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.

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 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


The Elaine Doyle Murder

The Elaine Doyle Murder

Episode Summary

On 23 March 2016, 49 year old John Docherty was arrested for the murder of 16 year old Elaine Doyle in 1986. Police officers involved in the case were relieved that Elaine’s killer had been caught and charged. However, Elaine Doyle’s murder inquiry had been anything but straightforward.

Promo by Voluntary Input and Advert from Complicit, A True Mystery Podcast #Ad.

 

Special shout out to Hayley and Eddie, two of our wonderful listeners who suggested we cover this case. Thank you!

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

Listen on:

Elaine Doyle murder: Killer John Docherty loses appeal – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Brother tells of night she died – BBC News

Elaine Doyle: Trial hears of teenager’s final night – BBC News

Elaine Doyle: Parents unaware daughter lay dead nearby – BBC News

Elaine Doyle: Man ‘wanted to confess’ to murder – BBC News

Elaine Doyle: Evidence at scene ‘suggests a struggle’ – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Police ‘blunder’ after body found – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: John Docherty guilty of 1986 killing – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Scotland’s first cold case trial – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Trial judge begins directing jury – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Witness saw man ‘following’ girl – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Investigation ‘not good enough’ – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Witness questioned over car ‘tail’ – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Man accused by former friend – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Bullying claim over confession – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Man denies being sketch ‘suspect’ – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Witness admits giving false alibi to police – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Witness unaware he was named as killer – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Killer witness halts murder trial – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Trial told of crime scene ‘guess’ – BBC News

Elaine Doyle murder: Claim over conflicting evidence – BBC News

John Docherty jailed for 21 years for killing Greenock schoolgirl Elaine Doyle | HeraldScotland

Elaine Doyle: ‘Ginger hair put me in frame’ | The Scotsman

Elaine Doyle’s murderer brought to justice

First Cold Case Unit indictment served for historic murder case.

Elaine Doyle Murder: John Docherty Can Appeal Without Any Limitations – Criminal Defence Lawyers Edinburgh

HOW Police Persistence Finally Paid Off In The Elaine Doyle Murder Inquiry – Inverclyde Now

Elaine Doyle Killer Jailed For Life – Heart Scotland

Murder detective: ‘It was an honour to get justice for Elaine Doyle’s family’ | Greenock Telegraph

Who was Elaine Doyle? The murdered Greenock teen killed on way home from Celtic supporters’ Club – Daily Record

Man held over 1986 killing of Elaine, 16 | UK | News | Express.co.uk

Man Found Guilty Of Elaine Doyle Murder – Heart Scotland

John Docherty jailed for 21 years for killing Greenock schoolgirl Elaine Doyle | Glasgow Times

Elaine Doyle verdict: Elaine’s killer found guilty 28 years after she was murdered | Glasgow Times

Documentary to tell story of 28-year hunt for murderer of Greenock teenager Elaine Doyle, strangled to death in 1986 after returning from night out at Celtic Supporters’ Club – The Scottish Sun

Elaine Doyle’s killer snared after 28 year-old murder is solved by new DNA tests | Daily Mail Online

Elaine Doyle murder: Former soldier John Docherty found guilty of teenager’s killing in 1986 – Daily Record

Greenock Visitor Guide – Accommodation, Things To Do & More | VisitScotland

Steven McIntyre jailed for murdering Jack Doyle in Greenock – BBC News

John Docherty denies 1986 Elaine Doyle murder | The Scotsman

Man in court over 1986 murder of Elaine Doyle | Glasgow Times

John Docherty in court over Elaine Doyle death in Greenock – BBC News

APPEAL AGAINST CONVICTION AND SENTENCE BY JOHN DOCHERTY AGAINST HER MAJESTY’S ADVOCATE

Elaine Doyle’s father appeals in ‘cold case’ murder – BBC News

Dad of murdered Elaine Doyle dies without ever finding out who killed his daughter – Daily Record

Elaine Doyle murder: Accused ‘reacted’ to police hunt jibe – BBC News

The killer of Elaine Doyle was in the same class at school as her brother – Daily Record

Watt Institution : Historic Buildings & Conservation : Scotland’s New Buildings : Architecture in profile the building environment in Scotland – Urban Realm

Collective Architecture

Elaine Doyle went to her first grown-up disco in 1986 – it was her last – Daily Record

Elaine Doyle Killer John Docherty during police interview afterview – YouTube

Elaine Doyle Murder: John Docherty Can Appeal Without Any Limitations – Criminal Defence Lawyers Edinburgh

Elaine Doyle murder: John Docherty guilty of 1986 killing – BBC News

Dawn:

It was suggested by two of our wonderful listeners that we cover this case. So, thank you Haley and Eddie for the suggestion. I hope I’ve done this sad and complex case justice.

49 year old John Docherty was arrested for the murder of 16 year old Elaine Doyle. Police officers involved in the case were relieved that Elaine’s killer had been caught and charged, however, Elaine Doyle’s murder inquiry had been anything but straightforward.

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

[THEME TUNE]

It was the morning of Monday the 2nd of June 1986 and Jack and Maureen Doyle awoke after having a restless night’s sleep. Their daughter, Elaine, had been out the previous evening and had been due back about 12:30am, however, she had not turned up. Jack and Maureen had assumed that Elaine had decided to stay at her friend Lynn’s house for the night instead, as she often did. But still, until they knew Elaine was safe and sound, they couldn’t settle. Not wanting to call Lynn’s parents and wake them up to check that Elaine was there, they decided to wait and call in the morning and speak to Elaine then. So that morning Maureen opened the curtains, and was faced with a large amount of police presence on the street outside. She immediately began to have an awful feeling, which only deepened when she called Lynn’s home to find out that Elaine wasn’t there. Maureen quickly called round Elaine’s other friends but was met with the same story, Elaine was not there, and had last been seen about midnight walking towards her home. Just as panic was setting in, there was a knock at the door. Maureen opened the door to find two police officers standing there. She invited them in and immediately told them that her daughter had not come home last night and asked if the police presence was anything to do with her daughter. Elaine Doyle lived at Ardgowan Street in Greenock with her mum Maureen, dad Jack, and older brother John. Greenock is a town located in the West Central Lowlands of Scotland by the Firth of Clyde, about 25 miles or 40 kilometres west of Glasgow. According to visit Scotland, Greenock is the home to the world’s first Burns Club, with many of the founding members having known Robert Burns himself.  The Doyle family lived in a block of flats located a two-minute drive from the town centre. 16 year old Elaine worked during the week as a jewellers assistant in Greenock, but on a weekend she enjoyed nothing more than spending time with her friends and attending a local disco. She just loved dancing. The group of friends weren’t really interested in boys and they just enjoyed hanging out, having a laugh and dancing. Elaine had a good relationship with her mum Maureen and Dad Jack, who was a postman, however, Elaine and her brother John, who was 21 at the time, had been drifting apart and hadn’t been talking much to each other. Elaine’s brother, John, would later say that they would disrespect each other and get on each others nerves. He saw Elaine as his annoying little sister. However, Elaine didn’t let the conflict with her elder brother stop her from enjoying herself and, on Saturday the 31st of May 1986, Elaine and her friends spent the evening at their local pool hall. Elaine then stayed the night with her best friend, Lynn Ryan. The two parted ways on the Sunday afternoon and Elaine headed into town to buy some leggings for both of the girls, before heading back to her own home to get ready for going to a disco that night. After spending hours getting ready, and eventually settling on wearing a black and white dress with her favourite blue leather jacket, Elaine said bye to her parents, with her dad saying in reply “Watch yourself”, before she headed off to meet up with Lynn and their other friends, with the group then heading to the disco, which was on at the Greenock Celtic Supporters Club in Laird Street, about a ten minute walk from Elaine’s house. The group of friends had a good night, they laughed, danced lots and had between one and two pints each. Elaine called her parents about 8:30pm to say she would be home about 12:30am and not to wait up, before carrying on enjoying herself. About 11:30pm, the group of girls walked to a hamburger stall located in Cathcart Street, about a ten minute walk from the disco, where they bought a burger and chatted about their night out. About midnight Elaine said bye to her friends, turning down a drive home from a friend’s brother as they lived in the opposite direction from Elaine, and Lynn saying in reply “Okay, I will see you tomorrow.” Elaine then began to walk the 15 minutes home. This would be the last time Lynn would see her best friend again.

On Monday the 2nd of June just after 7:30am, the Greenock police received a phone call from a member of the public who had gone to their car to go to work and had instead found a body lying in a lane off Ardgowan Street next to an Air Training Corps Hut. PC Alan Stewart was asked to attend the scene, and he did indeed see a body. He saw a naked female lying on its side with a blue leather jacket, a black and white dress, and a pair of shoes nearby. Sadly, PC Alan Stewart confirmed that the female was dead. Senior officers and forensic officers were immediately dispatched and the surrounding area was cordoned off, and a murder inquiry was launched. It was immediately noted that the scene of the crime suggested that a struggle had taken place as a clump of hair was found on the ground near the body, and the female also appeared to have a black eye. Following the post-mortem, it was surmised that she had been struck on the head and either made to remove her clothes or they had been removed. It was then thought that she’d been forced to the ground, had her face pushed into the ground, while her murderer sat or knelt on her and placed a ligature around her neck, believed to have been a rope, but this was never found, and strangled her. The official cause of death was “asphyxia due to strangulation by ligature”. The attack was thought to have been a sexually motivated one due to her being naked, but it is believed there was no conclusive evidence of sexual assault.

While forensics were working on gathering evidence from the scene, police officers were given the task of starting door-to-door inquiries. PC Alan Stewart and PC William Carmichael teamed up and approached the block of flats that was closest to the scene where the body had been found, firstly knocking on the door of a Mr and Mrs Doyle. Following Mrs Doyle explaining to the police officers that her daughter hadn’t come home after a night out, she invited PC Carmichael and PC Stewart into her home to give them more information about her missing daughter Elaine. She was asked to describe her daughter and what she had been wearing the previous evening, at which point both police officers believed that it was very likely that the dead female lying in the lane 50 yards or 46 meters from the flat they were in and Elaine’s home, was Mr and Mrs Doyle’s missing 16 year old daughter Elaine. Elaine had made it within reaching distance of the safety of her home before being brutally attacked and murdered. Armed with a description from Mr and Mrs Doyle of what Elaine had been wearing the night before, the two PCs then left the Doyle household and returned to the scene of the crime to inform their superior officers of their findings and thoughts. The superior officers also agreed that they had likely found out the identity of the body. However, a member of the Doyle family would have to be asked to formally identify the body. This couldn’t be arranged immediately as Elaine’s body was still at the scene as evidence was still needed to be collected.

Now, due to where the body was found there were quite a number of flats that were overlooking the scene of the crime and it had been noted by police officers that members of the public could see exactly what was going on, as well as looking directly to where the body was lying. At this time forensic tents didn’t exist and so in order to preserve the dignity of the victim, officers decided to hang blankets obtained from the back of police cars over the fence in front of the Air Training Corps Hut to try and obscure the view of Elaine’s body. Which would have been fine, but one police officer also wanted to give Elaine some dignity and so placed a blanket over her body. Although seemingly a kind gesture, this could impact on any forensic evidence that may have been found on the body, although such things were relatively new back then so would certainly not have been done maliciously. When forensic officers came to forensically examine the body, firstly they were annoyed that a blanket had been placed over the body. But also when they began to use strips of tape to try and collect any hairs or fibre that may be on the body, their samples were contaminated by fibres from the blanket. Back in 1986 DNA and forensic evidence was still in its infancy, and it wouldn’t be until almost two years later before a DNA sample found on another murder victim led to the arrest and conviction of the murderer. But the forward-thinking forensic officers at the scene did deem it prudent to use strips of tape to collect what evidence may be on Elaine’s body, despite the extra fibres from the blanket, even if nothing was able to be done with it at the time. The samples were checked to see if any of the killer’s hair had been taken from Elaine’s body, but sadly nothing was found. The strips of tape samples were carefully and correctly stored in the hope that one day forensics would advance enough to be able to use them. Once forensics had taken samples from Elaine’s body she then was able to be transported to the mortuary, where Elaine’s dad, Jack, and her brother, John, did formally identify the body as being Elaine.

Following the identity of the body being confirmed as Elaine, a massive press appeal by the police and the Doyle family was made for any witnesses to come forward with any information they had. However, the police believed they may already have a line of inquiry. While all of Elaine’s clothing had been found at the scene, her bag was not found. Police believed that it had been taken by Elaine’s killer, and so appealed for information about this too.  However, this line of inquiry fizzled out a week later when Elaine’s bag turned up on the steps of a library, a three-minute walk away from where Elaine’s body was found. The bag and contents were burned and there were no clues from this discovery. But who had placed it there? Had the killer burned it and placed it there, or had the killer discarded it and it had been found by someone else who had burned it and put it there? If it had been the killer who had left Elaine’s bag there, then this was even more chilling, as it meant the killer was a local. Sadly these questions were to be left unanswered. Even more discouragingly, following the appeal for witnesses, although police did receive a vast number of calls, sadly, no one appeared to have any evidence or leads for the detectives. Meanwhile the close-knit community of Greenock were in shock by what had happened to Elaine, especially as Ardgowan Street was such a quiet place in a well-off area of town, with wide tree-lined streets and big old Victorian houses. They couldn’t believe there was a murderer in their midst, walking their streets. Parents were fearful of letting their children out and people became suspicious of others. Which wasn’t helped when in August 1986, according to BBC News, a witness had reported seeing a ginger or auburn-haired man acting suspiciously in a stairwell in Greenock. An artist’s impression was created and released and then the fingers really started to be pointed, with one disgruntled employee even pointing the finger at his boss. It was a scary time if you happened to have ginger or auburn hair in Greenock. Another man, Stephen Friel, reported that as soon as the artist’s impression was released it spread like wildfire that he had killed Elaine Doyle, just because of his hair colour. It was also reported to police by a witness that while Stephen had been on a night out in Greenock he had been attacked by a group of youths for saying “That wee girl, I did it.”, a claim which Stephen denies ever happened.  Going on to say in the Scotsman Newspaper on the 13th of May 2014 that it was “evil people” that were to blame for the rumours. All of the finger pointing red herring reports had to be investigated though. 

As well as this, while PC Stewart and PC Carmichael came across Mr or Mrs Doyle on their very first door-to-door visit, there still were many many more houses and flats to be visited to gather as much information about Elaine Doyle’s murder as possible. In fact the area to be covered was so large and the endeavour so massive that many other officers were drafted in from other police forces to help with the inquiry. The aim was to speak to every single tenant that lived along the route that Elaine would have taken from leaving the hamburger stall to her home in Ardgowan Street. The fact that Elaine had deliberately, and sensibly, walked along more open well-lit streets in order to be safe, only made the number of houses or flats she passed that needed to be visited even more. Plus, to be absolutely sure they had spoken to everyone who may have seen anything at all, the police also included an extra couple of streets around Ardgowan Street to their door-to-door inquiries. They also did their best to track down and speak to every single person who had signed in at the members only Celtic Supporters Club that evening, who they had been with, and if anyone had seen or spoken to Elaine. As well as appealing for any witnesses who were in the area that evening to also come forward. A mobile police unit was set up near Ardgowan Street for any witnesses to more easily give witness statements. The door-to-door inquiry took seven to eight months to complete, with some tenancies having changed hands a couple of times before the police got round to visiting. It was a massive operation, but the police were determined to track down Elaine’s killer. All in all, at the end of the inquiry, 14,000 names featured in the investigation, 4,500 statements had been taken and almost 2,400 door-to-door forms were completed. Every single bit of evidence, witness statement or potential suspect had to be investigated and, while there were some red herrings and obvious misdirection when it came to the reporting of people with auburn or ginger hair colour being involved in Elaine’s murder, there were other witnesses and suspects whose statements had to be investigated, some of which really did give the police food for thought.

Firstly, there was the witness statement from Elaine’s friend, Lynn Ryan. When asked if she could think of anyone who would want to harm Elaine she mentions a William Campbell, who was known as Daft Willie. She said that he spent a lot of time around the pool hall and would speak to Elaine. She said Elaine would joke with Willie that he was her boyfriend when he was feeling low, just to cheer him up. It was reported that he had learning difficulties and was easily wound up, and he did have auburn hair. According to the BBC news on the 9th of April 2014, Lynn stated that she “wouldn’t have been surprised if he had turned violent.” When questioned, William Campbell said that his hair may have been auburn, but it was a different style to the artist impression one. According to the BBC News, a police report said that he and Elaine were “on talking terms at the pool hall.” Lynn also mentioned that Elaine told her and other friends that in the weeks leading up to her death she thought that a blue car was following her.  Police now had another line of inquiry.

When Lynn was shown the artist’s impression released in August 1986, she said she thought it looked like a man called Francis McCurdy, who was known as Spike. Francis McCurdy was ruled out, and actually went on to marry Lynn, Elaine’s friend.

Following on from Lynn’s revelation that Elaine thought she was being followed by someone driving a blue car, the police were keen to speak to 19 year old Donald McKirdy. Donald worked as a clerical assistant for Strathclyde Police back in 1986 and had permed his collar length dark brown hair. When questioned by the police, he said that he did borrow his dad’s silver blue Vauxhall Nova car and did enjoy driving around the streets of Greenock on a night, either alone or with his friends. He said he didn’t go out specifically to look at girls, but invariably did. In fact he thought he had probably looked at thousands, but he denied ever looking at Elaine. However, after thinking about this, he then stated that he may have looked at Elaine, but as he didn’t know her or what she looked like, he didn’t know it was  Elaine. He said he hadn’t recognised her when he saw her photo in the newspapers. According to BBC news on the 2nd of May 2014, around the same time another female had reported that a male with curly hair, driving either a green or blue car, had asked her if she wanted a lift. At the time, Donald McKirdy also borrowed his mum’s car, which was green.

Another man to be questioned was 18 year old Allan Cleary, who had known Elaine from visiting the jewellers shop where she worked where he bought an earring, and he had often been walking past the jewellers as Elaine was putting down the shutters of the shop at the end of the day. He told detectives that she was good looking, but that he didn’t try to chat her up. He also told detectives what he had been wearing that night, as well as the fact that he had seen Elaine on the night of her murder at a hamburger stall in town in the early hours of the 2nd of June 1986. A week after giving his statement to the police and seeing that police were appealing for witnesses to come forward again, and realising that Elaine had last been seen at the hamburger stall before going home at about 12 midnight not the early hours of the morning as he had falsely told the police previously, he asked a friend of his to give him an alibi. His friend refused.  Allan Cleary went back to the police a week later and told them he had lied, told them that he’d been wearing entirely different clothing and that he had been at home watching TV with his parents at the time of the murder. He said he lied because he had been scared that he may have been walking around by himself alone at the time of the murder, and so he made the story up.

Also walking about the streets on the evening Elaine Doyle was murdered were two ex-prisoners, 19 year old Robert Brown and 17 year old Brian Buckley, who were looking for affluent houses to break into and rob.  When Robert was questioned by the police, he said that he had only been showing Brian where the more affluent houses were, as Robert was from Greenock, then he had returned to his home. He said that Brian Buckley turned up at his house later carrying a guitar and cans of lager he had stolen. According to the BBC news on the 30th of April 2014, Robert told police in his statement that he didn’t think Brian would commit a murder, although went on to say “He is a bit of a nut case.” When questioned, Brian Buckley told a different story, saying that both men had in fact been out to rob houses that evening. They had found a house that had a window open so Brian climbed inside and Robert was supposed to wait outside as the lookout, but he lost his nerve and ran away, leaving Brian in the house alone. Brian admitted that he was angry he had been left.

Police also questioned 35 year old James Wilson who told the police that he had been kerb crawling in the area for years, where he would stop and ask attractive girls if they wanted a lift. He also admitted driving to Glasgow where he would pick up sex workers. He was married to a nurse who worked the “twilight shifts”.

The police were also keen to speak to 24 year old Colin Dominick when one of his friends made a statement to the police, which, according to the BBC News on the 7th of May 2014, said “He keeps on bringing up the subject of the murder and told me she had been killed by the use of a car aerial and a belt.”  Colin’s friend said he had dismissed these claims thinking that Colin was just acting big. Another statement made also said that Colin Dominick would park his father’s blue Datsun Bluebird car in the town centre on the weekends where he would watch girls going in and out of pubs and clubs and would often make inappropriate remarks. When questioned by the police, Colin Dominick denied all of these allegations, saying he knew nothing about a belt or a car aerial. But police were very suspicious as one of the items found near to Elaine had been a car aerial, a fact that had never been released to the public. If this had just been a guess, it was an incredibly good one.

Detectives also visited and took a statement from 16 year old Colin McIntyre, who worked in a nearby club and who knew Elaine from attending the pool halls. Colin McIntyre told detectives where he had been the evening Elaine had been murdered and, apparently satisfied, the detectives had left. However, apparently later the same day it is alleged that Colin McIntyre visited the police station and made a further statement, very different and much more graphic than the first one. The reason I say alleged is because Colin has denied that he ever wrote the unsigned statement. He has said that he was terrified by threats of violence by the police and has alleged that a detective Langford-Johnston, a detective working on the case, and his colleagues, bullied him and made up the statement.  The statement supposedly by Colin is very graphic and detailed. It says that Colin and three of his friends, one being called Wilks, met up with Elaine, who they knew, and the four agreed to walk Elaine home, before the five of them went down the lane where Elaine’s body was found. At this point one of Colin’s friends apparently began kissing Elaine and taking her clothes off. A struggle ensued and Elaine had apparently sat down on the ground, naked. Elaine then apparently tried to stand up but fell backwards and hit her head, lying there not moving. Allegedly, then Wilks picked up a piece of string and put it around Elaine’s neck, killing her. Then they apparently all left in a panic. Following the statement being made, Colin was then released.  However, Colin McIntyre had an alibi, which checked out, and he was never charged with wasting police time.

While the police were speaking to as many people as they could and sifting through all the information they had been given, a glimmer of hope appeared in the form of 24 year old Martin Brown. Martin, who used to live in Greenock but had moved away, had returned to Greenock for a few days to visit his parents, who still lived there at the time of Elaine’s murder, to watch the World Cup with his friends. Around the same time that Elaine would have been close to Ardgowan Street and the safety of her home, Martin was walking back from friends to his parents house, walking near Ardgowan Street. He said that he witnessed a female walking towards Ardgowan Street, being closely followed by a male who looked like he was hurrying to catch up with the female. While he said he only caught a glimpse of the man’s face, he would forever remember it due to the man’s big eyes and angry expression. Martin thought that perhaps they had been a couple, and by telling the police he thought that they could be identified and questioned, and in turn eliminate Martin, as Martin was going back to his home in London the next day and he didn’t want it to appear suspicious. Martin initially said that the man had auburn or ginger hair, but later changed his statement saying he couldn’t be sure as he was colour blind. But he was able to describe the male as being tall, slim and with military tattoos. Sadly, Martin was not able to say whether the female he saw was Elaine or not from the pictures he was shown.

Armed with this new lead of a potential description of Elaine’s killer, the police doing door-to-door inquiries were given this description to see if it matched any males they came across. However, despite the vast number of male residents that were included in this inquiry, no male matching this description was found.

Despite the massive number of police officers involved in this case, the truly amazing amount of information that had been collected by police officers from members of the public, witness statements, numerous possible suspects, and the fact that the Serious Crime Squad had taken over this case, sadly the case began to go cold, the inquiry was scaled down, and Elaine’s murder went unsolved. Elaine’s family however never gave up hope that one day their daughter’s murderer would be brought to justice. Elaine’s dad, Jack, was particularly active and campaigned relentlessly for justice for Elaine. The Doyle family maintained a great relationship with detectives and they kept in regular contact to keep the family updated,  despite there being no new leads. As the years passed by, Elaine’s parents, Jack and Maureen, and Elaine’s brother, John, tried their best to remember Elaine how she was and the good times they spent together, but life would never be the same again. Life did go on for the Doyle family though and John married and had a son, who he called Jack, and a step-daughter called Sarah Jane, but Elaine and getting justice for her was never far from the family’s mind.

While Elaine’s case was reviewed periodically, it wouldn’t be until 2005 when the first forensic review would be carried out. It turned out that the clothing Elaine had been wearing on the night of her murder had become contaminated over the years, however, the forensic officers back in 1986 who had used strips of tape to collect any evidence from Elaine’s body, despite the blanket having been placed over the body, had made sure that these samples had been stored in such a way that they had not been contaminated, and so were sent off for the forensic lab to see if they had captured anything from Elaine’s body at the time. And lo and behold they had. From samples from Elaine’s face and back, a DNA profile was obtained of who detectives believed was Elaine’s killer. The police database, sadly, however, did not find a match to the profile obtained, but it was a huge breakthrough, they just needed to find a match.

Due to the breakthrough, a small team from Greenock police continued to work on the case, going through the witness statements and the over 14,000 names that came up in the initial investigation. From this, a list of 722 potential suspects was collated, and the arduous task of tracking down each person that was on the list and collecting a DNA sample from began. This was such a massive endeavour that it would take years to get to the point of actually collecting DNA samples. But for the small team of officers carrying out this massive inquiry help was on the way in the form of the Cold Case Team, which had been set up in 2011, who would be carrying out a cold case review, which would be led by Detective Superintendent Bobby Hendren. The cold case review of Elaine Doyle’s murder inquiry was called Operation Evergreen. At that point the small team became 40 strong, a whole floor in the Greenock Police Station was taken over and every single bit of information was gone over with a fresh pair of eyes, and finally the team were ready to begin to collect DNA samples from the males on the list. This included asking Australian and Canadian officials to collect samples from six of their residents. It also included tracking down and obtaining a DNA sample from many men named John Docherty, whose name had been missed in the initial investigation, who lived in the Greenock area at the time of Elaine Doyle’s murder. A John Docherty had apparently been at the Celtic Club with his friend the same night Elaine had been murdered.  His friend had been questioned by the police in 1986 and he had told the police this information, and they had written this information down with a note that said, John Docherty should be tracked down, interviewed and eliminated. However, sadly, this note had been overlooked at the time of the initial investigation and John Doherty had never been interviewed.

While the Cold Case Team were working hard on Elaine’s case, on the 2nd of June 2011, which was the 25th anniversary of Elaine’s murder, Elaine’s dad, Jack, made a televised appeal asking for information on Elaine’s murder. He said “For Maureen (Elaine’s mother) and I time has not healed the wounds. The passage of time teaches you to cope with the heartbreak, but as any parent who has lost a child will know, the pain Maureen and I feel on a daily basis is as real as when we first received that awful news. What Maureen and I are asking for today is for answers to these questions. Elaine was so young and had so much to offer others. We have been robbed of the opportunity to watch her grow into adulthood and become a mother herself. We know nothing can bring Elaine back to us, but if we could just have some of our questions answered then I know that this would bring us some comfort and make our daily lives just that bit more bearable.”  Tragically, this would be Elaine’s dad Jack’s last appeal for information, as on the 6th of January 2012 he passed away at the age of 69, having lost his battle with cancer. In an absolutely horrendous twist, Jack passed away three days after finding out that his 17 year old grandson, also called Jack, had been murdered. The teen had been stabbed through the heart and left for dead. His murderer was caught, tried and sentenced to life imprisonment, to serve a minimum of 15 years. At the trial it was reported that had Jack received medical attention immediately, he could have survived.

Having come across the name John Docherty from the initial investigation, detectives from Operation Evergreen began the task of tracking down and obtaining a voluntary DNA sample from any John Docherty who lived in Greenock. However, the name John Docherty was a very common name in Greenock and detectives would find at least three living in very close proximity to each other, one of whom was appalled at the very suggestion he had ever set foot in the Celtic Supporters Club as he was a massive Glasgow Ranger supporter, a rival football team. However, eventually detectives finally tracked down the correct John Docherty and discovered that he was still living in Greenock. And so in May 2012 two detectives visited him at home to ask for a voluntary sample.

John Docherty had been 21 at the time of Elaine Doyle’s murder. He had gone to school with Elaine’s brother John, but it was unclear if he knew Elaine or if Elaine had known him. At the time of Elaine’s murder, John Docherty had been living with his parents at Ann Street in Greenock, which is a 19 minute walk away from Elaine’s home, and he’d been engaged to a Linda Hargie. This relationship had lasted on and off until 1995. A year after the murder, John Docherty had left Greenock to join the army, where he served six years, before returning once again to Greenock where he became a driver for the council. Over the years, after his relationship ended with Linda, John Docherty met and moved in with another female, who he had a young daughter with.

When police officers asked John Doherty to give a DNA sample they said that he was more than willing to give one and told the detectives quite casually that he had also been at the Celtic Club that night, appearing to be forthcoming and open with officers. The DNA obtained from John Docherty was then sent to be forensically tested and compared with the DNA profile that had been found on Elaine’s body. It wouldn’t be long before Detective Sergeant Mairi Milne, part of Operation Evergreen and who had worked on and off on the case since 2008, received an email saying that the sample taken from John Docherty was a match to the DNA profile found on Elaine’s face and back. Former Detective Sergeant Mairi Milne said in the Greenock Telegraph on the 11 of October 2019 “I was stunned. I read the email and it said we had a one in a billion hit.” 

While the initial reaction to this was absolute relief for all involved, the hard work didn’t end there. Now John Docherty’s life had to be gone over with a fine-tooth comb in order to find out everything possible about him, such as what was he like, what had he been like back in 1986, who did he know, where did he work, who were his friends, was he definitely at the Celtic Club, and was there any chance that Elaine and John Docherty had come into contact at the Celtic Club that night? Speaking on the Crime and Investigation Channel TV show Murder Town The Elaine Doyle episode released on Monday the 28th of October 2019, former Detective Mairi Milne said that they also had to track down all of John Docherty’s friends from 1986 and find out what they could from them without raising any suspicions. Again, this all took time and planning. The detectives also contacted Martin Brown, who back in 1986 had said he had seen a man with big eyes and an angry face following a female close to Ardgowan Street, bearing in mind that when Martin was initially spoken to he had said that he wasn’t able to say if the female he saw was Elaine, he didn’t think so. However, over the years, and having seen other pictures of Elaine, he had been quite definite that, yes, the female he had seen was indeed Elaine. Now detectives approached him with more photographs, including one of John Docherty back in 1986, in the hope that he would be able to identify him. They wouldn’t be disappointed. Martin was able to identify that the big-eyed, angry-faced man he had seen that night back in 1986 had been none other than John Docherty.

Armed with this information, and having gleaned all of the information they possibly could from John Docherty’s former friends, as well as having obtained a further DNA sample from John Docherty for absolute confirmation, which also matched the DNA profile taken from Elaine, they were finally ready to bring him in for questioning on the 22nd of March 2013, 26 years and nine months after Elaine Doyle had been murdered. I’ve included a short clip of John Docherty being interviewed on our website, but he basically denied knowing anything about the murder other than what he had read in the papers. He said he had been at his parents home watching TV with them on the night of the murder, however, sadly his parents had both passed away so were unable to corroborate his alibi. Although being questioned thoroughly, John Docherty was unable to give a reason why his DNA had been found on Elaine’s back and face. And so on the 23rd of March 2013, John Docherty was arrested and charged with Elaine Doyle’s murder, appearing in court a few days later for a private hearing where he was formally charged and remanded in custody. However, in a strange twist John Docherty was granted bail and was able to live his life as a free man until his trial. John Docherty then made his first public appearance at the High Court in Glasgow on the 10th of February 2014 where he faced the charges of murdering Elaine Doyle, as well as theft of her bag and assault to injury, where he was accused of assaulting his then fiancée Linda Hargie between 1990 and 1995. At this preliminary hearing, John Docherty denied these charges and lodged a special defence of alibi and incrimination. A trial date was then set for the 24th of February 2014 at the High Court in Edinburgh. This case was the first to come to trial following a Cold Case Team investigation.

Following John Docherty’s arrest being made public, Elaine Doyle’s family, as well as all the residents of Greenock, breathed a sigh of relief, finally the killer had been caught.  However, there was also a huge amount of shock from the community, as well as from John Docherty’s colleagues, that this man had been living and working in Greenock pretty much since the murder. His colleagues were incredulous that this quiet family man had committed such an atrocious murder.

So, when the trial started on the 24th of February 2014 it attracted a lot of attention. It was explained in the opening days of the trial to the jury that the special defence of incrimination that John Docherty’s Defence Queen’s Council, Donald Finley, had put forward meant that from the list of 722 potential suspects the police had investigated, a short list of 41 names had been put forward by the defence as potentially just as likely to have committed the murder as John Docherty. The names of the 41 males put forward by the defence took to the stand in the trial for questioning, but I’m only going to cover just a few of these potential suspects testimonies, some of which I have mentioned previously. First up was Donald McCurdy, who was 19 at the time of Elaine’s murder, who worked as a clerical assistant at Strathclyde Police and who liked to borrow his dad’s blue car and his mother’s green car to go around the streets of Greenock on a night looking at girls. At the time he had categorically denied that he had known Elaine or even seen her, not recognising her from photos, however, on the witness stand under questioning he admitted that he did know Elaine as she had regularly walked past his then home, which was located not far from Ardgowan Street. When asked why he had lied he said he didn’t know. When it was put to him that he was in fact the man driving the blue car Elaine had seen following her weeks before her death Donald McCurdy said “Not to my knowledge, no”, but on further questioning said it was quite possible. Donald McCurdy denied killing Elaine Doyle. Allan Cleary, who had been 18 at the time, was next on the stand. Allan Cleary had initially lied to police about seeing Elaine at the hamburger stall in the early hours of the morning when actually Elaine had already been murdered. He lied about what he’d been wearing and asked a friend to give him an alibi. Under questioning, Allan Cleary admitted making a terrible error of judgment. When asked why he had misled police in their inquiry into Elaine’s murder, possibly suggesting he had an ulterior motive, he replied “I don’t have an answer.” He was asked what kind of man goes out of their way to lie about something so serious, unless they have something to hide? In reply he said “An evil man.” He was then asked if he wanted to admit to murdering Elaine Doyle, to which he replied “No, because I had nothing to do with it.” The jury was told that Allan Cleary had been at home with his parents watching TV at the time of the murder. Next in the dock to be questioned was Robert Brown, who was 19 at the time and one half of the pair who were out looking to rob houses on the night Elaine was murdered. Robert Brown was asked if he knew if his partner in crime, Brian Buckley who was 17 at the time, had been anywhere near Ardgowan Street on the night of their robbery attempt, to which he said he hadn’t known where Brian Buckley had gone. He was then asked if he had been aware that Brian Buckley had accused him of murdering Elaine. He said he had not. Apparently after a televised appeal in 2008 a man claiming to be Brian Buckley had telephoned police saying he had information about the murder. Apparently Brian Buckley had got Elaine’s surname wrong but had given other very accurate information. When Robert Brown was asked why he thought Brian Buckley would do this Robert said that the defence would have to ask Brian himself. Defence Counsel, Donald Finley, then said in reply that they would be asking Brian Buckley this question, however, was Robert aware that Brian Buckley was currently serving a life sentence for murdering a young woman? Robert was shocked and replied that he hadn’t known this. Shortly after this Robert asked for a break. Then it was the turn of Brian Buckley himself. The court was told that 45 year old Brian Buckley was serving a life sentence having been convicted of strangling his 25 year old partner to death four years earlier, as well as having a long history of dishonesty and assault. Brian was firstly asked about the night Elaine Doyle had been murdered and Brian told his side of the story, admitting that he had been angry that his friend had abandoned him on the robbing expedition. The defence, Donald Finley, then suggested to Brian that he had been looking for someone to take his anger out on, which is when the “no comments” started. Brian Buckley replied no comment to many questions after this, including when being asked how he had strangled his girlfriend and why he had killed her, with the Defence Counsel, Donald Findlay, suggesting that there were similarities between the murder of Elaine Doyle and Brian Buckley’s girlfriend. The final tipping point for Brian Buckley was when Donald Findlay asked the question “Why are you not prepared to tell the jury what kind of man you are?”, at which point Brian swore at the defence and stepped down from the witness box. He was immediately surrounded by security, to which he stated “Do you want me to start fighting?” Brian Buckley was then removed from the courtroom. Colin Dominick, who was 24 years old at the time of Elaine Doyle’s murder, had been questioned by the police due to his friend making a statement that Colin had kept bringing up the murder and told his friend that Elaine had been killed using a car aerial and belt, with Colin Dominick denying this or of knowing anything about an aerial or a belt, despite an aerial being found close to Elaine’s body. In court, Colin Dominick said he wouldn’t have known Elaine if she had walked passed him. When he was asked about allegations supposedly made by his ex-girlfriends about him stalking them after their relationships had ended, of repeatedly sounding his horn outside their houses late at night, or of one ex-girlfriend being dragged into a shop doorway and being punched, he denied these, saying he had never been violent towards a woman in his life and didn’t know why they were telling such lies about him. Then it was the turn of Colin McIntyre, who had been 16 at the time of the murder and who, after giving the police an initial statement, had apparently gone to the police station to give another one, but this time it was much more graphic, saying that he had stood by and watched Elaine be stripped and strangled. Colin McIntyre contested this statement though saying that he’d been threatened with violence from police officers and that police officers had actually written the statement, a fact that defence QC, Donald Findlay, disputed. He put it to Colin McIntyre that he did actually confess to being involved in Elaine Doyle’s murder, either for attention or because he was involved. Colin McIntyre reiterated that no, this was not correct, he had been forced to confess for fear of threats of violence from the police and that he’d been scared. Ignoring this response, Donald Findlay continued by saying that it sounded like a statement from somebody who’d actually been there, asking Colin McIntyre if it was him, to which he said no. But Donald Finlay pushed on, asking Colin to tell everyone now who had killed Elaine, with Colin McIntyre stating that he didn’t know. Donald Findlay finished up by asking why officers would put their careers and pensions on the line by fabricating a story, to which Colin McIntyre said “I think about it a lot, and I don’t know why.” A stream of potential other suspects came and went one after another, until finally it was the turn of witness Martin Brown, who had been 24 years old at the time of Elaine’s murder and had been walking back to his parents home when he happened to see a female being followed by a male with big eyes and an angry face. He told the court that the male he had seen had been wearing dark clothing and had big eyes, but that he’d only seen his face for a split second, although had glanced twice at the female walking in front of the male. When cross-examined by Donald Findlay for the defence, he first asked Martin how he could be so sure the female he had seen that night had been Elaine after ten years, when he hadn’t recognised Elaine from photos at the time, after describing her at the time as being about 20 years old with shoulder length hair, with much of the description from Martin Brown not matching Elaine. Martin replied that he hadn’t recognised Elaine as being the female he had seen that night initially, however, upon being shown newer photos to the ones in the newspapers of Elaine, he instantly recognised her. Donald Findlay next asked Martin how he could be so sure that the male he had seen that night following close behind Elaine was John Docherty, to which Martin Brown said that in 2012 when police had brought him 12 mug shots to look at he had been able to narrow them down to three and there was one that he thought was similar to the person he had glimpsed the night of Elaine’s murder back in 1986. Donald Findlay continued by stating that according to Martin Brown’s statement the male would have caught up to the female pretty quickly,  to which Martin agreed saying he would have caught up to her in a second or two. Donald Findlay then jumped on the fact that if the male had caught up to the female within a second or two and a struggle had taken place then surely Martin would have heard this, to which Martin Brown said “I would have heard her. I would have heard something. I heard nobody.” Next on the stand was forensic scientist, Pauline McSorley, where she described testing the DNA that had been found on Elaine’s body, going on to see that two results had been found on Elaine’s back and face that could not be accounted for, until a DNA sample that had been volunteered by John Docherty in May 2012 had been tested, and it was reported in the BBC News on the 17th of June 2014 that the results showed that it was 560,000 times more likely it came from the accused than any other unrelated male. The defence also brought up the fact that a blanket had been placed over Elaine’s body possibly contaminating any evidence that was found. However, the question still remained, how did John Doherty’s DNA get onto a blanket taken from the back of a police car? Then, in a further blow to John Docherty’s case, his ex-fiancée, Linda Hargie, who had been in a volatile on and off relationship with John Doherty from 1984 to 1995, took to the stand. It was explained that she had been approached by police after John Docherty’s arrest when they were trying to glean as much information about John as possible, and what Linda had to say was very interesting. Apparently, Linda had been aware that John Docherty had been at the Celtic Club on the evening before Elaine Doyle was murdered, and when appeals were being made for anyone who had been at the club that night to come forward, she suggested he should go to the police.  But, according to the BBC news on the 4th of June 2014, his response was that he had no intention of contacting police, going on to say that it was unlikely they would come to the door for him because he hadn’t signed the visitors book. She went on to say that one day, a few years later, when the relationship had become more turbulent and when John Docherty was in the army, the couple had an argument just as John was leaving to go back to the army and Linda had brought up the murder of Elaine Doyle again saying something along the lines of “I wonder what would happen to your army career if they knew you had not fulfilled your obligation.” She said that John Docherty reacted very angrily to this remark, turning and pushing Linda by the throat or shoulders against the wall, holding her there while saying “Never say that again.” Despite being aware that John Docherty had been at the Celtic Club on the night of Elaine’s murder, Linda made the decision not to come forward to the police, despite being aware of media attention around the case over the years, going on to say that she was “totally shocked” when John Docherty had been charged with the murder.

After 52 days of evidence, and following the closing statements, Judge Lord Stewart, who had been presiding over the trial, began his legal direction to the jury, which consisted of eight women and seven men. He told them they must put aside emotion and follow the evidence they accepted to its logical conclusion, whether the outcome be conviction or acquittal. Lord Stewart also made it clear that the jurors had to be satisfied that the DNA found on Elaine’s body had got there during the commission of a crime. The jury then retired, but it would take only four short hours before the jury were back with a verdict.

On the 17th of June 2014 John Docherty was found guilty. So, despite all of the noise produced by the defence by bringing in 41 potential other suspects to the trial, the jury was sure, beyond a reasonable doubt that on the 2nd of June 1986 John Docherty had indeed murdered 16 year old Elaine Doyle. John Docherty’s sentence would be a mandatory life sentence, but Judge Lord Stewart asked for reports on John Docherty before he handed down the fixed term that John Docherty must serve before being eligible for parole. Sentencing was deferred until August and John Docherty was remanded in custody.

The conviction of John Docherty brought a close to one of Scotland’s longest running unsolved murders. A sense of relief was felt by all following the verdict, with Elaine’s brother, John Doyle, saying he thought it was a just verdict, and Elaine’s mother, Maureen, saying that “The result at court doesn’t make our day-to-day living any easier. The pain doesn’t go away. But my son John and I take comfort that we now have justice for Elaine.” Maureen went on to thank everyone who had been involved in the case since 1986, as well as the people of Greenock for their continued support over the years. Detective Superintendent Bobby Hendren, who had led the cold case review, also said that he was extremely pleased with the verdict. Going on to say that he hoped it gave the family some comfort.

John Docherty then appeared to hear his sentence on the 5th of August 2014. He was given a life sentence and ordered to serve 21 years before being eligible to be considered for parole. John Docherty’s Defence Queen’s Council, Donald Findlay, said that his client was adamant that he had been a victim of a miscarriage of justice, that he did not kill Elaine Doyle, and that he intended to fight until he proved he’d been a victim of a miscarriage of justice. John Docherty went on to appeal the verdict, as well as appealing that the minimum term of 21 years was excessive. It was reported in the BBC News on the 20th of May 2016 that John Docherty’s appeal had been rejected, with the Lord Justice General, Lord Carloway, saying “This was a compelling circumstantial case and the appeal against conviction is refused. This was a murder of an innocent 16 year old girl making her way home along the public streets after a night out in central Greenock. It is a crime of rare callousness and brutality and, as the trial judge said, it caused widespread public revulsion and anxiety and terrible anguish for the deceased’s family over many years.” John Docherty will be 70 years old when he is eligible to be considered for parole in 2035.

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 Cole:

Join us there. Bye.

Granny Robertson:

Scottish Murders is a production of Cluarantonn.

Scottish Murders is a production of Cluarantonn

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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


We've Upgraded!

Hey everyone, just wanted to let you know that since we always strive to keep on improving, we have upgraded our microphone to a Shure MV7! We have trialled this on our episode available on Tuesday 25 January, let us know what you think? However, from April onwards we will be using the new microphone as standard. We hope you enjoy!