The Murder of Mary Conn – Pt 1

These extracts from the Dundee Courier tell the tale of a horrid murder in West Port, in Dundee’s West End, in 1892.

Dundee Courier, Monday 14th November 1892







For a considerable time, Dundee has been singularly free from crime in its most serious form, but the news of horrible murder startled the residenters in the West Port district of the city at an early hour yesterday morning. The party now most directly concerned is John Jenkins (35), described both as a labourer and a general dealer, Wannan’s Close, 42 West Port, who was apprehended by the police about six o’clock yesterday morning on the charge of murdering Mary Conn or Millan (28), a low-mill hand, with whom he cohabited, by striking her on the head with a chair. From the information available it would seem that Jenkins, a widower, his wife having died a couple of years ago, leaving him with a daughter, who was recently taken from him and sent to Industrial School, and Robert Jenkins, a lad now between seven and eight years of age. Soon after his wife’s death prisoner began to give way to drink, and nine months ago took house with the deceased woman in a back land in Wannan’s Close, he continuing to ply his avocation as a general dealer, while she worked in a mill in the city. According to the statements of the neighbours, they lived on very friendly terms, although their existence was pretty much chequered by mutual drinking bouts, more especially on the Saturday evenings, in the course of which the boy Robert was left to help himself as best he could. A good deal of liquor seems to have been going between Saturday evening and yesterday morning. Jenkins and his mistress had paid several visits to the house of Thomas Casey, who lived in the same land, but who had betaken himself to other quarters in view of an expected addition to the family of his daughter, Helen Casey, or Brookbanks.

About half-past four clock in the morning after the interesting event, Jenkins and Conn returned to Casey’s house to compliment Mrs Brookbanks and to share in a pint bottle of whisky, which had been provided for the occasion. On leaving shortly before five the couple were on the most friendly terms, Jenkins having his arm round Conn’s neck and kissing her. Barring some high words which Jenkins then addressed to William Macrae, shoemaker, living on the ground flat, nothing further was heard by the Casey’s, who, wearied by the night’s proceedings, retired to rest. Having regard to the probable return of her husband, Mrs Casey had left the door on the latch, and about half-past five in the morning she was rather startled by Jenkins pushing it open and declaring in excited manner —”Maggie (meaning Mrs Casey), I’ve killed my wife through Macrae.” When Mrs Casey followed him to his house, she found Jenkins bent over the lifeless remains of Mary Conn or Millan, whom he vainly asked to speak to him. On realising what had happened Mrs Casey ran for the police, who, following her to the scene, apprehended Jenkins.


Wannan’s Close is on the south side of the West Port, immediately before it connects with Hawkhill, the entrance to it being between the drapery shop of Messrs Dawson & Carmichael and Hardie’s boot store. About twenty yards along the lane a close affords access to the dwelling where Jenkins resided. The building, which is factored by A. S. Cameron, consists of one storey with attics, short flight of stairs leading to the same. The ground floor has on either side two rooms, occupied respectively by Wm. Macrae, shoemaker, and his mother-in-law, while the attics were tenanted by Jenkins on the one hand and Thomas Casey the other, the structure having been apparently erected before the conception of any extensive municipal improvement scheme.

The Jenkins’ apartment was altogether a rather stuffy hole, the only light available being that which penetrated two very insufficient skylights. Withal it was comparatively well furnished, considering the class of occupants. In the far corner on the left hand as one entered was a substantial iron bed with a good supply of bedding, the other articles including two chairs (one of which was taken away by the police officials), two tables, a large box for coals, and an improvised dresser. On the floor a couple of feet from the end of the bed was a large pool of blood, this to all appearances having been the spot where the fatal blow blows had been struck. When Mrs Casey entered, the body of the unfortunate woman was lying on the opposite side to this, her head being propped by a pillow, which, when our representative entered yesterday, was lying on the bed besmeared with blood.

A rather handsome lamp extended over the mantelpiece on a bracket, and not far from it was a large clock, while, all round, the walls were decked with pictures, calendars, and amateurish sketches, the last mentioned being represented as the work of the prisoner. On the side of the wall above the bed was scroll with the motto “What is home without mother?” and among the other things above the mantelpiece was a drawing of “The Grand Old Man” and Mrs Gladstone. Around it were several Scripture texts, one bearing the words —”God bless our home,” and having on either side smaller ones, with the words “For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever, amen,” and the advice “Honour thy father and thy mother and the commandment – “Thou shalt not kill.”


Maggie McGhee Casey, wife of Thomas Casey, already mentioned, stated that the deceased woman was a very quiet person. The couple were a good deal given to drink, and in the end of the week Mr Campbell, of the Boys’ Home in Ward Road, had visited their abode to see how they were treating the boy. Jenkins seemed at times to have some strong feeling of enmity towards Macrae, and prior to the alleged murder was heard to give expression to it. Between Saturday evening and Sunday morning the couple had been drinking pretty heavily and had repeatedly visited her house. Early in the morning her daughter, Helen Casey Brookbanks, gave birth to a child, and about half past four prisoner and the deceased came in to compliment her, and to have share of a bottle of whisky, provided with a shilling and other coppers which deceased gave her early in the evening for the purpose of purchasing some liquor with which to rejoice after the birth.

They were then in the best of good humour, but very much under the influence of drink. They had share of what was going, and not a word of anger passed in her house. Jenkins left with Millan before five o’clock, going out at the door with his arm round her neck and kissing her. She was awakened at one stage subsequently by the voice of Jenkins, and about half-past five in the morning he shoved open her door, and, coming into the house, said, “Oh, Maggie, I have killed my wife.” Without saying another word, he immediately returned to his room, and in a dazed, half, stupefied condition she followed him. On entering a most pitiable spectacle presented itself.

Immediately below the skylight lay the deceased woman, her head resting on a pillow, which she expected prisoner had placed under it. Prisoner was down on his knees kissing her, and crying “Oh, Mary, will ye speak tae me?” Pointing to the blood he said to her (Mrs Casey), “what is that? There is surely something wrong.” She proceeded to examine Millan, and, failing to get her to speak or to show any signs of life, she remarked—”Oh, Jenks, she’s deid.” Whereupon prisoner re-joined, “If she’s deid, it was me that did it, and it’s through that Macrae.”

Running down the stairs, Mrs Casey called for the police, who found Jenkins on the floor, having the deceased woman’s head his knee, and attempting to induce her to speak. The policemen informed him that he would require to go to the Police Office, and he showed no signs of resistance, but is understood to have so far admitted that he was responsible for the woman’s death. Mrs Casey believes that, after Jenkins realised the seriousness of the assault which he had committed on Millan, he had dragged her lifeless body from the blood in which it lay to the opposite corner where she was found, his object being to examine the wounds by the light afforded by the skylight. Mrs Casey further stated that the deceased woman had latterly been rather delicate, and that she left the Infirmary, where she had been under treatment for a sore throat, only six weeks ago.


Robert Jenkins is a lad whose lot has not by any means fallen in the most pleasant places. His mother died a couple of years ago, and since that sad event his father has gone very far wrong. He is an intelligent though rather slatternly-dressed youth of some six summers. His story was easily told. He had been in bed all Saturday evening and had been wakened from his sleep by the noise occasioned by the entry of his misguided father and the deceased. His father came to bed, but “his mother,” as he described her, was on the floor. His father told her to come to bed, but she would not, whereupon he rose and struck her on the back with the chair. After he was “done with the chair” he commenced to kiss her, and to ask her to speak.


William Macrae occupies the two rooms on the west side of the ground floor of the building. He said that about nine months ago his wife chastised Jenkins for turning out his two children and leaving them on the steps. On Sunday last prisoner had come to the stairhead, and had called, in the hearing of all the neighbours, that after Monday the cripple shoemaker—meaning Macrae, who is slightly lame—would never breathe again. Nothing further occurred between them until yesterday morning, when Jenkins was heard to speak in angry terms about him, and to challenge him to a fight. The bed in which Macrae and his wife slept was immediately below the one in Jenkins’ room, and he could distinctly hear the prisoner going to his bed. This was about five o’clock in the morning, at which time he heard Jenkins order his wife to come to bed. She replied that she would not. He demanded again that she should so, and, on her refusing, he was heard to say, “Then I will bed you.”

He thereupon left the bed, and the next thing Macrae heard was a loud noise as if prisoner had taken his wife by the head and was dashing her on the floor. This was repeated eight or nine times, and as he never heard the woman say anything after the first knock, he was confident that something very serious had happened. He listened attentively, and immediately after the noise had ceased, he heard prisoner’s feet on the floor, and about ten minutes subsequent to what is believed to have been the fatal assault Jenkins threw open his door and again called for him to fight, thereafter entering the house of Mrs Casey, and again returning to his own. Macrae, to use his own words, simply let Jenkins “haver away,” and never even attempted to say a word in reply.

In consequence of the violent manner in which Jenkins was dashing Millan on the floor, a large quantity of the ceiling immediately above where he was lying fell on Macrae, and this had been handed over to the police officials. After the police had left; with Jenkins in custody, he entered the room along with two detectives, who took away with them, among other things, a life policy which the deceased woman had contracted with the Refuge Insurance Company. In it the name given was Mary Millan, her age being stated 28. On this policy, which was affected in July, she had been paying per week, and in the event of death after a year the sum payable would have been 2s.


George Jenkins, Artillery Lane, is a brother of the deceased. He happened to call at the scene of the tragedy when the inquiries were being made, his purpose being to take away little Bob, his brother’s son, and, as Mrs Casey refused to part with him, he took his departure for the Police Office with the object of endeavouring to secure an order compelling the Caseys to hand over the lad. In a conversation, he said his brother had been a silly fellow, and, on account of the life he led, they were not on friendly terms. He professed to be a Roman Catholic in religion, but he was afraid he was not much of anything. In any event, he would not be advised by him, and it was on account of his drinking and other equally loose habits that he had stopped having anything do with him.

The unfriendliness which had sprung between them was chiefly due his brother cohabiting with Millan, who was not by any means a good woman. He believed his brother would be about 35 years of age. The first intimation he had received of the affair was shortly after two o’clock that afternoon, and being rather indisposed, the effect of it was largely to upset him. The little boy was a quiet youth, but the surroundings in which he was being brought up were not what he could approve of; nor could they be in his favour.


Jenkins is a Dundonian and was born and bred in the vicinity of Fish Street. One of his brothers, it may be mentioned, was killed at the great fire in Trades Lane number of years ago, and a sister died recently. During his wanderings he visited the district fairs, and there took up whatever business seemed to offer best. Last Saturday afternoon and evening he was employed at one of the meat stalls in the Greenmarket in the capacity of “shouter” for the purpose of attracting purchasers, a branch of the trade in which his practice as fish vendor had made him proficient. It was noted on this occasion that, to all appearance, he had not been drinking, and was certainly not under the influence of liquor, and a party who saw him in a shop in Overgate partaking of a pie and lemonade about midnight, describes him as having been then “dead sober.” He is credited with great excitability of temper, and it has been suggested that an irritable affection on the head to which he was subject may have to some extent conduced to this. Jenkins seems, nevertheless, to have been possessed of a strong affection for deceased. He was on various occasions observed to be extremely solicitous as to her health, and fearful lest she should expose herself to danger.

Last night a post-mortem examination on the body of the deceased woman was conducted in the Mortuary, and today Jenkins will be brought before the Police Court, and, understood, remitted to the Sheriff on the capital charge.

… the story continues in Part 2 with the trial of John Jenkins for 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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