Love Triangles - Tangled Web

Love Triangles
Tangled Web

Episode Summary

TRIGGER WARNING- This episode discusses domestic abuse and themes targeting children, so listener discretion is strongly advised. 

In June 1955, 20 year old Sheila married her prince charming in a lavish ceremony. She was the envy of the town having landed the wealthy and powerful Max. Nobody, least of all Sheila, could have ever predicted the tangled web she would become part of.

Please Be Advised – This episode may contain content that some may find distressing. As always, we advise listener discretion. This episode it not suitable for anyone under the age of 13.

Listen on:

Please Be Advised – This episode may contain content that some may find distressing. As always, we advise listener discretion. This episode it not suitable for anyone under the age of 13.

Listen on:

Murder World Scotland – A Killing at Kinky Cottage

by Steve MacGregor

Synopsis

This is the true story of a murder which took place in Scotland in 1968. It attracted huge media attention at the time, but it has since been largely forgotten. Perhaps the reason for this is that, in the most basic terms, there is no mystery here. We know who was murdered and who pulled the trigger and we have a reasonable idea of why. What makes this case so fascinating is that the three people involved in the murder all gave very different accounts of what happened.

Depending on who you choose to believe, this could be the story of a fragile woman, traumatized by the incessant and bizarre sexual demands of her overbearing and violent husband, who sought solace in the company of a besotted young man and was then further traumatized and punished when he unexpectedly took bloody revenge on her husband. But, it could also be the story of a ruthless and manipulative woman who used her sexuality to inveigle a naïve young man to commit murder on her behalf and then discarded him when he was of no further use to her. Or, it could be none of these things.

Let’s take a look at the fascinating case of the killing at kinky cottage and see if we can make sense of the evidence.

Scottish Murders is a production of Cluarantonn

Hosted by Dawn

Researched and Written by Dawn Young

Produced and Edited by Dawn Young and Peter Bull

Introduction Voice Talent by Eleanor Morton

Production Company Name by Granny Robertson

Music:

Dawn of the Fairies by Derek & Brandon Fiechter

Gothic Wedding by Derek & Brandon Fiechter

Dawn:

Trigger warning. This episode discusses domestic abuse and themes targeting children, so listener discretion is strongly advised.

Before I begin, a lot of the information in this episode I got from The Storyteller Violent Delights podcast by Isla Traquair. This podcast is full of information about the case; from interviews, court records and many other avenues, a lot of which I wasn’t able to say in this episode. So, if you’d like to know even more in-depth information about this case and the main people involved, then I’d highly recommend giving The Storyteller Violent Delights podcast a listen.

Wendy Garvie was born in 1956. She was the first daughter of Maxwell and Sheila Garvie. From around four years old Wendy was made to feel like a huge disappointment. By 13 she was living in foster care. At 16 she was married to a 21 year old, and gave birth to a daughter when she was 18. Three short years later at the age of 21, Wendy was divorced and had left her daughter with her ex-husband. Wendy then began drinking alcohol to excess. For many long years Wendy’s life continued to spiral out of control. What could have taken place in Wendy’s young life to have caused such long-lasting and obvious trauma?

Wendy’s parents, Maxwell and Sheila Garvie, had met at a dance in January 1952 and had quickly fallen in love, eventually marrying on the 21st of June 1955 in a lavish ceremony when Max was 22 and Sheila was 20. The couple then moved into a lavish five-bedroom farmhouse called West Cairnbeg, which Max Garvie had just inherited after it had been in his family for many years. West Cairnbeg is located less than a mile or 1.5 kilometres outside of the town of Laurencekirk, Kincardineshire. And Laurencekirk, which is known as the Lang Toun or simply the Kirk to locals, is situated on the east coast of Scotland, approximately 30 miles or 48 kilometres south of Aberdeen. Max’s family were well known in the area, owning vast amounts of land around Laurencekirk, and the Garvie family were extremely well off. While Max was known as a farmer, you’d be mistaken if you thought he was the conventional kind where he worked the farmland traipsing around in his wellington boots. No, Max had staff and a grieve for that, and his grieve, who was also a special constable, oversaw the running of West Cairnbeg farm on a day-to-day basis, but Max still did take an interest in how the farm was being run and had a keen interest in agriculture. By the time Max met Sheila in 1952 he already had a reputation as being an extravagant man, a ladies man, having loved and left many girls. He was seen as a handsome eligible bachelor, he just hadn’t found the right girl. Then in walked Sheila Watson.

Sheila was the daughter of a stonemason who worked at Balmoral Castle, the Queen’s estate, and who was known as a sombre man, of having a short temper and of being very frugal. Sheila’s mother, Edith Watson, was, according to the book A Killing at Kinky Cottage by Steve MacGregor, described as being upright, forthright and of having inflexible views. Sheila had quite a strict upbringing under the watchful eyes of her parents and had feelings of being quite stifled, a feeling which only increased when as a teenager Sheila began working at Balmoral Castle as a housemaid.  Although when Sheila was about 18 she finally would get a bit of freedom, as she and her family made the decision to leave their jobs at Balmoral Castle and move to the town of Stonehaven, which was about an hour’s drive away from Balmoral Castle. Sheila was so pleased to finally be able to make some friends her own age, to go to dances and just basically have a bit of fun in her young life.  However, she was still very much under the watchful eye of her parents, so, when she met and was swept off her feet by the wealthy and showy Maxwell Garvie, Sheila could finally see a way out.

Max and Sheila Garvie were seen as the perfect couple, Max being rich, tall, dark, well-dressed and handsome and Sheila being a slim, beautiful blonde, and so it was no surprise when the pair married. Sheila had craved the high life that Max could offer, and so it wouldn’t be long before the couple were enjoying eating in the best restaurants, attending nightclubs, splashing out on the latest fashions, hosting lavish parties at West Cairnbeg, holidaying abroad and indulging in Max’s passion for fast cars. The couple then had their second daughter, Angela, in 1957, when Wendy was a year old, and from the outside they really did appear to be the perfect couple living the perfect life. However, things are not always as they seem. While Sheila and Max initially were very happy together, by the early 1960s life in the Garvie household was anything but bliss, the main problem appearing to be Max Garvie. From a young age Max knew he could have anything he wanted, he could have it all, and sadly this fact appeared to have made him very restless, getting bored very easily with things, and he was always on the lookout for the next big thing to give him a rush. Sadly, this didn’t just include material things, like always having a new car, a better car, a faster car, this also included his family. Max began to pick on Sheila, criticising what she would wear, how she looked, how she behaved, how she parented their children, and he even began to criticise her in the bedroom. From Sheila’s perspective she could do nothing right. Max had grown bored of Sheila and their sex life, she wasn’t shiny and new anymore and he wanted to try different things, and so he began to look for ways that being with Sheila could be more interesting again, continuing to constantly criticise Sheila, before turning more and more to alcohol until he found something or someone that would satisfy him.

By this time the swinging 60s were taking London by storm, not so much however in the small villages of east Scotland, much to Max’s dismay, and so he set about bringing a bit of London to the village of Laurencekirk, firstly in the form of erotic photographs. Sheila of course was expected to be involved in this and, while she had no interest in being photographed erotically, she went along with it, as she always did, to try to please her husband and stop his constant criticism of her. Max also decided to involve his close friends in this venture, and he even started distributing the erotic photographs featuring Sheila around his friends, until that is he was told bluntly by the police that this was not acceptable and that he should stop it immediately or risk being prosecuted. Never one to be deterred though, Max then bought a cottage about 20 miles or 32 kilometres away from West Cairnbeg farmhouse and began planting trees on part of the surrounding land. Of course, none of the locals saw this as odd as maybe he was doing this to protect his farmland or animals from exposure to the cold winds. Although it did seem ever so slightly strange that the trees appeared to have been planted to enclose a small triangular piece of land. It would appear that Max’s intentions for the cottage and the triangle of trees was to start his very own nudist colony.

Now, while Sheila and Max were blessed with two healthy daughters, Wendy and Angela, Max’s need for perfection and having the perfect family was marred by his perception that his daughter, Wendy, was overweight, and sadly he was not shy about letting Wendy know on a regular basis just how much of a disappointment she was to him, with Wendy saying in an article in The Scotsman newspaper on the 1st of February 2002 that she had been left traumatised by her father’s disappointment in her for being overweight, remembering the jibes as far back as when she was four or five years old. So, with Wendy’s dad’s constant criticism about her weight ringing in her ears as a child, to then be told that she was to partake in his nudist colony was very distressing for Wendy, because, yes, of course Max expected his wife and children to be involved in his nudist camp. Wendy recalled in an article in The Scotsman newspaper “I was forced to strip off. Being fat I was terribly embarrassed. There were old men sitting watching. I remember undressing in the freezing cold.” Sheila and the girls had also been made to attend nudist colonies by Max previously while they holidayed in Corsica. There are a couple of differing stories about Sheila’s participation in the nudist colonies at Laurencekirk. One version says that Sheila was initially strongly against stripping off for the nudist colony in a triangle of trees on the rather cold and windy east coast of Scotland, where it would also be desperately embarrassing for both Sheila and the girls to be naked in front of people that they knew. However, as before, Sheila was eventually worn down by Max’s berating and criticism that Sheila was frigid and boring for not taking part. However, another version reports that while Sheila did attend the very first welcome meeting of the nudist colony, she refused to remove her clothing and did not return again. However, if Wendy had memories of having to strip naked in the cold of Scotland, then did that mean that her mother, Sheila, was not present or was she there too but just didn’t want to remember being forced to strip naked? Wendy would have been as old as eight or nine before Max moved on to other more extreme ventures.

Max wasn’t satisfied with just the nudist colony for long and, according to The Kinky Cottage book by Steve MacGregor, it wasn’t long before the nudist colony gatherings had escalated into drink fuelled orgies and wife swapping. Again, whether Sheila was involved in this or not is not clear. What is clear though is that Sheila was becoming very depressed and told friends that Max had become physically violent towards her, at one point threatening to shoot her. Sheila felt that no matter what she did to try and please Max sexually it just wasn’t ever enough, and his requests were becoming more and more demanding.  According to The Kinky Cottage book by this point Max was drinking very heavily, now four or five bottles of whisky a week, was exceeding the daily allowance of caffeine-based stimulants, as well as taking a chronic insomnia drug barbiturate, something which is advised not to be taken for more than two weeks or with alcohol, both of which Max was doing. Max’s behaviour continued to escalate and be erratic, until 1964 when Sheila gave birth to the couple’s only son, Lloyd.  At this point Max began to reduce his drug and alcohol intake and life became more tolerable for the Garvie family, well for most of them, as Max still continued to torment Wendy constantly about her weight.

During this time of stability, Max gained his pilot’s licence and bought himself a small aircraft and started a flying club, which was located about a seven minute drive away from West Cairnbeg. While this new adventure appeared to satisfy Max for a while, it wouldn’t be long before Max became restless and began drinking again. He would often take his small aircraft out after drinking heavily and was known to fly erratically and very low over Laurencekirk, being dubbed by locals as the flying farmer. Max was approached by the police on several occasions after scaring drivers as he flew so close to them while they drove along below, but Max was a charismatic and likable man and appeared able to talk his way out of situations. Sheila would also be encouraged to go flying with Max, which made her very anxious due to his erratic behaviour and drinking, but again she obliged, anything to make Max happy, but it just never did. However, soon Max would meet someone who would make him happy, very happy, for a while at least, but which would ultimately lead to his downfall.

The Garvie children; Wendy, Angela and Lloyd, did their best to live a normal life and do normal things while they were not at the farmhouse, because when they were at home there was always the threat of more nudist colony exploits, of Max and Sheila arguing and  laterally of Sheila becoming distant and cold towards the children, and of course Wendy being regularly tormented by her father about her being overweight, which had never stopped. So much so that when Wendy was 11 years old Max produced slimming tablets for Wendy and instructed her to start taking them, which she did. However, much to Wendy, and Max’s dismay, even this didn’t help Wendy lose weight, and the constant criticism by Max continued, a constant reminder for Wendy of just how much of a disappointment she continued to be to her father. However, Wendy then began to notice a difference in her father, he seemed happier, the criticism from him seemed to lessen and she noticed that her mother and father didn’t seem to be arguing as much. Wendy realised that this change seemed to have happened around the time 21 year old Brian Tevendale came on the scene and began spending more and more time at the farmhouse. Whatever the reason, Wendy was just pleased that her mother and father had stopped arguing as much, and that her father didn’t bring up her weight as often. Then one evening in late April 1968 Wendy, who was now 12 years old, walked into the living room at the farmhouse and was shocked to find her mother kissing Brian Tevendale. Wendy wasn’t the only one shocked, with Wendy saying in an article that her mother begged her not to say anything, which Wendy promised that she wouldn’t as she didn’t want to upset her mother. However, Wendy’s decision to stay silent stayed with her throughout her life, it caused Wendy no end of trauma and guilt, and led to her spending her life asking the question, what if? So, while 12 year old Wendy was thinking that things had settled down at home and that her mother and father appeared to be happier since the arrival of Brian Tevendale, she could have had no idea just what had been going on while she lay sleeping at night. In 1967, three years after Max and Sheila’s son Lloyd was born, when Max was 33 years old, Max met 21 year old bartender and mechanic Brian Tevendale.

Brian was a slim, good-looking, shy man who enjoyed drinking, however Brian did not come from a wealthy family and so could not afford to indulge as much as he would have liked. And so when Brian began to receive the attention of the extravagant Max Garvie, who clearly had a sexual interest in him, Brian was more than happy to become friends, just without the benefits. Max and Brian began to spend more and more time together, drinking together, flying together, and Brian started to become a regular overnight visitor at West Cairnbeg farmhouse after enjoying a drinking session with Max and Sheila. Max was clearly very taken with Brian and enjoyed his company, even if it had not turned sexual as Max had hoped. While Max was happy with his relationship with Brian, Max still was frustrated by his frigid and boring wife Sheila. And, so, wanting to spice up their sex life, Max came up with the perfect idea to get Sheila interested in sex again. It was reported in the Daily Record newspaper on the 19th of October 2007 that one evening in late 1967 when Brian was staying at the farmhouse and had gone to bed in the spare room, he suddenly found his door thrown open and Max pushed a naked and shivering Sheila into the room with Brian, before Max left them alone, locking the door behind him. Max had decided that in order to get frigid Sheila more interested in sex again he would make her sleep with a younger lover. Sheila had been instructed by Max in no uncertain terms that she was to sleep with Brian that evening. Brian was 21 at this time and found Sheila to be extremely attractive, and so the pair spent the night together. Max was delighted, wanting to know every single intimate detail from Sheila afterwards. And this arrangement continued for a while, before Max decided that he wanted in on the action too and suggested that the three of them should sleep together, which Brian agreed to but made it clear that he was not interested in having sex with Max, only Sheila, who Brian was fast becoming infatuated with. Max found this new setup exciting, especially as Sheila became more and more interested in having sex with Brian.  Apparently, Max and Brian would occasionally toss a coin to decide which of them would have sex with Sheila first that evening, but often if Max lost he would just insist that they all slept together. This arrangement continued for a while, but as ever it wasn’t long before Max grew tired of even this setup, although he was pleased to find that Sheila seemed happy to continue to sleep with Brian, which in his eyes meant that he was free to find himself another lover, which he did and who came in the form of Trudi Birse, who just so happen to be Brian’s sister and who was married to a local policeman, Alfred. Max and Sheila already knew Trudi as her and her husband, Alfred, had frequently attended Max’s nudist colony. So, Max and Trudi began an affair, which was made known to both Sheila and Trudi’s husband Alfred, but neither appeared to be concerned by this. Max liked Trudi as she appeared to be as keen on varied sex as he was, with the pair frequently going flying in Max’s small aircraft with Max putting the autopilot on so the pair could satisfy their sexual appetites. It got to the stage that Max and Trudi would spend the evening having sex in Sheila and Brian’s marital bed, while Brian and Sheila would spend the evening having sex in the spare room, then sometime during the night Trudi would knock on the spare room’s door signalling that it was time for Sheila to go back to the marital bed to have sex with Max. One evening even Trudi’s husband Alfred got in on the action. Max, Sheila, Trudi, Brian, Alfred and a mystery female, who had been invited to attend the gathering by Max, had spent the evening at West Cairnbeg drinking in the living room. Brian and Sheila then drifted off to have sex, followed by Trudi and Max, until it was just Alfred and the mystery female left, and they too had sex. Everybody appeared to be having a great time, everyone that is except Sheila.

Sheila was very depressed, she was on sleeping tablets, and was just worn down by Max and his physical, mental and sexual abuse. Although for Sheila there did appear to be a slight glimmer of hope as she had began to develop strong feelings for Brian, had started to look forward to their time together alone, and may even have started to see a future away from Max. Knowing that she would need support if she were to even consider the possibility of leaving Max she firstly turned to her mother, Edith, who was known to be forthright and have inflexible views. Despite Edith being aware of how Max was treating her daughter, as Max took great delight in telling her the intimate details including how he and Brian tossed a coin to decide who would have sex with Sheila first, as predicted, Sheila would be deeply disappointed as her mother would not support this decision, she should stay with her husband for the children, she needed to try and make it work, divorce was not an option. Next, Sheila turned to her local priest for support and guidance, but again received the same outcome, she should stay with her husband for the children’s sake, divorce was not an option. It was also reported in the Press and Journal newspaper on the 30th of November 2011 that Sheila also sought help and support from her doctor when Max had become so physically violent towards her she had to wear an neck brace. However, again, Sheila was to be severely let down by her doctor as her doctor had immediately telephoned Max and told him what Sheila had said, and in essence sent Sheila straight back to her increasingly intolerable life with Max. And then things became even worse.

Max had grown tired of Brian and Trudi and wanted new sexual partners to join him and Sheila in the bedroom. However, much to his shock and annoyance, he realised that Brian and Sheila had begun to have feelings for one another and that the lovers had no intention of giving each other up. This enraged Max. While he was happy to force his wife to have sex with other people, he always wanted to be in control and was very domineering, and so to have his wife not immediately cut Brian off in favour of new sexual partners, as well as to have developed feelings for another man, did not go down well with Max. He became more physically and mentally abusive towards Sheila, trying to force her to bend to his will, as he had done time and time before, and so he was furious when Sheila took the three children and left him to be with Brian. However, Sheila knew she had no support from anyone, other than her 22 year old lover she was completely alone. And, so, when Max threatened to shoot all of them if Sheila did not return to him, scared and completely beaten down Sheila returned to Max. Sheila did find some amazing courage to leave Max one more time to be with Brian, although this time she didn’t take her children. While away from Max once again she visited a solicitor to find out her rights, however, yet again, Sheila was severely let down. She was told that regardless of what Max had been doing or had been making Sheila do sexually, Sheila was still an adulteress and if she were to apply for a divorce she would lose her home and children. Distraught and completely beaten but knowing she would be unable to be without her children, Sheila returned to Max once again, only this time Sheila was desperate and out of options.

The physical and sexual abuse from Max continued and Sheila started taking a prescription drug to help with her increasing anxiety and depression, which made her appear to be detached and cold, which only angered Max further. Sheila did continue to see Brian though, much to Max’s annoyance. Sheila had begun to see Brian as her only escape from a terrible and traumatic reality, and one evening in late April 1968 when Brian and Sheila were alone together and she said to him that life would be so much better without Max in it, a seed was planted which set about a motion that would destroy so many lives and lead to murder.

On Tuesday the 14th of May 1968, a few weeks after Wendy had caught her mother and Brian kissing in the living room, a fact that 12 year old Wendy had forgotten about by this point, Wendy was again in the living room at West Cairnbeg, but this time she was watching television before heading to bed. Wendy, who was 12, and her younger sister, Angela who was 11, were allowed to stay up a bit later than their four-year-old brother Lloyd, but soon it would be Wendy and Angela’s bedtime too. Wendy remembers that her father wasn’t home at this time, with her mother telling her that he was at a meeting but would be home later. The main reason Wendy remembers this bedtime particularly is because her mother made her and her sister go to bed earlier than normal, and after her mother had kissed her and Angela good night Sheila apparently said, according to an article in The Scotsman newspaper on the 1st of February 2002, “No matter what, don’t get up.” Wendy thought this was strange but she was tired and so thought nothing more about it and went to sleep, and had no reason to get up until her mother woke her in the morning for school. Now, while Wendy was devastated at always being taunted by her father about her weight, Max was still her father and she loved him, and so when her dad wasn’t there in the morning she asked her mother where he was, to which Sheila said he had gone for a few days, which wasn’t unusual as he often was gone for meetings or to do with his flying club. However, after a few days of Wendy not having seen or heard from her dad she again asked her mother where he was. It appeared that Sheila too was becoming concerned by Max’s absence, and even though his car had been found parked at the airstrip suggesting he had gone off in his plane, on the 20th of May, five days after Max was last seen, she telephoned the police to report him missing. She told the police that Max had returned late and had been drunk on the night of the 14th of May, that they had had an argument and Sheila had gone to bed and Max had slept elsewhere, and that he was gone in the morning when she got up. She did state to the police however that he most likely was just with his flying group somewhere and that he had an arranged meeting planned for that same evening and she was sure he would return for that. But he didn’t. And so the police began to take Max’s disappearance more seriously. They firstly attended the farmhouse to have a look around for anything unusual, to double check that Max definitely wasn’t there, and to speak to Sheila, although Sheila’s mother, Edith, was there who took charge, leaving Sheila to fade into the background. Edith did not appear to be overly concerned about Max’s disappearance, offering the opinion that he was likely off with his flying group somewhere, as his car had been parked at the airstrip which suggested this. However, on closer inspection it turned out that Max’s actual aircraft was still in the hangar. Could Max perhaps have left his aircraft there and flown with another group member? It was definitely a possibility, especially after, according to the podcast The Storyteller Violent Delights by Isla Traquair, a local farmer who lived near the airstrip came forward to say that he had heard a small aircraft taking off from the airstrip about 6.30am on the morning of Wednesday the 15th of May.

Max and his erratic behaviour was well known to the police and while it appeared that he was just off somewhere of his own free will, a description of Max was placed in the Police Gazette in June 1968, not a very flattering description to say the least. According to The Storyteller Violent Delights podcast it read ‘Spends freely. Is a heavy spirit drinker and often consumes tranquilisers and Pro Plus tablets when drinking. Is fond of female company but has strong homosexual tendencies and is often in the company of young men. Is a man of considerable wealth, and until three years ago was completely rational. Of late became very impulsive, probably brought about by his addiction to drink. Has threatened suicide on at least one occasion. Deals in pornographic material. Is an active member of nudist camps, and is an enthusiastic flyer. May have gone abroad.’ Max’s younger sister, Hilda, also reported him missing at the time, but she only gave a physical description of Max to the police. While there were a few sightings of Max reported to police none ever checked out. Max hadn’t been in touch with friends or family, and even more alarmingly his bank account had not been touched. Max had vanished.

As the days became weeks and the weeks became months more and more people in the community began to believe that something had happened to Max, that he had possibly been murdered. Wendy became more and more upset and worried by her father’s disappearance as the time passed and became more and more difficult to console, so much so that Sheila was unable to cope on her own with the children, and so asked her mother, Edith, to move into West Cairnbeg to help her. While the community were speculating about what may have happened to Max, and Wendy the couple’s eldest daughter was becoming more and more upset by his absence, Sheila appeared to be at her happiest. She spent more and more time with Brian, they were seen holding hands and laughing together in public, which only further increased speculation about Max’s disappearance.  However, there was no evidence of foul play and there was no body so the police were not able to do anything. That is until Friday the 16th of August 1968 when Wendy recalls the police arriving at the farmhouse.

Wendy had been in the kitchen with her siblings and mother making the dinner when there was a knock at the door. Before Wendy knew what was happening her mother was shouting to her to watch the potatoes as they were nearly ready and that her grandmother would be along shortly to look after them, before her mother was led out of the house and into a waiting police car. Wendy was 12 years old, first her father had disappeared and now her mother was being taken away by the police. Wendy was distraught. But she would only have to wait a couple of days before being bluntly told by her grandmother, Edith, and her mother’s brother that her father was dead and that he had been murdered by her mother. Wendy’s young and traumatised life as the daughter of perfectionist Max Garvie was further being turned upside down. Wendy recalls everything happening so quickly after hearing this news, she and her siblings were whisked away by their grandmother, away from their friends and all that was familiar to them, but this was done to protect them from the media frenzy that was about to descend.

So, what had happened for the police to suddenly bring Sheila in for questioning after Max had been missing for three months, and for her to be arrested for his murder? It transpired that Max had been able to orchestrate one final blow to Sheila.

And that’s the end of part one. Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss the conclusion to this story.

Dawn:

Trigger warning – This episode discusses domestic abuse, so listener discretion is strongly advised.

This is part two of the story Tangled Web, so, if you’ve not listened to part one already or you need a reminder then stop and give it a listen now, and then come back to this episode. If you’re all up-to-date then let’s continue with part two.

Following Max’s disappearance Sheila and Brian became closer and closer, despite the growing gossip. They began to spend more and more time together, and had eventually made the decision to move to Aberdeen with Sheila’s three children to start a new life together. However, while Edith watched on quietly as her daughter spent more and more time with Brian, when she found out that Sheila planned to move to Aberdeen with her children to live with Brian, Edith could stay silent no longer.

Earlier in the day on Friday the 16th of August 1968, 59 year old Edith Watson had entered the local police station and almost collapsed she was in such distress about what she was about to say. She told police that she strongly believed that Max was dead, and that her daughter Sheila and Brian Tevendale had been involved in this. She said that the day after Max had gone missing Sheila had said to her that she would have no more worries and that Max wouldn’t be back. Edith said she had asked Sheila outright if she meant that Max was dead, to which she said Sheila had nodded. She said that Sheila had gone on to say that she had a strong man at her back, to which Edith said she asked if she meant Brian Tevendale, and Sheila again nodded. Edith said she then asked her daughter if Brian had been involved in Max’s murder, to which she said Sheila nodded again. When Edith was asked why she had come forward now she said that Max had told her that should anything happen to him she was to ensure that Brian Tevendale never had any contact with his children. And, so, while Sheila and Brian were planning on taking the children to live in Aberdeen, Edith felt she had to put a stop to it one way or another, even if that meant her daughter being charged with her husband’s murder.

Shocked by this development the police immediately made their way to West Cairnbeg to bring Sheila in for questioning. Brian was also brought to the police station for questioning on the same day, and to the detective’s surprise Brian quickly admitted his part in the murder of Max Garvie. However, upon Brian and Sheila both appearing in court on the charge of Maxwell Garvie’s murder, Sheila too decided to start talking, however, her version of events were completely different to what Brian had said.

Sheila said that late on the 14th of May to early 15th of May she had been in bed with Max when she’d been woken by a man whispering for her to get up and come into the hall. The man was Brian. She said that another man she knew only as Alan was also in the hall when she got there. She said she then noticed that Brian was carrying a rifle, which was later identified as being Max’s. Brian then told Sheila to go into the bathroom, which she did and closed and locked the door. She said she then heard awful thumping noises coming from the bedroom and then silence, before Brian knocked on the bathroom door telling her to unlock it and to instead stand guard at the children’s bedrooms in case they came out, while Brian and his friend wrapped Max’s body in a sheet. Sheila watched in shock and horror as the pair then bumped Max’s body down the stairs and outside to Brian’s friend Alan’s waiting car, and Max’s body was placed in the back of the car. Apparently the plan was for Brian to drive Max’s car to the airstrip and leave it there and then for Brian and his friend to dispose of Max’s body. However, like I said, Brian’s version of events was slightly different.

In his statement he said he had received a distressed phone call from Sheila saying that she had accidentally shot Max during a fight, after Max threatened her with a gun. Brian said he did go to the farmhouse and he did dispose of the body of Max, but only to help Sheila out, as Brian admitted being in love with her. Brian made no mention of his friend Alan being present, doing his best to protect him. But upon Sheila making a statement mentioning Alan being there, Brian told the police exactly who he was and where he lived.

On Saturday the 17th of August Brian then took detectives to Lauriston Castle where Max’s body was. And detectives later said that if they had not been led there directly to the location, Max’s body likely would never have been found.

As a youngster Brian had spent time at Lauriston Castle and its grounds and he knew the place like the back of his hand. He led the police to an unknown narrow tunnel and told them Max was about 20 yards, or 18 metres, into the tunnel under large boulders. The tunnel was so narrow and low that police officers had to crawl along it on their hands and knees, but they soon became aware of a rotting smell, before finding a pile of stones, under which was Max’s body. Following a postmortem, it was determined that Max had died three months previously from a gunshot wound to his neck and from being hit brutally on the head. Following West Cairnbeg being searched, it was discovered that the rifle that had been used to kill Max was his own. The friend of Brian’s who Sheila said was also at the farmhouse on the night Max had been murdered was 20 year old Alan Peters, who was also a mechanic and worked with Brian.

Alan Peters was arrested on Sunday the 18th of August 1968. 33 year old Sheila Garvie, 22 year old Brian Tevendale and 20 year old Alan Peters were arrested and charged with the murder of Max Garvie.

Shortly after Wendy had witnessed her mother being escorted from West Cairnbeg by the police, a family member turned up to look after the children. Wendy was distraught. Wendy’s world would further be rocked when a few days later her mother was charged with her father’s murder and was remanded in custody. From there on in Wendy and her siblings were told nothing further about what was happening with their mother, they weren’t allowed to see their mother and they were not aware of the sensational court case and shocking headlines that would dominate the newspapers. The children were well protected by moving them into a hotel about 70 miles, or 120 kilometres, away in the hope nobody would know who they were. All of the newspapers were removed so that the children would not have to endure the horrific details that were about to be exposed about their mother and father’s lives. This was particularly hard for Wendy, being the oldest sibling  

The trial for the murder of Maxwell Garvie was to take place in the High Court in Aberdeen on Friday the 18th of November 1968, and it was set to be quite the show. The streets outside the High Court in Aberdeen were lined with people, some of whom had queued from the early hours of the morning, desperate to get a peek at the main players as they arrived, as well as a seat at the trial of the century; a beautiful young rich woman, her lover and the lover’s friend on trial for the murder of her wealthy, flamboyant, ladies man of a husband, where the couple’s sexual exploits were devoured by all present and scandalised in the newspapers. And, so, the trial began with the prosecution claiming that Sheila had persuaded her lover, Brian, to murder her husband so the pair could get married and claim Max’s life insurance, worth more than £55,000, which would be just over £1 million or about $1.3 million dollars in today’s money, as well as inherit Max’s money, properties, land and cars. They also claimed that Alan Peters had been involved in both the murder and the disposal of Max’s body. All three pleaded not guilty, with Sheila council lodging a special defence that the two men had killed her husband and she had no prior knowledge of their plans, and Alan’s council lodging a special defence that Sheila and Brian had carried out the killing and that he had simply been drawn into their tangled web. Sheila and Alan would take to the stand to tell their own version of events, but Brian did not, allowing his defence advocate to speak for him. When Sheila’s mother took to the stand she became so distraught and unwell at the very first question of “Do you recognise the accused?” that she was unable to answer this question and an ambulance had to be called. She did however take the stand the following day. Throughout being questioned, Edith, Sheila’s mother, told of how she had seen a change in Max’s behaviour, how she had been shocked when he had quite openly told of how he and Brian had been flipping a coin to decide who would sleep with her daughter. She had also been aware that Max had been physically abusive to Sheila, having seen the evidence, as well as Max having admitted to her that he regularly twisted Sheila’s arm so far up her back that Sheila feared her shoulder would break. She believed that the change in Max had been due to his drink and drug habit. She also told how her daughter had confirmed to her the day after Max had gone missing that he wouldn’t be back, that he was dead, and that Brian Tevendale had been involved. When it was Sheila’s turn on the stand, she told of how her wonderful marriage to the man she loved, Max Garvie, had turned from a fairy tale to a living nightmare. She told of how Max had drunk to excess and took drugs. She told of his unrelenting pressure on her to perform more and more sexual acts, which she described as disgusting. She told of his ever-increasing violence towards her, of how she felt more and more like a possession of Max’s to be used and shared. Sheila told of the awful physical, mental and sexual abuse she had endured at the hands of Max Garvie, of how she had tried to leave but had no support.  And finally she told of how she had fallen in love with Brian Tevendale. Sheila then told her version of what had happened on the evening of the 14th of May 1968. She reiterated that she had absolutely no idea that Brian was planning to come to her house that evening, and had absolutely no idea that he had planned to murder Max. She said she was in a state of shock and disbelief, and had asked Brian if Max had suffered, to which Brian had said no. She was asked why she had continued a relationship with a man who she had known had killed her husband, the father of her children, to which she replied that she felt responsible, she had let Brian Tevendale fall in love with her, and that she had vowed to protect him. Brian’s version of events were read to the jury from his statement to the police where he said that Sheila had in fact shot Max by accident and he had merely helped dispose of the body, again, because he loved Sheila and would do anything for her. So far the jury had heard differing versions of what had happened and who knew what about what had happened that night, such as that it was thought that Brian had murdered Max and that Sheila knew Max was dead but hadn’t been aware of Brian’s plan to kill Max, or that Sheila had accidentally killed Max and Brian had only helped dispose of Max’s body to help her, so when it was Alan Peters’ turn to take the stand, things started to get even more interesting.

Alan Peters was 20 years old and had married his pregnant wife only a few weeks earlier on the 26th of July, where Brian was his best man and Sheila had provided the catering, although in Sheila’s statement to the police at the time of her arrest she said she hadn’t known Alan’s surname. Alan worked with Brian at the same garage, both being mechanics. He said that a few weeks before the murder Brian had said to him that he was wanting to get rid of Max and asked Alan if he would help him, although Alan said in court that he hadn’t realised that that had meant by murdering Max. That was until the pair arrived at West Cairnbeg on the night of the 14th of May, where Alan said Sheila let both him and Brian in by the garage. He said Brian and himself then had a drink in the living room while Sheila went to check on Max. When Sheila came back to tell them that Max was sleeping and to follow her, Brian then picked up Max’s own .22 rifle and they both followed Sheila upstairs. Alan said he was terrified at what was transpiring, but was afraid to say anything for fear of being shot himself. He said they both then went into Max’s bedroom while Sheila stayed outside, and Brian then shot Max threw a pillow in the head. The pair then wrapped Max’s body in a sheet and placed his body in the back of Alan’s car. The pair then dropped Max’s car off at the airstrip, before traveling to Lauriston Castle grounds and placing Max in the tunnel and covering him with boulders. So, now the jury had more to think about; Sheila and Alan both said that Brian had shot Max, but now Alan was saying that Sheila had known exactly what was planned and she had actually let the pair into the farmhouse.

Trudi Birse, Brian’s sister, was next to give evidence, and she told yet another version of events. Trudi said that she had spoken with Brian within hours of Max being murdered and Brian had told her that it had been Alan who had struck the first blow, apparently striking Max on the head with a steel bar. Brian told her that he was sure Max was already dead before he actually shot him. However, there was never any evidence that a steel bar had been involved, although Max was struck on the back of the neck. And this was a different story to the one Brian had told the police, saying instead that Sheila had shot Max by accident. Things were becoming more tangled, and it was only to get worse. Trudi also gave more of an insight into the horrific abuse that Sheila had been receiving from Max. She said that Max was obsessed with Brian and would ask Trudi to find out all she could about the intimate details of Sheila and Brian’s sex life, with Max taking great pleasure from every little detail. She confirmed that Max pushed Sheila and Brian together continually. Trudi said that Max would tell her that he had more pleasure from sex from one evening with Trudi than in his whole marriage to Sheila, as well as telling Trudi that he loved Brian more than he loved Sheila. Trudi confirmed that Max would say these heartbreaking things to Sheila too.

Next on the stand was Alfred, or Fred, Birse, Trudi’s husband and previously a policeman. However, a strange statement was made by the defence before Fred was questioned. They basically said that due to legal reasons Fred and Trudi would not be asked too many questions or be pressured too much. The reason why would soon become clear. As Max had been shot while he was lying in bed, there was a significant amount of blood splatter on the mattress, and so Brian had rolled up this mattress and taken it to Fred and Trudi’s home to store briefly, before Fred and Brian took it to a quarry and burnt it. Trudi then agreed that Sheila could have her and Fred’s mattress from their bed and Trudi would purchase a new one, as obviously it would be too risky for Sheila to suddenly purchase a new mattress. Trudi’s mattress was however too small to fit Sheila and Max’s bed, but Sheila did her best to hide this fact by using blankets and a valance sheet.  And, so, when the policeman came to have a look around West Cairnbeg when Max had first gone missing, they could be forgiven for missing this detail. However, upon the house being forensically examined after finding out Max had been murdered, not only was the ill-fitting mattress discovered but also traces of blood on the headboard and the wallpaper, which Sheila had tried to hide by moving the bed to cover the stains. It was also revealed at the trail that Fred had burnt Max’s clothes and I.D. So despite Fred being a policeman at the time of Max’s murder, he still was happy to help cover up the crime. Fred Birse resigned from the police force shortly after Sheila and Brian were arrested. It is speculated that initially there were five people on the charge of being involved in murdering Max Garvie; Sheila, Brian, Alan, Trudi and Alfred. However, if all of the above were charged then there would be no witnesses, and so it is believed that is why Trudi and Alfred never were charged with any crime. But can what they said in court be truly believed? 

Shockingly, Max’s skull was also presented in court, so that it could be shown to the jury just what damage had been done to Max’s brain and bone structure following being shot. The bullet had still been embedded in Max’s skull when his body was found. One jury member collapsed in distress at seeing Max’s skull and was removed from the jury, with it continuing with just 14 members.

Eventually, ten days after the trial began and after the closing statements, it was time for the jury to retire and decide on the verdict. On the 2nd of December 1968 Alan Peters received a verdict of not proven. This is unique to Scotland and, according to Wikipedia, it is typically used by a jury when it is a belief that the defendant is guilty but the Crown has not provided sufficient evidence. Brian Tevendale was unanimously found guilty of Max’s murder, and Sheila Garvie was found guilty of murdering Max by a majority verdict, with both being served a life sentence. Upon hearing the verdict Sheila and Brian briefly embraced and kissed, before the pair were led away to begin their sentences. While the pair did send each other love letters initially, three months into their life sentence Sheila sent a letter to Brian saying “I have decided to have nothing more to do with you ever again”, and she asked Brian to destroy all of their love letters. Brian was devastated, but it transpired that Sheila had been advised to cut off contact in order to be able to see her children, as it didn’t look good if she were continuing a relationship with the murderer of the children’s father. However, despite this sacrifice, Sheila never did get to see her children whilst she was in prison. Not only did Sheila not have the prospect of ever seeing her children while they were still little, but six months into her life sentence she received a word that her mother was very unwell, and sadly she died shortly afterwards. Sheila’s father had passed away by this time. Now Sheila was completely alone; no children, no lover, no mother, but also there was no Max.

During and following the trial, Sheila’s children; Wendy, Angela and Lloyd, had been living with their grandmother, Edith, but upon her death they had all been placed with a foster couple in England. However, Sheila’s oldest daughter, Wendy, began to really struggle. She had endured so much in her young life, her perceived weight issue and disappointment from her dad from such a young age, being subjected to nudist colonies while being ashamed of her body, the arguments of her parents, the change in both her father due to drink and drugs, and her mother due to prescription pills, the murder of her dad, her mother being sent to prison, her grandmother dying, being placed into foster care, and finally not being allowed to see her mother. But there was something even more damaging that Wendy was dealing with, her guilt. Wendy had convinced herself that if she had said something, anything, when she had found her mum and Brian Tevendale kissing in the living room weeks before her father had been murdered, then none of this may have happened; her dad might not be dead, her mum wouldn’t be in jail, she wouldn’t be in foster care alone without anyone. She believed it was all her fault, and the more she thought about this the more she spiraled out of control. Wendy continued to have body and weight issues, her mental health began declining, and all she really wanted was to be loved. When Wendy was 16 years old she began working in a chemists, where she met a boy and they began dating. She told him about her past and he accepted it, seeming to only care about Wendy, which was just what Wendy thought she needed, to be loved. The pair married when Wendy was 18 and the couple had a child three years later. However, Wendy just could not escape her past, it still tormented her, and when her marriage began to fail Wendy, no longer able to cope, left her husband and child, before starting on a journey that would leave her feeling even more alone. Wendy began drinking to excess, and her mental health deteriorated even further, eventually being diagnosed with schizophrenia. Wendy sadly continued to drink to excess for quite some time, desperate to try and blot out the guilt, the overwhelming guilt of what if. Then in 1978 Wendy began to see a glimmer of hope, her mother, Sheila now 43 years old, had been released from prison after serving ten years for the murder of her husband, Max Garvie, and Wendy wanted to see her, she needed to see her, needed to talk about what happened with someone who was there. Her brother, Lloyd, had been too young at the time and her sister, Angela, didn’t want to talk about it, she had moved on and was doing fine and Wendy had grown apart from them. Wendy would soon realise that Sheila, her mother, wasn’t going to be her saviour, she didn’t want to talk about it either, it was in the past and she was looking forward.

Following her release from prison, Sheila had moved to Aberdeen to run her aunt’s guest house and one of the guests staying there was David McLellan who was from Rhodesia, now modern days Zimbabwe, and within six months of being released from prison Sheila had married David. This marriage lasted only a couple of years, with Sheila saying that she’d only married David because she had been lonely following being released from prison. Not long after the divorce Sheila left the guesthouse and Aberdeen and moved to Stonehaven, about 16 miles or 26 kilometres south of Aberdeen, and about 15 miles or 24 kilometres from where she had lived with her murdered first husband, Maxwell Garvie, where she ran a bed and breakfast. Soon after moving to Stonehaven she met and married Charles Mitchell, who was a drilling engineer, and the pair remained happily married in Stonehaven until December 1992 when sadly Charles died of a heart attack. Sheila continued to stay in Stonehaven and run the bed and breakfast following Charles’ death. She never married again. In her later years, Sheila developed dementia and went to live in a nursing home. She continued to deny any knowledge of what had happened to her husband, Max, on the evening of the 14th of May 1968 until her death in December 2014 at the age of 80.

Brian Tevendale also had been released in 1978 when he was 32 years old. Whilst in prison he struck up a relationship with a female who wrote to prisoners and the pair were married. Brian and his new wife moved to Scone in Perth, about 65 miles or 104 kilometres away from where Sheila ran her bed and breakfast, where Brian was a pub landlord. According to the Free Library in an article in the Scottish Daily Record newspaper in 1999, 30 years after Max was murdered, Brian Tevendale finally broke his silence about his involvement in the murder. He said that Sheila had planted the seed saying that it would be better if Max was out of the way. He said that he was infatuated with Sheila, thought that he was in love and would have done anything for her, and so the pair started to plot Max’s downfall. He went on to say that Sheila had let him and Alan into the farmhouse that night and that Sheila had given him Max’s .22 rifle. He then admitted that he had then placed a pillow over Max’s face and had indeed shot Max once in the head while he lay on his back. He said he regretted it instantly and wished he could change that night, but he was completely under Sheila’s spell and knew that he had to see it through, he just wanted to be with Sheila and he thought that was the plan, however, he felt that Sheila had other ideas. Despite the pair living only about 65 miles or 104 kilometres away from each other, they never saw each other again. Brian continued to work as a landlord in his pub in Scone until December 2003 when, at the age of 57, he died of a heart attack, days before he planned to emigrate to Africa for a new life.

Trudi and Alfred Birse’s marriage was not able to survive the strain the murder and subsequent court case and revelations about their sex life and involvement in covering up Max’s murder had put on it, and so in 1971, three years after the trial, the couple split up, with Alfred getting custody of their three children. Alfred did remarry in 1984, however, he died a year later from cancer. Upon Trudi’s marriage failing, she began to work as a housekeeper, however, in 1988 she also died of cancer, four years after Alfred.

Wendy, Sheila’s long-suffering daughter, continued to suffer. She soon realised that her mother would not be able to help her through her torment, her grief, her guilt, leaving her feeling more lost and unloved as ever. Sadly, Wendy’s struggle, which had been inflicted upon her by people who should have been protecting and loving her, alienated her from her brother, Lloyd, and sister, Angela, as well as her own daughter, who Wendy had not had contact with since she left her ex-husband. Wendy continued to live in England and did eventually seek counselling and did manage to stabilise her drinking and mental health, eventually gaining employment in a local mental health charity shop. According to the Free Library, in 2001, when Wendy was 45, she reached out to the Daily Record newspaper to tell her side of the story. She said that “I don’t have a past and it’s difficult to look towards a future. What happened that night has ruined many people’s lives, including mine.” She went on to say that “It’s hard to hold down relationships when you come with as much baggage as I do. I just want to be able to put the past behind me now.” However, Wendy felt that the legacy of what happened that night lives on and she doesn’t think she will ever be able to escape it. Wendy went on to say that she does forgive her mother. She confirmed also that she would be starting to write a book about the murder, as she felt this was the only way she would be able to work through and deal with the baggage she perceives to carry. Sadly, the book Wendy vowed to write was never forthcoming, and Wendy died in 2015 at the age of 59, one year after her mother passed, possibly never having been able to work through the trauma she had experienced.

There are so many victims in this story; clearly Sheila was an abused wife and it was just the time she lived in that dictated that she must stay with her husband, must stay married, stay for the children, despite the torture and torment she was being subjected to by her husband. However much of a brute Max appeared to be, he did not deserve to die. It was clear he had issues with drink and drugs, and he likely had homosexual tendencies, which at that time was illegal. Again, had he been living in today’s society, he would have been able to explore those feelings without reprisal. Brian also was a victim, he loved Sheila so much, he would have done anything for her, and he couldn’t stand to see her being treated so poorly by Max. Whether it was Sheila who instigated the plan to murder Max or whether Brian did of his own accord, whether Sheila pulled the trigger or Brian did will never be known for sure, but what is known is that Brian was infatuated with Sheila and had been manipulated by Max, he too was a victim. However, Wendy was the inadvertent victim and seems the person who had the most deep rooted and long-lasting trauma. Like I said, a lot of the details for this episode came from the fantastic podcast The Storyteller Violent Delights by Isla Traquair.

It’s a ten episode podcast with additional bonus episodes, and there is so much more information about this case in that podcast that I could not possibly say in this episode. It is so informative with interviews and re-enactments of the trial by voice actors. I would highly recommend giving this podcast a listen if you would like to know even more about the life and the love triangle of Max, Sheila and Brian.

So that’s it, come back next time for another episode of Scottish Murders.

Granny Robertson:

Scottish Murders is a production of Cluarantonn.


Dawn and Cole Collaborated on Storytellers with Legendary Africa Podcast

Dawn and Cole were honoured to guest on the fantastic podcast Storytellers, along with Theshira from the amazing Legendary Africa Podcast, where we each contributed to a fictional short story, and oh did it go in one crazy direction. We'd highly recommend checking it out! So much fun was had by all.


The Short Shorts Story – The Promise featuring Dawn

Jonas from The Short Shorts Podcast  is such a creative writer, and invited Dawn to record The Promise, another one of his fantastic and emotive short stories.,  We'd highly recommending giving this story a listen.


Update following Special Announcement

Following the Special Announcement on 28th February about Cole stepping back from doing the podcast as regularly, I can now give you a further wee update about the direction Scottish Murders will take for the rest of this year. From April, each month will be themed episodes, with April’s theme being Love Triangles. Another month’s theme this year will be serial killers victims, and I’ll be having a chat with a special guest in one of these episodes.

Also, as it will be Scottish Murders’ one year anniversary in July, that month will be an extra special theme, so stay tuned for more updates about this, and other themes coming this year from Scottish Murders.


The Janet Rogers Murder

The Janet Rogers Murder

Episode Summary

In March 1866, Janet Rogers had gone to her brother’s farm to help him out for a while. Two days after her arrival, Janet was found savagely and brutally murdered.

Please Be Advised – This episode may contain content that some may find distressing. As always, we advise listener discretion. This episode it not suitable for anyone under the age of 13.

Listen on:

The Mount Stewart Murder

by Chris Paton

Synopsis

In March 1866, Janet Rogers travelled to the Perthshire-based farm of her brother, William Henderson, to help with chores while he looked for a new domestic servant. Three days later she was found dead in the farm kitchen, killed by multiple blows from an axe. Ploughman James Crichton was suspected of the atrocity, and after a lengthy investigation was arrested and tried in Perth, with the case duly found non-proven.

Was Crichton the guilty party? If not, why did William Henderson try to frame him? Why was the previous servant on the farm sacked, and why did she wait eight months to accuse Crichton of being responsible? And what led to Henderson being driven insane, ultimately to end his days in a Perthshire lunatic asylum?

The murder investigation remains the UK’s oldest unsolved murder case. Just who was the killer at Mount Stewart Farm?

Scottish Murders is a production of Cluarantonn

Hosted by Dawn and Cole

Researched and Written by Dawn Young

Produced and Edited by Dawn Young and Peter Bull

Production Company Name by Granny Robertson

Music:

Dawn of the Fairies by Derek & Brandon Fiechter

Gothic Wedding by Derek & Brandon Fiechter

Dawn:

In March 1866 Janet Rogers had gone to help her brother out at his farm. Two days after her arrival Janet was found savagely and brutally murdered.

Dawn and Cole:

Hi Wee Ones, I’m Dawn and I’m Cole, and this is Scottish Murders.

[THEME TUNE]

Dawn:

Janet Rogers, who was 55 years old in 1866, had been happily married to James Rogers for 30 years. James was a labourer by trade and tended to spend a lot of time away from home working on large estates. The couple had five daughters. Their eldest daughter, also called Janet who was 28, was married to William Hay Paton and the couple had three sons, making Janet and James proud grandparents. James and Janet’s two youngest daughters, Anne and Mary, continued to live at home with Janet and James, but they both had secured themselves work as weavers. James and Janet and their two youngest daughters lived in a village called Airntully in Perth.. Airntully is a village in the Perth and Kinross area, west of the River Tay, about eight miles or 12 kilometres north of Perth and about 53 miles or 85 kilometres north west of Edinburgh. Airntully had thrived on cottage weaving from the 18th century, and to this day the village remains a relatively unspoiled charm.  Airntully  village was also where Janet, her younger brother William and their two younger sisters had been brought up. Janet and her three sisters got married and left the family home, but William, who was two years younger than Janet, did not marry and continued to stay with his parents, until his mother’s death of heart disease around 1843. At this time William and his father, Andrew, had been devastated by William’s mum’s death and they had reluctantly made the decision to move away from the long-established home, and indeed the village they had lived in for so many years, to take up a lease at Mount Stewart Farm, which was located just outside the small village of Forgandenny, about 15 miles or 24 kilometres south of Airntully. This decision had proven fruitful for the pair as there was much work to do to make the farm a success and it kept the two happily busy. Over the years their employees had grown to include several labourers to help with the work on the farm, as well as a domestic servant to keep house and clean up after the men and prepare their meals. All of their hard work was paying off and the two men again became financially comfortable and content with life. This was until April 1851 when William’s father, Andrew, suddenly died from influenza. This was yet another blow for William, one that was thought he never recovered from. Following his dad’s death, William took over the lease of Mount Stewart Farm solely and took care of the day-to-day running of the livestock and the crops. He also inherited £164, which is about £23,000  and $31,000 in today’s money, from his father, so he was financially well off. However, now he had nobody else to rely on but himself. William continued to work the farm with his labourers relatively happily until the cattle plague, which was first detected on British shores in July 1865, began to ravage its way through the country. Farmers all across the United Kingdom were having to slaughter their animals to try to stop the spread, but it was all to no avail. While it seemed that the plague had not entered the Forgandenny parish as yet, William did begin to struggle financially due to the plague that was affecting his fellow farmers across the country, and he had to lay off most of his laborers. However, he found that he just couldn’t manage everything by himself, and so in October 1865 William hired John Crichton to be his ploughman, one less job for him to do. William also continued to have a domestic servant to help keep the house in order and to cook his meals, however, he seemed to find them difficult to hold on to. In fact his latest servant had left abruptly on Thursday the 22nd of March 1866. Irritated by the servant’s bad timing of leaving him at a particularly difficult time when he especially needed an extra pair of hands to help him as he had an expectant cow who was due to give birth any day, William travelled by horse and cart to his sister Janet’s home in Airntully, which was 15 miles or 24 kilometres north of Mount Stewart Farm, to ask if one of his nieces would be able to come to Mount Stewart Farm and help him out until he found another domestic servant. His sister Janet wouldn’t hear of it, insisting that she would come herself as there was no one else better able to keep house and tend to the expectant cow than herself. William was delighted and expected the pair to set off back to Mount Stewart Farm that day.  However, Janet told him that she had things to do before she could leave her house for a while, so he could pick her up at the railway station in Perth, about 7 miles or 11 kilometres from Forgandenny, on Wednesday instead. Remember however this was back in 1866 when there was only horse and carts, no main roads or cars, so not only would this have taken longer than it would in a car today but also the going would have been rough.  Anyway, it wasn’t an ideal situation for William as he would have to travel to Perth to pick Janet up, again taking time away from his farm, but it was the best he was going to get. So he travelled back south by himself that day, promising to pick Janet up on Wednesday the 28th from the railway station, which he did, and the pair then travelled back to Mount Stewart Farm. Janet then spent the next couple of days settling in and getting the house in some order. Back in 1866, Wednesdays and Fridays were market days in Perth but Friday’s market was the main event, and so on Friday the 30th of March 1866 William, as usual, planned to spend the day in Perth at the market. Upon waking, William went about his duties in the farm, before giving his ploughman, John Crichton, the tasks he wanted him to do that day, which was to remove fence posts that were erected between two of the farmers fields, before ploughing the whole area. The ploughman would barely have acknowledged William’s demands as the pair were definitely not on speaking terms, as William had had a break-in at the farm in January that year and he had been robbed. He blamed John Crichton for the break-in, although he could never prove it. On the day of the break-in John and William had gone to the market in Perth early on a Friday to buy some farming supplies, however William had business to attend to in Perth so he asked John to take the horse and cart back to Mount Stewart Farm and unload the delivery. William didn’t arrive back at the farm until the evening. When he made his way to his bedroom to change he found that the window in his room had been broken. Upon further inspection of his bedroom, William noted that money he had kept in his room was missing, along with a watch, a chain and a pair of trousers. William reported this break-in and robbery to the police officer in Forgandenny but the culprit was never caught. William however was positive in his own mind that his ploughman, John Crichton, had been behind it, having had plenty of opportunity to break in while William had been away in Perth all day. However, with no evidence what could he do. So, with William no longer trusting John and John obviously being aware of being suspected of the robbery, the relationship grew tense, until they were barely on speaking terms. So, upon William making sure that John had understood the tasks he was to do that day, William then returned to the farmhouse where he and Janet sat and had their breakfast.  Shortly after breakfast William got his horse and cart ready, said bye to his sister and about 10am he set off for Perth. While at the market William attended an auction where he purchased a pig. With business complete he then took himself to his favourite tavern where he met fellow farmers. They then all proceeded to spend the rest of the day having a good old gossip about the state of affairs in the world and closer to home, namely the cattle plague that was inching closer and closer, while obviously partaking in a few drinks. Having enjoyed his afternoon in Perth, William set off for home about 5pm, arriving in Bridge of Earn about 6pm. Bridge of Earn is about four miles or six kilometres south of Perth, and three miles or four kilometres west of Forgandenny. William had stopped here to pick up some supplies, before carrying on towards home. It was about 7pm when William finally made it to Mount Stewart Farm. By this time it was pitch black. William noted that John was still at the farm in the stables and so shouted to him to come and help him unload the supplies and the pig from the cart. Having done this John took off for home and William made for the kitchen door, longing for his bed no doubt. However, when he reached the door he found it to be locked. Again, this might not seem unusual for nowadays, but back then doors were rarely locked. He banged on the door and window to the kitchen shouting to Janet to let him in, but the room beyond remained dark. Getting no response he turned to ask John if he had seen Janet recently as obviously he had still been at the farm, but John had disappeared down the hill towards his cottage already. William made his way round to the other entrance to the house, which was barely used, however this door was locked too. Then something came back to William, something his sister had said to him when he had collected her from the railway station in Perth. She said that she had sent a note to their Uncle who lived in Perth asking if she could visit him, and she said to William just two days earlier that if he replied and said yes you could come and visit she would be taking off.  So William thought perhaps she had heard word and had left to go to Perth, but surely she would have mentioned it to John, the ploughman  before going. But maybe John had been busy in one of the fields and instead she had left the back door key with John’s wife. John and his wife lived in one of the two cottages at the bottom of the hill to Mount Stewart Farm. So, perhaps a bit irritated and most definitely cold by this time, William made his way down the hill to John’s cottage. Upon speaking to the ploughman he found out that John didn’t actually know that Janet was William’s sister.  He said that he had seen her about 11am standing at the kitchen door talking to a man, but that he had not seen her since. Now perhaps thinking that Janet had indeed received a note from their uncle and had taken off to see him, forgetting maybe to leave the keys behind, William accepted that the only way he would be getting into his property that night would be through a window. Knowing that all the windows on the ground floor would be locked, William just hoped that Janet had left the window in her bedroom unlocked. William retrieved a ladder from one of the sheds, he placed the ladder against the side of the house and began to climb tentatively up the ladder in the dark. Upon reaching the top he once again called out Janet’s name just in case she had taken herself to bed unwell, but there was again no reply. He then gently opened the window, which he was grateful to find was unlocked, and made his way through into the house. He glanced in the direction of the bed once again checking to see if Janet was there, but nope the bed was empty. William then slowly made his way down the stairs in the dark and fumbled his way towards the kitchen, bearing in mind there was no electricity back then and he hadn’t had a chance to light any candles yet. As he opened the door to the kitchen it too would have been pitch black if it were not for the remains of a long ago lit fire burning ever so slightly. Once in the kitchen William made his way to one of the drawers to get a candle to light. On the way he tripped over something lying on the floor, it was a wooden chair from around the table that had been knocked over. With his eyes now adjusting to the darkness in the kitchen, William saw something else lying on the floor that looked to be a bundle of clothes. Getting closer to the clothing William realised that it was actually the bedding from a small bed that was in the kitchen for the servants when they worked there.  Wondering what on earth they were doing there he went closer to pick them up, and upon lifting the top sheet up he saw an outstretched hand. He was shocked and dropped the sheet, before composing himself and lifting it up completely to reveal his sister’s face staring back at him with open eyes. William could not process what he was seeing at first. He then realised that he was standing in something wet, and upon closer inspection in the dim light realised to his horror that it was blood. Janet’s blood. He also then noticed that Janet’s hair was covered in blood as well, as well as the caps she was wearing on her head and the blanket that had been covering her. In a state of shock he quickly left the house through the front door, which thankfully did have a key in it, and made his way back to the cottages at the bottom of the hill to Mount Stewart Farm. As he did not get on with the ploughman, William made his way to the cottage next door where a man named James Barlas lived with his wife and two sons, who were in the process of eating a late supper as James had returned late from working in Bridge of Earn that day. By this time William was in a state of hysteria and shouted at the man that he had to come quickly as he had found his sister dead surrounded by blood. The two men and James’s wife made their way back to the farmhouse. James’s wife stayed outside but James went into the farmhouse and saw for himself the horrendous scene in the kitchen. Stepping outside to discuss what to do next, the two men noticed that Crichton was talking to James’s wife. James’s son had apparently gone next door to the Crichtons cottage and had excitedly told the family of what William had said, leaving John feeling that he should come and see if he could help in any way. Upon having the murder confirmed by James, Crichton stated that he would go to Forgandenny and let the police officer there know. It was then decided that William would go to Bridge of Earn and get Dr Laing and let the police officer there know too. William then set off on foot to walk the approximate three miles or four kilometres to Bridge of Earn. When William knocked on Dr Laing’s door he was told by his wife that he wasn’t at home, but that she was expecting him to be on the train due to arrive shortly in Bridge of Earn coming from Edinburgh, which would then go on to Perth. William’s next stop was the police station where he told Constable Alexander Cumming of what he had come across at his farm, and the pair immediately headed to the railway station to await the doctor’s arrival. While they were waiting for the train to arrive, the Constable suggested that William write a note requesting that the Procurator Fiscal in Perth come as soon as possible saying that there had been a murder at the farm.

Cole:

Just so everyone knows, a Procurator Fiscal is a public prosecutor in Scotland.

Dawn:

Yep, it is. This note was then given to a passenger on the station platform waiting for the train to take them to Perth that evening, who agreed to kindly go to the offices of the Procurator Fiscal and give them the note. At about 9.20pm, the train pulled into Bridge of Earn Station and Dr Laing was quickly apprised of the situation, and all three men made their way to the carriage that had been there to pick up Dr Laing to take him home, but instead was used to transport them all to Mount Stewart Farm. Upon arriving back at the farm, Dr Laing and Constable Cumming’s were met by Constable Rowley from Forgandenny. Constable Rowley led the two newcomers into the house via the front door and into the kitchen, where, by the light of a single candle that had been lit, Dr Laing confirmed what was already known, that Janet was indeed dead. It was decided that all that could be done was to secure the crime scene and to await the arrival of the Procurator Fiscal and his team. Unfortunately, the Fiscal was at another location, so the Deputy Procurator Fiscal John Young, Superintendent Henry McDonald, Criminal Officer Sergeant Charles Ross, and a couple of other police officers, finally arrived at Mount Stewart Farm at 12.40am.  Thoughtfully, by this time, the waiting constables from the local area had made sure that the room was illuminated as well as it could be by plenty of candles, to allow for both Janet and the crime scene to be carefully examined. Dr Laing was then given permission to go back into the kitchen and have a rudimentary perusal of Janet’s body, and he was shocked by the sight that awaited him. His observations were that Janet’s body was still warm to the touch, estimating that Janet may have died somewhere between afternoon to late evening. He noted a wound stretching from her earlobe to her cheek, and that due to the amount of blood on the back of the caps you wore on her head there most likely were more wounds on the back of her head. He stated that the wounds had most likely been caused by a weapon hitting her and not something she would have sustained from merely falling over. Dr Laing would need to wait for a warrant to be delivered to him before he could move or examine Janet’s body any further, which the Deputy Fiscal John Young planned on obtaining once the crime scene had been examined and secured. Dr Laing left the kitchen area to allow for a full examination of the kitchen to take place by Superintendent Henry McDonald and Sergeant Charles Ross. Upon examination of the kitchen, it was noted that an axe with blood and hair on its blade was leaning against a wall, bloodied footprints were seen in front of the fire, blood drops had spattered on items around the room, a pair of women’s bloodied leather boots were found near the bed in the kitchen, which were assumed to have been removed from Janet’s feet after she had been killed but it wasn’t clear why. They also found three paper bags on the table, two empty and one with snuff in it bought by Janet.

Cole:

Okay, so what’s snuff?

Dawn:

It’s tobacco made from ground or pulverized tobacco leaves. It’s not smoked but inhaled up the nose. Snuffed.

Cole:

Okay, I’ve never heard of that before.

Dawn:

Yeah, I hadn’t either, but our gran had. I asked her, she told me.

Cole:

Oh did she.

Dawn:

Yeah. That’s because she’s a wrong-un. She must have been snuffing in her time.

Dawn:

(Laughs) Two of the bags were covered with blood having been touched by the murderer. They also found under a pillow on the floor in the kitchen a broken clay pipe with pieces missing and a tin top. A tin top has holes in it like a pepper or salt shaker, and it’s placed over the end of the pipe to keep the tobacco good. The men noticed that the room looked like it had been pulled apart, as if somebody had been looking for something, the furniture was overturned and drawers were removed from the cabinets. A mental note was made to ask William if anything was missing, or was this perhaps just an attempt at misdirection. For completeness, an architect, by the name of David Smart, was also called upon to draw plans of both the house and all the rooms, taking extra time to record the exact placement of the items in the crime scene. David went as far as re-enacting how William had gained entry to the house the previous evening, assuring himself and the police officers that it could actually be done. The two officers, having examined the kitchen thoroughly and making extensive notes, as well as being confident that the crime scene was secure, decided that the Deputy Fiscal would head back to Perth to secure a warrant for Dr Laing to examine Janet’s body fully. Just before the Deputy Fiscal climbed into the waiting carriage, he firstly wanted to speak to Constables Cumming and Rowley about their opinions of William Henderson and John Crichton, upon being summoned by each man to come to the farm. Constable Cumming stated that William had told him that he had been at the market all day, before returning to the farm about 7pm and describing what happened when he got there. Constable Cumming said that obviously William had been agitated at this time. However, the Constable did note that when he had asked William if he thought the killer had still been on the property he had said no, but had gone red at the same time, something the Constable had found strange. Constable Rowley said that John Crichton had been calm and simply told him of what had occurred at the farm that evening, although when relaying the story he said that he believed it was William who had killed his sister, stating that he believed that William had plenty of time to kill Janet in the time he had left William at the farm and William had appeared at the cottages saying he had found Janet. Constable Rowley did admit though that the pair didn’t exactly get on. The Deputy Fiscal then departed for Perth, while William Henderson, John Crichton and James Barlas were asked to go into the parlour and wait to be questioned. While a police officer stood guard at Mount Stewart Farm to preserve the crime scene and William Henderson, John Crichton and James Barlas remained in the parlour to be questioned, back in Perth the Deputy Fiscal was relaying his findings to Chief Constable Gordon and Mr Hugh Barcley, who was the Sheriff substitute of the county. Following the briefing, a warrant to enable the post-mortem of Janet’s body to be carried out was sought, which would be delivered to Mount Stewart Farm within a few hours. Chief Constable Gordon, a second physician Dr George Absolon, the Deputy Fiscal and a couple of constables then set off for Mount Stewart Farm, arriving shortly before 7am on the Saturday morning. Chief Constable Gordon first went to the crime scene to look around for himself, as well as asking for a debrief from Dr Laing, Superintendent Henry McDonald and Sergeant Charles Ross, who had all stayed at the farm and had informally spoken to all three men being held in the parlour. It was reported that Crichton had remained calm and quiet, and it was felt that if he had committed the murder he would have been more agitated, especially at having to stay put in the house where the murder had been committed, but he had an air of almost being uninterested in what had taken place or was going on. William Henderson was said to have been in shock, and that James Barlas had no real part in what had happened other than to be informed of the death by William and had come to check that Janet was indeed dead. It again was noted that the kitchen had been upended as if someone had been searching for something, and again it was to be determined if anything was actually missing or had this simply been done to suggest robbery was the motive for the murder. But then what other motive could there possibly have been? Following Chief Constable Gordon being appraised by his colleagues, he finally ventured in to talk to the three men waiting in the parlour.  Firstly though, as it had been determined that James Barlas had nothing actually to do with the investigation, he was allowed to leave and go home. William Henderson and John Crichton were asked for their versions of events of what had happened the evening before. William was asked if he or Janet had smoked but he said they didn’t. Both men were then asked to remove their clothes so they could be examined for blood. It was noticed as the pair began to remove their clothes that there was a vast difference in their cleanliness, with William’s appearing to have been worn continuously without being washed for weeks, whereas John’s clothing appeared to have been put on fresh. Neither men’s clothes were noted to have any blood on them and they were returned to the men to put back on. William was then asked to accompany the officers through the house to try to determine if anything had been taken. This is when it was noted that it wasn’t just the kitchen area that looked like it had been turned upside down as William’s bedroom was in the same state. Upon searching the strewn about contents of William’s bedroom, he determined that money he had kept there was missing, however, everything else seemed to be accounted for. With William and John  having had their clothes examined, been questioned and William’s bedroom having been checked for anything missing, and no sign of the warrant as yet, there was nothing left to do but wait for the Procurator Fiscal and the warrant to arrive, which both did just before 9am, accompanied also by Constable John Cameron who was also a criminal investigator with Perth Constabulary. Dr Laing and Dr Absolon set about the task of fully examining Janet’s body.

Cole:

Oh so Janet’s body was going to be examined at the farm?

Dawn:

Yes, it was. Post-mortems were typically carried out at the actual location of the incident. And so tables within the kitchen area were used to lay Janet’s body on, they were replaced as close to the window as possible to ensure the most light. The kitchen door would have been opened to give even more light but unfortunately the key to this door was still missing. Once Janet’s body was on the table and everyone had been asked to leave the kitchen, apart from the two doctors, the Fiscal, Constable Cameron and Chief Constable Gordon, Janet’s clothes were then removed, including the two caps she still had on her head which were covered in blood. A small snuff box was found between Janet’s breasts and was given to the officers present outside as evidence.

Cole:

Right, okay, so a snuff box, is that where you keep your snuff?

Dawn:

Exactly. It’s just a wee tin box.

Cole:

Got you.

Dawn:

From the post-mortem, the doctors found that there had been bleeding around the eye causing discoloration to Janet’s skin, that there was a cut from the lobe of Janet’s ear to the back of her ear, which had gone all the way through to her brain tissue. Many wounds were also found on the top of Janet’s head, some larger than others but between one and five inches in length, as well as cuts on the other side of Janet’s head. She had clearly been struck many times. With the post-mortem completed, the doctors told the waiting police officers that they determined that Janet had died due to the blows to the head she had sustained, with bone going into her brain tissue, and that time of death was between 2pm and 3pm. The Fiscal, Constable Cameron and Chief Constable Gordon were all thinking the same thing, that the murder could not have been carried out by William Henderson as he had been at the market in Perth all day and did not return home until 7pm, which both James Barlas and John Crichton had confirmed. Following this revelation, Chief Constable Gordon ordered that an immediate search be carried out to determine if there were any strangers present in the area on the Friday, and if so they should be found. While police officers went door to door in the local and surrounding areas trying to find any information they could, back at Mount Stewart Farm all the evidence found was recorded and labelled.

Cole:

Now, with the shock of what had happened to Janet and the police trying to coordinate to get the right people and paperwork in place, Janet’s husband, James Rogers, had been forgotten. Now, it’s not as if someone could have just given him a phone call or popped round in the car being back in 1866, but maybe it would have been nice if a police officer in the area had been told to tell him that his wife had been brutally murdered.  Unfortunately they didn’t manage to do that, he found out from Janet’s brother-in-law, Peter, while he was at work. In a state and initially not believing what he was being told, James eventually arrived at Mount Stewart Farm about 12 noon on Saturday with Peter and Peter’s eldest daughter Mary. James and Mary found William inside and immediately broke down, James was in complete shock. James and William were allowed to go into the kitchen where Janet still lay on the table, with the crime scene still as it was when she was found. This further shocked James to see the room in such a disarray and his wife’s blood scattered around, but he composed himself and went to his wife. Having spent a few minutes with Janet he then turned to William and asked him to tell him what had happened. The pair spent some time together in the kitchen talking, trying to make sense of the senseless, before agreeing that the kitchen couldn’t stay the way it was and that they were going to have to clean it for Janet leaving. But before Janet, now having been washed and placed in a dress found in a room in the farmhouse, could be taken from the farm for burial on Sunday morning, William and James found themselves in the barn helping the cow give birth, the very reason that William had asked Janet to come and help him on the farm in the first place due to the imminent birth. Upon the birth of the cow, William finally broke down having held in the tears over the last couple of days. The two men comforted each other before carrying on quietly with their tasks, lost in their own thoughts, before finally exhausted and having worked up an appetite began to make their way to the farmhouse in the dark for their tea. Upon entering the front door, the kitchen door key still being missing, they heard a noise coming from the kitchen. When they opened the door they were surprised to see a woman there obviously looking for something within the bedding on the bed in the kitchen. When the men came through the door she let out a yelp and rushed past the two and out the door, disappearing into the night before either men could get a word out. It turned out the woman was called Christina Miller and had been William’s previous servant that had left the Thursday before, another reason why William had sought the help of his sister at the farm. William was pretty angry at the cheek of this woman to have walked out on him suddenly only to find her in his house without his permission, rummaging through stuff. But the incident was soon forgotten as the pair set about preparing and eating their meal. The following morning, now Monday, James happened to come across William’s ploughman, John Crichton. They spent a moment chatting, with John making it clear he was not fond of William and that he suspected him of the killing. James asked John if he had seen anyone around the farmhouse on the Friday, to which John replied that yes, he had seen a man at the kitchen door talking to Janet about 11am.

Dawn:

Which was the exact same thing that he’d said to William himself on the night William found his sister dead.

Cole:

The pair parted company and it wasn’t long before the undertaker’s carriage arrived to collect Janet and take her and James back home to Airntully, where Janet’s funeral would take place. James said bye to William, with William replying that he would see him in Airntully for the funeral, before Janet started her journey taking her to her final resting place. Janet’s funeral took place on Thursday the 5th of April, six days after her body had been found. Many friends and family gathered outside Janet and James’s home in Airntully to see Janet’s coffin be carried from her home to the waiting hearse. Janet’s husband, her brother and her uncles followed behind in a coach, followed by other male mourners who walked behind. It was a custom that women would not attend a funeral, and so Janet’s female relative stayed behind at Janet’s home already having said their goodbyes. Hopefully it wouldn’t be long before Janet’s murderer would be caught and her family could finally grieve in peace.

Dawn:

Now, upon door-to-door inquiries been carried out in the area, it was quickly established by Constable Cumming that there had been a visitor seen in the area on the Friday, not just that but that they had been seen walking up the hill to Mount Stewart Farm at about 11.30am. The visitor’s name was Betsy Riley and she was a hawker who lived in Perth.

Cole:

Okay, so what’s a hawker?

Dawn:

It’s a person who has various items to sell and travels about the place going door to door trying to get a buyer. In Betsy’s case she was selling pottery. Now, Betsy, who was 48 and married, was quickly located at her address in Perth and brought to the Fiscal’s office for questioning by the Fiscal himself, John McLean, also Sheriff Barclay and Superintendent McDonald.

Cole:

That must have been really intimidating for her to be sat in front of all of them.

Dawn:

Yeah, it must have been, I would have been intimidated. Anyway, they told her that there had been a murder at Mount Stewart Farm and that they’d been told she had been at the farm on the same day and could she tell them if she saw anything or anyone strange while she was there.  Betsy explained that she’d only gone up towards Mount Stewart Farm to get access to a footpath on the other side of the yard, and that she hadn’t actually gone up to the farm to sell her wares as she had seen William Henderson heading for market so she hadn’t expected anyone to be in the farmhouse. However, she went on to say that as she was walking towards the farm she saw a woman, who was presumed to have been Janet, standing at the kitchen door speaking to a man. She approached the pair but was told that nothing was needed and so she kept walking. When she was asked for a description of the man, Betsy said that she had only got a brief look at the side of his face, which she thought hadn’t been shaved, that he might have been about 40 years old, about five foot eight inches, wore a dark coat, dirty trousers and a dark cap with a long peak. She also said that there was a dog lying there too, but she didn’t know who it belonged to. Betsy advised that she hadn’t come back via Mount Stewart Farm and that she hadn’t seen the man again. Betsy also said something a bit scathing about William, she implied that he couldn’t keep a servant as he was always trying to get a bit more for his money, as in bed them. The men in the room quickly shut this down as it was not helpful to the investigation and they were not interested in that kind of gossip. Upon Betsy leaving the room it was immediately decided that Betsy’s description of the man seen at the kitchen door talking to Janet would be circulated, which it was on the 2nd of April 1866, five days after Janet had been found brutally murdered. Journalists by this time had also heard about the murder and the details of Janet’s brutal murder was printed in newspapers far and wide. With this, along with a description of the man seen by Betsy being circulated, it wasn’t long before telegrams from police stations throughout Scotland started to arrive at Perth. One of which advised that a man meeting the description circulated had been caught and was in custody at Burntisland police station in Fife. Deciding that the only way to determine if the man being held at Burntisland was indeed the man Betsy had described was for Constable Cameron and Superintendent McDonald to travel there by train and bring the suspect back to Perth with them for Betsy to identify. Upon seeing the man Betsy immediately said that it wasn’t the man she had seen. Plus, this man also had an alibi, he had been about 22 miles or 35 kilometres away in Longforgan, not far from Dundee, where he had spent the night in a local inn, which was confirmed. Two days later on the 4th of April, full details of who had been murdered, a description of the murder scene, the fact that the kitchen door key was missing and its description and again the description of the man seen speaking to Janet at the kitchen door on the day of her murder, was circulated to the newspapers and the surrounding areas, again asking for anyone with any information to come forward. Also on the 4th of April, Detective Officer James Leadbetter from the Edinburgh police arrived in Perth to help the investigation and cast his more experienced eye over the evidence and details of the case. Upon being updated on the case so far, Detective Leadbetter, Constable Cameron and the Fiscal made their way to Mount Stewart Farm to formally interview William Henderson and John Crichton, where Leadbetter could also take the opportunity to familiarise himself with the farm and farmhouse. While Detective Leadbetter was being shown around the farm, Constable Cameron decided to have a chat with John Crichton. While the pair were chatting, Cameron took out his pipe and lit it, before asking if Crichton would also like a light for his pipe, to which Crichton replied that he didn’t smoke.

Cole:

Alright, I see, so he’s kind of sneakily trying to determine if maybe that broken pipe that was found in the farmhouse kitchen could have been his?

Dawn:

Yes, exactly. Detective Cameron then told Crichton that he would be interviewed next and they would see him at his cottage. The

Cole:

Three police officers then went to the farmhouse with William Henderson to interview him. William went over the events again of his day leading up to Janet being found, but there was no change, his story remained the same. Detective Leadbetter then asked William about his domestic servants and the fact that there had been rumors that he may have been trying to have relations with some of them, to which William angrily denied that this was rubbish, he had no interest, despite the best efforts of his last servant Christina Miller. He went on to say that she had basically tried to throw herself at him but that he just wasn’t interested and so shunned her. Only for her then to turn her attention onto John Crichton and turn nasty against William, trying to show him up in front of Crichton and generally make his life impossible. He continued that the day before he had sacked Christina she had just disappeared, before appearing again the next day. A fight had ensued again, getting so bad that John Crichton stepped in to ensure that William would not strike Christina. William then promptly sacked Christina and told her to collect her things, items which she had in her chest from the kitchen, and leave at once. Crichton apparently had taken Christina’s chest to his house for her to collect at a suitable time. William then was asked to tell them about his relationship with Crichton, to which William repeated the story of the robbery months earlier at his home and his suspicions, as well as the fact that he suspected Crichton may have murdered Janet too. He was however unable to offer any proof of either allegations. When asked if there was anything else he would like to say, William said that before finding Janet’s body Crichton had said to him that he’d seen Janet talking to a man at the kitchen door about 11am, a fact which he had repeated in the presence of Janet’s husband, James. This was new information to the police. William went on to say that he had noticed when he had returned from the market on Friday night that Crichton had changed his clothes, having worn darker, dirtier items in the morning before William had set off to the market, but had been wearing new clean clothes on his return, namely a white jacket and a shirt, as well as different trousers. All men agreed that this was new information and would be followed up. Next up was Crichton himself. The three officers ventured down the hill from Mount Stewart Farm to Crichton’s cottage, where they were met at the door and brought into the kitchen, where to their surprise was not only Crichton’s wife but Christina Miller.

Dawn:

Oh right, had she come back for her chest?

Cole:

So yes, and no. She’d come back for her chest but had decided to stay with the Crichtons for a few days, as it turned out she was the cousin of Crichton’s wife.

Dawn:

Oh Okay.

Cole:

Once Christina and Crichton’s wife had left the kitchen the interview began. Crichton was first asked when he had saw Janet, to which he had replied that he had seen her talking to William just before he left for the market. When asked if he had seen Janet again that day he replied no. Upon being told that William had reported Crichton had told him he had seen Janet about 11am talking to a man he replied that William was mistaken.

Dawn:

Hang on a second, but he had told not only William that but Janet’s husband, James. I wonder why he’s changing his story now.

Cole:

He did. However, he did go on to say that he had seen a man walking along a footpath near to where he was ploughing a field at about 3pm. Unfortunately he was too far away for Crichton to give a description of this man, although he did say he wore dark clothing and could have been middle-aged.

Dawn:

Okay, well that’s new information.

Cole:

We haven’t heard that before, but it’s a bit funny that his story is changing now. Crichton was then asked what clothes he’d been wearing that day. He replied he had worn a white jacket, white vest and trousers. [laughs]

Dawn:

What?

Cole:

Just… [laughs]  in my mind I went, oh kinky asking him what he was wearing.

Dawn:

[laughs] Trust you.

Cole:

When it was put to him that they had been advised he had been wearing darker clothes in the morning and that he had perhaps changed clothing throughout the day he denied this, going on to say that on Thursday he had changed his clothes midway through the day and put on these same clothes on the Friday morning, but insisted that he didn’t change his clothes throughout Friday. Upon being asked to describe his relationship with William, Crichton confirmed that there had been some tension between the two, and that there were apparently clear signs of contempt shown for William.  Crichton further bad-mouthed his employer by backing up the rumours that Betsy had told the police about William having a reputation for trying to get his servants into bed. Regardless of the gossip about William’s reputation with his servants, William was not considered a suspect in Janet’s murder at all, he had definitely been at the market in Perth all day and he had not returned home until after Janet had been murdered. This didn’t stop the gossips talking and speculating about William’s involvement. Crichton on the other hand the police still had doubts about and questions that needed answering regarding his movements on the Friday, and what of the claims that he had definitely changed his clothes on the Friday. Of course though there was always still the man that Betsy had seen talking to Janet on the Friday to find. 

Dawn:

Hoping for more information from Crichton’s next door neighbours, James, his wife Jean and their son Robert, they too were interviewed. James had been at work all day and so wasn’t able to really give any information about the Friday, however, he did confirm that Crichton did smoke pipes, mainly at meal times.

Cole:

Oh, but didn’t Crichton tell the police officers that he didn’t smoke? 

Dawn:

Yes, he did. I think the police took note of this for now, maybe hoping to confirm that at a later date. He also confirmed the rumours about William’s ways with his servants. More interestingly though he said he had noticed a pair of Crichton’s trousers drying on the grass outside his house having been washed on the Friday.

Cole:

Oh he’s a very naughty man. [laughs] That’s very odd isn’t it?

Dawn:

Well, yes, it could be odd, but Crichton did say that he’d changed his clothes the day before, so maybe they were just getting round to washing the clothes on the Friday.

Cole:

We’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one.

Dawn:

But with other witnesses saying that Crichton had been wearing different clothes on the Friday then, yes, it does seem a bit strange.

Cole:

Or, I guess witnesses could just be confusing their days.

Dawn:

Yeah, cause he did say he’d changed his clothes on the Thursday, maybe they got mixed up between Thursday and Friday. I don’t know.

Cole:

It’s a possibility.

Dawn:

So James’s wife, Jean, said that she had been in Perth most of the day, but on returning at about 5pm she said she had seen a tub at the Crichtons back door and assumed that Mrs Crichton must have been washing that day, something Mrs Crichton didn’t normally do.

Cole:

What, wash?

Dawn:

[laughs] No! She didn’t normally wash clothes on a Friday.

Cole:

Alright, okay.

Dwan:

However, their son, Robert, had been at the house that day in the garden and he said that he too had seen an elderly man about 3pm walking near the farm.

Cole:

Alright, so that backs up what Crichton had said.

Dawn:

Yeah, it does. Robert also said that he had seen Crichton smoking a pipe, but couldn’t remember if this had been before or after Janet’s murder. He also couldn’t describe the pipe that Crichton had used.

Cole:

The pipe again! The pipe! I mean the pipe! It’s all about the pipe! They were really determined to establish if Crichton actually smoked because of the pipe under Janet’s body.

Dawn:

They were, they needed to know this.

Cole:

I need to know.

Dawn:

(laughs) So much so that Sergeant Ross attended the local shop to try to establish if Crichton or his family had ever bought tobacco there and this is what he found out. One shopkeeper remembered that following Janet’s murder Crichton had bought tobacco from his shop, but couldn’t remember if he had done so prior to the murder. However, he did say that the tobacco would have come with a new pipe.

Cole:

Oh, so it could have been Crichton’s pipe found at the farm and this was him getting a new pipe. Also, he said that he didn’t smoke so, you know, that seems like important information, seems like he’s trying to cover his back.

Dawn:

Well I just think they’re trying to establish if he smoked before, during, after the murder and what he smoked, what kind of pipe it was.

Cole:

They asked him straight out do you smoke? And he said no. So he’s a liar.

Dawn:

Another shop owner also said that he had sold Crichton tobacco a few times, but again couldn’t remember if this had been before or after Janet’s murder. Another shopkeeper questioned said that before the night of the murder she hadn’t even known Crichton, but apparently on the night of the murder he had come to the shop late asking for candles, at which point he told the lady about what had transpired at the farm and that he had seen someone talking to Janet about 11am.

Cole:

Okay, so he’s told William and James this, then he’s denied it to the police, now a completely independent shopkeeper is saying that he also told her this. Is he okay?

Dawn:

(laughs) I have no idea. I think he’s getting himself a wee bit confused as to what he’s told to whom by the sounds of it.

Cole:

I think that’s correct too, and do you know what it is Dawn, you can’t lie about the truth, you can’t get confused about the truth.

Dawn:

This is it, Colel. However, another man did confirm that Crichton had smoked a pipe on many an occasion in the past, as well as using snuff now and again, but that he hadn’t seen Crichton for quite some time so didn’t know if this was still the case.

Cole:

Oh god he’s a snuffler too. (laughs)

Dawn:

It just sounds disgusting.

Cole:

Okay, so we’re no further forward. He’s saying to the police that he doesn’t smoke a pipe, but he’s actively been seen buying tobacco, so I mean it sounds like he’s lying.

Dawn:

Yeah. It’s anyone’s guess at this point, does he smoke does he not smoke?

Cole:

But it’s not anyone’s guess, he smokes. [laughs] It’s not a guess, it’s fact, he smokes.

Dawn:

But was he smoking at the time of Janet’s death?

Cole:
Why is he telling me that he doesn’t smoke if he smokes? 

Dawn:

Yes, why lie? Why lie, unless you’ve got something to hide.

Cole:

And also, you know, if there’s a murder investigation going on and the police come to my door and say do you smoke? I’ll say occasionally, like, not often. I maybe did like two months ago, but I don’t anymore. Because it’s a murder investigation and I’d be pooing my pants by this point. I’d be open and honest. I wouldn’t say no, I don’t smoke, because then they’d go into my car and they’d find a packet of cigarettes and they’d say well, well well, what do we have here?

Dawn:

The other thing that the police were determined to establish is what Crichton had actually been wearing on the day of the murder, as there had been two different versions already. And so the police again visited local farmers to see if anyone had seen Crichton working in the fields on Friday, and more importantly what he had been wearing. And this is what they found out. One man had seen Crichton ploughing a field at about 11.30am and he said he had been wearing dirty working clothes. Another man had seen Crichton about 12 noon working with his horses on the land and had been wearing a jacket and dirty trousers. A third man had seen Crichton between 4 and 5pm ploughing the field, but this time wearing remarkably clean white clothing. 

Cole:

Alright, so he had changed his clothes that day and not on the Thursday like he said?

Dawn:

Well, that’s what it’s beginning to look like, yes. However, it wasn’t enough. Determined to keep the momentum going on the case and find Janet’s killer, a reward of £100, or about £12,000 or $16,500 in today’s money, was offered to anyone with information that led to a conviction. Following the reward being publicised, there were numerous names given of potential suspects from all over Scotland matching the description of the man in question. Each time the men in question were detained and police officers from Perth would collect the men and take them back to Perth station to be questioned, where, after having their alibis corroborated, Betsy would be sought to try and identify if it was the man she had seen at Mount Stewart Farm, each time answering in the negative, no. Until Tuesday the 17th of April when Betsy was once again asked to attend the police station to see if she could identify their latest potential suspect, a Mr John Henderson a hatter from Aberdeen.  This time after studying the man’s face closely Betsy’s reply was different. Betsy was convinced this was the man she had seen. The man had finally been caught! Although John Henderson vehemently denied the allegation, proclaiming he hadn’t even been in the area. Superintendent Henry McDonald though wasn’t quite as convinced that this was their man.  He decided to reserve judgment until after John Henderson had been questioned.

Cole:

What made him not so sure, do you know?

Dawn:

I think his feelings were that Betsy was a bit of a gossip, she liked to be the centre of attention and she also had a poorly husband and they badly needed some money. Now that there was a reward he maybe just wondered if there was an ulterior motive.

Cole:

Okay. Well did he have an alibi upon being questioned?

Dawn:

He did, yes. He said that he’d been in Edinburgh the day of the murder, as well as the days before and after, where he had been selling clothes. Fortunately he had the names and addresses of the places he had stayed whilst there, as well as the names of witnesses who could vouch for him being there. However, before John Henderson’s alibi could be corroborated, the newspapers got hold of the fact that John Henderson was being held in Perth station, and they were questioning why he was being detained longer than any of the previous men who’d been brought there to be identified by Betsy. Had the killer been caught? Now, you remember how I said that there had been gossip about William’s involvement in his sister’s murder, even though he’d had an alibi and was miles away at the time of death?

Cole:

Yeah.

Dawn:

Well, his brother-in-law, Janet’s husband, had gotten wind of this too and was none too pleased. He made a statement, which was reported in one of the newspapers, where he basically said that William had nothing to do with Janet’s death, saying what state William had been in when James had arrived on the farm and asking what his motive could possibly have been.  He urged people to stop the rumours and suspicions as William had nothing to do with it and the family didn’t need this. However, James didn’t stop there, he went on to basically rip apart the police from start to finish, right from when he had had to find out about Janet’s murder from a family member and not the police down to how he had serious concerns about the police’s efforts in finding Janet’s killer.

Cole:

But from what you’ve told me they’ve done everything right, they’ve done everything that they could so far.

Dawn:

Yeah, I feel the same, but James was grieving and he obviously wanted answers, they just weren’t coming quick enough for him.

Cole:

I understand that, but it seems like they’d already been under stress and pressure due to all the potential suspects that they had to eliminate, like, maybe he could just give them a little break.

Dawn:

Yeah, I think they were doing their absolute best. They wanted to solve the murderer too. Anyway, now the pressure was really on to be seen to be doing something and to bring Janet’s killer to justice as soon as possible.  However, the man that they currently had in their cells, who had been identified by Betsy as speaking to Janet the morning she died, and their best lead, was about to be blown apart. Following a thorough investigation in Edinburgh speaking to the accommodation owners where John Henderson said he’d been staying at the time of the murder, as well as the days before and after, everybody corroborated what he had said, that he had been staying there throughout this time. John was well known in Edinburgh and frequented the taverns and so there were many many witnesses who could also back up the fact that he had been drinking in taverns around the time the murder happened. Now, again, remember it’s back in 1866 so while it’s only 42 miles or 67 kilometres from Edinburgh to Forgandenny, that would have taken a lot longer back then by walking or by horse and cart than it would nowadays by car. For example, to walk that distance it would take about 14 hours.

Cole:

Yeah, there’s absolutely no way John could have walked 14 hours to Mount Stewart Farm, killed Janet, then walked all the way back to Edinburgh, firstly because someone would have seen him, secondly because it’s just too long to get there and back and not be missed in Edinburgh, it’s more than a whole day, even if he didn’t stop.

Dawn:

Exactly. And the police must have known this too, this wasn’t their man. Betsy had lied. 

Cole:
Well, you know that I think the man’s Crichton, so she was clearly just after the money wasn’t she?

Dawn:

Well, I think there’s two possibilities; she could have genuinely thought that this was the man or, yes, she did it for the money.

Cole:

Yeah. And obviously this is in a time where he would have been hanged for his crimes and she knew that and was still willing to commit him to that fate. What if he didn’t have an alibi and there were no witnesses?

Dawn:

Yeah, it doesn’t bear thinking about. I’d like to think that if that had been the case surely Betsy would have owned up about it. Thankfully though we’ll never know, as, following John Henderson’s account being corroborated, he was released.

Cole:

I bet the police were so disappointed. But, you know, they are looking in the wrong place, because it was Crichton.

Dawn:

You’re just determined aren’t you?

Cole:

I know who it was and my mind will not be changed.

Dawn:

Okay. Well, for the police it was back to the drawing board.

Cole:

It’s not, it shouldn’t be a very big drawing board, it should just have Crichton on. So what happened to Betsy?

Dawn:

Well, nothing, other than her testimony now was deemed not enough to make an arrest. Even worse though, thoughts started to creep in that if Betsy could lie about John Henderson being the man she had seen at the farm, what else could she lie about. Was her testimony one big lie?

Cole:

I mean, she did say that she saw the man at the farm before the reward was offered, so it could have been the truth.

Dawn:

Yeah, you’re right, it could have been but, because of the lie there were doubts cast. It’s a shame. After the police’s best suspect had been released the newspapers went to town and the pressure really mounted for the police. Now, do you remember that both James Crichton and Robert Barlas said that they saw an elderly man walking across the fields about 3pm on the Friday?

Cole:

Correct.

Dawn:

Well, this man was identified to be William Gormack, a 77 year old farmer who resided in Forgandenny. He had been walking across the field to get to a house nearby that he wanted to look at. When questioned he said that he’d seen Crichton come from the stables with two horses, where he harnessed them and started to plough the field, but that he couldn’t remember what he was wearing. He did add that he thought that as he had passed Mount Stewart Farm he had noticed that the kitchen door had been shut.

Cole:

So was this man a suspect at all?

Dawn:

No, no not at all, he was frail and very ill. No, the police saw him more as a potential witness, because he’d said that he thought at the time Crichton must have had a long lunch as 3pm was quite a late time to be starting back ploughing, his break should have been over by 2pm.

Cole:

Alright, okay, so do you think that he’d been up to something or was he just, you know, skiving? 

Dawn:

Who knows. However, with little actual evidence other than suspicions that Crichton may have changed his clothes in the middle of Friday and that he may have smoked a pipe in the past, it was felt that a conviction would not be sought if Mr Crichton was arrested at this stage, and so the case began to go cold. Just as the case began to halt, departmental changes were undertaken. Many of the officers involved in the Mount Stewart Farm case were moved to other departments and completely new officers were to take over. The Fiscal himself became so ill that he had to retire, eventually dying in February 1867. It was an unsettling time for all involved. These reshuffles would certainly contribute to the Mount Stewart Farm case going off the boil. Why on earth would you remove officers who had been investigating the murder case from day one and who knew all the ins and outs of it? Something was bound to be missed. Anyway, in May 1866, Crichton left Mount Stewart Farm to find work elsewhere, something that he would struggle with locally as many still had suspicions that he had been involved with Janet’s murder. Crichton eventually found work at a farm on the outskirts of Dunfermline, about 24 miles or 38 kilometres south of Forgandenny. Crichton wasn’t the only one who was struggling, William was finding it harder and harder to stay at the farm where his sister had been murdered in the kitchen, where he had to sit every night and eat.

Cole:

I think I’d have problems with that too you know.

Dawn:

(laughs) Yeah, it was definitely time for William to move on. In October 1866 William left Mount Stewart Farm for the last time, moving to Perth where he had rented a couple of rooms. Now, in November 1866 an interim Fiscal for Perth was appointed, James Barty, and he requested that all witnesses in the Mount Stewart Farm murder be re-interviewed, and this is where Betsy changed her story. She now wasn’t sure if the man she had seen at the door was indeed a stranger, he might actually have been someone from the area, but she hadn’t got a good look at him so couldn’t really say, before eventually admitting that her eyesight was failing and she didn’t see very well.

Cole:

She was adamant that that man, she had seen a man and he was going to hang for it, but now she’s saying oh my eyesight’s not too good.

Dawn:

Yeah, it was a bit of a blow. The other witnesses were also questioned but nothing new came up. The only person that hadn’t been questioned at all was William Henderson’s previous servant, Christina Miller.

Cole:

Oh yes, I’d forgotten about her. She’s not to be trusted either. I know she wasn’t in the area at the time but she was staying at Crichton’s house following Janet’s murder, maybe she had heard something.

Dawn:

That’s what the police thought too, and they certainly were concerned that the previous officers hadn’t thought it prudent to interview her. Anyway, Christina was brought in for questioning by James Barty himself, as well as Superintendent Henry McDonald. Christina began to tell about her time working for William Henderson at Mount Stewart Farm and it became clear that there was no love lost between them.  She reiterated that he had fired her and that her chest was taken to the Crichtons for her to collect at a later date. Christina was then asked whether Crichton had smoked a pipe before the murder, to which she confirmed that Crichton had, he regularly walked about the farm smoking his pipe. She also advised that it had been slightly broken and had a tin top.

Cole:

What a shocker, he smoked a pipe which was slightly broken and had a tin top, who would have thunk it. Hmm.

Dawn:

Hang on though, there’s more. She also said that on her return to the Crichtons house to collect her chest,following Janet’s murder, Crichton was still smoking but now he was using a new pipe, looking to only be a few days old.

Cole:

Well my, my, my, what do we have here? We’ve got ourselves a little liar, don’t we? He said that he didn’t smoke, remember that?

Dawn:

Oh but the best is yet to come. Christina was then asked whether the Crichtons had mentioned anything about Janet’s murder during the time she had stayed with them for a few days. Christina was initially hesitant as Mrs Crichton was her cousin and she didn’t want to get involved, however, she eventually said that she thought James Crichton was responsible for Janet’s murder. Christina said that while both Crichton and his wife spoke openly while Christina was there saying that they both believed William had killed Janet, an entirely different conversation took place between the husband and wife once Christina had gone to bed. In the kitchen of Crichton’s cottage there were two beds where the family slept, during the time Christina stayed there she slept in a bed with Mrs Crichton while John slept with his sons in the other. One night Christina went to bed at the same time as the boys, leaving Mr and Mrs Crichton in the kitchen by themselves. There was no living room, the kitchen was the living room, the kitchen and bedroom rolled into one. After a while had passed when the couple thought that Christina and the boys had gone to sleep, they began to talk. She heard Crichton tell his wife that if anyone found out that he had killed Janet he would be hanged, with Mrs Crichton replying that if it was found out that he had killed Janet she didn’t know what she would do, it would be a disgrace for the whole family.

Cole:

Why would she keep that to herself? Had she fallen out with Crichton and maybe this was payback? Was she wanting the reward money?

Dawn:

Well, no, they were still friendly, nothing had happened, but yeah the reward money, it could have been that. Or it could have been that she just couldn’t keep the secret any longer, despite them being her relations. However, there was a problem.

Cole:

Of course there was.

Dawn:

Christina was a single woman who enjoyed the company of men, lots of men. She was young and single and quite happy, but of course this was looked down on and of course her morals were brought into question.

Cole:

I mean in this day and age you wouldn’t bat an eyelid at that, but I imagine that was a big problem back in 1866.

Dawn:

Yeah, it seems to have been. However, the police believed that despite this Christina was still a credible witness. So, on Saturday the 15th of December detectives travelled to the farm near Dunfermline where Crichton was now working and he was arrested and transported back to Perth police station for questioning. The following day John Crichton was questioned as to his movements on Friday the 30th of March, to which Crichton reiterated what he’d already told police officers. Again, he was asked what he’d been wearing on the Friday morning, to which he again adamantly replied dark trousers and a white jacket, and no he had not changed his clothes at all on the Friday. He then said that at 2pm after his lunch he had firstly removed large posts from between two fields before then ploughing the field until the light faded. When it was put to him that he had actually smoked a pipe at the time of Janet’s murder as Christina had said that he’d let her use it even though he denied this to the police officers at the time, he simply said that Christina was mistaken. The questioning continued for three hours before Crichton was taken back to his cell. After the information and evidence was looked over by the Fiscal to determine if there was enough evidence to secure a conviction, on Saturday the 22nd of December a warrant to further detain Crichton for trial was agreed. Crichton was then taken to prison where he would stay until the trial.

Cole:

Oh my God, I’m so shocked that he got taken to jail and would stay there until his trial, he’s quite clearly an innocent man.

Dawn:

Oh my God you’re so sarcastic. However, before the trial could take place a couple of worrying things happened. Firstly, you remember William Gormack the elderly man walking across the field on the day of Janet’s murder?

Cole:

Yes.

Dawn:

Well he had been deemed a particularly important witness as he had said that he thought the fact that Crichton was just starting back at work again at 3pm was strange, however, on Wednesday the 19th of December he died. Although all was not lost. Mr Gormack had told his daughter the story and she was willing to testify on his behalf.

Cole:

Alright, that’s… I mean that’s good. it’s a shame he passed away, but obviously that’s good that she can testify on his behalf. So, what’s the other thing?

Dawn:

Apparently once Christina had finished giving evidence to the police she decided to stay in Perth, where she visited a pub and met a soldier she had previously known. The couple stayed drinking for most of the evening before then getting a room and spending the next two nights together, which in the eyes of her peers would have been bad enough, however, while drunk Christina had been very vocal about the fact she would be coming into some money very soon and that she planned to emigrate to America. This soon got back to James Barty, the interim Fiscal, and a warrant for Christina to be apprehended was drawn up. Christina was then escorted to Perth where she denied the claims that she had said she was coming into money and planned to emigrate to America. However, scared that she would do just that upon receiving the reward money and the case against Crichton would collapse, the deputy Fiscal said she would only be released if she paid £20, which is about £2,500 and $3,500  in today’s money, knowing full well that she couldn’t afford this. So Christina was to be held in prison until the trial.

Cole:

Okay, can they do that?

Dawn:

Apparently so. On Tuesday the 9th of April 1867 the trial began, with Sir Dees presiding over the trial. The courtroom was filled with locals and reporters alike, as well as the 15 male jurors. William Henderson was the first witness called where he recounted the events leading up to the murder as well as the day itself, which William did with obvious emotion. On cross-examination, William was asked to describe his relationships with his previous female servants, obviously having listened to the gossip and implying that he had tried to bed them. William refused to rise to this and simply explained their roles, ending in the circumstances surrounding Christina’s dismissal. Janet’s husband and eldest daughter were also witnesses, where they were asked to describe Janet and William’s demeanour on the run-up to the murder, the day off and afterwards. James Barlas was questioned where he too was asked to describe William’s reaction upon finding Janet’s body, as well as confirming that he had seen Crichton smoking on several occasions. Dr Laing was called to the witness stand where he described in great detail the state of Janet’s body, with gasps being heard in the courtroom at this, before stating that death would have been almost immediate and it would have been no later than 3pm.  He also noted that when William Henderson and Crichton’s clothing had been examined he was surprised to see just how clean Crichton’s were. Jean Barlas was also called to testify that she had seen washed clothes lying on the grass outside the Crichton’s cottage on the day of the murder. Then it was Superintendent McDonald’s turn on the stand, where he outlined the police’s findings and evidence that had been found throughout the investigation. And then finally it was Christina Miller’s turn to take the stand, the key witness. Christina firstly told that Crichton had in fact smoked a pipe, before recounting her story from being sacked by William Henderson to overhearing the Crichtons talking about how Mr Crichton had murdered Janet. This was damning evidence indeed for Crichton, but his Council, Charles Scott, would soon put paid to the credibility of this testimony. He then proceeded to systematically destroy Christina Miller’s name by providing account after account that she basically slept with any man who came her way, including the soldier she had met and spent two nights with, going as far as asking her if she could remember any of the mens names, to which she said she couldn’t, and therefore her testimony should be deemed as not credible.

Cole:

What’s that got to do with anything there?

Dawn:

Absolutely nothing, but he destroyed her, much to the amusement of the people in attendance at the trial. Christina was left humiliated.

Cole:

Well I do feel a bit sorry for Christina, I still don’t think she’s to be trusted, I think she wants that money, but, you know, let her sleep with who she wants to sleep with, it’s no one else’s business.

Dawn:

Well it’s not, but what he did worked. Their star witness’s testimony was reduced to nothing.

Cole:

That’s some bull[ __ ].

Dawn:

John Crichton didn’t testify, but a declaration following him being questioned by the police was read out in court. The court was then adjourned until the next day. Wednesday the 10th of April at 10am everyone was back in court for more witness testimony. First up it was Betsy.

Cole:

Alright, but it’s been determined that she’s been lying.

Dawn:

Well, yes, she had lied when she had wrongly identified the man she had seen at Mount Stewart Farm’s kitchen door so she could get the reward money, but it still hadn’t been determined if she had lied about seeing someone there in the morning Janet was murdered.

Cole:

But didn’t she say in the end that she didn’t get a good look at the man and that her eyesight was failing?

Dawn:

Mmh hmm she did, but it was believed that by not having her testify as a witness it would cause more damage than if she did.

Cole:

So, you get the woman who has the proof of the pipe smoking and the overhearing conversations about him murdering Janet and you throw that out because she sleeps with loads of people, right?

Dawn:

Yeah.

Cole:

Then you get the woman who has openly said yeah, yeah I’ve lied about that, but you get her to testify anyway because you think it’ll look bad if you don’t get her to testify?

Dawn:

Yep, that’s it pretty much.

Cole:

That makes so much sense.

Dawn:

I’m not in charge of this trial. I’m sorry. [laughs]

Cole:

I don’t think it appears that anyone’s in charge of this trial.

Dawn:

So, Betsy recounted her story, saying that she was adamant she had seen a man at the kitchen door speaking to Janet about 11.30am. Neither side pressed her and she was only on the stand briefly. People thought this was because they didn’t feel her testimony held much weight so it wasn’t worth bothering about.

Cole:

Wait a minute. So, they found out that she was lying, right? Because she wanted the reward money. Then they decided to put her on the trial anyway because they thought that it would be better to hear from her than not hear from her at all. Then she’s adamant that she saw someone at 11 o’clock in the morning, even though she said that her eyesight isn’t good and she can’t confirm whether she did see someone or not. And now you’re telling me that they didn’t spend much time on her because they didn’t feel that her testimony had much weight?

Dawn:

Yeah, that’s, that’s right, yeah.

Cole:

Okay, next.

Dawn:

Throughout the day there were more witnesses, including William Gormack’s daughter, Christine, who testified to what her father had said about Crichton on the Friday, repeating that her dad had thought it strange that Crichton was only starting the ploughing at 3pm in the afternoon. However, another neighbour countered this by saying that going by the tasks Crichton had completed upon his lunch break finishing at 2pm, it was entirely plausible that he would only be taking the horses out to plough the field at 3pm. After two days of witness statements and cross-examination and both sides having summed up their case, the jury retired to deliberate. What do you think was the verdict, Cole, based on the evidence you’ve heard so far, and why?

Cole:

Is that a serious question, Dawn?

Dawn:

(laughs)

Cole:

I think I’ve made my views very clear on this subject.

Dawn:

So you think it would be guilty?

Cole:

Yes. (laugh) Well, I mean, if anyone’s got any sense. The man smoked a pipe, he lied about it. He smoked a pipe that looked exactly like the one that was found under Janet’s blood. He was missing for like an hour or something, no one knows what he was up to. He had a change of clothes. I don’t care whether he said he didn’t have a change of clothes or not, he did have a change of clothes. The man even said that they were too clean to be working in a field all day, which I agree with. So, I would say Crichton’s guilty and that’s that.

Dawn:

Okay, well thanks for that little sum up. So, after only 11 minutes the jury returned with a verdict of not proven, which is a verdict only found in Scotland meaning that the accused might indeed be guilty but that there is not enough evidence to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt.

Cole:

Can I just say, right, if this was modern day times, which it’s not that’s fine, um, if it was modern day times you get the pipe, you take it into DNA analysis, bish bash bosh you’ve got your man, right?

Dawn:

Right.

Cole:

How can they say there wasn’t enough evidence? His pipe was under Janet.

Dawn:

Well, they couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was his pipe, they just couldn’t. Like you say, short of forensics.

Cole:

Well, no. Yeah, that’s true, but if you found my boyfriend’s car keys under my body when I was found dead you’d certainly be going, huh.

Dawn:

But…

Cole:

But nothing. Okay. He did it.

Dawn:

The keys are quite identifiable, a pipe is just a pipe.

Cole:

No, that’s incorrect, because they didn’t have car keys back then, what did they have to identify them? Pipes!

Dawn:

Yeah, I can see why that wouldn’t have stood up in court either mind.

Cole:

Why? It’s a small place, it’s not like it’s, you know, America, there’s loads of people, it’s a tiny place. 1860 something whatever. Um, I think we could have proved this.

Dawn:

But why? This is what the r… Why would he have killed her? What would have been the reason?

Cole:

Why not?

Dawn:

What would it have gained? He’s not done it in the past as far as anybody knows.

Cole:

As far as anybody knows.  I know who did it, I know why he did it and that’s that.

Dawn:

Anyway, John Crichton was acquitted of the murder of Janet Rogers. People, including Cole, were shocked by this verdict, but none more so than William Henderson who had always been convinced of Crichton’s guilt. Crichton would be the only man to ever be brought to trial for the murder of Janet Rogers. Over the next few days, while Janet’s family came to terms with the fact that Janet’s killer was still on the loose, the newspapers dissected every last detail about the case and evidence provided, and of course Christina Miller’s testimony was debated back and forth, had she been lying or had she told the absolute truth. The implications of Christina’s character being attacked and therefore her testimony, if in fact true, being disregarded was clearly felt. The police’s investigation was also attacked, putting the Perth police uncomfortably in the spotlight. I have to say here, and obviously I’m not a police officer and I wasn’t around back in the 19th century, but from what I’ve read and of course the fact that back in the 19th century there were no forensics, fingerprints and nobody actually witnessed the murder, I think the police officers back then did everything they could possibly do, they looked at every avenue.

Cole:

I don’t disagree with you, I just think people were unhappy that they didn’t have definite answers. Shame that I wasn’t there though because if I was they would have the definite answers, and it would be Crichton.

Dawn:

Okay. Eventually things calmed down, life went back to normal and Janet Rogers’ murder faded from people’s minds, all minds except her family, and for a time Crichton. It was reported that he had been harassed for quite some time afterwards, not being able to walk along the street for being chased, many people believing wholeheartedly that he had been Janet’s killer. Crichton moved to Fife about 19 miles or 30 kilometres away from Forgandenny and continued to work as a labourer, until his death in 1894. William Henderson eventually moved to New Scone, about nine miles or 14 kilometres away from Forgandenny. For all William was financially secure and lived in a substantial house in the country, he never got over the murder of his beloved sister Janet, or of Crichton, who he was sure had killed her, not being brought to justice. In 1881, 15 years after Janet’s murder, William was detained in an asylum having been deemed to be mentally unsound, where he stayed for three months before being released into the care of his family, who hoped they could help him. William however continued to go downhill and was readmitted to the asylum many times over the years, until his eventual death on the 22nd of January 1890, aged 77.

Cole:

It’s really sad he didn’t get any definitive answers or justice.

Dawn:

Yes, it is. But Janet would never be forgotten and she lived on through her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and even as far as her great, great great grandchildren. One of these great, great, great grandchildren is a man called Chris Paton. Almost all of the information for this story I got through reading a book called The Mount Stewart Murder, which was written by none other than Chris Paton. I really enjoyed this book. I have a real interest in history and knowing how people lived back then and Chris’s writing in this book really transported me back there, describing everything brilliantly. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to know more about Janet’s story or what it was like living in Scotland in the 19th century. There is so much more information in The Mount Stewart Murder book that I just wasn’t able to cover in this episode.  Let us know if you’ve read it and what your thoughts are.

Cole:

Are you sure you didn’t cover the whole book in this episode?

Dawn:

[Laughter] I really didn’t, Cole. You’ve no idea how much I’ve had to miss out.

Cole:

Well thank you so much for condensing that book into a short hour and a half, maybe two hour podcast for us all.

Dawn:

[laughs] You’re very very welcome.

Cole:

You’re so kind.

Dawn:

And that’s the end. If you’ve enjoyed this episode and know just the person who’d also like it, please share it with them don’t keep it to yourself.

Cole:

Please also get in touch on social media if you have any questions, comments or suggestions and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. All social media and contact details are on our website scottishmurders.com, as well as all the source material and photos related to this episode.

Dawn:

So that’s it, come back next time for another episode of Scottish Murders.

Dawn and Cole:

Join us there. Bye.

Granny Robertson:

Scottish Murders is a production of Cluarantonn.


The Helen Priestly Murder

The Helen Priestly Murder

Episode Summary

TRIGGER WARNING – This episode contains child sexual abuse references, so listener discretion is advised.

When eight year old Helen Priestly went missing, the answer to what happened to her was more unexpected than anyone could ever have thought. 

Please Be Advised – This episode may contain content that some may find distressing. As always, we advise listener discretion. This episode it not suitable for anyone under the age of 13.

Listen on:

Coe:

Trigger Warning – This episode covers the topic of child abuse, so listener discretion is advised.

Dawn:

When eight-year-old Helen Priestly went missing, the answer to what happened to her was more unexpected than anyone could ever have thought.

Dawn and Cole:

Hi Wee Ones I’m Dawn and I’m Cole, and this is Scottish Murders.

[THEME TUNE]

Misty Mysteries Podcast Promotion

Dawn:

It was 5am on the morning of Saturday the 21st of April 1934, when missing eight-year-old Helen Priestly’s body was found in a sack within her own tenement block, having thought to have been strangled and raped. The hunt began for the monster who had carried out this terrible act on Helen. Helen Priestly, who was tall and had fair hair, lived in a first floor flat of a tenement block at 61 Urquhart Street in Aberdeen, a city in the northeast of Scotland, with her parents, John who was 47 and Agnes who was 33.

Cole:

And for anyone that doesn’t know a tenement block is a type of build shared by multiple dwellings, typically with flats, or apartments, on each floor with a shared entrance stairway access.

Dawn:

Agnes was a stay-at-home mum and John was a painter and decorator. There were seven other families living in the tenement block, including on the ground floor below the Priestly’s 38 year old Alexander and Jeannie Donald and their eight-year-old daughter also called Jeannie. Across the hall from the Donalds lived 29 year old shopkeeper William Topp and his pregnant wife 28 year old Mary Topp. The Joss family also lived in one of the top flats in the tenement. Like in many tenement blocks, not every family would get on. In this tenement it was Agnes Priestly and Jeannie Donald who had not been on very good terms, something which had gone on for about four years.

Cole:

Why was that? Do we know?

Dawn:

Well, apparently, Jeannie Donald said it was because she had not taken Agnes Priestly’s side when she had an argument with an upstairs neighbour. But Agnes felt it was because Jeannie was a busybody who became jealous if others prospered.

Cole:

Oh right, okay. In what way?

Dawn:

Well, according to the Blood and Granite book written by Norman Adams, it could have been because after Agnes Priestly had inherited a small amount of money she had bought Helen, who was very musical, a piano, as well as paying for piano lessons. As Jeannie’s daughter was also musical and she always wanted to give her daughter the very best, Agnes thought that she was jealous of the fact that she had been able to give her daughter something Jeannie couldn’t give hers. But it’s not known for sure.

Cole:

Okay. So basically they just didn’t like each other?

Dawn:

Yeah, pretty much. On Friday the 20th of April Helen had been at school in the morning, before returning to her flat for lunch. At about 1pm, Agnes had sent Helen to the local baker to buy a loaf of bread, an errand Helen would never return from. Agnes Priestly wasn’t initially worried when Helen didn’t return straight away, she thought she had maybe got talking to someone. Helen may have been a bit shy but she was very confident and well known in the area. She’d not be long. So Agnes continued with her own tasks waiting for her daughter to return. However, as the time passed and there was still no sign of Helen, Agnes became concerned. She initially went to Helen’s school thinking that Helen had maybe just gone back there and had forgotten about the bread. Apparently Helen loved school.  However, Helen hadn’t returned to school after the lunch break. A pupil at the school did say that they had seen Helen just a few steps from her tenement block front door while on lunch, but that they hadn’t noticed if she had actually gone inside. Agnes then went to the local bakery shop to see if her daughter had actually made it there. When she arrived and asked after Helen she was told that Helen had indeed been in earlier to buy a loaf of bread, but had left hours ago. After finding this out, Agnes immediately contacted the police, as well as advising her husband who had been working locally. A massive search subsequently was carried out by police officers, as well as friends, family and strangers from the surrounding areas who had all volunteered to help. The search involved checking every building in the vicinity, alleys and public areas, as well as areas within Helen’s tenement building, including the coal shed and communal toilet. Agnes and her family and friends approached anyone they came across asking if they had seen Helen, and this is how the first lead was generated. A wee boy who had been friends with Helen told how he had seen Helen being dragged onto a tram car by a man, saying the man was about five foot ten inches and wore a dark coat. He also said that he had seen Helen carrying a loaf of bread and had been wearing a blue tammy hat. Spurred on with this witness statement, the police immediately made an appeal asking if anyone had seen the man in question. Teams of police and volunteers continued to search for this man, asking people in the area if they had seen this man or if they had witnessed a young girl being taken forcibly, but no one had. The search continued into the evening and on past midnight, by which time Agnes and her husband John’s worry had turned to fear. At about 2am on the Saturday, and with the heavens now opening over Aberdeen, it was decided to halt the search and proceed again at 5am.  Wanting to carry on searching but knowing he needed to rest, Helen’s dad finally agreed and went to his flat to try and get some sleep, with a neighbour from across the street agreeing to come to his flat at 5am to waken him up again. And so, other than the rain pouring down on the streets, everything was quiet for a few hours while everyone got some sleep. Well, almost everyone. Just before 5am, true to his word, John’s neighbour made his way across the street to 61 Urquhart Street to awaken John up to continue the search. He would have been relieved when the rain finally began to stop as he stepped outside. He pushed open the communal door into the tenement building and made his way to the stairs to the first floor, and then stopped suddenly. At the back of the tenement block where the communal toilet was he saw lying there on the floor a large sack. He opened the sack and looked in, only to see Helen’s dead face looking back at him. That was the end of the quiet, the whole place erupted. He ran up the stairs and banged on John and Agnes’s door to get their attention. He then ran down into the street shouting, banging on the doors of the Topps and the Donalds as he passed. Everybody appeared from their flats to see what the commotion was all about. Well almost everyone. William Topp had already left for work at 4am that morning but Mary Topp was still there. When she found out that Helen had been found in the tenement block she fainted in shock. It would turn out that due to the shock she would later suffer a miscarriage.

Cole:

I can’t believe the trauma from these events caused her to have a miscarriage, that’s so unfortunate.

Dawn:

Yeah, I know it is, it’s sad. And then there were the Donalds who also lived on the ground floor, they never made an appearance.

Cole:

Alright, do you think that’s a bit weird? I mean, you hear commotion outside your front door, and presumably Agnes and John Priestly in distress, and you don’t want to know what’s going on.

Dawn:

Yeah, it is a bit strange. According to the Blood and Granite book written by Norman Adams, apparently the pair thought that it was just Agnes Priestly causing a scene because she wanted to go back out to search for Helen and she was being stopped.

Cole:

Alright, but would you still not want to check everything was okay?

Dawn:

Well, I would, but remember these two women didn’t get on, so maybe she just wanted to stay out of the way. Anyway, the police were quick on the scene as they had already arrived to continue the search again.  They made sure that everyone was back inside before going to inspect the sack.

Cole:

So, does that mean that if Helen’s dad walked through the tenement block at 2am and there was no body, then his neighbour came back into the tenement block at 5am and Helen’s body was now there, does that mean it was placed there within that time?

Dawn:

Well, yeah, that’s what it seems.  The first thing that was noticed by the police was that the sack and Helen were bone dry, as was the floor under the sack.

Cole:

Oh that’s really interesting, because it was raining outside. So does that mean that Helen must have been in that tenement block the whole time?

Dawn:

Well it would seem that way, because if the body had been outside of the tenement block and brought in then it would definitely have been wet and left a puddle on the floor. After Helen’s body had been examined, the doctor’s first impression was that she had been strangled and raped.

Cole:

Oh God, that’s awful.

Dawn:

So now it was believed that the killer was a male living within the tenement block.

Cole:

Didn’t a school friend of hers say that he had seen her being abducted by a man? Are the police under the assumption that this man lives in the same tenement building as Helen?

Dawn:

Well, no. Following Helen’s body being found the police again spoke to the boy hoping for more details about the man he had seen, only for the boy to admit that he had lied, he hadn’t seen Helen that day at all.

Cole:

What a waste of time.

Dawn:

Yeah, I don’t think the police were too impressed, but he was just a silly wee boy. So Helen’s body was taken away for a postmortem to be carried out, where it was determined that she had died from asphyxiation. Bruises on her upper thigh were also discovered, as well as signs that her sexual organs had been mutilated. However, all was not as it seemed, but I’ll come back to that. When these facts were made known to the public only one thing was on the minds of the people in the area, vengeance. Large groups of people carrying weapons began to stalk the streets in search of this murderous predator and carry out their own justice.  While the police were concerned about this and they did not want any vigilante type behaviour being carried out, however, while there were such numbers of people roaming the streets then surely this monster wouldn’t strike again. They knew that the sooner they found the culprit the better. Door-to-door inquiries were carried out in the area and it was determined that a neighbour had heard a scream coming from Helen’s tenement block around about lunchtime, but that they didn’t think anything of it at the time. Following an appeal being made for information into the murder of Helen, a slater, who didn’t live in the area but who had been working at the back of Helen’s tenement block that day, also said he heard a scream coming from inside the tenement block around lunchtime, but again he didn’t think anything of it at the time, maybe just kids playing around. Other neighbours told the police how Jeannie Donald and the Priestly’s had had a falling out and that Helen and Jeannie Donald were forever having quarrels. Helen had been in the habit of calling Jeannie Donald a coconut. 

Cole:

A coconut? What does that mean?

Dawn:

I don’t think it’s anything particularly derogatory, it’s just something Helen said to annoy Jeannie Donald. 

Cole:

Okay.

Dawn:

They also found out that Jeannie Donald was always chasing Helen away from outside her windows when she played there. She apparently had also slapped Helen once, which obviously didn’t go down too well with Helen’s mum and dad, further fuelling the already tense relationship. Armed with this information, on the 25th of April, the police went to question the Donalds as to their whereabouts on the day of Helen’s disappearance, at this point still not having decided if they had enough evidence to arrest them yet. Alexander Donald, who was a barber, said he’d been at work all day in the barber shop and had worked late that evening, only coming home briefly for his lunch and tea. Jeannie Donald had quite a busy day, which she talked about quite openly. She said she had left the flat about 1:10pm or 1:15pm on the Friday to go to a market held weekly behind Union Street, which was about a 25 minute walk away from the tenement block. She went on to say what she had bought and the exact prices of the items. She said she then went to a material shop where she priced up material to make a dress for her daughter, before then walking back home.  As she was arriving back home she said she had seen Agnes Priestly standing at the grocer’s shop, which was located across from the tenement block. Upon entering the tenement she said that Mrs Topp had come in from the back and that they’d spoken briefly, but she said that Mrs Topp never once mentioned that Helen was missing. She then said she spent the rest of the afternoon in the flat ironing five of her daughter’s dresses, as her daughter was to attend a dancing rehearsal that evening, which both Jeannie’s parents also attended.  Following the interview the police asked if they could search the flat, which the Donalds agreed to. Upon looking under the sink, the police found a red stain. While further examinations were conducted in the Donalds flat to determine if the red stain was in fact blood, word began to get out of what was going on and a crowd began to congregate outside the tenement block. Finally it was decided that the red stain could in fact be blood and the Donalds were immediately arrested and charged with the murder of Helen Priestly. Upon being taken from the tenement block, the couple were jeered at and the crowd became more and more hostile. The couple were quickly taken to the police station only to be met by more crowds waiting outside, who also showed their disdain and disgust for the couple. Back at the flat, samples of the red stain were taken and analysed, and later, after examination, it was determined that it was not blood. However, they found much more evidence so it didn’t matter, the couple would not get away with Helen’s murder for lack of evidence. Firstly, there was the sack that Helen’s body had been found in. On examination a hole had been found in the top corner of it, as if it had been placed over a hook. And lo and behold, guess what they found in the Donalds flat?

Cole:

Was it a sack with a hole at the top?

Dawn:

Yes, it was, many sacks.

Cole:

Oh.

Dawn:

Apparently Jeannie Donald used these sacks to keep cinders in that she would reuse. Nobody else in the tenement did this. Cinders were also found in the sack that Helen’s body had been found in. Upon closer examination of the sack, a hair was found, which was deemed to match Jeannie Donald’s hair. Also bacteria found inside the sack that Helen had been in was found to match bacteria found in the Donalds home. Although the red stain under the sink was determined not to be blood, blood was found in the Donalds flat, specifically type O blood, which matched Helen’s blood type. Obviously that wasn’t enough on its own to prove this was Helen’s blood or that she had been murdered there, but that was okay they had all the evidence they needed. But more was still to come. In the meantime, Alexander and Jeannie Donald were being questioned over and over again to what had taken place the day Helen had gone missing, but each time their story didn’t change. So the police went back onto the streets again to try to disprove the couple’s stories, knowing that the stories couldn’t be true because the evidence now spoke for itself. What they found out though was that Alexander Donald was telling the truth, he had been at work at the time Helen went missing, and this was corroborated by both his barbershop colleagues as well as customers he had that day. After six weeks of being questioned and held in police custody, Alexander Donald was finally released without charge. Despite being found innocent and having witnesses corroborating that he couldn’t have been involved in Helen’s disappearance, the locals weren’t ready to forgive and forget what had been done to wee Helen just yet. Not feeling safe, Alexander Donald took his daughter and they both left the area. Alexander Donald died in 1944 from cancer, ten years after Helen’s murder. So, while it had been proven that Alexander Donald had been telling the truth and had been at work at the time of Helen’s disappearance, Jeannie Donald’s story was starting to unravel. Due to the exact details she had told the police of what she had bought at the market and the prices she had paid, upon investigating it was established that these prices were special prices and had only been available at the previous week’s market. So, Jeannie Donald did not set off for the market between 1:10pm and 1:15pm at all, she had been in her flat, unknowing that only 15 minutes later she would be carrying out a truly horrific deed. It was also established that she had not been in the material shop that day pricing up materials.

Cole:

She must have known she would get caught out.

Dawn:

Maybe she thought no one would check out her story as she couldn’t possibly have been involved as she was a woman and it was assumed Helen had been raped.

Cole:

That’s very naïve.

Dawn:

I agree. It would be Jeannie Donald’s own daughter who put the final nail in her coffin. Jeannie said that when she came home from school and had some bread, she noticed that it was different to the bread they usually bought. In fact upon checking with the baker where Helen had bought the bread her mother had sent her out to get, it was the exact same type of bread that Helen had bought that Jeannie had described.

Cole:

Oh God, so she killed Helen and then kept her bread and fed it to her daughter? I mean that’s a bit twisted isn’t it?

Dawn:

Yeah, it’s a bit sick. Now that Alexander Donald had been released, Helen’s body was again closely examined to try and explain away the perceived rape. It was eventually determined that a hammer or a broom handle had been used in order to replicate a rape. Whatever object had been used, it had been so roughly inserted that Helen’s intestines had been ruptured.

Cole:

God, that’s disgusting.

Dawn:

The evidence against Jeannie Donald was pretty substantial, but on the opening of her trial in Edinburgh High Court on Monday the 16th of July 1934, she pleaded not guilty. She had no witnesses, no alibi, no nothing. I think everyone was shocked by this, none more so than the crowd of men and women outside of the courthouse. The story of what had happened to Helen hadn’t just been confined to her hometown of Aberdeen it had been heard far and wide, and the people outside the courthouse made sure everyone was aware of the disgust that was felt at what had been done to wee Helen. Police were on hand to make sure there was some sort of order and proceedings inside could carry on. During the trial 164 witnesses were called including Jeannie Donald’s daughter, many forensic experts, neighbours and shopkeepers. The only defence Jeannie Donald had was to say that how could she have been involved, she was a woman and Helen had shown signs of being raped.

Cole:

Yeah, but we already know that that’s been faked.

Dawn:

Yes, we do, but I don’t think she or her defence solicitor did, but they were about to be given both barrels. In fact three separate pathologists who had independently examined Helen’s body had come up with the same conclusion. Jeannie Donald had been defeated. The jury retired and after 18 minutes of deliberation they found Mrs Jeannie Donald guilty of murder.

Cole:

Yeah, I don’t know how she thought she was going to go away with that one.

Dawn:

Yeah, I know. But for back in 1934 the forensics had been instrumental in convicting her. In fact, according to the Daily Record…,

Cole:

Which is a Scottish newspaper.

Dawn:

in an article from the 19th of October 2007, Jeannie Donald was one of the first people in the world to be convicted on forensic evidence.

Cole:

Oh wow, really? That’s pretty impressive.

Yeah, I think so too. Upon hearing the verdict there was loud cheering heard from outside. Justice had been served. Jeannie was sentenced to death by Judge Lord Aitchison, who actually started crying at having to wear the black cap and be passing down a death sentence penalty to a woman. Jeannie Donald was then taken to Craiginches Prison in Aberdeen to wait for her sentence to be carried out. However, just over two weeks later on the 3rd of August Jeannie Donald’s solicitor lodged an appeal. Amazingly she won the appeal and her sentence was changed from a death sentence to a life sentence, and she was transferred to a women’s prison in Glasgow to serve her new sentence.

Cole:

Alright, was there any reason for that?

Dawn:

Well I believe higher up people got involved to try and get this reduced to a life sentence. I mean you heard what state the judge presiding over the trial got into at having to sentence a woman to death, maybe it didn’t sit too well.

Cole:

Well, if that’s the reason it’s kind of ridiculous. I mean, personal feelings shouldn’t have to come into that, she had carried out a horrendous murder on a wee girl. I’d be pretty angry if I was Helen’s parents.

Dawn:

There’s actually no report on what their thoughts were, but yeah, they must have been devastated, for a second time. There also was nothing reported about how they felt when Mrs Jeannie Donald was released from prison to continue her life just ten years later.

Cole:

What? Why?

Dawn:

Well, remember that I said her husband, Alexander, had died from cancer in 1944?

Cole:

Yes.

Dawn:

Well when it was found out he only had a few days left to live, Jeannie was released from prison and actually looked after him in his last few days. It was then decided, for whatever inexplicable reason, that she should just be set free.

Cole:

Wow, that’s crazy.

Dawn:

Upon being released from prison, Jeannie Donald changed her name and carried on with her life, before finally dying at the age of 81 in 1976. At no point did Jeannie Donald ever tell what had possessed her, a hard-working woman who had no criminal history, to carry out such an atrocious act of violence. No one will ever know exactly what happened that fateful day, but one theory is by Sir Sydney Smith, who was a professor of forensic medicine at Edinburgh University and was a witness at the trial. He thought that Helen had returned to the tenement with the loaf of bread, opened the front communal door and there she found herself in front of Jeannie Donald. It is then thought that an exchange of some kind took place, maybe Helen called Jeannie a coconut again, but whatever was said Jeannie Donald snapped. It is then thought she grabbed Helen and shook her violently enough that Helen passed out. Thinking that she may have killed Helen she carried Helen into her flat and proceeded to violently insert an object into her sexual organ.

Cole:

That’s some really dark thinking, from oh God I think I might have accidentally killed Helen to I know what I’ll do to misdirect people. It’s just strange.

Dawn:

Well what’s even stranger is at this point Helen wasn’t actually dead.

Cole:

Oh God. What?

Dawn:

Upon having something inserted roughly into her she came round and screamed.

Cole:

Oh God, that’s horrible. And that must have been what the neighbours and workmen must have heard.

Dawn:

Yes, it was. And at this point Jeannie Donald then proceeded to strangle Helen.

Cole:

Why would she not check for a pulse first instead of just assuming she was dead?

Dawn:

Well, to be honest, she was probably hoping she was dead because if she hadn’t killed her she had at least shaken her hard enough for her to pass out and that’s assault, she would have known she was in serious trouble by this point anyway.

Cole:

Yeah, she was in serious trouble but she wasn’t in rape and murder a little girl kind of trouble.

Dawn:

Yeah, I know. I can’t believe that’s where her mind went either. It’s just awful. After she had actually killed Helen she then put her under the sink in one of her cinder bags. It is then thought that she spent the rest of the afternoon in the flat washing and ironing her daughter’s dresses for the upcoming play. She had presumably looked out of the window and saw Helen Priestly talking to the grocer across the street from her flat, not as she was coming back from the market.

Cole:

Oh. And what about Mrs Topp having seen her coming in the front door as she came in the back?

Dawn:

Well, it’s thought that she’d stood just inside the door waiting for Mrs Topp to appear so she could pretend she was just back from the market.

Cole:

Oh right, I see, that’s very calculating and kind of clever.

Dawn:

All the while Helen is lying dead under her sink in the same room as her. Her husband, Alexander, and her daughter, Jeannie, would then have come home for tea, before Alexander went back to work. Jeannie and her daughter would have left the flat shortly before 6:30pm to attend the dancing rehearsal, before finally returning back to the flat about 11pm after the rehearsal had finished. By this time the search for Helen would have been in full swing.

Cole:

So did they help with the search?

Dawn:

I can’t find that they did for definite, but it would have looked a bit strange if they hadn’t, at least if the husband hadn’t. Now there’s a picture on our website of the actual room where this took place, but it’s basically a living room, kitchen, bedroom room. 

Cole:

All in one room.

Dawn:

Yes, that’s an absolutely better way to say that. Yeah. Anyway, it’s very small. Have a look. The family all shared a bed in this room; her husband Alexander slept at the wall side, her daughter Jeannie in the middle and Jeannie Donald on the outside. Jeannie would have waited for them both to fall asleep that evening, waited until 2am for everything to go silent, then leave the bed, go to the sink cupboard, take out the sack with Helen in it, carry it to the door, go outside, place it in the communal hall, come back in and back to bed, without either her daughter or her husband waking up.

Cole:

Well I’ve had a look at the picture and it is a very small room so I can’t imagine that no one woke up, but she could have just said that she was going to the toilet.

Dawn:

Yeah, going to the toilet with a big sack over her back.

Cole:

They could have slept through her going to the toilet and just been awake when she came back from the toilet, and she wouldn’t have had a sack.

Cole:

Yeah, I guess that’s a theory too.

Dawn:

However, in an article in the Scotsman Newspaper on the 22nd of February 2018, writer Dermot Mogg said “It is inconceivable when you look at the room that the husband and child could have slept through this.” He went on to say that he felt Alexander Donald “could have been prosecuted for trying to cover up the crime.” His feeling is that Alexander Donald wasn’t charged along with his wife so that their daughter was left with at least one parent.

Cole:

And they couldn’t charge Alexander Donald with Helen’s actual disappearance because he had an alibi.

Dawn:

Exactly. We’ll never know for sure though if he was involved, even if only in getting rid of Helen’s body. Although, why on earth would they have left Helen’s body so close to their own home?

Cole:

Yeah, that is a mystery.

Dawn:

Helen was buried in Aberdeen’s Allenvale Cemetery and her headstone read ‘Grant that her little life, so short here, may unfold itself in thy sight.’

Cole:

Oh that’s quite nice.

Dawn:

It is.

And that’s the end. If you’ve enjoyed this episode and know just the person who’d also like it, please share it with them don’t keep it to yourself.

Cole:

Please also get in touch on social media if you have any questions, comments or suggestions and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. All social media and contact details are on our website scottishmurders.com, as well as all the source material related to this episode.

Dawn:

So that’s it for this week, come back next time for another episode of Scottish Murders.

Dawn and Cole:

Join us there. Bye.

Granny Robertson:

Scottish Murders is a production of Cluarantonn.

Scottish Murders is a production of Cluarantonn

Hosted by Dawn and Cole

Researched and Written by Dawn Young

Produced and Edited by Dawn Young and Peter Bull

Production Company Name by Granny Robertson

Music:

Dawn of the Fairies by Derek & Brandon Fiechter

Gothic Wedding by Derek & Brandon Fiechter


Special Announcement - Upcoming Changes.

Hey Wee Ones. You may have noticed over the last few months that you have not been hearing as much from Cole as previously. Well, that’s because she’s decided to take a step back from doing the podcast as much. But don’t worry, she still loves the podcast and you listeners, and has said she will pop back now and again as a guest to cover the odd episode with me. So, to allow a wee reboot, March’s episodes will be previous Patreon episodes with Cole still participating in them, and then I’ll be back in April with a slightly new format. And speaking of guests, I’m hoping to be joined by some other special guests over the course of this year. That’s all for now, but I’ll share more with you towards the end of March as to what is in store for the rest of the year.

Come back here, or visit us on social media, for more information and updates.


Dawn featured on the Riddle Me That Podcast

Dawn was given the opportunity to share with Jules from Riddle Me That and her listeners our Elaine Doyle Murder episode. If you've listened to our Elaine Doyle episode already, why not check out the discussion between Dawn and Jules for even more details and insight.


Out in the Cold

Out in the Cold

Episode Summary

TRIGGER WARNING – This episode may be upsetting and does contain crimes targeting children so listener discretion is advised.

In 1868 a group of boys from Greenock in Scotland stowed away on a ship bound for Quebec in Canada, all thinking they were bound for adventure, but faced a harsher and more shocking reality they never could have expected that would leave most of them out in the cold.

Please Be Advised – This episode may contain content that some may find distressing. As always, we advise listener discretion. This episode it not suitable for anyone under the age of 13.

Listen on:

Scottish Murders is a production of Cluarantonn

Hosted by Dawn and Cole

Researched and Written by Peter Bull

Produced and Edited by Dawn Young and Peter Bull

Production Company Name by Granny Robertson

Music:

Dawn of the Fairies by Derek & Brandon Fiechter

Gothic Wedding by Derek & Brandon Fiechter

Dawn:

Trigger warning Wee Ones. This story may be upsetting and does contain crimes targeting children, so listener discretion is advised.

In 1868 a group of boys from Greenock in Scotland stowed away on a ship bound for Quebec in Canada, all thinking they were going to have a great adventure, but instead faced a harsher and more shocking reality they never could have expected, that would leave most of the boys out in the cold.

Hi Wee Ones it’s just me, Dawn, today, so let’s get started.

[THEME TUNE]

Greenock lies on the south bank of the mouth of the River Clyde on the west coast of Scotland, and is about 27 miles or about 44 kilometres west of Glasgow. It was the 7th of April 1868 and 11 year old John Paul lived in Dalrymple Street in Greenock. Times were hard back then and John Paul didn’t even have shoes, however, he did have a good friend called Hugh McEwan who was also aged 11, and just like many young boys today they loved adventure and thought their next adventure would take them away from the hardship they were experiencing. So the two friends, John Paul and Hugh McEwan, decided to make their way to Victoria Dock in Greenock, where wooden trading vessels would set sail carrying their cargo to far-flung destinations, and hopefully carrying the two friends away to a better life. They soon found a ship, the Arran, named for the island to the west of Greenock in the Firth of Clyde, and the two friends decided to stowaway onboard. It was common in those days for boys to sneak on board ships in the harbour seeking escape, so ships were routinely checked for stowaways and any found were sent back to the shore on tugs. It wouldn’t be long before two stowaways were indeed discovered during a routine search of the Arran while still in the Firth of Clyde, however, seemingly lucky for the two friends they were not the two discovered and they remained on the ship. The Arran then sailed onwards down the Firth of Clyde and downed the Irish Sea, leaving Greenock far behind to head across the Atlantic Ocean to deliver its cargo of coal and oakum, which is a fibre made of painstakingly untwisting old ropes, and heading to Quebec in Canada. John Paul and his friend Hugh McEwan were relieved to have not been found and they hoped this would remain the case. However, when the ship’s carpenter was preparing to batten down the hatches for the ship’s long journey across the Atlantic, he found the two friends and hastily took them to the captain. However, by this time it was too late for them to be sent back to Greenock. Captain Robert Watt, who was 28 years old and was from the island of Arran, the ship’s namesake, had a reputation for treating those under his command kindly. When the boys reached the captain he grabbed John Paul by his collar and demanded to know what he was doing there. John Paul explained that he and his friend wanted to be sailors, to which the captain laughed. He then asked them what they had had to eat since they had got on board. John Paul told the captain that they had just had four of the ships barn biscuits between them. The captain told them not to expect much more from him, but told the carpenter to take the two boys to the cook, William Saltoun, who was good-hearted and gave them a warm meal, and the two were allowed to sleep in a sail locker. However, it seemed that the Arran wasn’t just joined by the two friends, John Paul and Hugh McEwan, as it wasn’t long before five more stowaways made themselves known to the crew. They were 12 year old Hugh McGinnes, who like John Paul was without shoes, twelve-year-old Peter Currie, James Bryson and David Brand, who were both 16 years old, and finally 22 year old Bernard Reilly, all of whom were also given food and a place to sleep. Although there were now seven extra people on board, the captain initially allowed the boys an ample supply of rations and initially treated them quite reasonably, despite the unexpected nature of their presence on board. The stowaways were given tasks throughout the ship, which included washing down decks and other menial tasks often allotted to boys onboard a ship.

For the first few days of the voyage things didn’t seem so bad and there was fine weather, but as they continued they began to encounter rougher weather and a series of strong gale force winds, which made the stowaways feel very seasick. This was witnessed by the ship’s first mate who ordered the steward to withhold most of their rations, despite there being plenty of food on board. The first mate was 31 year old James Kerr, who was from Lochranza on the island of Arran, and was described as being a rough-looking man with a coarse, unfeeling and dominating nature. James Kerr and the captain were brothers-in-law. The first mate, when passing the boys, would kick them without provocation, although one of the boys, 12 year old Peter Currie, was spared most of this as his father was a friend of the first mate. From then on the boys were only given a few of the ship’s biscuits each day, however, the kindness of the cook continued and he slipped the boys a few scraps of food, along with any potato and turnip peelings, but the boys still had barely enough food to survive so they started to steal whatever they could get their hands on from the ship’s stores, which included currants, oatmeal and more of the ship’s biscuits in order to stave off their hunger, but they were severely punished when caught.  This included when a barrel of grain was found to have been opened and the boys were suspected immediately of being responsible, so they were handcuffed together and had no food at all for an entire day as punishment.

As the Arran continued its journey across the North Atlantic, the lack of food was not the only problem the stowaways had to endure as the harsh conditions also became a challenge, and a member of the ship’s crew later described the boys as being thinly clad and not being able to stand the severe cold that even the men struggled with, especially as John Paul and Hugh McGinnes had bare feet. John Paul and Hugh McGinnes did try to escape the bitter cold by going below deck to the relative warmth there, however, when the first mate discovered they were missing he would drag them back up onto the deck and beat them. James Bryson, who was 16 years old, was singled out for particularly brutal treatment, which started when others complained he was dirty. So, one day the first mate told James to take off his jacket, waistcoat and shirt, leaving only his semmit or vest on, before proceeding to flog James with a coil of rope about half an inch or 2.5 centimetres thick for about three minutes, inflicting many horrible and painful blows to his back, causing James to scream in agony. James was then made to remove the rest of his clothes and lie down on the deck naked, the first mate ordered one of the crew to draw water from the sea and several buckets of ice cold sea water were thrown over the boy as he lay shivering and cold on the deck. The captain, who was easily influenced by his brother-in-law the first mate, joined in by scrubbing poor James all over his body with a broom, all while the first mate stood over James holding a rope threatening to  strike James should he run away. The first mate then took the broom from the captain and scrubbed James even harder than the captain had. When he had finished he ordered one of the other stowaways, 16 year old David Brand, to scrub James for a third time, all while being held down by the first mate. James was scrubbed from his neck to his foot, on his back and front, until his blood flowed. Once finished, James was then ordered to the forecastle at the bow of the ship, while still naked, and he was made to wait around half an hour before his vest was finally returned, followed later by his jacket. He was made to remain at the forecastle until nightfall, before finally being allowed to return below deck. Also, all the boys, except for 12 year old Peter Currie whose father was the first mate’s friend, were beaten on a regular basis.

As the Arran ship began to approach land in early May 1868, it encountered large fields of ice floating in the sea off the North Atlantic, and the ship drifted into St George’s Bay on the coast of Newfoundland. The ship was moored to the ice, with Captain Robert Watt and the first mate, James Kerr, disembarking briefly. This brief respite gave the boys, who were all starving due to the lack of food, the chance to get what they could while the captain and first mate were off the ship. David Brand entered both the Captain’s and first mate’s cabin and made off with a pocketful of the ship’s biscuits. He mentioned this to James Bryson who also went to see what he could find, but all he could find was a barrel of currants, which he managed to grab a pocketful of. Unfortunately, just as he was making his way out of the cabin, he was caught red-handed by the captain and first mate, who had just returned from their foray onto the ice. David had managed to dispose of the biscuits from his pockets, but there was no escape for James, whose currants were ordered by the captain to be given to the rest of the boys. James Bryson was again brutally punished by being made to strip naked and being lashed by the first mate with the ship’s lead line, which is a rope with a lead weight on the end used to determine the depth of water. He was then made to sweep the decks, whilst still naked. Another member of the crew who witnessed the barbaric punishment James endured described the boy’s skin afterwards as resembling red and white tartan.

The Arran was now trapped in the ice in St George’s Bay on the coast of Newfoundland. The eldest of the stowaways, 22 year old Bernard Reilly, started to consider leaving the ship as he had dreams of making it to Halifax in Nova Scotia to work on the railways there. So he persuaded James Bryson that it might be worth attempting to cross the fields of ice towards the barely visible land to escape the misery on board the ship. At that point a trek across the ice would have seemed like the only way to escape the harsh punishment James had to endure on board, the other boys however were terrified of the idea of leaving the ship and crossing the ice. While the plan by the stowaways to leave the ship was still been discussed, somehow the captain learned of Bernard Reilly’s plan to leave the ship and offered him the use of his telescope to get a better view of the shore. While Bernard declined the use of the telescope, the captain assured Bernard that there were houses not so far away. Bernard passed this information along to James Bryson, who decided to join Bernard to make his way across the fields of ice towards the distant shore. However, there was soon no choice in the matter, as while the other stowaways were deciding what to do, the captain ordered that all of the stowaways would be put overboard, with the exception of 12 year old Peter Currie who was the son of the first mate’s friend. George Henry, who was another member of the crew, later said he heard the youngest boys crying when they were asked to go, and he was concerned as the ice was broken and very rough looking, and two of the boys had bare feet and their clothing was ragged when they left the ship. It was around ten to 15 miles or 16 to 24 kilometres from the ship to the land and George Henry thought it unlikely that those without shoes would ever reach land.

On the 9th of May 1868 at around 8 or 9 in the morning, the stowaways set off across the fields of white desolation, with the ship’s first mate only sparing the boys one biscuit each as they left. The ice flow was made up of slabs of various sizes, some as large as a football pitch but many others much smaller, so as the stowaways reached the end of one slab of ice they had to jump towards the next slab to make progress towards the land. John Paul’s friend, Hugh McEwan, who had been especially unwell during the journey across the Atlantic and had even been seen spitting blood occasionally, started to lag behind the others as they made their way across the ice. Hugh McEwan accidentally slipped into the freezing water but was pulled out by James Bryson. He continued onward, before falling yet again into the cold and icy water.  This time he managed to pull himself free, but was growing weaker with every step. John Paul witnessed his friend Hugh McEwan slip and fall into the water for a third time, where he tried to kick and get out of the icy grip of the water. John Paul was also in the water at this point and his friend tried to get hold of him, but he let go. John Paul managed to get out by scrambling onto the edge of the ice, and he was only able to watch as the ice closed over the head of his friend. He never saw him again. It would be a few hours later when Hugh McGinnes was overcome by exhaustion and sat down on the ice, his shoeless feet swollen and sore. He was urged to continue by the others or he would be frozen, but he said he couldn’t go any further. The others were left with no choice but to leave him there, with nothing to protect him but his ragged and frozen clothes. The remaining four stowaways continued their perilous journey towards land, but as they got nearer and nearer the large slabs of ice became rarer and rarer, but they continued to struggle with each of them slipping and falling into the water, somehow managing to get free. This only caused their clothing to freeze solid to their bodies. Somehow they managed to reach the end of the ice just as the sun was starting to set. However, although they could see a few houses and lights, they had not reached shore as there was a channel of water and drifting ice around a mile or 1.5 kilometres wide between them and the relative safety of dry land. 22 year old Bernard Reilly and 16 year old David Brand tried to paddle towards the shore on the pieces of ice and a batten board they had manage to get from the ship, but this stranded the other two boys, John Paul and James Bryson, who were frozen, famished and exhausted, but shouted for help in the thinly veiled hope that someone on shore would hear them.

On the southern shore of St George’s Bay in Newfoundland was Highlands, a busy agricultural and fishing community where fishermen lived in little cabins on the beach. Catherine Ann McInnes was one such resident whose family had emigrated to Newfoundland from Loch Morar in the Scottish Highlands. Catherine either saw the boys in the fading daylight or heard their cries, and she raised the alarm. It is believed that her husband would have been among the local men who set out to rescue the boys. It would have been difficult to see the boys from a mile or 1.5 kilometres away at that time of evening, if they’d arrived just half an hour later they may not have been seen at all, and were therefore very fortunate to have survived their ordeal.  The four cold and frostbitten stowaways were taken to the villagers homes to recover. The boys had been blinded by the glare of the ice and it took a week for them to be able to see properly again. John Paul’s feet were also badly lacerated from the long walk on the ice without shoes, which took over a month to heal. He also lost fingers to frostbite. Unfortunately the bodies of John Paul’s friend, Hugh McEwan, and the other boy, Hugh McGinnes, were never found.

When the ship, the Arran, finally arrived in Quebec, Canada, one of the crew sent a letter back home to Greenock in Scotland describing the cruelty and treatment that the stowaways had endured whilst on board. When the letter arrived news quickly spread around Greenock. A telegram was sent asking for information about what had happened, and in reply it was stated that four of the six boys who had been put down in the ice had survived and three of them were still in Newfoundland, but the fourth, Bernard Reilly, who was the eldest of them, had already set off to find work in Nova Scotia.

Almost six months after the Arran had set sail from Greenock with the stowaway boys on board, the remaining three boys who survived their journey across the ice to Newfoundland arrived back in Scotland. However, there was some confusion about the returnees, when one of the boys believed to be alive was named Hugh McGinnes, but his mother was devastated to learn instead of expecting to greet her son she found out instead he had perished on the ice due to exhaustion. Also one of the boys believed to have perished in the ice was John Paul, but in fact he had returned alive.

The story of what happened made news all around the world even back in the 1860s, as people were horrified of what had happened to these boys on the ice.

The three boys had returned home just in time to appear as witnesses at the trial at the High Court of Judiciary in Edinburgh of Captain Robert Watt and the first mate James Kerr of the Arran. On the final day of the trial on the 25th of November 1868 the Scotsman Newspaper reported that the courtroom was crowded, with many waiting outside for several hours in the hope of gaining admission. James Kerr, the first mate, was found guilty of assault and sentenced to four months in prison. Robert Watt, the captain, was charged and found guilty of culpable homicide, which is roughly the equivalent to manslaughter in English law, and he was sentenced to 18 months in prison. However, as the Scotsman Newspaper reported in their edition the following morning, the verdict was received by the audience with loud hisses.

After serving their sentences both men returned to their jobs and sailed for many years. Of the stowaways, James Bryson emigrated to the United States where he became a tram conductor. David Brand started a ship engineering firm in Queensland, Australia. Bernard Reilly, who went to Nova Scotia, probably never returned to Scotland.  And John Paul married and started a family and became a riveter and rose to the rank of foreman in Greenock’s shipyards, but when his wife died he left for Southampton. When John Paul himself died he was given a grand funeral with a polished elm coffin covered in beautiful flowers and wreaths, and a large number of people assembled at the cemetery to pay their respects, including 100 members of the Boilermaker’s Society in full regalia. Peter Currie, who had remained on board the Arran, died of tuberculosis two years later after returning home. The Arran herself was wrecked on Sand Island in the Gulf of Mexico in 1886 while sailing from Greenock to Mobile, Alabama.

Much of our story came from the BBC article “The boys on the ice” by Sarah McDermott.

Although it may be over 150 years since the tragedy of what became known as the Greenock Stowaways, their story will never be forgotten, of the boys left out in the cold.

And that’s the end. If you’ve enjoyed this episode and know just the person who’d also like it, please share it with them don’t keep it to yourself.

Cole:

Please also get in touch on social media if you have any questions, comments or suggestions and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. All social media and contact details are on our website scottishmurders.com, as well as all the source material and photos related to this episode.

Dawn:

So that’s it for this week, come back next time for another episode of Scottish Murders.

Dawn and Cold:

Join us there. Bye.

Granny Robertson:

Scottish Murders is a production of Cluarantonn.


Snowdrops of Sadness

Snowdrops of Sadness

Episode Summary

TRIGGER WARNING – This episode may be upsetting and does contain crimes targeting children so listener discretion is advised.

As snowdrops grew signalling the start of Spring, a terrible and shocking crime would be forever synonymous with a small town in Scotland and impact not only those there but throughout the whole country.

Advert from Complicit, A True Mystery Podcast #Ad.

Please Be Advised – This episode may contain content that some may find distressing. As always, we advise listener discretion. This episode it not suitable for anyone under the age of 13.

Listen on:

Dawn:

Trigger warning Wee Ones. This story may be upsetting, and does contain crimes targeting children and of suicide, so listener discretion is advised.

As snowdrops grew signalling the start of Spring, a terrible and shocking crime would be forever synonymous with a small town in Scotland, and impact not only those there but throughout the whole country.

Hi Wee Ones it’s just me Dawn today, So let’s get started.

[THEME TUNE]

On the 13th of March 1996 it was just the start of Spring, which was signalled by snowdrops starting to appear near Stirling in the small town of Dunblane, which is about 32 miles or 52 kilometres north east of Glasgow. Thomas Hamilton was outside of his home in Kent Road in Stirling at 8:15am scraping the ice of his van, despite the signs of Spring. Once done he got into his van and drove the five miles or eight kilometres north to Dunblane.  At around 9:30am Hamilton arrived at the grounds of Dunblane Primary School and parked his van in the car park there near a telegraph pole or telephone pole. He then proceeded to cut the cables at the bottom of the pole with a set of pliers, cutting off telephones of nearby homes. Hamilton then walked across the car park, entered a door on the north west side of the school and headed towards the gymnasium, carrying four legally owned handguns including two nine millimetre Browning pistols and two Smith and Wesson M19 .357 Magnum revolvers, along with 743 cartridges of ammunition. At the same time a class of 28 primary one pupils, aged around five or six, along with three staff members, were preparing for a physical education lesson in the gym. On the way towards the gym Hamilton fired a couple of shots into the stage of the assembly hall and then the girls toilets, before finally entering the gym. Hamilton was immediately confronted by a teacher, Eileen Harold, but he proceeded to rapidly shoot randomly around the gym, before striking Eileen in the arm and chest as she attempted to protect herself. Eileen managed to stumble into a nearby store cupboard, along with several other children who were also struck and injured. Gwen Mayor, who was the teacher of the primary one class, was shot and killed instantly. However, the third member of staff, Mary Blake, was able to make her way to the store cupboard, along with several children who were in front of her. In just the first few steps into the gym, Hamilton had fired 29 shots with one of the pistols, along with killing one pupil and injuring several others. Hamilton then fired six more shots as he moved along the east side of the gym, and fired another eight shots towards the opposite end of the gym. He then headed towards the centre of the gym and then shockingly fired 16 shots at point blank range at a group of children who’d been incapacitated by his previous shots. It was just then that a primary seven pupil aged around 11 or 12 was walking outside along the west side of the gym and heard loud bangs and shots and decided to look inside. He was immediately spotted by Hamilton who proceeded to shoot in his direction, but thankfully he was only injured by flying glass from the window and was able to run away to safety. It was from there that Hamilton fired 24 shots in various directions, before firing towards a window next to the fire exit at the south east end of the gym, seemingly towards an adult who may have been walking along the playground at the time. Hamilton then opened the fire exit door and fired four more shots in the same direction outside. He then exited the gym briefly where he fired towards the cloakroom of the library, where he struck and injured Grace Tweddle who was another member of staff at the school. Catherine Gordon, who was teaching a primary seven class in a mobile classroom near the fire exit where Hamilton was standing, saw him fire his shots so she immediately instructed her class to get down onto the floor, just before Hamilton fired nine bullets into the classroom striking books and equipment, with one bullet passing through a chair where only seconds earlier one of the pupils in her class had been sitting. Hamilton then headed back inside the gym, dropped the pistol he was using and took out one of the two revolvers he also had on him. He then placed the barrel of the gun into his mouth and pulled the trigger. This put an end to his reign of terror where he had shot 32 people in just a few minutes, 16 of which were killed in the gym including Gwen Mayor, another died on the way to hospital and 15 pupils, along with Eileen Harold, sustained gunshot wounds.

Amongst those pupils at Dunblane Primary School who managed to escape the tragedy that day were Andy Murray and his brother Jamie, who you may know today as professional tennis players. Andy Murray later said that he was too young at the time to understand what was happening at his school that day, but that it did have an impact on him, especially as he knew Hamilton from having attended his youth groups, and his mother had given Hamilton lifts in her car. Andy Murray has said that he focused on playing tennis which allowed him to deal with what had happened that terrible day in Dunblane.

Hamilton’s brutal and horrific actions were just the final act of someone whose entire life had been a complex web of hatred and lies.

Hamilton’s mother, Agnes, was born in 1931, but as the illegitimate daughter of a widow, Rachel Hamilton, which at the time would have been seen as a scandal, she was given away to relatives, James and Catherine Hamilton, who had no children of their own. In 1950, when Agnes was 19, she met and fell in love with Thomas Watt, who was a bus driver, and they were soon married. Two years later their son also called Thomas was born. Unfortunately 18 months later Agnes’s husband and the father of her child left her for another woman, so she returned to live with her adoptive parents, who unusually adopted her son Thomas as their own, making his mother his older sister instead.

In 1974 when Thomas Hamilton was 19, he was asked to quietly resign from the scouts after leading two incompetent camping trips to Aviemore in the Highlands. For one trip Hamilton had failed to book a hostel, even though he told the parents of the boys otherwise, forcing the boys to spend a cold night in the back of a van. And for the other trip Hamilton instructed the boys to dig snow holes making them cold and tired. The boy’s parents complained to the then scout organiser in Stirling, Comrie Deuchers, and Hamilton was dismissed. There was no hint of anything inappropriate or untoward but merely that he was not competent as a leader. However, for Hamilton he felt this was not the case and he became angry and was convinced people, including Deuchers, were spreading rumours he was a pervert, and this grievance would dominate the rest of his life.

Hamilton decided to form his own independent boys athletic clubs in school gyms, even mentioning his leadership and organisational role in the scouts, albeit without stating that in fact his leadership and organisational skills had been lacking and he’d been asked to resign due to his thoughtlessness. In the early 1980s there were series and sustained attempts by the Central Regional Council to stop Hamilton from holding his boys club meetings at schools in Dunblane, however, these were overturned by parents and the local government Ombudsman for Scotland, Eric Gillett. Gillett felt contempt for the decision to close the youth club solely on the strength of rumours saying that they were “vague” and should “have been heavily discounted” and that Hamilton was being treated unfairly and unjustly. Hamilton also received help from a retired counsellor for Stirling, Francis Saunders, who later said “I never got the impression that he was concealing misconduct” but added “He did have an ingratiating almost oily manner but I put that down to the buffetings he received.” Saunders and many others believed Hamilton was innocent until proven guilty, which was further aided by his enthusiasm for getting boys into athletics and his convincing denials of any guilt. Hamilton was able to mostly see off the police and the bureaucrats, this included four Scottish police forces who investigated him after receiving numerous complaints and accusations, but each time detectives failed to find any case that would stand up in court.  Hamilton managed to gain the support of others many of whom believed that the accusations were just unsubstantiated gossip.

Hamilton moved to a flat in Kent Road in 1983 with his adopted father James, who was in fact his adoptive grandfather of course. In a strange turn of events Hamilton’s flat was directly beneath the flat belonging to Comrie Deuchers, the same person who dismissed Hamilton from the scouts almost a decade earlier. However, according to Deuchers, he could not believe it when he saw Hamilton get out of the removal van when he first arrived, but he was surprised to find Hamilton was quite civil towards him. In 1984 David Vass, who was the Assistant Scout Commissioner for Stirling, was being asked on numerous social occasions about why Hamilton had left the scouts, but David Vass was unable to give a full answer due to the fact he had not been involved with the scouts at the time. However, this drew the attention of Hamilton who decided to confront David Vass and arrived at his house carrying a brown paper bag. Hamilton then accused him of spreading rumours, but after ten minutes he was told to leave, at which point Hamilton reached into the brown bag to turn off a tape recorder he had with him, before leaving.

Hamilton’s strange behaviour was known to parents and members of the boys clubs, but many thought he was just trying to give boys experiences he would have liked as a child. Although Hamilton had convinced himself that he was behaving properly, this was far from the truth. Hamilton was said to have favourites and they would go off on camps together to Loch Lomond, only for the boy to be sworn to secrecy when they returned. According to parents, Hamilton had made the boys hand over their clothes and dress in baggy swimming trunks, with one later claiming that he made the boys rub suntan lotion on him. Hamilton had photographs of many bare-chested boys on the walls of his home and even had collections of videos of boys running around his camp in Loch Lomond. In 1988 one of the parents handed in a dossier to the police who followed this up with a raid of the Loch Lomond camp, but there were no prosecutions. A few years later photography shops in nearby Stirling refused to develop pictures of the boys at the Loch Lomond camps saying they were obscene, but they were deemed not obscene enough by the police for Hamilton to be prosecuted.

Hamilton continued to live with his grandfather, or father, James, until 1992 when James walked out seemingly due to claims of being humiliated and pushed around by Hamilton. That same year Hamilton was banned from Fife Council schools after concerns about films he was making of boys. Around this time Hamilton also started to write letters to people he seemingly had grievances with or saw as enemies. In these letters he stated they were jealous of his successful boys clubs and were spreading rumours about him being a pervert. These letters continued until just before the killings in Dunblane. One of the recipients of the letters, David Vass, who was the Assistant Scout Commissioner for Stirling, described these letters as being utterly bewildering. In 1993 the Central Regional Council warned its teachers to inform their legal department before dealing with Hamilton. Also that year a couple of police inquiries were made. A year later in 1994 Hamilton would be cautioned by the police after he was caught behaving indecently in Edinburgh with a young man. Just a few months before Hamilton would carry out his terrible atrocity at Dunblane Primary School, he was denied membership of a local gun club after a couple of members who knew him mentioned that the club should have nothing to do with him. And only days before the killings he posted copies of letters he had written throughout the years addressed to parents in Dunblane, to council officials, to the Secretary of State for Scotland and even to the Queen. The letters claimed that rumours regarding his behaviour had caused his business to fail and his attempts to further organise boys clubs were being subject to persecution by police and the scout movement.

The days following the tragedy at Dunblane Primary School were full of grief and sadness at the loss of so many lives. After it was discovered that the killings were carried out using handguns that were owned legally, a campaign began named for the flowers that were in bloom at the time of the shootings. The Snowdrop Campaign urged people to sign a petition calling for a ban on the private ownership of handguns, as well as releasing a poster featuring a school blackboard with “Ban all handguns” written in chalk. The petition received over 750,000 signatures. Also, after the tragedy in Dunblane, Lord William Cullen chaired a public inquiry which recommended tighter controls on handgun ownership, and added its weight in considering whether banning ownership of handguns outside of gun clubs would be in the public interest. The inquiry also recommended changes in school security and how those who work with people under 18 are vetted. In 1997 the Snowdrop Campaign, along with public debate and recommendations from the inquiry, were successful in forcing the then conservative government to pass the Firearm Amendment Act. This banned all handguns, except .22 calibre single shot weapons, in England, Scotland and Wales, although it did not cover Northern Ireland. That same year the law was further extended to ban .22 calibre handguns after a general election that year. Once the law was passed around 160,000 handguns were surrendered to the police, and after one of the most successful campaigns in the history of the UK, the Snowdrop Campaign was disbanded.

In April 1996, a month after the tragedy, the gymnasium at Dunblane Primary School was demolished and replaced with a memorial garden. A few months later a memorial service was held for the victims and was broadcast live on television. The following year flowers such as two roses “Gwen Mayor” and “Innocence” were developed in memory of the victims, and a Snowdrop was named “Sophie North” in memory of one of the children killed. There is a story behind why the Snowdrop was named after Sophie North. It came about after a resident of Dunblane found a Snowdrop growing in her garden, and after hearing about what happened to Sophie, who was not only one of the victims of the Dunblane killings but had also lost her mother to cancer just a couple of years prior, she decided to name the Snowdrop after her. To mark the second anniversary of the massacre at Dunblane, a memorial garden was opened at Dunblane Cemetery where Gwen Mayer and 12 of the children lie buried. It features a fountain with the names of those killed, and three stained glass windows in memory of the victims were placed in local churches. In 2001 a standing stone on a Caithness flagstone base was dedicated in Dunblane’s cathedral, which featured quotations from poets and writers. People of Dunblane or Scotland or the whole of the United Kingdom will never forget the events that occurred that day, when the lives of so many at Dunblane Primary School were taken.

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Cole:

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Dawn:

So that’s it for this week, come back next time for another episode of Scottish Murders.

Dawn and Cole:

Join us there. Bye.

Granny Robertson:

Scottish Murders is a production of Cluarantonn.

Scottish Murders is a production of Cluarantonn

Hosted by Dawn and Cole

Researched and Written by Peter Bull

Produced and Edited by Dawn Young and Peter Bull

Production Company Name by Granny Robertson

Music:

Dawn of the Fairies by Derek & Brandon Fiechter

Gothic Wedding by Derek & Brandon Fiechter