Day 871: Give Me Three Tasty Scoops… Of Murder!

originally published May 20, 2014

If you wanna sling butterscotch ripple in Glas’, y’better have a strong fookin’ stomach.

In the early 1980’s, Scottish gangsters had stumbled upon an insidious yet somehow brilliant front for their nefarious goings-on: ice cream trucks. While the chipper little bleeps of a pre-recorded children’s ditty lured hungry kids clutching scavenged pence, a more sinister stash of drugs and weapons were tucked into the truck’s shadowy corners that weren’t occupied by freezers and cones. Call it evil or call it genius – it was an effective way to peddle illegal goods in plain sight.

It was also the grounds for an inevitable turf war. Rival gangs launched rival trucks, and their routes had to be coordinated so they didn’t overlap. They also had to take into account the legitimate ice cream vendors who were out to slap scoops into cone-holes, nothing more. In those cases, it made sense to simply talk the driver into joining the organization. Why wrestle with routes when you can simply buy your way into the legitimate companies?

And what pimply-faced teen, forced to peddle gallons of frozen dairy while listening to the same insidious rendition of “Turkey In The Straw” over and over again wouldn’t want to earn a few extra bucks slipping some crank to the local junkie crowd?

Andrew “Fat Boy” Doyle, that’s who.

Andrew was 18 years old, with no interest in joining up with the criminal element that was using the ice cream industry like its indentured drug mule. The violence that had already popped up around Glasgow among ice cream vendors was almost farcical in its unparalleled weirdness. Vendors raided one another’s vans and occasionally blasted apart one another’s windshields with shotguns. It was confounding the police, who were just starting to realize that the violence had nothing to do with ice cream and everything to do with intimidation.

Andrew Doyle sold ice cream for the Marchetti firm, and had allegedly been approached by Glasgow gangster Thomas McGraw to start selling drugs along his run. Doyle refused, wanting nothing more addictive than delicious sprinkles to pass through his van’s window. He found himself the victim of a shooting; a shotgun blast by an unknown assailant took out his windshield and wounded him. Still, Andrew wasn’t caving. It was time to ramp up the intimidation, to get his attention with something dramatic.

At 2:00AM on April 16, 1984, someone spritzed some petrol on the landing outside the top-floor flat where Andrew lived with his family. It probably wasn’t intended to be anything more than a threatening reminder of who was really steering Andrew’s fate, but it’s hard to talk a fire into being “threatening” and not “murderous”. Killed in the blaze were Andrew Doyle, his father, his sister, his two brothers and his 18-month-old nephew. What might have been a case of arson was now a sextuple-homicide.

The public outcry was understandably extreme. It was one thing for everyone to collectively pretend that the guy selling their little rugrats three-scoop waffle cones wasn’t also pitching ganja behind the local high school, but quite another when buildings started burning and people started dying. Several people were arrested over the ensuing months, but two men – Thomas “T.C.” Campbell and Joe Steele – were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

The Crown’s case against the pair was based on three key pieces of evidence: William Love’s testimony (he was a witness who claims he’d heard Thomas Campbell in a bar, talking about igniting Doyle’s flat), a statement Campbell had made to four cops that the fire was only supposed to be a warning, and a map of Glasgow found in Campbell’s house with a big X over Doyle’s residence. Campbell had already been to prison – painting him as a violent and dangerous person was easy. Joe Steele was depicted by the Crown as Campbell’s henchman, his hired goon.

The pair insisted they were innocent. Campbell asserted that William Love was only trying to feed police some faulty intel so that he himself could cut a deal and avoid prison. He claimed he never uttered the so-called statement to the police, and that the cops must have planted the map in his home. Their first appeal – in 1989, five years after their conviction and incarceration – flopped.

In 1992, William Love admitted that his testimony had been completely made up. He even signed an affidavit to this effect, leading Thomas Campbell and Joe Steele to launch a series of impassioned protests to get another day in court. Steele broke out of prison and rather than go on the lam he chose to superglue himself to the gates outside Buckingham Palace as an act of protest. Campbell refused to cut his hair, he went on a hunger strike, and commissioned a documentary about his cause. Joe Steele broke out once again and staged yet another protest on his mother’s roof. These guys wanted to be heard.

Finally they were. The pair were granted a second appeal in 1997, even gaining a temporary release from prison until a verdict was reached. Two of the three appeal judges decided that William Love’s recantation of his testimony wasn’t enough to have impacted the initial ruling, and the appeal was denied. In 2001, a third appeal was held, this time including a new perspective on Campbell’s potentially bogus statement to police. It was time for another judicial go-round.

Brian Clifford, a professor of cognitive psychology, pointed out that the recollection of Campbell’s statement by all four police officers was a little too exact. This was a verbal statement, not a written one, not a videotaped one, and for all four men to have recalled roughly 70% of Campbell’s words verbatim sounded too rehearsed. When this observation was coupled with Andrew Love’s recanted words, the appeals court felt they had no recourse but to free both men and quash their convictions. The true perpetrators of Andrew Doyle’s murder may never be known.

So who actually committed this crime? Thomas Campbell claims it was Thomas McGraw, the gangster who had initially tried to recruit Doyle into a life of crime. Campbell claims McGraw had launched a 20-year sustained effort to keep Campbell and Steele behind bars and silenced. Lord Kincraig, the judge who had presided over the original trial in 1984, swore upon their release that Campbell and Steele were two dangerous and extremely guilty men, that there was no way four cops would perjure themselves just to get a conviction. With two of the four police officers dead and no new evidence to point at anyone in particular, it’s almost certain that no new investigation will take place.

Something to keep in mind next time the ice cream van’s siren song draws your hungry maw into the street for a satisfying Creamsicle – that kid taking your money could be concealing a dark and dangerous second income.

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