It was a pleasant spring morning on the 23rd of April, 1976, when 3-year-old Sandy Davidson was playing in his grandmother’s garden on St. Kilda Street, Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland.
St. Kilda Street was a thriving newly built area and was a new start for many hopeful families. That morning, Sandy and his younger sister, Donna, had been dropped off at their grandmother’s house so that their mother, Margaret, could go to work at the machinist factory. Sandy and his little sister, Donna, played outside with their dog, Kissie. As they were playing, Kissie ran out through the garden gate which had been opened. Sandy ran out of the garden in an attempt to find Kissie and never returned.
Donna ran inside and told her devastated family that a “bad man” took Sandy.
At the time, there was a new estate being built nearby and many believed somebody had abducted and murdered Sandy and buried him underneath. A neighbor working in his garden at the time told investigators that he saw Sandy leaving the area in a car with a strange man but said that Sandy didn’t seem distressed so he thought nothing of it at the time. Another theory was that Sandy fell into a nearby river and drowned. The river was subsequently dragged but uncovered no evidence. Some others speculated that Sandy had been abducted by travelers.
In 2015, a witness came forward to tell investigators that he had been abducted and violently abused by a teenage girl from the same neighborhood at around the same time that Sandy disappeared. “There was a rope swing on the river and I had been playing down there with some other kids. I was going back to my house and this lassie ambushed me and dragged me into the bushes. She had a kind of den inside a big hedge, like a lair, and you had to crawl to get in it. She smashed me on the head with a rock and did things to me. I remember crying out in terror for my mother. I must have passed out because I’d been missing for a while, about an hour or so, and the locals were out looking for me. The next thing I remember was seeing policemen everywhere and I was being taken to hospital,” he recollected.
Following the witnesses ordeal, police took him and his mother to see the girl’s parents but no charges were ever filed. He described how the attack had made him mentally and physically scarred and in later years, he also became the victim of another sexual assault in a Scottish boarding school. The unnamed witness said he believed that teenage girl who attacked him may have murdered Sandy but investigators dismissed his theory as “unreliable” and refused to investigate.1
In 2016, a fresh appeal was issued by detectives in a bid to uncover what happened to Sandy. His father, Phil, said he thinks about his son all the time and remembers the day he vanished “like it was yesterday.” He said that despite the fact it had been 40 years since he last saw his son, it felt like just 40 minutes, adding that he still sees “him every day in my head.”2
Donna had also spoken with the media over the forthcoming years. “There isn’t a day when I don’t think about Sandy. I wonder where he is and what happened to my brother. I’m still here and he isn’t, and I feel guilty about that. I was the one left behind and Sandy has been out of our lives for 30 years,” she said. Donna went on to have a family of her own but because of the trauma of losing her brother, she was overly-protective. “I would love for Sandy to walk through the door but I don’t think it will happen. Sometimes I think maybe someone found him and brought him up. “But I think he was abducted. Until we find him, we’ll never know.”3
As the new appeal was launched, Donna urged First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to make her brother’s disappearance her main priority. She said that she had hoped Holyrood ministers would launch a task force similar to Operation Grange, the investigation into Madeline McCann’s disappearance that was authorized by Home Secretary Theresa May. “I want to push the next Scottish Government to provide money like the British Government did for the McCanns. I don’t see why they can’t do the same for us. “Nicola Sturgeon was born in Irvine and she was only a couple of years older than Sandy. She went to school in Dreghorn, which is just across the river from Bourtreehill. She might even remember the search when Sandy went missing,” she said.4
Detective Superintendent David Halliday, the senior investigating officer, said: “It’s hard to imagine the distress and sadness Sandy’s family have endured over the last 40 years, not knowing what has happened to their beloved son and brother, who was only a toddler when he went missing. “Despite the passage of time, this missing person investigation remains open and I’d like to take this opportunity on the anniversary of Sandy’s disappearance to ask people to cast their minds back to Friday April 23 1976.” He urged anybody that may have any information – no matter how small – to please come forward.
Officers worked very closely with the charity, Missing People, in a bid to renew the appeal into Sandy’s disappearance. They plastered his face as well as computer-generated images of how he may look now over digital billboards and online to try and raise awareness of his disappearance. Jo Youle, the chief executive of Missing People, said: “To spend any length of time with a loved one missing is heartbreaking for a family desperate for news. Sandy’s family have had to endure an unimaginable 40 years since Sandy disappeared. “Everyone at the charity joins Police Scotland and the rest of the public in the hope that this new appeal will finally end the limbo that Sandy’s family has been living in since the day he disappeared.”5
Despite a huge search operation at the time of Sandy’s disappearance and a series of appeals for information in the decades that followed, what became of Sandy still remains unknown.
- The Express, 1 February, 2015 – “Police Check Out New Lead in 29-Year Hunt for Sandy”
- The Sunday Herald, 24 April, 2016 – “Dad of Missing Sandy Davidson Thinks About Him All The Time”
- The Sun, 24 August, 2006 – “My Little Brother Vanished 30 Years Ago”
- The Express, 24 April, 2016 – “Sister Asks Holyrood to Fund Search for Sandy”
- Evening Times, 23 April, 2016 – “Fresh Appeal Over 1976 Disappearance of Three Year Old Sandy Davidson”