John Drew Woods,1838

Thorter Row, August 1838

As watchman Duncan MacNab patrolled the Thorter Row area of Dundee on the night of Saturday 4th August 1838, he happened to see what he believed to be a drunken man propped up against the stairwell close to some properties.  Upon closer investigation, MacNab realised that the man in question was dead.  The deceased, John Drew Woods was quickly identified by his friend James Low, a local police sergeant.

Low immediately visited the house of his father, Arthur Woods to advise him of the situation.  By this time, it was late at night, but Arthur woods came to the door fully clothed, including a hat.  Suspicious, Low enquired as to the whereabouts of John, but his father said he had no idea.  Mrs Woods then appeared, and when Low asked her, she said that John had been at their door only half an hour prior to Low’s visit.  Mrs Woods was not John’s mother, being described as “much younger” than his 60-year-old father and it was also noted that she could be quite a violent woman.  Pressing further, Mrs Woods imparted that she thought John may have fallen on the stairs on his way out.  Arthur became defensive at this point, emphasising that he had nothing to do with anything that had happened to John.

An examination of the body revealed marks on his neck consistent with strangulation.  Rope matching the size of the welts on John’s neck was found at the home of his father.  As the murder investigation opened, witnesses came forward to describe what they saw or heard on the night of August 4th.  Two men purported to have heard cries for help coming from inside the Wood’s home a week or so prior to the death.  Upon entering the property to offer assistance, they saw Arthur Woods sitting on top of his son, attempting to strangle him with his own neck cloth.  The men separated the battling duo, whilst fending off the attacks of Mrs Woods, who was also trying to beat John with a poker.

A neighbour reported seeing the deceased on the night of his murder, drunk and on his way to his father’s home.  As she lay in bed, she heard noises and looked out of the windows over to the Woods’ residence.  Listening more intently, she described how John Woods had pleaded with his father not to choke him, followed by a series of noises and thumps.  She then described how Arthur Woods had proclaimed to his son that he would be his son’s “butcher” before he slept that night.

Both Arthur and his wife, Henrietta were charged with murder at the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh in February 1839.  Henrietta was cleared of the crime by a majority, but Arthur Woods was found guilty of filicide (the murder of one’s own son or daughter) and was sentenced to be executed in Dundee on 18th March 1839.

– 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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