A couple who claimed to care for a vulnerable woman in order to take her money, have been found guilty of her murder despite a body never being found.
Margaret Fleming, who had learning difficulties, vanished “from the face of the Earth” around December 1999 and was never seen again.
Following a seven-week trial at the High Court in Glasgow, her supposed carers, Edward Cairney, 77, and Avril Jones, 59, were found guilty of murdering the missing woman.
Jurors found the couple murdered her by unknown means between December 18 1999 and January 5 2000 at their home in Inverkip, Inverclyde, or elsewhere in Scotland, and then tried to cover up the crime for almost 18 years.
Jones was convicted unanimously of fraudulently claiming £182,000 in benefits by pretending Ms Fleming, who would now have been in her late 30s, was alive.
Video of Edward Cairney in a bank with large amounts of money
The jury took around three hours over two days to reach their majority verdict on the murder charge.
Cairney and Jones will be sentenced next month.
Police launched an investigation after it became apparent in October 2016 that Ms Fleming was missing.
Routine social services inquiries were said to have sparked concerns over her whereabouts.
The case attracted major police resources and significant media attention as it was claimed the last independent sighting of her was actually at a family event on December 17 1999.
As the inquiry progressed, it appeared something “sinister” had happened and she may have come to harm.
Specialist search teams combed the cottage where she lived and excavated its grounds for clues to help track her down.
Her supposed carers were arrested in October 2017.
During their trial, which began in April this year, Ms Fleming was described by prosecutors as a “friendless and lonely” young woman who had significant difficulties.
She went to live at the Seacroft home of the accused following the death of her father when she was a teenager after those closest to her “didn’t want her”.
By October 1999, various benefits for Ms Fleming flowed into the household, which was said to have had financial difficulties.
The Crown suggested it was “tempting” for the couple to have the money but not the “inconvenience” of looking after her.
How, and exactly when, Ms Fleming died, may never be fully known. It remains, as the defence highlighted, a case without a body and without a crime scene.
Holding them jointly responsibility for the death, the Crown claimed the couple “literally got away with murder for 16 years”.
Money was the motive behind the “terrible” crime, the court heard, with the pair cooking up an “elaborate scheme” to conceal her disappearance.
They were ultimately brought down by “greed, arrogance and lies” after Jones made claims of Ms Fleming having “fantastical” illnesses and conditions in correspondence with benefits officials.
As police zoned in on the couple, their fabricated stories to explain Ms Fleming’s absence became increasingly “farcical” as they tried to reconcile claims she was both working as a gangmaster and capable of travelling overseas, and that she was someone with major difficulties requiring a number of benefits.
Judge Lord Matthews will sentence the pair on July 17.