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Past Times

Who killed Aberdeen teenager Betty Hadden in December 1945?

Susy Macaulay
Whatever happened to poor Betty Hadden from Torry? Her case remains unsolved.
Whatever happened to poor Betty Hadden from Torry? Her case remains unsolved.

Screams of terror. A missing girl. Dismembered limbs washed up on the shore.

This week in 1945, Torry was reverberating in horror over a particularly grisly murder in the neighbourhood.

Known as The Betty Hadden Mystery, the case has never been solved despite being one of the deepest and longest police investigations ever known locally.

Elizabeth Ann Craig or Hadden, known as Betty, was a petite, dark-haired 18-year-old with what might be known nowadays as ‘attitude’.


She went missing after a night out and all that has ever been found of her is her sawn-off forearm with hand, washed up on the foreshore of the Aberdeen navigation channel in Torry.

On December 11 1945, when Betty was last seen alive, she was unemployed, but had been at different times a waitress, kitchen maid, waitress, factory hand and fish worker.

An artist's impression of Betty Hadden.
An artist’s impression of Betty Hadden. Drawing by Helen Hepburn. Image: DCT

She lived with her mother and five siblings in 9 Manor Walk, Woodside.

A neighbour described her to police as “a wayward sort of girl and a strong-willed girl”.

She said: “She often used to come to my house to smoke a cigarette and chat, or to read a book.”

And poignantly: “She gave me the impression that her reason for going away from home which happened only when she was out of work was that she did not want to be a burden on her widowed mother, who has five young children to look after.”

It emerged Betty been on a night out with a pal named Sheila Stewart.

Witness statements pieced together the early part of the night.

They said she’d been seen in Market Street at around 7pm, trying to attract the attention of three sailors, giving them ‘the glad-eye.’

Some fifteen minutes later she was spotted walking along Regent Quay with another girl, possibly Sheila, in the company of four fishermen.

A man came forward, saying he recognised Betty.

He said he thought the men were foreigners.

Teenager was acting ‘strangely’

At 10pm, she was seen with two sailors in Castle Street, opposite the Town House, a witness later reporting that she was walking between the men, arm in arm, and “appeared to act strangely”.

She started to walk with them towards Union Street on the Lodge Walk side of the street, and then less than half an hour afterwards she was seen walking behind four other girls in Castle Street.

By a quarter to midnight, Betty was walking down Upperkirkgate looking for somewhere to sleep.

Newspaper clipping about police hunting two men over the murder of Betty Hadden in Torry.
The hunt for Betty Hadden, murdered in Torry in December 1945, took many twists and turns.  Image: BNA

Another friend of hers told police that he spoke to Betty at the corner of Gallowgate and Upperkirkgate, opposite Marischal College, and she asked him where she could get lodgings.

When he answered that he didn’t know of any place where she could go, she said: “I think there’s a lady down here who will give me lodgings.”

With that she left him and walked down to Upperkirkgate.

Terrified screams

Next, around 2am on Wednesday December 12, blood-curdling screams were heard by people at different points in Torry.

Police whittled these down to Mansefield Road, Victoria Road, St Fittick’s Road and the south side of the River Dee.

They later issued a strong appeal: “If the person who screamed was not Betty Hadden, it is of vital importance that the police should learn who that person was.”

Mother clinging to hope

Betty’s mother clung to the hope that she was still alive, telling the press: “I don’t believe she is dead, I believe she is still walking about.”

After receiving the worst news possible, she told a reporter in a distraught whisper: “Betty hadn’t been home for 10 days. I don’t know where she had been. She wasn’t a bad girl.”

The search for the murderer of Betty Hadden in 1945 was ‘the most concentrated inquiry I have been on’, said Det. Inspector Spence. The ground between the two men was the spot where her forearm and hand was found on the south foreshore of Aberdeen navigation channel. Image: DCT

On Wednesday morning came the grisly discovery of the dismembered forearm on the shore.

The wrist had a piece of twine tied loosely around it.

Fingerprints used to identify teen

Betty’s identity was established through fingerprints, suggesting she’d been in trouble before.

Police continued a painstaking search of the shore and coast, including all shipping in the harbour, and recently sailed vessels.

Forces co-operated over 400 miles of coast in the search for human remains.

The search for the murderer of Betty Hadden. Image: DCT

The sea flung up another limb near the Bullers of Buchan some 10 days later, but this was thought to be a drowned seaman’s leg.

No further trace of Betty was ever found despite exhaustive dragging of the navigation channel after heavy seas and gales.

Watch was kept on the sea front, and incoming debris carefully sifted by police.

Other officers scoured the allotments and their huts and the Balnagask golf course overlooking the shore.

Army huts and underground shelters in a deserted military camp were carefully inspected.

Expert joined probe into murder of Betty Hadden in Torry

A professor Sydney Smith of Edinburgh University, newly famous for helping solve the Ruxton murder, which involved the dismembered remains of two women, was called in to establish the type of instrument used to amputate the limb.

He joined up with Dr Robert Richards, a lecturer in forensic medicine at Aberdeen, and police surgeon.

Professor Sydney Smith investigated the way Betty Hadden’s forearm was removed in her murder in Torry in December 1945. Image: BNA

Ruxton had previously dismembered two bodies as a surgeon, and with his expertise it had taken two hours.

The scientists concluded that the person who amputated Betty Hadden’s arm had no expert knowledge of anatomy and consequently would have taken much longer to dismember the body.

They decided the limb must have been dropped in the estuary, harbour or river on the Tuesday night, and mooted the possibility that the remainder of the body could be hidden somewhere locally.

Image: BNA

Meanwhile, Betty’s pal Sheila went missing for 10 days after Betty disappearance, sparking a separate police hunt.

There was confusion about the timeline of her disappearance, but police were sure she was in Aberdeen on the Monday, two days before the forearm came to light on the Wednesday, and had possibly been seen with Betty on the Tuesday night.

She had apparently expressed the intention of going to Glasgow, so Aberdeen police circulated her description to all police forces in Scotland.

“Twenty-one years of age, Sheila Stewart is five feet in height and is of medium build.

The hunt for Betty’s friend Sheila

“She has brown hair, dark grey eyes and a fresh complexion.

“Bare-headed when last seen, she was wearing a dark blue coat, green frock buttoned down the front and leather lacing shoes.  She was without stockings.”

Then it emerged that she hitched a ride to Perth on a lorry, and once there asked another driver for a lift back to Aberdeen, but he refused.

Brought back for interview

She was traced by Perth police and brought back to Aberdeen to be interviewed—but this doesn’t seem to have led to any new clues.

The search for Betty continued.

Police staged a reconstruction in Torry with blood-curdling screams, such as were heard on the night of her murder, to no avail.

They even used magnets in deep water in case her body was being held down by metal.

Newspaper clipping about Betty Hadden with the heading Torry may yield clue in murder mystery.
An unsuccessful drag of the Aberdeen navigation channel in the hunt for the remains of Betty Hadden. Image:BNA

As late as January 17, police told the P&J they were hopeful of solving the mystery.

“We feel there are still some people in Aberdeen who can help us in our investigations.

“To them the information may appear to be of no value, but to us it may be of vital importance.”

The case remains cold

But nothing emerged to help them solve the mystery, nor has it over the intervening years.

The case of Betty Hadden remains as cold as the North Sea, which may forever hide the secrets of what happened that night in Torry.

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