How the twin brothers who knocked down and killed a father on a charity bike ride ‘got away with murder’ after disposing of his body in an animal carcass pit before finally being caught six years later
On a chilly September morning in 2017, retired naval officer Tony Parsons left his cosy, detached home in the Highland village of Tillicoultry to embark on a charity bike ride.
Having been treated successfully for prostate cancer, he had come up with the idea of cycling 104 miles from the town of Fort William back to his home to raise money for cancer research.
He was, his wife Margaret later recalled, ‘in good spirits’ as he set off.
Little could she have known that this would be the last time she would see her husband of 43 years. For by the end of the day, 63-year-old Tony had disappeared.
Last spotted by a lorry driver at around 11.30pm that same night, he had subsequently vanished ‘into thin air’.
Tony Parsons vanished ‘into thin air’ during a 104-mile cycle to raise money for Cancer Research
Tony’s body was discovered thanks to a can of red bull left at his burial site by the girlfriend of the man who killed him
That was the phrase used by baffled local police who, despite carrying out extensive searches involving mountain-rescue teams, dogs and volunteers, were unable to find any trace of Tony, nor his yellow-framed bicycle.
For years, Tony’s heartbroken family were left in an agony of uncertainty, a despair matched by the bafflement of the authorities, who could find no reason behind the apparently motiveless disappearance of this much-loved grandfather.
With no evidence of criminality, the case was classed as a missing persons inquiry — even after an anonymous letter, sent a year after Tony’s disappearance, suggested that the police investigate a pair of local brothers.
Indeed, as one anniversary passed, and then another, it seemed that the fate of Tony Parsons was destined to remain his family’s burden and one of Scotland’s most puzzling unsolved mysteries.
That is, until November 2020, when local police received a phone call from a young woman — who has since asked that her identity remain a secret — who had some important information to impart.
A few months earlier, the woman, a young professional, had embarked on a relationship with a farm worker called Alexander McKellar. Both were then in their late 20s, and as the relationship was progressing swiftly, she had asked her boyfriend whether there was anything about his past that might affect their future together.
Whatever she was expecting, it was not what came next: Alexander told her that three years earlier, he had fatally mown down a cyclist on a remote Highland roadside late at night while drunk at the wheel.
His twin brother, Robert, had been with him, he told her, and panic-stricken, the pair had decided not to seek help but instead to dispose of the body.
At his girlfriend’s request, Alexander then took her to the desolate peat bog where Tony’s body lay — a spot his quick-thinking girlfriend had chosen to help identify by leaving an empty can of the energy drink Red Bull as a marker to help lead police to the burial site.
In January 2021, the area was excavated, and Tony’s body — confirmed as his by a subsequent forensic examination — was recovered by specialist police officers.
The discovery brought closure of a sort for Tony’s grieving widow, Margaret, and their two children, Michael, 48, and Victoria, 41, but only now has this extraordinary story come to light.
Last week, the 31-year-old McKellar twins appeared at the High Court in Glasgow where, after denying murder, Alexander pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of culpable homicide.
Along with Robert, whose denial of murder was accepted by the court, he also admitted to attempting to ‘defeat the ends of justice’ by burying Mr Parsons and his belongings.
Both of the twins are due to be sentenced in three weeks, just a month before Tony’s family prepare to mark the sixth anniversary of his disappearance.
‘When he said goodbye and set off on his charity cycle from Fort William that Friday, none of us expected it to be the last time we would be able to see or speak to him,’ his son, Michael, said this week in a statement released by Police Scotland.
‘As you can imagine, not knowing what has happened to someone, and then the devastating news that we were provided, has taken its toll on all of us as a family.
‘Throughout the six years since he went missing, and then the subsequent criminal investigation, we had been left with many unanswered questions and it has been heartbreaking for each and every member of the family being unable to get these answers.’
The McKellar twins, 31 pleaded guilty to culpable homicide after mowing down Tony while drunk
A keen fisherman and golfer, bespectacled Tony, who had worked on submarines during his 22-year career in the Royal Navy, had become a stalwart of the community since his retirement.
For years, he had coached and refereed local rugby teams.
‘He was just a nice guy — a really great person,’ his friend Roger Jones, who served alongside Mr Parsons in the Royal Navy, said this week.
After recovering from prostate cancer, Tony was determined to give something back to society, and in 2017 he hit upon the idea which, ultimately, would claim his life.
He set up a fundraising page, and, on the morning of September 29, rode his bike to the local railway station to set off by train for Fort William, clad in a silver and grey cycle helmet, a red waterproof jacket and beige combat trousers. He was carrying a small rucksack.
His plan was to undertake the 100-mile journey over two days.
After leaving Fort William shortly after 4pm, he cycled on before taking a break at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel, a four-star, white-fronted hotel on the main road to Glencoe, which is a popular stopping-off point for walkers and bikers.
Tony was drinking nothing stronger than a reviving coffee, but in the same hotel bar were Alexander and Robert McKellar, farm workers who were drinking heavily with a German hunting group they had befriended.
Thickset, the identical twins were close and frequently hunted and drank together, driving from their respective homes nearby in their Isuzu D-Max pick-up truck.
Who knows whether the brothers set eyes on Tony as he supped his coffee alone in the bar?
Either way, by 11.30pm Tony had decided to continue on his journey, and was last seen around this time by a lorry driver about half a mile from the hotel, pedalling south in the direction of Tillicoultry and home.
It was the last anyone bar the McKellars saw of him.
By a terrible coincidence of timing, the brothers had left around the same time as Tony to clamber into their white D-Max and head for the Auch Estate, where they both lived and worked.
Only now, however, after finally admitting culpability for Tony’s death, has the chilling line of events that followed been revealed.
Alexander was drunk, and while driving at what was described to the court as ‘excessive speed’, was distracted by oncoming headlights and struck something at the side of the road.
This was Tony. The discovery of his grievously injured body plunged both he and Robert into panic.
‘He said he was panicking,’ advocate depute Alex Prentice KC told Glasgow High Court last week.
At this point Tony was still alive, although a pathologist who subsequently examined his body, told the court he had sustained ‘extensive injuries’ and would have been unlikely to survive.
Rather than call for help, the twin brothers dumped Tony’s body to woods in part of the Auch estate
Either way, the brothers did not call for help.
‘He [Alexander] knew Mr Parsons did not die instantly — he needed immediate medical attention,’ Alex Prentice told the court. ‘He did nothing to save him.’
Instead, the twins jumped back into their white pick-up truck — now bearing the damage of the catastrophic collision — to dump it nearby before returning to the scene in another vehicle, a Toyota.
Having discovered that Tony had since died, they took his body to woods which form part of the Auch Estate, the 28,000-acre Highland estate which was purchased for £12 million in 2020 by a Hong Kong-based businessman.
A few days later they returned to move it to another, more remote location on the estate, burying it in a pit used by local farmers and agricultural workers to dispose of animal carcasses.
Tony’s bicycle was left behind one of the many waterfalls on the estate, although it has never been recovered.
After subsequently returning for their pick-up truck, the twins told neighbours and friends that the damage to it had been caused by them striking a deer.
Back in Tillicoultry, meanwhile, it was only by late on Sunday that Margaret Parsons started to worry. Her husband had not returned home, and by Monday morning, October 2, she was anxious enough to call the police and report him missing.
A frantic search commenced, evolving into a large-scale missing person probe which, over time, dwindled to nothing as every one of the avenues investigated hit a wall.
Despite extensive and continued searches of the remote and inhospitable terrain on land and from the air, no trace of Mr Parsons or his belongings were ever found.
Appeals to tourists who may have visited the area to come forward with sightings drew a blank, as did an appeal on the BBC’s Crimewatch show by Michael for any information about his father’s whereabouts, to mark the second anniversary of his disappearance. By then, police had received an anonymous letter advising them to look into ‘the twins’.
The informant revealed that the brothers had been at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel at the same time as Mr Parsons. To this day, they do not know who sent the letter. Yet when local officers spoke to the McKellars, they got nowhere: on raising the subject of the cyclist, they were asked to leave, and they had no evidence to pursue an inquiry further.
All the while, the McKellar twins were nursing their secret, keeping it from their family and friends — including, in Robert’s case, from his council worker girlfriend, Megan.
It is not clear whether they are still together.
That all changed in December 2020. By then, Alexander had been in the relationship with his new girlfriend for three months. And then she asked him that fateful question about his past.
Police officers search the valley on the outskirts of Tyndrum, Stirlingshire
Within weeks of her marking the spot where Tony’s body was buried, the McKellars had been arrested, appearing at Dumbarton Sheriff Court in December 2021 charged with murder.
It has been a long road to justice, after what DI Fraser Spence of Police Scotland’s major investigation team called the brothers’ ‘brutal and uncaring actions’.
‘These men left the family of Mr Parsons distraught, not knowing what had happened to him for many years,’ he said.
Tony’s old friend, Roger Jones, had stronger words, believing that Alexander should not have been allowed to plead guilty to culpable homicide, which, under Scottish law, carries a lesser punishment than a murder charge.
‘I’m disgusted by the whole thing,’ he said this week. ‘The fact is, these two guys just basically let him die and then tried to cover it up. I feel as though they got away with murder — both of them.’
Additional reporting by Dan Barker.
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