Collette Gallacher murder: The heartless monster who took the life of an innocent Corby girl

Thirty-five years on from the abhorrent crime, we tell the full story of how Adam George Stein left an indelible scar on our town

Monday, 22nd February 2021, 7:25 am

On a freezing cold day in the late winter of 1986, 700 people from Corby began a sombre walk over fields around the town, desperately searching for any clue about the disappearance of a little girl less than 24-hours before.

In a town that pulls together in a crisis like no other place, this was as bleak a day as any the people of Corby had ever encountered.They were looking for Collette Gallacher, a six-year-old who had not been seen since she left home just after 8am on Friday, February 28, for the short walk to the catch the number five school bus, just as so many other children in Corby had done that day.

The bus stop was just a few hundred metres from Cransley Gardens where her mum Karen Gallacher had been living at the time with her own parents and Collette's baby sister Lauren.

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Hundreds of people from Corby searched for Collette Gallacher, six, for five long days and nights. Image: JPI Media.
Hundreds of people from Corby searched for Collette Gallacher, six, for five long days and nights. Image: JPI Media.

But when Karen arrived for her job as a cleaner at Our Lady of Walsingham Infants School at about 1.30pm, she discovered that Collette had never turned up for school.

More than 120 police officers immediately flooded the town, searching through bins and outhouses, doing door-to-door enquiries, desperately searching for any trace of her.

Detective Superintendent Tony Buckmaster, who led the search for Collette, was initially upbeat, telling reporters that he thought she may be injured somewhere or out with friends. But with freezing temperatures forecast, and as night fell, fears for the girl began to grow.

Two police officers were pictured by photographers from this newspaper making enquiries outside number 58 Ashley Avenue at 11pm that night. It would later emerge that they had knocked on the door of that house and had been given no reason for suspicion.

Police released this photofit of the man they suspected had taken Collette. Image: JPI Media

Over the weekend, More than 700 local people walked silently through nearby Thoroughsale Woods, alongside Corby Boating Lake and in nearby fields searching for clues, with tracker dogs and a helicopter assisting their search.

Collette's dad Andrew Gallacher, who lived in West Glebe Road and had separated from Karen some months earlier, joined the search.

Karen made a heartbreaking public appeal for the safe return of her daughter.

"She is just a child who can do you no harm and I beg you not to hurt her," she said.

Police provided this mock-up of the outfit Collette had been wearing when she went missing. Image: JPI Media

A mocked-up image of Collette wearing the clothes she had gone missing in - a pink jacket, grey pinafore, brown moccasin boots, pink earmuffs and white tights - was released to the media and officers started to put together a clearer picture of what they thought were the little girl's last-known movements.

They thought she had left home at 8.05am and gone to catch the bus. She stopped in at Willowbrook Road Post Office and asked for four bags of crisps - but could only afford three with the 25p she had on her. Her mum had only given her the exact 21p she needed for her bus fare so officers were worried about where the extra money had come from.

Police said she was then seen at the bus stop at the junction of Rowlett Road and Willlowbrook Road at 8.30am. But she did not get on the bus.

At 9am she was seen with a man outside the post office.

Left: Police search for Collette. Right: Two policemen were pictured outside of Stein's house on the night she went missing. They had already knocked on his door. Image: JPI Media.

Detectives then thought a taxi had picked up the pair and took them to Corby town centre where they were seen at lunchtime walking through Corporation Street.

By Monday, March 3, with the situation growing increasingly desperate, officers released a photofit of a 'scruffy' man they thought could assist them with their enquiries.

Known sex-offenders were questioned and quarries and rubbish dumps were searched.

The following day frogmen began a grim search of the River Welland at Ketton after a motorcyclist was seen throwing a bundle over the bridge.

No trace of Collette could be found.

Then on the evening of Tuesday, March 4, local man Adam Stein, a fabricator with a history of petty crime, went to the flat of a friend in Cecil Drive on the Exeter Estate where he wrote a suicide note saying he had 'done wrong' and tried to cut his wrists.

700 people from Corby took part in the searces for Collette in freezing cold conditions. Image: JPI Media

Officers travelled to his house in Ashley Avenue, almost within sight of Karen's home, and began a search.

There, they found Collette's lifeless body in Stein's attic.

In disbelief, local people began to gather at the house he had lived at with his wife and baby son. One 11-year-old told reporters: "We spent all that time looking for her and all the time she was here on our own doorstep."

Neighbours said they had heard arguing in the house at 6.30am on Friday morning and the living room window had been smashed by Stein. Children who had gathered outside the house innocently spoke of a 'friendly man who had given them cigarettes and cracked jokes.'

On March 6, a week after Collette's disappearance, a self-pitying Adam George Stein, 26, appeared before Corby Magistrates' Court with both his arms heavily bandaged. He sobbed throughout the short hearing and had to be supported by police officers. With his head covered in a blanket, he was bundled out into a police van with sixty incensed local people screaming abuse as he was driven away to Bedford Prison.

In July his barrister Julian Griffiths asked the court to consider sending him for trial in Nottingham, where there had been less publicity about the case. Chairman of the Corby bench James Taylor refused.

A month after her death, more than 1,000 people went to Collette's funeral at Our Lady of Walsingham RC Church in Occupation Road, with a hundred more having to stand outside the church. Floral tributes covered the floor as Collette's broken-hearted grandfather George Roberts and her dad Andrew wheeled the tiny coffin into the church.

Father Pat McAleenan called for forgiveness for Stein, saying: "We are all part of the same society and somehow we cannot wipe out hands of the responsibility for a society where it is no longer safe for little children to walk to the bus stop or local shop unattended. There is something wrong with us."

Her dad collapsed to the ground as Collette was buried at Shire Lodge Cemetery later that day.

The town rallied round, with money raised by different organisations to help Collette's broken parents and thousands were raised to send sick children to Lourdes in Collette's memory.

On the day Stein's trial was due to start in October, 1986, Corby Council announced 58 Ashley Avenue would be demolished.

As members of the public entered Northampton Crown Court to see Stein stand trial, they were searched by uniformed police officers who believed a revenge attack on the brute was likely.

Former heroin addict Stein pleaded guilty to murder and a charge of rape was allowed to lie on file. Collette's family were, at least, spared the agony of a trial.

The court heard that on February 27, Stein had embarked on an all-night drink and drugs binge and had arrived home before 7am the following morning before having a blazing row with his terrified wife, who fled the house with the couple's baby son. Two hours later, Stein had spotted six-year-old Collette as she happily went to school.

Although Stein said he had no memory of the killing, officers were able to surmise that he gave her money for crisps then lured her into his home before raping her, asphyxiating her in a way too brutal to describe, then put her body in his loft.

The court was told that he then casually went out to get drunk and the following day he brazenly took part in a charity walk, while Collette's family endured five days and nights of agony waiting for their little girl to come home.

Collette's family cheered as Stein was handed a 25-year-life sentence by Mr Justice Tucker. The family believed the beast would be behind bars until 2011. Karen told reporters: "There are no words to describe him."

Her father Andrew shouted: "I'll be waiting for you," as he was taken away.

Andrew sadly died some years later after suffering from a long illness.

Police officers said that it was the spirit of Corby that they believe eventually helped them find Collette and bring her killer to justice: Stein had simply not been able to dispose of her body with so many people out searching for her.

For nearly 20 years, Collette's family maintained a dignified silence as they came to terms with their unthinkable loss.

Then in 2004 came a knock on the door. Stein was applying for parole.

It emerged that seven years earlier, The Lord Chief Justice had set Stein's tariff at between eighteen and twenty years, taking into account his guilty plea and the fact he had 'shown genuine remorse.' Nobody had told Collette's family of this decision.

A devastated Karen, who had found happiness with a new husband and had another young daughter, was told that Stein could get out of prison as soon as March 2006, subject to the parole board agreeing that he was no longer a risk to the public. He had already been moved to open prison conditions.

The family collected thousands of signatures from people across the town. Karen told this newspaper: "Nobody has been in contact with me since the trial. I was told they could not find me but I have lived here for 20 years.

“But when they came and said he was going up for parole I was disgusted.

“We are not mentally prepared for him to be released early."

In the event, Stein was not considered to be fit for release until March 2016. At that point Stein was released to an unknown address in the south east of England.

Within 14 months, Stein had committed driving offences, had been partaking in increased social drinking and had been having 'relationship difficulties'. He was recalled to prison.

Now, just four years later Stein could be released again. Although he will have very strict conditions relating to his release, he will not be on the sex offenders register. Collette's family, backed by this newspaper, have now launched a campaign to ensure he, and others like him, are placed on the register.

The house in Ashley Avenue where Collette was found. Image: JPI Media
Collette's funeral was attended by more than 1,000 people. Image: JPI Media
The house at 58 Ashley Avenue was eventually bulldozed to make way for a new road. Image: JPI Media