NEARLY 20 years after the murder of Greenock teenager Elaine Doyle, detectives decided to see if some bits of sticky tape held the key to finally solving the shocking crime.
Officers started a full forensic review of the case in 2005 and their attention focused on ‘tapings’ taken from Elaine’s body. The fibres and hairs that had been picked up on bits of tape had proved of no use to investigators at the time of the killing in 1986 but they had been sealed and stored just in case.
In 1986 the now commonplace practice of genetic profiling using DNA didn’t feature in Strathclyde Police investigations but by 2005 it was increasingly leading to breakthroughs in unresolved or ‘cold’ cases.
A male DNA profile was found on two tapings, taken from Elaine’s back and face. But the profile was not on the DNA database. Whoever it belonged to had not had recent contact with police.
A small team of detectives started the painstaking task of trying to find out who it belonged to. It was a task that would take years. More than 14,000 names featured in the investigation. Nearly 4,500 statements had been taken. Almost 2,400 house-to-house forms were completed.
The massive murder hunt was triggered by the horrific discovery around 7.30am on Monday 2 June 1986 of Elaine’s body, naked apart from her bra, which was attached to one arm. The body was found by a resident who went to get his car from a lane 50 yards from 28 Ardgowan Street where Elaine had lived with her mum Maureen, dad Jack and brother John.
The lane where Elaine’s body was found
The night before, 16-year-old Elaine had gone with friends to a disco at the Celtic Club in Laird Street, Greenock. They left about 11pm and heading to a burger stall in Cathcart Street. Around midnight, Elaine told her pals she was heading home and left by herself on foot. A witness later saw her in Ardgowan Street with a man walking close behind her.
Elaine was strangled from behind. It’s thought a rope was used but the object involved was never found. Her clothing was found beside her body. The crime scene was near properties and at some stage a blanket from a police car was put over the body and then removed quickly when senior detectives arrived. It was never established who gave the instruction to put the blanket on. The murder took place before police had tents which are now used to protect bodies. The blanket, which would have been clean, meant the tapings taken at the scene had too many fibres on to be of use at that time.
Elaine’s handbag was missing and was found on 9 June. It had been set on fire outside the Watt Library in Union Street.
Police had no leads. The exhaustive inquiry continued but there were no real suspects. The case remained a mystery with little hope of it being solved — until the DNA discovery was made.
By 2012, detectives in their quest to find out whose DNA had been on Elaine’s body had obtained samples from 700 men, each result proving negative. The team kept going however and on 12 May 2012 two officers went to the home of John Docherty in Trafalgar Street, Greenock.
John Docherty’s name had come up during the initial investigation in 1986 but he had never been spoken to by police. He was just a name on one of the thousands of bits of paper generated by the inquiry.
Docherty had been mentioned by a friend as being in the Celtic Club that night. Docherty’s friend got a taxi when they left the club, leaving Docherty to walk home to Ann Street. When the police finally came calling in May 2012, 26 years after the murder, Docherty agreed to provide a DNA sample.
It was sent away in a batch on 25 May 2012 for analysis. This time the team got a hit — John Docherty was the unknown male whose DNA was on Elaine’s body, with only a one-in-a-billion chance it belonged to someone else. The inquiry team now had to piece together information about Docherty from scratch without arousing suspicion. As one officer involved in the case said: “It’s amazing how many John Dochertys there are in Greenock.”
The friend who had mentioned Docherty back in 1986 was dead. The news of a DNA match was kept well-guarded even among the police, with only officers on the Elaine Doyle inquiry — Operation Evergreen as it was now called — aware of the breakthrough. Dozens of investigators took over the top floor of Greenock police office for the effort with additional locks even being fitted for extra security.
The police could find no reasonable explanation for the DNA. Elaine didn’t know Docherty, who would have been 22 at the time, and hadn’t danced with him that night. He had been unemployed in June 1986 and joined the army in 1988 for six years — the picture, , is of Docherty when he joined upright. He returned to Greenock to work as a driver with the council. He had not been convicted of any crime between 1986 and the present day — he was living a quiet life with his partner and young child.
Prosecutors agreed that police could detain Docherty and he was brought in for questioning, with his solicitor present throughout. It became clear he had no explanation as to why his DNA was on the body. The decision was made to charge him with murder.
Elaine’s father, pictured left, died in January 2012; just the year before he had helped police appeal again over the murder on the 25th anniversary of the crime. The teenager’s mum doesn’t keep well but officers are grateful she has lived to see her daughter’s killer convicted.