A few weeks ago, less than a mile from my house, a 21 year old student nurse disappeared from a nightclub. I watched the minute by minute coverage unfold on TV as police helicopters hovered overhead day and night.
The police told us that Karen had arrived at the nightclub with a group of friends. She disappeared after telling one of them that she was going to the toilet. She was picked up on CCTV shortly afterwards walking away from the club with an unidentified male having never returned to her friends, leaving her jacket behind in the club. Her bag and phone were later found in a park. Four days passed before her remains were found on farmland several miles away. A man (the man on the CCTV) was arrested and charged with her death.
An utterly horrific, devastating situation.
We will probably never find out from the accused what truly happened that night, how Karen came to be lured away by him from the club – seemingly willingly and not showing any signs of duress.
I think most of my peer group can relate to a situation in our younger years when we got chatting to someone after a few drinks when out on the town. Or ended up walking, perfectly innocently with someone along the street when going to an ATM, or even exchanging banter with that lone guy with the pizza to pass a little time in a long taxi queue.
We don’t yet know if he was already known to her, but if not, Karen got so unlucky in getting talking to this guy – however that conversation came to start – whatever her motivations were for leaving the club. She should never be criticised for this. Sadly, there is often blame levied at victims in crimes of this nature and I have been disappointed to see this both inferred and openly debated in the media since.
When I was younger, I always used to think myself as pretty streetwise. I could go out and have a laugh and a drink with friends and walk the short distance home to my apartment alone late at night. I was invincible. I was always that girl who would return small talk and smiles at a bar just because I was brought up to be polite.
I was innocent. I believed that being friendly costed me nothing and would always return swiftly to the girls with our drinks, never to see or think of that random guy at the bar again. It always used to annoy me when more cynical friends would point blank ignore this kind of innocent patter, stick their noses in the air and strutt off.
To this day, I 100% stand by my theory that not every man who attempts to interact with a female in a bar is either trying to get in her pants or a murderer in the making. There are too many feminazis out there arguing that the opposite holds true. I find this depressing.
Yes, being capable of judgement is essential at all times but it’s not always as simple as that. It can just be a case of wrong place wrong time zero promiscuity. There are always going to be really bad guys, albeit few and far between.
As I discovered the night I got unlucky.
In Aberdeen, where I went to university, there was a huge nightclub down on the beach front called Amadeus. It had a crazy capacity of 2.5k for a city of 300k and was THE place to go for a night out. Alas – long gone!
Anyway, I was out with a group of friends and it was my turn to go and buy a round of drinks. As usual, the bar was about 20 wide and 5 deep with people waiting to be served. It always baffles me why busy clubs only ever have about 3 bartenders on duty.
At somepoint during the 20 minute wait to get served, I turned to my left and expressed this drunken frustration to the person closest to me with a smile. The moment was so meaningless and was reciprocated with little more than a nod and a shrug given the thud thud of house music in the air.
The queue shuffled and mixed and I made it back to my friends with our watered down over-priced vodkas before finally calling it a night.
We were regular visitors to Amadeus in 1999 – often going there 2 to 3 times a week – and it was not long at all before I started to notice that same guy from the bar lurking close to my friends and I wherever we were in this huge club, always standing alone, pint in hand.
He was very distinctive in the club on these student nights. We were around nineteen years old and he was around forty, short and totally bald with glasses. He never had any expression on his face, nor did he hide his obvious hovering. For the first few weeks, I didn’t mention him to my friends atall, just thinking it an odd co-incidence or worst case that he was a slightly sad character.
At the time, I lived in a city centre apartment with a girlfriend from my course and had a steady boyfriend. Over the course of the next few weeks, I began to see the guy from the club not only in the club, but also during the day on the streets. Firstly in main shopping areas every few days and fairly soon afterwards in quieter residential streets near my apartment every day, at least once.
The strange thing was that he was always walking towards me. And never seemed to make eye contact, not that I was wanting that. This meant that there was still some doubt in my mind that he was “following me” rather than it just being a co-incidence.
This continued for a period of weeks and what I had joked about with friends initially was now not so funny. My boyfriend had independently noticed him hanging around us in the club, even if we were just there as a couple. Although he was never there when I saw him during the day, one night in the club he lost his temper and went over to have a “quiet word” about what the f*** baldy thought he was doing, to which all knowledge was denied of course.
One of the biggest issues was that baldy hadn’t actually “done anything.” Nor may he have ever intended to, of course. In the days before CCTV and smart phones, he was essentially just some guy wandering around Aberdeen city centre minding his own business. He could probably have said that I was stalking him.
There was nothing I could do. I bought a mobile phone and stuck to busy thouroughfares at all times.
The end of my stalking experience came one day about eight months in when I was supermarket shopping with my boyfriend. I had stopped suddenly in an aisle alone and my boyfriend spotted baldy hiding at the end of it. He whispered to me to continue shopping. As I did so, he ran round the corner and followed baldy stalking me around the supermarket for 15 minutes. Eventually, he went up and tapped him on the shoulder, much to my stalker’s horror. Baldy ran straight out the shop and that was the end.
Two years later, I met my sister for lunch in a large shopping mall food court in Aberdeen, where I had worked since. As we were finishing, I happened to look up to the adjacent mezzanine tables. He was sitting there alone at an empty table. Less than six feet away.
We got up and left without acknowledging his prescence.
I have *never seen him* since.
I consider myself lucky. Living life with baldy as a daily fixture for almost a year was a very odd, creepy experience but it has not curbed my enthusiasm for polite small talk whatsoever, in this case literally five seconds worth. Stay safe. Enjoy life. Beyond that there’s not much you can do.