Darkness lurks: Killer clowns in Glasgow (Part one)
Part 1: A young girl's murder leaves a community in shock.
Rain battered down on the quiet streets as the wind whistled through the trees on a wet and miserable night.
In a place like Castlemilk there was rarely a quiet moment, with kids playing in the street or gangs of teenagers upto no good - parents would usually have to physically drag their kids kicking and screaming to get them home.
But on this occasion not a soul could be seen or heard on the streets and the only noise to be heard was a result of the weather that was starting to get pretty wild.
The noise of rain hitting was soon to disturbed however by the loud screeching of sirens racing towards an area known locally as “the grassy”- a bare field behind a local primary school linking up to the woods that took you on to the “the lake” and the bridge that separated the project’s two biggest areas.
Word had earlier been spreading that a young girl had gone missing.
So when the screaming sirens echoed it sent shivers down spines and brought a real sense of panic to the air- people were running from their houses and trying to follow the direction of the emergency services.
Everyone was hoping for the best but fearing for the worse, as the vehicles sped down the road.
And sadly their worst fears were confirmed.
A young girl’s body had been found and It would soon be confirmed that, as expected, the body was 11-year-old Castlemilk Primary School pupil Donna Ferguson who had been reported missing earlier that day.
The whole area was devastated and dumbstruck by the murder, no one could fathom how anyone could be capable of such a horrific crime.
How could anyone kill an innocent 11-year-old? How was it even possible for such evil to be lurking in the community? These were good loyal people who looked out for each other and were all sickened that this had happened.
After an initial period of disbelief and shocked silence the local gossip mill reached fever-pitch with many different stories and explanations being offered with each one becoming more outrageous and unbelievable than the one before.
In among these stories and rumours one particular urban legend was born, an urban legend that would go on to hold a surprising amount of credibility for years to come. With some people still talking about it like it is fact.
Although even decades later you won’t hear many people ever talk about Donna’s sad death. It would remain very raw and a sore point for the people there for years to come.
Deep down there would always be questions about why it happened, all the stories and doubts related to the horrific killing would remain.
In the months leading up to the gruesome killing there was a sequence of strange events that would give these stories credibility and spread throughout Glasgow as an urban legend for years to come. A very peculiar urban legend involving escaped mental patients, missing children and killer clowns stalking the streets in a blue transit van…
It all started around six months before young Donna’s untimely death when a blue transit van, with balloons tied to its wing mirrors, showed up outside St Jude's Primary School while all the kids were out on the playground.
Two circus clowns appeared from the van in full attire of makeup, wig, big nose, right down to giant shoes and spinning ties shooting water.
This rapidly gained the attention of the excitable and curious pupils.
Still outside the locked school gates, the clowns then brought two tubs of paint and brushes out and started painting the fence at the front of the playground.
They were play-fighting, spraying water and throwing paint at each other in a bid to gain the kids attention.
The children thought this was hilarious and ran down to the fence to get a closer look as the clowns were lapping up the attention, talking in funny voices, making jokes and handing out little minty sweets.
The clowns then started saying they were doing face painting in the back of their van and promising to do Teenage Ninja Turtles, WWF and Spiderman masks.
Some of the younger children were desperate to go - but the older ones started having concerns and were reminding them that they couldn’t leave the school grounds without a parent or teacher present.
The friendly clowns assured the kids it was ok, saying they were friends with the teachers who knew all about the face painting and started naming all the teachers by first name.
The kids were eating out the palm of their hands and one young boy said he knew where a hole in the fence was and said he could run there and back again in 5 minutes.
Until all of a sudden one of the clowns shouted “let’s go” and they both jumped into the van like a shot and sped away.
A substitute teacher, who was monitoring the playground, had noticed what was happening and had started making his way towards them shouting at the kids to come back.
He told them to get away from the fence instantly and started angrily asking them what the clowns were saying and got them all back inside.
Headteacher Miss Causedale then called an emergency assembly where she warned everybody the dangers of speaking with strangers and why they should especially never accept anything from them or go anywhere with them.
It was also reinforced that if anyone they never knew approached them or the school for any reason they were to inform the nearest, known adult such as a teacher or janitor asap.
The reaction to the incident spooked the kids who started to see clowns in a completely different light.
All other schools in the area and the police were informed of the incident.
However, drastic cuts to public services at the time had seen some places in Glasgow become no-go areas for outsiders and that even included the police.
Castlemilk was certainly one of those places.
The Strathclyde Police force had no respect or love lost for the people of Castlemilk and the feeling was definitely mutual.
Basically they just stayed away and let the drug dealers and gangsters run these areas.
Sonny was a 10-year-old pupil at the school and was more worried than most about the incident with the clowns.
For a young boy he was a bit too thoughtful for his own good, and would consistently over think things and get worried more than he should.
So much so he was unable to go a bike in case he fell off, he couldn’t swim because he was worried about drowning, refused to climb fences or even header a football because he thought too much about possible consequences.
Dangerous men dressed as clowns approaching the school? Now that really got him thinking.
Over the next few weeks everybody was claiming to have come in contact or seen the same clowns or blue van.
As the days went on the stories started getting more and more outrageous and unbelievable. Stories of abductions and Chelsea smiles and other unfounded rumours of hearsay started sprouting out of everywhere.
Although Sonny knew that the majority of stories were lies or at least wildly exaggerated,he was happy it was raising awareness so if anyone was to be approached by any strangers or see any clowns they would know to inform someone about it straight away.
A few months was to pass without anybody hearing from the clowns in the van and all the talk was eventually starting to die down until Sonny himself had his second encounter with them.
He stayed with his gran most weekends, this meant hanging about with his two teenage uncles who were more like older brothers.
They liked to hang about in the School grounds but usually they weren’t allowed in, although the cool new janitor at St Jude's had started letting them in for a couple of hours at night since he had started.
One Saturday morning they were having their weekly game of football up in the local pitches.
The pitches were free to use for a certain age group every Saturday so the games could last hours, usually the whole morning until late afternoon.
When they decided to call it a day and head home they took a shortcut through the back roads to cut across the green behind Castlemilk primary. As they got near the main road someone shouted: “There’s the van” ,meaning the ice cream van, so this caused obvious excitement from the hungry teenagers.
All the older boys charged in front and jumped over the fence like a shot and through the lane and on to the main road to catch it.
Since he never had money Sonny was happy to stroll, but he started to hurry at the fence when he realised he would have to go through the secluded lane by himself.
As he struggled over the fence he heard someone shout, “they’re gee’in oot free sweeties”, never one to let such an opportunity slip, he used that as an inspiration to get over the fence and then he sprinted through the lane to see what he could get.
At the other end of the lane was a van sitting on the pavement right in front of him, but it was not the ice cream van that he expected...
His excitement turned to horror when he realised it was the same blue van with the balloons that had been at his school.
Around the other side two clowns were handing out an impressive range of sweets and doing tricks from the back of their van.
As soon as Sonny saw them he was shouting as loud as he could “its the kidnapper clowns…. stay away from them and take nothing!” and ran as fast as he could towards his gran’s house.
When he got into his gran’s she wasn’t there so he ran straight up the stairs hoping someone was in, but there was still no sign of anyone.
Then he heard the front door slam.
Certain that the clowns had been following him he jumped under the nearest bed when he heard footsteps running up the stairs.
“Sonny?......where are ye?” asked a familiar voice. It was his uncle Frankie who burst out laughing when he noticed Sonny hiding under his bed.
When Sonny explained what happened at the school and what the teachers said, Frankie agreed it did sound weird but assured him it would take more than a couple of clowns to scare off a gang of hungry teenagers from Castlemilk.
He assured him that the clowns slammed their doors and drove off as soon as Sonny had started shouting.
This was meant to reassure Sonny but now all sorts of thoughts were running through his head: What do they want? Would they now be after him after him if he has blown their cover? Was he just being over paranoid because after all why would the clowns approach a big gang of teenagers in broad daylight? Were they trying to build up trust for some reason? Or did they maybe stop for someone else before anyone had appeared in the lane?
There were more questions than there were answers and the only thing he was certain of is that these guys were up to something.
He didn’t know what but they were definitely up to something.
Back at school no one believed him about seeing the clowns and accused him of dragging up an old story for attention.
He told the new janitor Mr Brennan what had happened, he told Sonny he would keep an extra eye out and be vigilant. He also told him that they should all play in the school grounds more often after school hours rather than roaming the streets. It wasn’t really allowed but the way things were going he was thinking the kids would be safer in there where it would be lit and he could keep an eye on them and always be nearby if anything went wrong.
The janitor's house was in school grounds behind the school and Mr Brennan was the 4th janitor the school had had in the last three years.
For the most part the previous janitors were quite strict about letting kids play in the school grounds after hours. Not that it ever stopped the local kids right enough who would climb in or make holes in the barred fencing but 9 times out of 10 the janitor would throw them out if he caught them. It seemed counter-productive as the school would then usually be targeted for vandalism- when all they initially wanted was somewhere to kick a ball about.
Janitors never seemed to last long at St Judes and were mostly crabbit faced old men, but something about this new guy seemed different.
He never tried to act like a teacher like the other ones would.
As well as opening the gates to let local kids and teenagers in to play football as long as they promised to keep the place relatively tidy and were well behaved.
With bored kids it was a big ask, but it was a two way street and mostly if you show respect you get respect and most of the pupils and local teens had taken a liking to him.
He was also much younger than the other janitors that had preceded him. He was in his late 40’s he was married but his wife and kids hadn’t moved in with him to St Judes, but he did have a huge alsatian dog called Che that he would patrol the school with every so often. Che was an impressive visual repellent to keep the junkies and thieves away from the school.
Often unkempt and looking like he had just woken up, a distinct smell of alcohol always seemed to follow everywhere he went. As time went on he started to get to know the older teenagers that would hang around the school and had no problem with them at all, even getting banter with them about football and local gossip.
Only a few months had passed since Sonny’s second encounter with the clowns when Donna was murdered.
The primary seven Castlemilk Primary pupil (which sat right at the top of the grassy looking down on Castlemilk drive and St Judes) had decided to go to her gran Nancy’’s house after school to play with her new pet Yorkshire terrier.
Tired from school she ended up falling asleep on her gran’s floor in front of the fire with the small dog. She looked so peaceful that her gran let her sleep for a while.
She just stood watching her granddaughter sleep, her wee cheeky face looking so much at peace, she was quite a gallus young girl but with a heart of pure gold- the family felt like they had won the lottery with how much of a glowing personality she was turning out to be.
Knowing Donna’s mum would be expecting her home any minute her gran eventually woke her up and told her she had better head home and let her mum know she was ok.
Nancy’s phone had just recently been cut off as she was late with a bill so couldn’t even call up to let them know where she was.
She wasn’t in the best of health at the time but since it was starting to get dark she got her big coat on and walked a very tired Donna to the top of the green and watched as she made her way along the woodpath.
At the end of the path she would look back with an enthusiastic wave and her usual big smile that could light up a room, before turning left and out of her gran’s sight.
“Shout me if anything’s wrong… I will be right here” were Nancy’s last words to her granddaughter.
Despite the rain starting to get heavier Nancy waited for around another 5 or 10 minutes in case Donna came back for anything.
From where she left her Donna would only have had between a 30 second and a minutes walk before she was visible from her house where her mum and brothers were taking turns each to watch out for her appearing from the path.
As they watched and watched for most of that night, Donna would never reappear at the other end of the woodpath.
Her gran watching her disappear from the other end of the path would be the last time any of Donna’s family would ever see her alive.
Nancy had told Donna to let her know she was home ok as her phone could still receive incoming calls.
She was starting to get anxious when she hadn’t heard anything but initially put it down to the fact Donna would have got caught in the rain, then would have to get a change of clothes and bathed so it would probably have slipped her mind to call, but she would remember eventually surely.