Signs of Murder by David Wilson

Today I’m sharing my thoughts on Signs Of Murder by David Wilson, a true crime fiction book that looks back at a fascinating solved/unsolved murder from the author’s hometown of Carluke back in 1973. Here’s what the book is all about:

Source: Audible
Release Date: 16 July 2020
Paperback: 20 May 2021
Publisher: Sphere

About the Book

The new book from the UK’s leading criminologist, David Wilson

Before David Wilson became the UK’s pre-eminent criminologist, he was just a young boy growing up in the Scottish town of Carluke. As a child, the brutal murder of a young woman rocked this small community, but very quickly a man was arrested for the crime, convicted and put behind bars. For most, life slowly carried on – case closed.

But there were whispers in the town, that the wrong man was imprisoned. Over the years, these whispers grew louder, to the point that any time David would visit, friends and acquaintances would ask in hushed tones: ‘But what are you going to do about the Carluke Case?’

Carluke believed that a young man had been wrongly convicted. A murderer was still on the loose.

Forty years later, it’s time for David to return home, and find out the truth.

My Thoughts

I don’t know why, but I’ve very rarely read any true crime books. I suppose the same is still true as I technically listened to this book whilst I was only my daily walk and, on occasion, as a way to break up the silence of working from home. Narrated by the author himself, it really does bring a personal touch to a case which has personal connections to him and to the town he grew up in, Carluke in Lanarkshire. Now I know the town, courtesy of having spent many a day working just up the road in Airdrie and Coatbridge, but I had no knowledge of the case – the murder of Margaret McLaughlin. Perhaps not surprising given that the murder occured before I was born, but also, as Professor David Wilson says himself, we generally remember only the person convicted for the crime, seldom the victim themselves. That in itself gave me pause for thought because it really is true. Dahmer, Gacy, Brady & Hindley. All household names, far more so than any of their victims. Sad but true.

This a really incredible tale. How do you investigate a murder for which a conviction has already been secured and when numerous appeals have been raised and failed? Well that is exactly what David Wilson attempts to do in Signs of Murder. He has no official remit, no access to many of the resources that he would normally be privy to when working as a consultant or as part of official investigations, and limited access to witnesses and Detectives of the time. Let’s face it – it’s been more than 40 years since the murder – many of the faces have left Carluke for many reasons. But there are plenty of people around who still remember the case and it is using their knowledge of the victim, suspect and other residents of the town at the time, as well as his knowledge of criminology and the psychology of both perpetrators and victims, that the author is able to pull together a rather compelling narrative for an alternative take on events.

I found it fascinating the way in which David Wilson took us through his investigative stages, walking us around the town that he once knew. It is amazing how much one’s perspective alters with time, and the realisation of how his perception and knowledge of the town now has changed to when comparing his experiences as an adult to those of the teenager he was at the time of the murder. The book is a journey, recounting the investigation, the decidedly suspect tactics used by the police in order to capture their killer, and the absolute assertion of the Carluke residents that the wrong man was convicted, and it makes for a very shocking and yet sadly believable read. Hearing the way in which the suspect was treated, the methods employed by the Detectives, even the lapse way in which other potential suspects were to readily discounted due to a certainty that they had already found their man, it is no wonder that this case has remained so enshrined in the memories of the town’s residents and why they felt so certain that justice has not been achieved.

Whilst the author identifies a very viable alternative suspect, they are obviously not actually named. But he certainly makes a very credible case for someone to reexamine the evidence and to take a deeper look into what really happened on that fateful night back in 1973. Could it be that a very gross miscarriage of justice has occurred? Well, if you read the book I am in no doubt that you will have. an opinion well before the end of the book. There were times as I listened I was thinking WTAF, and I’m pretty sure that anyone who saw me out walking must, at times, have thought I was having some sort of mental episode as I doubt my incredulity was far from my facial features. But as much as the case itself and it’s apparent mishandling infuriated me, David Wilson has painted the town and its residents in such clear and vibrant colours that I found myself smiling as much as frowning, because he captures the complex mix of personalities perfectly, as you’d expect and they really are an amazing bunch. He also left me really wanting cake, but that’s another story ….

Debunking some of the myths of psychological profiling you may have seen on Mindhunter, but using his knowledge and experience to great effect, this book kept me completely fascinated and engaged and if you like true crime stories then this is definitely a book you want to read. An alternative take on a case already committed to the history books, told in a very conversational and accessible style by an engaging and very knowledgeable narrator. Top stuff.

About the Author

David Wilson is Emeritus Professor of Criminology and the founding Director of the Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University. Prior to taking up an academic appointment in 1997, David was a Prison Governor working at a variety of establishments in a number of different roles, including at Grendon, Wormwood Scrubs and at Woodhill in Milton Keynes – where he helped to design and then run the two units for the twelve most violent prisoners in the country, which brought him into contact with virtually every recent serial killer.

Professor Wilson regularly appears in the print and broadcast media as a commentator and presenter. David won the Broadcast and RTS Awards for best documentary in 2017 for Interview with a Murderer, which was shown on Channel 4, and his recent TV work has included BBC Scotland’s David Wilson’s Crime Files in 2020, which has been recommissioned for a second series in 2021. He will also appear with Emilia Fox in Channel 4’s Walking in Killer’s Footsteps, also to be aired in 2021. 

His publishing includes Hunting EvilA History of British Serial KillingSigns of Murder, and his autobiography, My Life with Murderers, which was shortlisted for the Saltire Prize for Non-Fiction. His new book, A Plot to Kill (Sphere), will publish in 2021.