Women murderers fall into two groups: those who kill people who are close to them and those who don’t. Close might refer to an emotional bond with family, or an acquaintance with friends, or even a servant or employee. Their pathology is frightening and unpredictable. Mothers, wives, sisters, and friends are supposed to be people who would take a bullet for you, rather than put one into you. Pamela Gourlay was a prime example of someone you wouldn’t want to have close to you, physically or emotionally, for even a minute.
In the late 1980s, Aberdeenshire, (that must be Scotland), a little girl named Melanie Sturton was a child who suffered from physical defects, along with a tough childhood. At only 4 feet 10 inches tall, Sturton was born with facial paralysis and a “club foot”or congenital talipes equinovarus (CTEV). The foot looked as though it had rotated internally at the ankle and Sturton seemed to walk on her ankle. Personally I find Sturton to be very pretty. Children bullied her but Sturton wasn’t one to give up without a fight. Resilient kid that she was, Sturton managed to make friends with the bullies. This didn’t mean the bullying stopped of course. Children are a mystery.
By the age of 22, Sturton decided to become a nurse so she could take care of others. She moved out of the house into her own home and began her studies. 19-year-old Pamela Gourlay lived in her building. Her upbringing had also been difficult. Gourlay had also been brought up in a tough neighbourhood and began smoking weed as a teenager. Gourlay however had a good job: she worked as a chef in a local restaurant. She seemed like a nice girl to Sturton although the two women didn’t become close friends. They were pleasant acquaintances. Maybe it was Sturton’s instinct not to become too friendly with Gourlay, since there was more to Gourlay than met the eye. Gourlay had a serious drug habit. She fell in with a druggie crowd and she was heavily in debt. The landlord frequently pounded on the door looking for his rent. Gourlay didn’t have it. She’d spent it on prescription drugs, heroin and weed. Drugs were so necessary to Gourlay that , in spite of having a good job, she was always broke.
Sturton was the complete opposite. She did very well for herself and remained close to her family. One October 8, 1999, she went shopping with her mother, Susan Patrick and grandmother, then she insisted on walking home on her own. It was the last time Patrick and Patrick’s mother would see Sturton alive. Gourlay, high on cannabis and prescription drugs, was having a withdrawal as the drugs wore off. She needed cash in a hurry. On October 9, 1999, Gourlay dressed in a chic, black dress and hat, then ventured upstairs to Sturton’s apartment and banged on the door. Sturton let her in and Gourlay raised a large knife, stabbing the girl several times in her chest, face and head until Sturton lay dying on the floor. Sturton, the fighter that she was, was determined to live. She began crawling toward the door and Gourlay, enraged, slit her throat. Gourlay threw a blanket over Sturton’s body, covering her up so she didn’t have to look at the body. For her efforts, Gourlay stole a few pounds, jewellery, two bank cards, and a gift certificate. Sturton was murdered for a couple of bills.
Imagine that scene, if you will, and put yourself in Sturton’s place. A familiar neighbour knocks on the door and pleasantly identifies him/herself. When you open the door a knife flashes over and over painfully and rapidly into your body. By the time you collect yourself and try to fight back, it’s over. It’s not just the crime itself that is sinful. It’s the emotional and physical torture. Patrick had to fight with the police to be permitted to see her deceased daughter, whose head was swollen from being slammed against a wall. Add to that, in Sturton’s case, her brother was wrongly taken into custody for questioning and you have the full scenario.
Upstairs, Gourlay calmly hid her bloody clothing then, ironically, met her mother and grandmother to go shopping. Oh, happy day. She brought Granny a present with Sturton’s gift voucher. What a sweet granddaughter. She also spent Sturton’s money on miscellaneous items. Gourlay used Sturton’s bank cards for 10 days, attended a concert and “carried on as if nothing had happened.” There was nothing in her demeanor to suggest she’d just brutally attacked and killed a women. Her behaviour certainly presents like that of a psychopath, as to whether or not she has been assessed as such, I can’t say.
After two days, Patrick contacted police. Her daughter wasn’t answering the phone. This wasn’t like her. Police entered the apartment and discovered the nightmarish scene. The brutal killing made headlines. When police began their investigation, Gourlay cheerfully tried to “help” police. When Gourlay, along with several other tenants in the building offered a DNA sample, police made an immediate arrest. The silly idiot had left evidence everywhere in her search for money in the dead woman’s apartment. Patrick had never imagined it would have been a young woman who slaughtered her precious girl. For her part, Gourlay never apologized or explained herself in court. She simply didn’t care.
Oddly, Gourlay’s’ family background was a good one, or at least that was what investigators uncovered. There are people who argue that a drug addict always has a difficult childhood but choose to repress it. Who knows? In Gourlay’s case, it was possible that she did have decent parents. Mrs. Gourlay was horrified at her daughter’s crime and even gave evidence against her during the eventual trial. Gourlay began smoking cannabis as a teenager and somehow got hooked. During the trial Gourlay sat still and emotionless, her “white face and dark eyes” betraying nothing. She was found guilty of murder on March 9, 2000 and sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum of 14 years. Patrick wrote a heartfelt plea to the parole board, which clearly had little effect. Gourlay was permitted to participate in an early release program, and was permitted to freely leave prison and work in a charity shop . She applied for and was granted parole in 2013.
At 34, Gourlay left prison and walked into a full-time job, free to begin her life anew even though she’d recently been caught dealing heroin in prison and having a lesbian relationship with the notorious House of Blood murderer Edith McAlinden. McAldin, a serial killer, is a former prostitute who murdered 3 male clients with the help of her son and his friend. Insofar as the Sturton family fared, the Victim Notification Scheme also failed them. The Scheme didn’t inform the Sturtons that Gourlay was free until the day after she left the prison, even though the organization had signed a document agreeing to inform the family before Gourlay walked. It shouldn’t be any surprise however that Corton Vale permitted Gourlay to walk at all. Prisoners at Corton Vale are treated to a “pampering session”, where hairdos and manicures are given at the taxpayers’ expense. There are summer barbecues, held in a gorgeous garden designed by the BBC Beechgrove Garden team. The women even have family members join them at the barbecues.
A broken woman, Patrick stated “I feel awful. It’s like something inside twists and oh….it’s just awful.“ Indeed it is.