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Former sergeant hopes new book might unlock secret of hotelier’s murder

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A retired police sergeant hopes his new book will re-ignite interest in the brutal unsolved murder of a Perthshire hotelier which took place more than 40 years ago.

Willie MacFarlane, now curator of the Tayside Police Museum in Dundee, turned detective to gather facts for The History of the Perthshire and Kinross-shire Constabularies, which covers from 1836 until the late 1970s.

The book takes a humorous look at each chief constable and describes some of the challenges they faced before the days of the internet or even radio.

However, a chapter on the death of Blairgowrie man James Keltie is more grim. The brutally battered body of Mr Keltie was found in a garage at the Muirton House Hotel, near the Lethendy Road, in January 1971.

Despite a nationwide inquiry, officers drew a blank, but Mr MacFarlane believes the culprit would have been caught if today’s DNA technology had been available.

“This murder is an open file nothing has been in the press about it for years so it would be good if somebody read this and more information on the case came to light,” Mr MacFarlane said.

A local businessman found the middle-aged man’s body dressed only in his underwear. He was rushed to Dundee Royal Infirmary but died in the ambulance.

Detectives suspected he had disturbed intruders and was dragged to the nearby garage where he was bound, gagged and beaten. Whisky had been stolen from the bar and phone lines severed but no cash was missing.

In one of Perthshire’s biggest ever murder hunts, police swarmed the surrounding area. Around 2000 men voluntarily attended the local station to be fingerprinted, high-profile media appeals were launched, leads were followed south of the border and the burgh council put up a £500 reward for information leading to the arrest of the attackers but all to no avail.

The murder took place three years before Mr MacFarlane joined the force, but investigations continued throughout the 1970s. Most of the officers involved in the case are now dead but the killer, or killers, could still be at large.

Mr MacFarlane branded it “Blair’s most dastardly crime” in his book, adding, “The murder took place just three years before I joined the force and it felt at the time that someone would be caught and put before the courts.

“Unlike some other unsolved murders it has had a relatively low profile but the killer, or killers, could still be alive. Someone out there knows what happened to Mr Keltie.”

Mr MacFarlane found archive copies of The Courier an ideal resource during his research. However, he admits procedures in policing on the ground were very different then.

“I started researching the book more than 10 years ago. It’s great to finally see it in print. I would often hear my older colleagues harking back to the ‘good old days’ before the forces merged to become Tayside Police, and I wanted to find out more. There were so many characters, who made do without phones or cars. It was very different to how police operate nowadays.”

Anyone with information about the crime should call Tayside Police on 0300 111 2222.The History of the Perthshire and Kinross-shire Constabularies, published by Culross in Coupar Angus, is on sale now for £10 and can be obtained directly from The Bookshop, Allan Street, Blairgowrie, or the AK Bell Library in York Place, Perth.

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