that McCallum took towards the prone figure lying in the middle of the road would have been his last ever taken, if it wasn’t for yet another twist in the events of that evening. Mone and McCulloch would have undoubtedly overpowered him, probably killed him, and took off in his car. But before they could, by chance at that very moment a police patrol car was passing the scene, and stopped to give assistance. It stopped, and the two constables in the vehicle, PC John Gilles and PC George Taylor, got out and approached the three men.
Mone jumped up, and he and McCulloch launched a ferocious attack on the two policemen, Mone armed with the smaller axe and a knife, and McCulloch the large axe. Whilst the escapees grappled with the policemen, McCallum fled in his car, stopping and alerting a gatekeeper to the horrific attack that was occurring just a short distance away. PC Gilles sustained serious injuries, but was ultimately to survive the onslaught. PC Taylor was not so lucky. He managed to stagger a short distance away from the scene despite having horrific head and chest injuries, but was to die of his wounds. In the space of less than 40 minutes, Mone and McCulloch had hacked to death three people, and tried to kill four. This time, McCulloch did not wait to inflict more mutilation upon his victims and instead, the crazed pair sped off in the stolen police car, trying to make as much distance as possible between themselves and the hospital.
The car sped south, with McCulloch driving erratically as it had been many years since he had last driven a motor vehicle. Meanwhile, Mone tried in vain to operate the police radio in the vehicle to try to find out how much (if any) the authorities knew of their whereabouts now that the alarm had been raised. Mone himself was later to claim, perhaps through bravado, that he was trying to give false information over the radio to try to confuse police hunting for them. It may have been due to this distraction, the icy road conditions, the erratic driving, or perhaps a combination of all – but ten miles down the road from Carstairs hospital, the vehicle skidded off the road, plowed into an embankment, and was totalled. Mone actually went through the windscreen, and lay unconscious for a short time.
He came to to hear McCulloch shouting “Help me with the prisoner” to two men in a van who had stopped to give assistance, William Lennon and Jack Mcalroy. When they approached, Mone and McCulloch then brutally stabbed both men several times, causing severe injuries, and bundled both into the back of their own van and sped off. But in what was a recurring theme, once more McCulloch’s poor driving skills thwarted the escapees getting clear. Once clear of the area, McCulloch had driven into a field near Roberton after seeing what he wrongly believed were the lights of a police roadblock ahead. The van became stuck in mud and Mone and McCulloch were forced to continue on foot, Mone stopping to be violently sick and collapsing several times from a concussion he had received in the earlier crash. Leaving their two captives badly injured, but alive, in the back of the van, Mone and McCulloch made their way on foot in the direction of some lights that they saw coming from a nearby farmhouse. On their way, they had to wade across a river, and Mone collapsed whilst crossing. McCulloch had managed to cross without difficulty, and hesitated from the bank, looking back at Mone as if deciding to help him, or leave him to drown, before stretching out the shaft of the axe for Mone to grab where he then pulled him to the safety of the riverbank. It later came to light that McCulloch would have equally have killed Mone there and then as opposed to helping him out.
The terrifying scenario that next took place was as follows: Mone and McCulloch, heavily bloodstained, soaked to the skin, and still in possession of several dangerous weapons, reached the door of the isolated Town Foot Farm farmhouse and battered on it. When the door was opened, the two escapees burst in, McCulloch struggling with the homeowner in the hallway whilst Mone made his way to the living room, where the Craig family (including four children) had been watching a St Andrew’s Day Scottish music programme. Mone wrenched the telephone from the wall and then demanded the keys to the family vehicle. Fortunately for the Craig’s’, Mone and McCulloch showed no inclination to offer further violence or threats towards them, because once they had the keys the pair fled in the car, an Austin – the third vehicle they had used that night despite still being less than twenty-five miles from the hospital that they had escaped from.
By this time, police from all over Lanarkshire and the Borders were hunting the pair, as the alarm had been raised by the gatekeeper at Carstairs. The bodies of Ian Simpson and Neil Maclennan had by this time been discovered, PC’s Gilles and Taylor had been rushed to hospital, where PC Taylor sadly died, and the van containing the badly wounded Jack Lennon and Jack Mcalroy had been discovered after the farmer whose car the pair had taken had raised the alarm. A description of the vehicle that the pair were now travelling in had been circulated, and officers on the A74 sighted the stolen vehicle being driven south at high-speed. A high-speed pursuit followed, with police vehicles pursuing the car all the way to the Scotland/England border – and then beyond.
It was just north of Carlisle where a police vehicle that was packed with armed officers from Cumbrian police rammed the getaway vehicle in an attempt to stop it, rendering the police vehicle immobile, but causing McCulloch to lose control of a vehicle for the second time that evening. The Austin crashed into a roundabout a few hundred yards away, just missing another vehicle and causing it to stop. McCulloch and Mone were out of the wrecked vehicle and ordered the shaken driver of the car that they had narrowly missed to get out. He did so, but had the presence of mind to grab the ignition keys as he did. Before the pair could take off in their fourth vehicle of the evening, several armed police arrived and surrounded the vehicle. Mone was dragged out struggling, still wielding a knife that a police officer received injuries to his hand from when he grabbed the blade in his hand, holding it firmly whilst he restrained Mone. McCulloch was taken down by two armed officers – still in possession of his fireman’s axe.
The pair were taken into custody at Carlisle before being returned to Lanark, and one of the bloodiest nights in Scottish criminal history had come to an end. The three Cumbrian officers who captured the pair were to later receive the Queens Gallantry Medal for bravery whilst doing so.
In February 1977, three months following the night of carnage in which three people had died so horribly, and another three were nearly killed; Mone and McCulloch appeared at the High Court in Edinburgh. McCulloch admitted killing patient Ian Simpson, Nursing Officer Neil McClellan, and PC George Taylor. Mone admitted the murder of PC Taylor. The presiding judge, Lord Dunpark, claimed that the murders that the pair had committed and admitted to were the “most deliberately brutal murders he had ever dealt with” and made legal history by ordering them to remain incarcerated until the day the both were to die, saying:
“I will recommend that you are not to be released from prison unless and until the authorities are satisfied, if ever, that you have ceased to be a danger to the public at large”
This was the first time that natural life sentences had ever been handed down in Scotland. The preceding three months since their recapture had seen both men undergo psychiatric evaluations, and according to reports given to Lord Dunpark at the time of the hearing – controversially, both men were found to be sane at the time of the attacks. It raised many questions about Carstairs. Why should either of these men have ever been there at all, if they were sane?
Questions were asked about security failings at Carstairs, like how had two patients managed to obtain so many supplies to facilitate and assist in an escape, and how they could fashion and conceal so many dangerous weapons. Neither man was ever to return to the State Hospital at Carstairs, McCulloch instead being sent to Peterhead Prison, unpopular with prisoners due to its remoteness; and Mone being sent to Perth Prison. Both men were classed as category A prisoners, the highest risk that there is.
And the aftermath of the escape was to yet have even more dramatic consequences, and if what has already been told wasn’t horror enough – there was more horror to come. The name Mone wasn’t quite ready to be forgotten by the general public just yet….
To be continued.
The True Crime Enthusiast