Karen Buckley: How Alexander Pacteau killed her and tried to destroy her body

Major police operation traced the killer’s movements in the days after the murder

CCTV footage released by the Crown Prosecution Services shows Alexander Pacteau purchasing caustic soda in the hours following the murder of Karen Buckley. Video: Crown Prosecution Services

 

While Alexander Pacteau’s brutal and unexplained murder of Karen Buckley within 20 minutes of meeting her outside a Glasgow nightclub was shocking in itself, his attempts to cover up his crime and destroy her body with caustic soda made the crime one of the most horrific encountered by Scottish police.

There have been many cases around the world of caustic soda being used by criminals to destroy human tissue when they are trying to dispose of the bodies of their victims.

Police believe Pacteau killed Ms Buckley within 20 minutes of meeting her by chance outside the Sanctuary nightclub on Dumbarton Road in Glasgow onApril 12th last. Within 40 minutes of killing her, he brought her body back to his flat where he hid her in his bedroom before going to sleep.

Pacteau’s apparently comfortable upbringing provides no clues as to why he became a murderer, killing a woman unknown to him in such appalling circumstances.

The son of a French father and a Scottish mother, Pacteau, who has three siblings grew up in the Camstradden Road East area of the comfortable middle class suburb of Bearsden on the north side of Glasgow where the fine red sandstone Edwardian properties can often fetch a £1 million.

He attended the fee-paying Kelvinside Academy in Glasgown but left after fifth year.

His parents ran a courier company, Priority Courier Services Ltd, but the business collapsed and the couple’s marriage broke up. His mother moved about 30km from Bearsden to Drymen, near Loch Lomond, and Pacteau went to live with her.

The events leading up to Ms Buckley’s murder began on Saturday, April 11th, last when Pacteau arranged to meet up with seven of his friends at his flat at Dorchester Avenue in Glasgow before heading out at 11pm to the Sanctuary nightclub. They had booked two taxis to take them to the nightclub where they had booked a booth, but when only one of the taxis showed up, Pacteau decided to drive in his own car, parking it about 100 yards from the club.

He stayed in the nightclub until shortly before 1am when he left to walk up and down the street. He returned inside briefly before leaving again. While walking up and down the street outside again, he met Karen Buckley leaving the premises.

Police, who have checked social media extensively, are satisfied Ms Buckley did not know Pacteau prior to that evening and did not meet him in the nightclub earlier in the evening. Her encounter with him on the street outside the club was entirely random and he began chatting to her as she set about walking home.

Police have not been able to establish why she agreed to accompany him but they suspect he offered her a lift to her flat in Garnetthill which was a 5-10 minutes drive away and she accepted his offer. There is no evidence of her being under duress leaving the nightclub.

Detectives identified Pacteau’s car as a grey Ford Focus and began checking CCTV footage from streets around the Sanctuary nightclub.

Although they obtained no footage of Ms Buckley getting into the car, they were able to identify its movements in the hour or so after she left the nightclub.

According to the narrative of events given by Lord Advocate Frank Mullholland QC in the High Court, officers were able to establish that Pacteau initially headed towards Garnetthill, but then drove instead to Kelvin Way, about 4.5km from the nightclub.

Detectives identified the car on a road leading to Kelvin Way at 1.06am on Sunday, April 12th, and were able to establish he spent 12 minutes and 46 seconds there before they identified the car travelling back along the same road at 1.18am after leaving Kelvin Way.

It was here, during this 12-minute period, that police believe Pacteau murdered Ms Buckley in his car, first grabbing her around the neck in an attempt to choke her before hitting her repeatedly on the head with a 30cm adjustable spanner or wrench.

They also were able to establish from CCTV footage that he drove around for a period before driving to Dawsholm Park where he dumped her handbag at a rubbish bin near the entrance. It was found at 7am the following day by a passer-by.

According to Mr Mulholland, police were able to establish from CCTV footage that Pacteau returned to his first floor flat at Dorchester Avenue at 2am. He went into the flat and got a sheet which he used to wrap the dead woman’s body before bringing it into his bedroom in the flat.

He went to bed and slept until 8am when he got up and used his mobile phone to look up the properties of sodium hydroxide, better known as caustic soda. He locked the body in the bedroom and drove to the B & Q home supplies store on Great Western Road where he bought six litres of caustic soda at 9.42am. He also bought a mask and gloves at B & Q before driving to Poundstretchers on Crow Road where he bought more caustic soda.

He then returned to his flat where he removed Ms Buckley’s clothing and submerged her body in a bath that he had filled with caustic soda.

Police were also able to establish he texted a flatmate, who had gone hillwalking with his mother for the day, to find out what time he was returning. When the man said he would be home at 8pm, Pacteau set about trying to speed up the dissolution of the body in the caustic soda.

He got a knife and made an incision in the body from the sternum down to the abdomen before submerging it again in the bath of caustic soda with the aim of allowing the solution to enter the body and destroy the internal organs to speed up the dissolution of the corpse.

At 5pm he drained the bath of the caustic soda solution and brought the body back into his bedroom where he kept the remains until 11.19am the following day, Monday, April 13th, when he put them in a 220-litre blue plastic barrel which he had bought earlier that day.

Police made a huge effort to trace Pacteau’s movements on the Monday and from CCTV footage they were able to identify him buying white spirits, a lighter, cleaning clothes, padlocks and more caustic soda at a variety of outlets around Bearsden and Milngavie.

He drove to High Craigton Farm, 13km from Glasgow, at 10.41am on Monday to burn the blood-stained mattress from the bed in his flat on which he had placed the body. He also took a duvet and a suitcase as well as Ms Buckley’s clothing.

He was spotted by a neighbour struggling to get the large blue barrel containing the body from his flat into his car at 2pm on Monday. Police established he again drove to High Craighton Farm where, at about 2.30pm, he arranged to rent a storage unit from a farmer for £10 a week.

Police finally met Pacteau face to face at 6pm on the Monday when he agreed to make a witness statement. He told them he had met Ms Buckley outside the nightclub and she had come back to his flat where they had consensual sex before she left at 4am to walk home.

By now the police were deeply suspicious of his version of events and late on Monday night night they took possession of his flat and began a forensic examination of it. They took a number of swabs which were fast-tracked for analysis and soon confirmed the presence of Ms Buckley’s blood.

At a press conference at Govan police station on Tuesday afternoon, April 14th, police revealed a member of the public had found the mising woman’s handbag at Dawsholm Park and, although they had only learned of the discovery 20 minutes earlier, the handbag had actually been found on Monday morning.

The person who found the handbag beside a council rubbish bin heard the initial police appeal on Monday for information and came forward with the bag which also contained Ms Buckley’s passport.

The discovery of the handbag at Dawsholme Park confirmed the suspicions police already had about Pacteau’s version of events. It did not tally with his claim that Ms Buckley had left his flat at 4am to walk home because Dawsholm Park was in the opposite direction to her flat in Garnetthill.

They appealed for information about a grey or silver car - Pacteau had a grey Ford Focus - seen driving around the roads between Milngavie and Drymen, north of the city, between 11am and 3pm on the Monday but they did not link it to Pacteau and repeatedly stressed he was not a suspect.

It was almost as if the police were trying to lull him into a false sense of security that he was not the focus of their investigation, even though he was the last confirmed person to have seen the missing woman alive when he walked beside her outside the nightclub.

Det Supt Jim Kerr made a point of saying at the Tuesday press conference there was nothing to suggest, either on the CCTV tape or from any of their inquiries, that Ms Buckley was under any duress when she was seen walking with Pacteau along Dumbarton Road.

“I must stress that at this time he is not a suspect; from what we can see, she does not appear under duress - there is no sign of struggle or reluctance on her part to leave the club. However, again that does not mean that nothing untoward has happened to her.

“As I said this is a missing person enquiry. However, we are gravely concerned that Karen has come to some harm - whether that is due to foul play/criminality or she has taken unwell or had an accident is obviously still to be established.”

However, with the test results on the swabs from Pacteau’s flat confirming traces of her blood, police had enough evidence to treat Pacteau as a suspect. They detained him at 1.55pm on Wednesday, April 15th at Starbucks on Nelson Mandela Place in central Glasgow.

According to Det Supt Kerr, the police received a huge level of assistance from the public and just over an hour after detaining Pacteau, one such tip-off proved hugely significant when a man, who heard their appeal for information about a grey car in the Milngavie/Drymen area, contacted them.

The man used to work with Pacteau in a fireworks business and he told them how Pacteau had used a farm at High Craigton on Stockiemuir Road near Milngavie to store the fireworks as there were a number of sheds and storage units on the farm.

The police reached High Craigton Farm within 30 minutes of the tip-off and began searching for newly locked sheds since they had established Pacteau had bought a number of padlocks during his various shopping expeditions on Monday morning.

They located the blue plastic barrel in one of the sheds, hidden under a sheet kept in place with a paper shredder and a bicycle wheel. But because they knew he had bought caustic soda, they waited until fire service personnel established it was safe for them to examine the barrel.

It was 8pm on Wednesday before they were able t o open the barrel and the search was over when they found the naked body submerged in caustic soda. The barrel containing the body was removed to the mortuary at Southern General Hospital in Glasgow where a postmortem was carried out.

It revealed the dead woman had suffered a number of soft tissue injuries to her neck and had received a series of heavy blows to her head which had fractured her skull and led to subdural haemorrhage while she also had defensive wounds to her arms and hands.

Under Scottish law, police detain someone when they suspect them of a crime and can only arrest them when they have enough evidence to charge them with the offence. At 3.40am on Thursday, April 16th, police arrested Alexander Pacteau for the murder of Karen Buckley.

When he was first questioned about Ms Buckley’s blood being found in his bedroom, he told police she had her hit her head on the bedframe while they were having consensual sex. She left soon afterwards to walk home, he said.

He told police he panicked when he heard she was missing because he thought they might think he had something to do with her disappearance as he was the last person to see her alive, so he frantically tried to clean off her blood from the mattress.

When police questioned him after discovering the body, he changed his story to say she hit her head on the bedframe during consensual sex, became angry and started slapping him and he reached for the nearest item to hand, a spanner, and began hitting her around the head.

But, as Mr Mulholland said in his narrative to the court, both these versions of events were all lies. Ms Buckley never had any sexual relations with Pacteau and she was never in his flat alive - she was already dead when he brought her body into his bedroom there at 2am on Sunday, April 12th.

Although police had built up a strong case against Pacteau, their work continued. A sniffer dog used to seek out cadavers confirmed a body had been in Pacteau’s car and forensic tests established it had been that of Ms Buckley.

Although Pacteau had got his car valeted on Monday afternoon after bringing the body to High Craigton Farm, forensic examiners found a trace of her blood on the passenger’s side of the car while they also found Pacteau’s fingerprints on the inside of the blue barrel.

Police commissioned forensic soil scientist, Prof Lorna Dawson of the Hutton Institute in Aberdeen, to examine soil samples taken from the tyres of Pacteau’s car. She confirmed the samples matched both the soil types at High Craigton Farm and Dawsholm Park.

Pacteau was handed over to the Crown Prosecutor and Procurator Fiscal on the afternoon of Thursday, April 16th, and was formally charged with the murder of Karen Buckley when he appeared at Glasgow Sheriff’s Court the following day.

Four days later, police divers recovered the spanner he used to kill her from the Forth and Clyde Canal. Ten days later, police officers recovered the remains of a partially burnt mattress at High Craigton Farm which contained traces of Ms Buckley’s blood.

That police were able to build such a robust case against Pacteau owed much to the fact that from very early on after receiving the report of her disappearance, they feared she may have been the victim of foul play and put all the resources of a murder inquiry into their investigation.

Specialist units were deployed and detectives put a huge effort into obtaining and then checking CCTV footage from a variety of commercial premises in the nort- west of Glasgow which ultimately proved central to their building a case against him.