Thursday 21 November 2019

Ralph Riegel: Fall from grace of awkward outsider who became a murderer

The callous and calculating murderer seems a world away from the solid student with a wide circle of friends due to his sense of humour, reports Ralph Riegel

Alexander Pacteau
Alexander Pacteau

Ralph Riegel

The "evil murderer" of Irish nurse Karen Buckley (24) has emerged as an awkward, self-conscious outsider who insisted he was gay to successfully defend a 2013 sexual assault claim.

Interviews conducted by police with the friends, neighbours and work colleagues of Alexander Pacteau (21) have painted a picture of a troubled young man whose hulking six-foot, four-inch frame protected him from bullying in school but who appears to have been deeply affected by the 2013 split of his devoted parents, Guillaume and Noreen.

Despite his claims to be gay, Police Scotland investigated whether Pacteau had stalked other women - tracing and interviewing one woman on the basis of anecdotal claims and CCTV footage.

But the matter was dropped when it emerged she had no idea if Pacteau was stalking her.

It also emerged that Pacteau may have 'cyber-stalked' other women with suggestive texts and e-mails.

The life sentence Pacteau now faces for Karen Buckley's savage killing represents a spectacular fall for a young man who once appeared to have it all.

The first cracks in his privileged Glasgow upbringing came when his father's business failed.

His parents divorced, and Pacteau went to live with his mother.

Pacteau later dropped out of Anniesland College where he was studying for a business degree and moved into a flat in Glasgow's West End.

He became a regular in the student clubs and became known for his enormous capacity for alcohol.

On the night he killed Karen Buckley, he had booked a nightclub booth which came complete with a one-litre bottle of vodka.

The Sunday Independent has learned that despite being considered unusual by his school friends and nicknamed 'Shrek' by neighbours, Pacteau, in one social media profile, warned his biggest fear was that "we are more powerful beyond measure."

Chillingly, Pacteau proved that when he was able to manhandle a 220-litre plastic barrel containing the Cork student's naked body and more than 40 litres of caustic soda from his Dorchester Avenue flat, down a flight of 14 steps and into the boot of his Ford Focus car on April 13.

In a sinister re-enactment of a scene from one of his favourite crime dramas, Breaking Bad, Pacteau had decided to use chemicals to dissolve Karen's body within hours of bludgeoning her to death.

It was Karen's tragedy that, having left The Sanctuary nightclub at 1am on April 12 to walk home alone, her path crossed that of Pacteau who was stalking the pavement outside.

Police believe he was haunting the Dumbarton Road drunkenly looking for a victim.

Det Supt Jim Kerr, who led the murder investigation, believes Karen was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The motiveless nature of the crime was underlined by the fact there was no evidence of a sexual assault.

"We would describe him as being callous and calculating. That could have happened to any female that night," Det Supt Kerr said.

"I think (he had) a premeditated plan that night to find some victim. There is no question but that he saw an opportunity. But whether that was Karen Buckley or somebody else remains to be seen."

Pacteau offered Karen a lift home and, whether because she was tired or cold from having offered her jacket to a friend inside the club, she accepted.

Police Scotland confirmed that, sometime over the next 12 minutes and 46 seconds, Karen was viciously beaten to death after Pacteau first tried to strangle her.

He now claims he cannot recall the full events of that night but believes he got angry over a trivial comment Karen passed about the men in the nightclub.

Police suspect it is yet another lie from Pacteau who has now offered three different versions of the events of April 12.

What is known is that Pacteau struck the petite University of Limerick nursing graduate so hard over the head with a heavy 30cm spanner that the imprint of the wrench head was left in her skull.

He hit the young woman a total of 13 times and later attempted to dissolve her body in caustic soda, first in the bath tub of his flat and later in the barrel in a desperate bid to cover his tracks.

The young man, who once weighed almost 16 stone, also didn't shirk from making a major incision on Karen's body to allow the caustic soda to work faster.

He later burned Karen's clothing and anything in his flat which had come in contact with her blood.

Described in court as "callous and calculating", even Pacteau's own defence counsel described his actions after the murder as "despicable and beneath contempt."

All of which seems a world removed from the bright future which beckoned for the young man in his teens.

In Kelvinside Academy, one of Glasgow's top grammar schools, Pacteau was a solid student who boasted a wide circle of friends, largely due to his sense of humour.

The young man attended the £11,000 (¤15,488) a year grammar school but was very poor at sports.

Police interviews as part of the Karen Buckley investigation also found worrying contradictions with Pacteau.

His friends said he was spectacularly unsuccessful with girls, despite his keen interest in pretty women in nightclubs.

But he then insisted in a Glasgow High Court sexual assault trial that he was gay.

Pacteau was acquitted of the sexual assault, alleged to have happened when he was just 17, by majority verdict of the High Court jury.

The complainant was a 24-year-old woman who was walking home alone from a 21st birthday party when she claimed she was attacked in November 2011.

Pacteau protested his innocence at a High Court hearing in February 2013.

"If I had carried out a sexual assault I would have taken responsibility for my actions," he declared in testimony.

"I don't cower away from that. I did not sexually assault this woman."

"I believe rape is the lowest of the low. I'd rather be charged with murder than attempted rape," Pacteau said.

But in 2014 he was convicted of an amateurish forgery, being caught by police photocopying £6,000 (¤8,448) in bank notes.

The crime appears to have been prompted by the perilous state of Pacteau's finances.

The young man ended up living on benefits after a business venture failed and he earned less than £3,000 (¤4,224) last year.

He was handed a 'community pay-back' order for the forgery offence, Scotland's equivalent to Ireland's community service order.

But that order expired just weeks before Pacteau attacked and killed Karen Buckley.

Pacteau will now receive a mandatory life sentence and discover on September 8 from Justice Lady Rae precisely how long he will have to spend behind bars before he qualifies for parole.

It is cold comfort for the Buckley family who admitted they remain heartbroken they will never again enjoy the smile and laughter of their "little angel" and only daughter.

"We miss her terribly," John and Marian Buckley said.

Sunday Independent

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