A suspected blackmailer making a ransom demand targeted a Borders gamekeeper and his wife after they offered a £1,000 reward for the return of their two beloved pet dogs.
Edward Bell and wife Georgie put that cash up for offer for information leading to the safe return of their border terrier bitches Ruby and Beetle, feared to have been snatched during a festive hunt on the Lothian Estate at Jedburgh early on the afternoon of Friday, December 28.
The disappearance of Ruby, aged five, and Beetle, two, has devastated the couple and their three children, Tom, 15, Felicity, 14, and Frances, 12, of the Woodside Gamekeeper’s House in Jedburgh.
After a public appeal for information, the couple received a mysterious telephone call on Friday from a man with a muffled-sounding voice.
The caller suggested he had the dogs and demanded £1,500 for their return but after a short conversation hung up.
In a second development, another caller, claiming to knew the address at which the dogs were being kept, asked for £50 to be deposited into his bank account.
Despite the added confusion caused by those calls, Georgie, 45, has renewed confidence the dogs will be found sooner or later.
She said: “We’ve had a ransom call, which was probably a hoax. A man rang Ed in a muffled voice asking ‘do you want Ruby and Beetle back?’ and he said ‘yes, of course’ and the man said ‘right, £1,500’.
“Ed said he would need evidence to show that the dogs were fit and well, either a picture or a video, and then he’d get him the money.
“The man replied asking if he thought he was stupid and that he would not send that kind of evidence, but Ed was saying he needed evidence to know the dogs were okay.
“The man said ‘ask me anything about the dogs and I’ll answer it’ and later I said to Ed that I wish he’d asked him which one had a black tooth, because I know them so well, but Ed just didn’t think because this man was blackmailing us.
“Anyway, the man just hung up and we found out it was a withheld number.
“Then, last Friday night, we got a text message from a different number with a bloke saying ‘£50 into my bank account and I’ll give you the address’. I replied and said there was £1,000 on these dogs, ‘just give us the address and if it aids the safe return of Ruby and Beetle, you will get the £1,000 reward.
“He said that on his son’s life he was telling the truth and would give us the address and he sent his bank sort code and account number.
“He then said he was going to his bed and that we could give him £25 now and £25 when we got them back.
“I just texted to say that if he changed his mind in the morning, there was a £1,000 reward.
“I’ve no idea what was on his mind – we have his bank details and his telephone number – so maybe he was just a junkie needing a quick fix. Who knows?”
Georgie added: “The more people we speak to, the more they are pointing their fingers at travellers, but without evidence you simply don’t know that.”
Despite a lack of concrete information, Georgie said she has a renewed confidence that the dogs would be returned.
“I turned a corner on Friday after a couple of weeks of crying and grieving, and now I feel optimistic because we can’t physically do any more than we are doing,” she said.
“They’re out there, and everybody knows they are missing with the posters out there. We just need to keep them at the forefront of people’s minds.
“Someone somewhere has them, and they have to be spotted at some point.”
Information has emerged about a small Citroen or Ford van with a Scottish number plate seen in the area at the time of the dogs’ disappearance, and particularly on the day after, when it was seen driving very slowly beside the old railway line.
The family think it could be of significance and have urged the owner to contact them to eliminate themselves from suspicion.
If you have any information, call Edward and Georgie on 07885712165 or 07989 513946.