In the early hours of a Saturday morning in late April, 1821, Margaret Shuttleworth woke up and made her way down to the kitchen to fetch a glass of water. At the foot of the stairs lay the lifeless body of her husband, Henry. Neighbours awoke to Margaret’s deafening screams from the inn which they both ran, and came to see what the fuss was all about. They found Margaret hysterically screaming and babbling incoherently about how she had found her husband lying at the bottom of the staircase, having probably fallen and tripped. Blood had formed in a pool around Henry’s lifeless body as she continued to scream and mumble. From the look of Henry’s skull, even to the ordinary man on the street, this was no accident.
With a questionable background (her father was involved in the smuggling trade in Montrose and was eventually found dead in a ditch), and a reputation for drinking too much, Margaret’s story was not entirely believable. Added to this were witness reports of frequent arguing between Margaret and her husband, with Henry threatening to leave several times over the course of many years. Margaret was arrested and charged with his murder, despite her protestations of innocence and the presence of an unconcealed iron poker with blood, hair and skin matter clearly attached to it.
Witnesses claimed that when Margaret was drunk, she would become abusive and violent, often throwing things at her husband with the clear intent of harm. Experts as well as eye witnesses stated that it was clear Henry Shuttleworth’s injuries were not caused merely by falling down the stairs. According to everyone who was questioned, Margaret had blood on her hands both figuratively and literally. It did not take the jury long to announce a guilty verdict, and she was sentenced to hang on Friday 2nd November, with her body being given to science for dissection and study.
Forbes Inglis’ book murder and misdeeds, quotes Margaret as saying “I have no doubt I will suffer, but I will die innocent of the crime of which you have found me guilty.” Forbes also goes on to speculate that there was another person who may have been responsible for the crime, but, upon being questioned, a Sheriff had deemed this person innocent. Did Margaret, with a chequered past and a history of drunken, abusive behaviour really kill her husband, or was she just a very easy scapegoat for the real killer?