Monday, 9 February 2015

Willie McRae Part 15: Gun and Bullets

Parts 12 and 13 looked at the evidence, released by the authorities, about where the gun was found and how it got there. 

In Part 14 we saw how the Crown Office contradicted itself over the number of bullets recovered from Macrae during his post mortem.

Today in Parts 15 and 16 we look at what else the released documents have to say about the gun itself, the bullets and spent cartridges.

Here we’ll focus on one key point in particular but also raise other points of interest (to me at least).

Part 16 will deal with physical aspects of the gun.

The key point which emerges from the documents released by Northern Constabulary and the Crown Office is that,

Macrae was killed by a shot from his gun which was the gun found at the scene of the crash.

Let’s split this claim in two and then look at each.
-  Macrae owned the gun found at the scene
-  Macrae was shot with the gun found at the scene

Macrae owned the gun found at the scene

Below are the three relevant extracts each of which states that the gun was Macrae’s.
Part 14 Macrae D E2
Part 14 Macrae G E2
Part 14 Macrae O E1
[Files: Macrae D, Macrae G and Macrae E: Click on each image for the original document]

Each of these is very clear: this was Macrae’s gun.

But the released documents do not support this certainty.  My reading of those documents is that there is strong circumstantial evidence but no more. 

I am not saying that the gun was not Macrae’s.  I say only that, within the released information, one cannot say, without doubt, that the gun belonged to Macrae.

Why do I say this?

Only in Macrae A syn and in Annex A is there reference to Macrae’s ownership of a gun.
His partner Welsh [Ronald Cullen Kerr Welsh] was aware that Macrae possessed a small calibre, possibly .22 revolver, which was chrome, silver finish with a pearl handle. [Macrae A syn] Note: Annex A contains virtually identical wording.

In the second page of the synopsis we find,
police officers carried out a search of the locus and found the weapon, previously described, [Macrae B syn]

Mention is made once that an empty cartridge case for .22 bullets (size and type for the gun found) was found in Macrae’s car. [Source]

Part 15 Macrae O Firearm Rep E1 Hi

Nowhere else is this item listed, not even in the list of Macrae’s property.

This is still, however, another piece of circumstantial evidence supporting Macrae’s ownership of the gun but again this alone or with the other evidence is not conclusive.

We see from the third of the group of three images above that Macrae had no Firearms Certificate for the gun which was found.  With no paper record of ownership we are left with Welsh’s statement, the cartridge box and the fact that a gun of similar description was found.

This is all there is within the officially released records.

Circumstantial but not definite.

There have been newspaper reports in which Macrae’s younger brother is quoted as saying that he took Willie’s gun from him for his own (Willie’s) protection.  Because this is not included in the police documents at this stage I cannot use it to support ownership.

In case some wonder why I pick up on such apparently trivial points, let me explain.  I have no interest in promoting or diminishing any viewpoint but I am determined to be as accurate as I can even on points which might seem unimportant.  I couldn’t work if I were to be rigorous only when I deemed it important.  I need to be rigorous all the time.

And now the second part of the claim.

Macrae was shot with the gun found at the scene

The evidence here is clear cut and can be read in Macrae O, Q, R and S.

From their markings, the two spent cartridges found in the gun were confirmed as being fired by that gun [when compared with the marks on a cartridge test-fired during the analysis].

From the rifling marks, the bullet recovered from Macrae was confirmed to have been fired by that gun [when compared with marks on bullets test-fired during the analysis].

Provided the gun sent for analysis was the gun found at the scene, these results stand but I have no reason to doubt the gun found and analysed was the same gun.

My view?  Macrae was shot by the gun found at the scene which probably was his gun but the evidence of ownership is not conclusive.

Now we move on to a series of points,
- fingerprints
- two spent cartridges
- cartridge box
- photographs
and we’ll look briefly at each.

Newspaper reports have claimed that fingerprints were found on the gun and that none were found.


The official documents having nothing to say about fingerprints.

Surprising but true.

I asked three forensic companies, each involved in fingerprint collection and analysis, a general question about whether one would expect fingerprints on a gun to have survived immersion in flowing cold water for about 36 hours and whether these would have been recoverable using techniques available in 1985.  One has replied and I thank them but will not name them.
I look not for you to carry out work on my behalf but to answer what, I hope, is a very simple question.
Currently I am writing about a 30 year old case which involves death by shooting with an old revolver.  Although there is speculation, none of the publicly available information mentions the presence or otherwise of fingerprints on the recovered gun. 
The gun, an old Smith and Wesson with silvered metal parts and an ivory handle, was found in a very small stream between 34 and 38 hours after the shooting.
Would one expect fingerprints to be recoverable and detectable after this time in cold running water using 1985 technology?
I should make clear that I am looking for a general answer and, regardless of whether you answer positively or negatively, I will use your answer only in a general sense.  For example, if you say that you would have expected fingerprints, if any were originally present, to have been recoverable I will be clear that you are referring to a general situation only and that your response cannot be used to state that fingerprints would have been recoverable in the case in question.           [Email from me 26 January 2015]

The relevant part of the reply is,
Ok, the very simple answer is No, I would not expect there to be any useable [sic] fingerprints on an item found as described.

Sweat is 98% water, so that would have washed off, the remaining 2% is made up of fats, acids and general gunk, so after that time I would have expected that to go as well especially in running water.

And who is to say the person holding/discharging the weapon was capable of leaving a sweat mark in the first place? The success rate for chemical treatments nowadays is only about 40% and that’s with modern techniques. [Email reply from fingerprint expert to my email of 26/1/15.  Received 6 Feb 2015.  Emphasis is mine]

On the basis of this, it is reasonable to suppose that no fingerprints would have survived on the Macrae gun but I must stress again that the expert replied to a hypothetical situation albeit one which should closely resemble the actual conditions to which the gun was exposed.

Two Spent Cartridges

I mentioned above that the two spent cartridges found within the cylinder were fired in that gun.  We know one bullet killed Macrae but the whereabouts of the other is unknown. 

I find the same assumption in official and unofficial reports: both bullets were fired in the crash incident.

But why assume that?

Was the possibility considered that the two bullets were fired in two separate incidents at totally different times and the spent cartridge left in the revolver?

Was any testing carried out to check this?  Would any forensics have survived immersion in the burn?

No mention is made in the official papers.

Cartridge Box
A few lines above, I showed the only 9 words in the released documents which refer to an empty cartridge box.
Empty cartridge box for .22 bullets found in car

Nothing else!

No description beyond these few words!

Was it an old box? A new box?

Was it battered or well-preserved?

What size was it?

Where in the car was it found?

Had Welsh seen the box?

Had Fergus Macrae?


Just enough bullets to fill the cylinder.

I don’t know what benefit would accrue from having answers but, without answers, there can be no benefit.


Only three photographs of the bullets and gun were released publicly but those were numbered 5, 6 and 7. 

Macrae 1
Macrae 2
Macrae 3

Clearly there were other photographs,
1 - 4 and possibly 8, 9 etc.
Also two photographs (6 and 7) were of such low quality that many details on the gun cannot be seen properly.

All photographs should be released.
If you have thoughts, or more, feel free to:
email me at calumsblogATgmailDOTcom or
tweet me at @calumcarr

© CalumCarr 2015
Copyright over this article is retained by me, CalumCarr.
Please feel free to reproduce extracts and provided you attribute the words and images to me taking into account the provisos below.
If you wish to use more than one quarter of the article then contact me for permission at calumsblogATgmailDOTcom.
The rights to the images used remains with Police Scotland

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