The Murder of Mary Conn – Pt 2

This is the continuation of the Murder Trial of John Jenkins for the murder of Mary Conn in West Port, in Dundee’s West End. Read the first part here.

Dundee Courier, Friday 13th January 1893




The trial of John Jenkins, labourer, on a charge of having murdered the woman with whom he cohabited in a house in West Port took place before Lord Trayner and a jury at a sitting of the High Court of Justiciary in Dundee yesterday. The public interest aroused on such occasions made itself manifest in the large crowds who sought admission to the Sheriff Court House. An hour before the time of commencement the gate was besieged by hundreds of persons eager to gain entrance, and by ten o’clock the available space inside was fully occupied, leaving many unable, for want of space, to witness the proceedings. Half an hour later Lord Trayner took his seat on the bench, accompanied the Rev. Dr Colin Campbell, who opened the Court with prayer, while the Magistrates’ bench was occupied by Lord Provost Mathewson, Bailies Ferrier, Doig, and Stevenson. Mr J. A. Reid officiated as Advocate-Depute, assisted by Mr A. A. Grainger Stewart, and Mr H. Skeete as Clerk of Court; while Mr Wm. Thomson and Mr T. B. Morrison, instructed by Wm. Nixon, were counsel for the defence.

The indictment set forth that on 13th November last, in the house at 42 West Port, then occupied by him, the prisoner assaulted Mary Conn or Millan, dashed her head against the floor, beat her, and murdered her. Jenkins, who was tidily attired and appeared to take a lively interest in the procedure, sat in the dock between a couple of policemen and listened to the evidence in an intelligent way. He pleaded not guilty, and jury was empanelled as follows: —Thomas Maitland, Wm. Carnegie, James Byers, jun., S. Buchanan, Wm. Balharrie, Wm. Wallace, George Longair, John Prain, John Davidson, Alexander Fleming, James Soutar, Alex. McBey, Wm. Hutcheon, Thomas Hadow, and Lewis Corbett.


William Macrae (27), shoemaker, 42 West Port, was the first witness. He deponed that Jenkins had lived in an attic immediately above his dwelling. Shortly after five o’clock on the morning in question he was awakened by a noise above. He heard the prisoner ask Conn if she was going to bed, and she answered “No.”

Q. —What did you hear next.

A.—He waited for minute or so, and then he jumped out of bed, and said, “Then I’ll bed you.”

Q.—What next? A. —I heard heavy crash on the floor.

Q.—Did it sound as if a body had fallen on the floor?

A. —Like that, sir… At that moment, he continued, a considerable piece plaster fell from the ceiling down upon his bed. He heard eight or nine dull raps, evidently produced with considerable violence, and at each of these he heard the prisoner say, ” I’ll bed you. ‘ The woman gave one little moan the occasion the first knock, and after that she was quite silent.


Jenkins kept walking up and down the room as if he was shifting the woman about, and witness heard “things trailing,” this lasting for about ten minutes. Immediately afterwards the door of Jenkins’ house opened, and Jenkins stood at the top of the stair and cried, “Come out, you cripple shoemaker.” Prisoner then declared that he could “beat all the Macraes and the Charley Piries,” the latter name alluding to witness’ brother-in-law. Witness, on entering Jenkins’ house with the police, noticed a chair (produced) turned over, and saw that the spars connecting the legs were broken, one of them, which had just been newly broken, lying the door.

By the COURT—Was he the worse of drink?

A. – Not according to my opinion; he might have had a half.

Cross-examined by Mr Thomson — He said, on his part, there was no bad feeling towards Jenkins, whatever prisoner might think. He had, on one occasion, brought a charge against prisoner for being cruel to his children.

By the COURT – Was this before the woman Millan took up house with him?

A.—”Yes, sir; it was another one he had. (A laugh.)

Cross-examination continued. Witness admitted he had been three times convicted for reset and had been sixteen times in the hands of the police, though not, as he declared, for “anything bad.” Mary Ann Macrae (29), wife of the previous witness, corroborated. Margaret Casey (39), wife of Thomas Casey, slipper maker, 42 West Port, said she lived in an attic in the same land as prisoner. She explained that an interesting event was expected in her household. In anticipation of the safe delivery of her daughter, she had taken in a pint bottle of whisky, and, when prisoner and deceased visited her in the course of the morning, she gave each of them half a glass of whisky.

Soon after they left Jenkins returned, and, wakening her, said, “Margaret, come ben, for I have killed my wife through Macrae.” She followed him, she then described what she witnessed. Johnny, she said, was very anxious for deceased to speak, and witness addressing him said, “Johnny, she dead.” Prisoner replied that if she was, he himself had been the cause.

Macrae was again called, and Mr Thomson put the following question: —” About a fortnight ago did you say to Mrs Farrell, in or near the tenement at 42 West Port, if a word from me would hang the man I would say it.” Witness replied in the negative.

Mrs Casey was also again led in. Mr Thomson asked—About a fortnight ago did you hear him speaking to his mother-in-law?


Q. —What did you hear him say?

A.—If a word from him would hang him, he would hang him.

Mrs O’Farrell (60), the mother-in-law of Macrae, who also lived 42 West Port, spoke to the disturbance caused by prisoner on the morning libelled.

By the COURT—Did Macrae speak to you?

A.— No.

Q. —Did he cry across from his house to yours that “if a word from him would hang the man he would say it?”

A. (with surprise)—No, sir; he never said that to me.

Margaret King or Macdonald, 8 Street, who was in Mrs Casey’s house on the morning in question, corroborated that witness’ evidence.

Constable Findlay spoke to being called by Mrs Casey. Prisoner, in the house, told him he was responsible for what had taken place. In Brown Street, on the way to the Police Office, Jenkins said voluntarily he (Findlay) had accused him wrongly, adding, “It was not his wife it was only a woman he stopped with.”

James Thomson, constable, corroborated. Sergeant William Spence spoke to the removal of deceased’s body to the mortuary.

Lieutenant John Carmichael, who was in charge of the Central Police Office when Jenkins was apprehended, stated that while they were examining his clothes prisoner said, “You need not bother yourselves; I’m going to plead guilty to all you have said.”

Robert Jenkins (6), prisoner’s son, now in the Industrial School, Tranent, was here brought in, but, on the suggestion of Mr Thomson, his Lordship refused to examine the lad on account of his tender years.

Prisoner seemed at this stage to be affected, and as his son was being lifted down, he turned towards the gallery and nodded to a young woman as if instructing her to take charge of the youth. Dr Templeman deponed that he and Dr Stalker made the post-mortem examination. They were of opinion that death had resulted from fracture of the skull, caused by external violence. Dr Stalker corroborated. Cross-examined, he said the bruises here might have been caused by falls some hours before death and were just the sort of bruises a half-tipsy woman might sustain by knocking about.


Dr Tulloch was the first witness for the defence. He had had a good deal of experience in fractures of skull as a parochial surgeon, and in that capacity had several times seen this woman. He did not think the fracture in this case so likely to have been caused by a man dashing the head on the floor as from a fall.

James Campbell, superintendent of the Boys’ Home, Dundee, and secretary of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, having given, evidence, a consultation took place between Judge and counsel, after which Lord Trayner said — John Jenkins, I understand from your counsel that you are desirous of another opportunity of pleading to this indictment. What you say—guilty or not guilty?

The Prisoner – l plead guilty to culpable homicide.

The Advocate-Depute said he accepted this plea, and the jury, by instruction of his Lordship, found accordingly.

His Lordship, addressing prisoner, said—John Jenkins, you have stood for some time in considerable peril of your life, because, on your own confession now, and upon the evidence adduced by the Crown, it is clear beyond doubt that on the 13th of November last, you, by violence of a brutal, unmanly, and I will say cowardly character, did deprive a woman of her life — a woman who was living with you as your wife. That she was not your wife is no excuse for your conduct. You had made her your wife for the time being, the companion of your life, the sharer of your bed; and it is clear that you, in a fit of passion, which I hope was altogether unpremeditated, attacked and treated her in such a way that, with all her sins upon her head, you sent her into God’s presence without a moment’s time to think of the life she was living with you. Your conduct admits of no excuse, and I am sorry to think that, and sorry to say that, but your conduct has been such to merit very severe treatment, indeed, at the hands of outraged justice. I have told you at the same time you have stood there at the peril of your life; and it is because the Crown has taken lenient view of your case, and accepted this mitigated plea that you are not condemned to lose your life in as violent a way. It is impossible ever to look upon your case with anything but severity, and I am unwilling to say more to add to your unfavourable position than I have already said. I hope it will be a warning that all men conducting themselves in the way you have been conducting yourself may lay to heart. The sentence in your case is that you be committed to penal servitude for a period of twelve years. Prisoner, who seemed rather surprised, was then led away.

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