Janet Kelley, 1833

Hawkhill, Dundee, 17th August 1833

Janet Kelley lived with her husband, Enos, in a flat in the Hawkhill area of Dundee. On the evening of 17th August 1833, Enos staggered home particularly drunk, turning up at his neighbour’s house to ask for some tobacco. Turning him away, the neighbour, Mrs Kay, could hear him entering his flat and bothering his wife, Janet, who lay asleep in their bed. An argument ensued, and Mrs Kay ran to Janet’s sister, Susan, for some help. Mrs Kay left Janet’s sister and returned to the Kelley’s property on the urging of her son.

When she got there, Janet was in the midst of what appeared to be a fit, with foam coming from her mouth. Enos asked for help getting Janet to bed, which she did before leaving the property. The commotion had roused many of the neighbours, and Mrs Kay told anyone who would listen of what she saw of Janet, claiming she looked almost dead. Whether curiosity or concern prevailed, Mrs Kay returned to Kelley’s flat shortly after this, to check on Janet. Being told she was well, but fast asleep, Mrs Kay eventually returned to her own home. Something didn’t sit well with her, however, and she sat up listening and waiting.

By 4am, Mrs Kay heard a series of knocks on her ceiling, coming from the Kelley’s flat, along with muffled crying. She went to the property and found that Janet was cold and dead. The foam that had secreted from her mouth only hours earlier had been replaced with blood. Enos sat crying on the floor as Mrs Kay fled to another neighbour’s house to begin alerting people to the death. Following a medical examination, Enos Kelley was arrested for the murder of his wife.

Forbes Inglis writes that the wording of the indictment against acted against the Crown in this case, with the charge as follows:

“..did murder his wife, in so far as you, on 17th August 1833, in your house at Hawkhill, Dundee, wickedly, maliciously and feloniously attacked and assaulted the said Janet Mitchell otherwise Kelley, and did with your fists, and with a poke, or with some other weapon to the Prosecutor unknown, inflict one or more wounds on the head, and other parts [on] the person of the said Janet Mitchell otherwise Kelley, and did violently throw or knock her down to the ground, and with your hands and knees did violently press her body to the ground; by all which the said Janet Mitchell otherwise Kelley was severely and mortally injured; and in consequence of which injuries she immediately or shortly thereafter died, and was thus murdered by you the said Enos or Innes Kelley.”

Despite witnesses placing him at the scene of the crime, as well as confirming his argument and his subsequent scuffle with Janet on the night in question, the proceedings were about to take a twist that would see Enos Kelley literally get away with (alleged) murder. Whilst Kelley agreed that he did push his wife that evening during an argument, she began to have a fit and he could not get her to bed himself. He refuted any allegations held against him and pled not guilty.

2 medical examiners were called to take the stand during the trial. Whilst one examiner told the court exactly what they needed to hear in order to secure a conviction – that Janet’s death was caused by violence, the other examiner took a different approach. Dr Webster contradicted Dr Crichton’s medical assessment by stating that he did not believe that the physical violence she may or may not have suffered had anything to do with her cause of death. He believed that the cause of death was asphyxiation.

Inglis writes that this caused considerable issued for the prosecution, as the judge felt it was his duty to advise the jury that they must make their decision on the charge as it was presented in Court. If any of the jury thought that it was possible Janet was choked or somehow asphyxiated to death, by any means, they could not return a verdict of guilty based on the original charge. It seemed as though more than one or two members of the jury believed Dr Webster’s account, because the case against Enos Kelley was found Not Proven. He quotes:

“Lord Meadowbank concurred, and then addressed the prisoner in the most forcible terms – told him that it was an ambiguity in the indictment which had induced the jury to acquit him, while they could have had no doubt of his guilt; and that as it was, he had to depart from this bar with the mark of crime upon his forehead.”

Is it possible that Enos Kelley was in fact, innocent? Perhaps Janet did have a fit and it caused her to choke – we’ll never know for sure. If he did do it, which most people seemed to assume he did, then it’s fair to say that Kelley got away with murder.

– DD Tours operates walking tours in Dundee city, covering dark local history such as wars, battles, murders, diseases, riots, disasters and executions. Walk with us for an unforgettable storytelling experience.


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