6th September, 1865

When Captain John Greig Junior set sail from Montrose to London in his father’s schooner on 6th September 1865, he was blissfully unaware of his fate. The schooner was towed from Montrose harbour, out of the shallower waters of the bay with a crew of three men, plus their Captain, not long after midday, carrying their cargo of wooden flooring. As they began to head South, Captain Greig, feeling the effects of the afternoon heat, soon lay down on the deck to take a nap, leaving the other three men to control and navigate the vessel. Those three men were Andrew Brown, who was the ship’s Mate, John Pert, who manned the tiller, and an older crewman, Alexander Raeburnes, who worked the rigging.

They had barely reached Inverkeillor, by a place called Red Head, when Pert is alleged to have heard two loud, dense thuds, like something heavy had fallen onto the deck. He was not prepared for what he saw as he turned towards the source of the sudden noise. Captain Grieg lay dead on the deck, his head split open almost in two separate parts in a bloody mess on the wooden deck. Standing over him with an axe, ready to deal yet another blow was the ship’s Mate, Andrew Brown. In horror, John Pert watched as Brown struck a third time, slicing the Captain’s head in two.

Panic and an overwhelming need for survival must have overwhelmed Pert, forcing him up from his position at the tiller and towards the murderous Brown. Pert gained possession of the axe and quickly threw it over the side of the schooner into the waters of the North Sea. Knowing that there was no way he could get away with what he had done, he ordered the two men to help him sail to Stonehaven, so he could see his mother one last time before he was taken into custody. Probably fearing for their own safety, the two men obliged, and they turned to set a new course.

Brown’s temperament was varied during the hours-long journey to Stonehaven, ranging from fear and anger to carefree and nonchalant. At one point, it is alleged he asked the crewmen to help him push the body over the side of the schooner, named ‘Nymph’, but the men refused. At another, he was said to have confessed that he had yet another man to kill. Despite the warmth of that day, the poor men must have felt chilled to the bone. The murder took place at around 5pm, so from this time until they reached their new destination about midnight, the men had sailed with the murderer and his victim.

The tension aboard the vessel must have been almost unbearable for Pert and Raeburnes – alone with an axe-murderer at sea with hours to go until docking, all the while, trying to avoid looking at the mutilated remains of their Captain, whose blood and brain matter must have been splattered over and seeping into the decking where he lay prostrate. Each of the three men took turns in different positions on the bloodied schooner, probably having to walk past or step over what would now be the congealing body of the ill-fated man. During part of a conversation both crewmen stated that Brown had said there was an old grudge between himself and Captain Greig, and that he had made threats against both men’s lives during the course of the their journey.

As they reached Stonehaven, two of Brown’s uncles were the men who approached the schooner to guide them into the pier. Understandably, they were horrified at what they saw, and Brown was said to have tried to prevent the vessel from docking, without success. As soon as they were close enough to land, both Raeburnes and Pert fled the scene and rushed to report the murder to local police. Brown went to see his mother, and it was at her home that he was arrested. It was some months before his case was called to Court, but his case was heard in early January the following year, where he pled Not Guilty on the grounds of insanity and the influence of alcohol.

Whilst both Pert and Raeburnes said that Brown was not heavily under the influence of alcohol at the time he murdered his Captain, who was also believed to be his friend, both the policeman who arrested him and Brown’s uncle, testified that Brown was definitely inebriated at the times they saw him. Further to this, it was heard that Brown suffered from debilitating headaches and changes in mood after a couple of unrelated childhood accidents that resulted in invasive medical intervention. As he grew older, he became more aggressive when under the influence of alcohol.

Despite more witnesses attesting to his erratic behaviour, and with a minority of the jury recommending mercy in light of this, Brown was found Guilty as charged and sentenced to the gallows where he would be hung until he was dead. With his place of execution set as Montrose, Brown was incarcerated in Forfar prison until 31st January 1866 when he was transported to Montrose amid a furore surrounding his execution.

William Calcraft was his executioner. With a reputation for theatrics and harbouring a sadistic nature, Calcraft preferred the “short-drop” hanging option; allowing the accused to slowly choke to death as the rope casually tightened around their neck. If the accused took too long to die, it is said that he would put his weight on their body, pulling on it to create tension enough to snap their spine at the base of the skull. Upon his death, Brown’s body was returned to Forfar and interred in the prison grounds.

Below is an extract of the trial, with some witness statements:

John Port, sailor, deposed, – I was engaged on the 4th of September to go a voyage on board the schooner Nymph, of Montrose. I was engaged by Mr. Greig, one of the owners of the vessel. I sailed on the 6th (Wednesday), about 1 o’clock in the afternoon, for London. There were on board, besides myself, Alexander Raeburnes, Andrew Brown (the prisoner), and John Greig (the master). The prisoner was mate. John Greig was the son of Mr. Greig, who engaged me. I first saw the prisoner two or three days before we sailed. We were all sober when we sailed. The prisoner was so, so far as I saw. I had seen him every day for two or three days before that, and had not observed him to be the worse of drink. The schooner was taken out of the harbour by a tug, and we set sail for London’ with a cargo of wood. The master lay down on the deck till tea was ready, and when I called him for tea he told me to let him lie a bit longer. Brown and I had tea together, after which I took the helm from Raeburnes to let him have his, and Brown went und lighted his pipe and walked the deck. A little afterwards Raeburnes carne up from the cabin and went forward to wash the deck. Shortly after Brown slipped forward and went to the forecastle. I did not see him come aft, but I found afterwards that he had slipped behind me. My attention was first directed to that by hearing two heavy blows. I looked over my right shoulder on hearing them, and saw the master’s head lying in two halves. I was stunned for a little bit, and Brown, who had the axe up, let it down again before I could get hold of him. The two blows I first heard were given quickly one after the other, and the prisoner had the blows struck before I had time to interfere I then rushed into the bulwarks and took the axe out of his hand and threw it overboard. The master was apparently dead by this time.

After I had thrown away the axe Brown said, “I have done the deed, and I will have to suffer for it.” A few minutes afterwards he asked me if I would come and see him hanged. About five minutes after I had seized the axe from him he said, “Jack, it’s a good job you got the axe, or else you would have got the same.” I had a good twist with him before I could get the axe out of his hands. When I was struggling with him he did not speak. I am sure he was sober at that time. I do not think he had much drink that day.

Before we went to dinner on shore we had a drink of ale together, but that was all .The murder took place at about 5 o’clock, when we were running off the Forfarshire coast. We were two miles and a-half from land. I called to Raeburnes, and he came to where I was. He reached me immediately after the axe was thrown overboard. The prisoner was then standing beside me and beside the body. The prisoner took the tiller and steered the vessel east, and in the opposite direction from where we were going. He said he was steering the vessel to Stonehaven. We put the sails right on his telling us where he wanted to go, I said to him, “Better go to Montrose with the vessel,” and he answered “No.” he said. “I want to go to Stonehaven to see my mother.” While off Bervie he asked Raeburnes to help him to throw the master’s body overboard. He next came to the ship’s quarter-deck and asked me to give him a hand to throw the body over the side; but I would not do so, and told him to let the master lie where he was killed. He did not tell me why he wanted to throw the body overboard.’ I was then steering the vessel.

I had taken the tiller when he went forward to speak to the old man. This would be about 11 o’clock at night; and from the time of the murder we had all had a turn at the steering. Brown had steered for three or four hours without stopping. There did not seem to be anything odd about him. He spoke about his mother, and in course of conversation said, but that he wished to see her, he would go over the side. I understood by that he would drown himself, but that he wanted to see his mother. He asked the loan of a shilling from me after we passed Bervie, and said he had a sixpence and he would give 1s 6d to his mother. He said it would be the last money he would over give her. He asked Raeburnes and me to wash up the blood, which we did. We saw the Montrose schooner Union, which we thought of signalling, just about half an hour after the deed was done, Raeburnes went up to the rigging and waved his cap to the Schooner. Brown called to him – “If you don’t come down I’ll heave you over the side.” He gave up when he heard the prisoner say that. After the disturbance that had taken place on board we were afraid of Brown. I said to Brown, “Better signal to some o’ these ships.”

There were two schooners in sight at that time. He said “No, never mind signalling; I am going to Stonehaven.” I asked why he killed the master, and he said it was for an old grudge. I did not ask what was the old grudge, Raeburnes and I kept very much together, but watching the prisoner. He asked how long the tide would stand at Stonehaven. We could not tell him, and he went below to consult the tide table and called on one of us to take the helm. He told us after he came up that the tide would carry us in. It was before he took the tiller that he said he would have to suffer for it. It was about an hour after the deed was done that he asked me if I would come to see him hanged. I made no answer. He was not weeping at any time. He said, “Jack, I am going stark mad out of my mind. This was said about two hours after the deed, and while he was steering. He seemed to know quite well what he was doing. He took the vessel into Stonehaven himself. A pilot boat came alongside a little out from the harbour. The pilots were the two uncles of the prisoner. One of them came on board. The prisoner told the pilot he had killed the master, and, pointing to the body, said, “There’s him lying by me.” It was about one in the morning when we got into Stonehaven harbour.

Raeburnes and I went ashore, leaving the prisoner and the pilot on hoard. We went to the police office, from which we returned to the ship. The police went to the prisoner’s mother’s house for him. He had left the ship before we returned to it. The axe was a common carpenter’s axe. I never noticed anything odd about the prisoner. I never noticed the effects of drink on him. He might have had drink of his own on board, but I did not see it. He was twice down the cabin after the murder, but I did not know what he was doing there. The captain’s age was about 26. About an hour after the murder he said, “I’ve got one more to kill before I die,” I did not ask who it was. Sometime before that he said, “Have you got a knife to lend me?” I said, “No.” I did not regard the one remark as connected with the other. The body remained untouched after the murder till we arrived. The master was asleep and snoring when he was killed.

Cross-examined.-The prisoner and the master appeared to be good friends. I never heard angry words between them. He was quite quiet when he asked me to come and see him hanged; he did not seem in the least excited by the prospect of it.

Alexander Raeburnes corroborated the evidence. He said they were all sober when the vessel sailed, but the prisoner had had a glass, Heard Pert call out ‘ My God! The mate has killed the skipper.” Saw the axe heaved overboard, but did not see Pert take it from prisoner’s hands. Pert called out, “My God! What will we do with the ship?” We wanted to get to Montrose. The prisoner then took the helm, and ordered me to go aloft and take a reef out of the topsail. I went aloft, and waved to the schooner Union, which was passing at the time, and the prisoner cried that if I waved there he would throw me overboard when I came on deck. I made no noise, but simply waved my bonnet to the schooner. Prisoner told us, “I’m master of the ship, and want to go to Stonehaven to see my mother.” We tried to get from him the best way we could the reason for the murder, and he said with great violence, and slapping his breast, “I have another to kill.” We asked what he had done this for. He simply replied, in a lamenting way. “I have done the deed and will have to suffer for it.” We asked him who the other person was he had to kill, but he would not tell us. I do not think he meant himself. I did not observe any difference in his spirits after the murder. He was not like a drunken man. He was not swearing or using any harsh language.

During the afternoon he came and asked, when off Bervie, if I would sanction to throw the master overboard. The words he said were:-” Wouldn’t you sanction me to throw the master overboard?” I understood by that he wanted me to help him. I said, “No; you have killed the master, and he shall be here till more see him.” Before he proposed to throw over the body he said to us, “What will you say to save me?” And we replied that we could say nothing. In sailing into Stonehaven he always gave the orders, and gave them correctly. If this deed itself had not been done, there would have been nothing about him to attract attention at all.

Cross-examined. – I saw no exhibition of I’ll feeling between the master and the prisoner. It did not strike me that there was anything wrong about his mind. I was much surprised by the deed.

Margaret Collie, public housekeeper, de-posed that the captain had ordered a bottle of whisky and a half dozen of beer for the journey, and that the beer was sent to the ship, and the mate came for the whisky just before sailing.

John Greig, senior, shipmaster. Montrose, the father of the deceased, deposed that the prisoner and deceased had sailed together for seven months. He thought the prisoner temperate for a sailor. Had no reason to suppose that there was ill-blood between them. Drink was observable on the mate before sailing, but no more. It did not unfit him for duty. It was not observable upon the others.

Andrew Brown, pilot, uncle of prisoner, de- posed that the prisoner, before leaving the ship, poured something from a bottle and drank it, and threw the empty bottle away. It had the smell of whisky. When the prisoner had drink, he made an entire fool of himself and would be con- trolled by nobody.

John Gordon, police-sergeant, who apprehended the prisoner in his mother’s home, deposed that prisoner said to him. “This is a bad job”; that the deceased was a bad fellow, and had led him to the bad houses about London, where he spent his money, so that he had nothing to take home to his mother. He spoke about having received a letter from his mother a few days before, and that she had complained she had neither money nor clothes, and that he had taken that so much to heart that he had committed the crime he had done. During the conversation he said that he was “quits with him now.”

Two declarations by the prisoner were read. In the first taken at Stonehaven on the 7th of September, he gave a circumstantial account of the murder, completely agreeing with the sea- men’s statements. He added:-“I had no cause of complaint with the captain except that he led me on to a bad life all the time I was with him, and I took that to heart. It came to my head all at once that I would kill him, and I went immediately and did it. When I was away from home the captain used to take me to bad houses when we were on shore and led me into drinking habits, and that is what I “meant by saying that he led me on to lead a bad life.” The second declaration was taken at Forfar on the 9th. In it, his statements were more vague, pleading want of recollection and understanding. He struck the captain, he declared, but could not tell if he had killed him. He did not know he was doing when, he struck the captain. He did not know what he was doing any harm, else he would not have done it.

Evidence was then culled for the defence, to show that the prisoner had sustained a fall in boyhood, that he had had a full four years ago which led to a surgical operation, that; a block had fallen on his head about a year ago, and that he had suffered other bodily injuries, which had his intern deposed, changed his disposition from cheerful to sullen, and that he had gradually fallen into, habits of drinking. The witnesses stated that very little drink produced great excitement in him, and some thought he was not right in his mind. As one witness expressed it, “The dram went to his brain.”

The Solicitor-General addressed the jury for the Crown, contending that there was no insanity proved, and that the prisoner’s conduct in charge of the ship showed perfect possession of mind. Mr. Nicolson endeavoured to show that the prisoner’s acts were those of a madman, and, as an example of insane delusion, pointed to his statement that deceased had led him into evil courses, of which there was no proof.

The Lord Justice Clerk, in charging the jury, dwelt on the prisoner’s first declaration as giving a perfectly intelligent account of the murder and one in entire accord with the seamen’s evidence. There was no proof that reason had been dethroned, but on the contrary, the prisoner knew the act he was committing and the consequences of it. As to the alleged delusion, there was no proof that it was a delusion, and even assuming the prisoner’s statement on this point not to be true it was more like the falsehood of cunning then the dream of an insane person.

The jury were about 50 minutes, and returned to court with a verdict of guilty, with a recommendation to mercy on the part of a minority of their number.

The Lord Justice Clerk said he would immediately send the recommendation to the proper quarter, but would delay sentence till Wednesday morning on account of some practical difficulty in appointing the place of execution.

The prisoner betrayed no emotion on hearing the verdict the Court adjourned after a sitting of above 12 hours.

Kirriemuir, 1890

In August 1890, the wife of a Kirriemuir landlord, John Webster, fell ill. The local doctor attended the ailing woman and diagnosed gastroenteritis. Within 3 days, Mrs Webster had died, but this did not conclude the matter. Suspicions were rife that something sinister lurked beneath the surface of this cut-and-dried case. John had taken out a life insurance policy for both himself and Mrs Webster, ensuring him a £1000 payment upon becoming a widower. Although her symptoms were initially diagnosed as being gastrointestinal, it had also been suggested that perhaps the diagnosis was, in fact, wrong. With murder on their minds, a warrant was issued for the exhumation of the woman’s body. Dr Littlejohn performed the post mortem on her body and found not only that it was very well preserved, showing none of the signs of post death decomposition, but also that her death was due to arsenic poisoning.

Arsenic is a chemical element and can be found in many natural minerals. Miniscule amounts of arsenic are essential elements in animals’ dietary requirements (including ours), but any more than our bodies require causes toxicity, illness and a rapid, painful death. In Victorian times, “white arsenic” was mixed with vinegar and chalk and eaten to improve (whiten) complexion. The toxicity of arsenic was quickly discovered, but until the introduction of the Marsh Test in 1836, there was no sure way to detect it, so it remained a very popular drug of choice in the act of murder. Even with the test available, arsenic was still a favourite for those with murderous intent, and it was often overlooked unless suspicion was aroused. In 1841, the Reinsch Test allowed for the detection of more poisonous metals in the body and helped pave the way for further forensic study in this field.

Both the Marsh and Reinsch tests were used on Mrs Webster’s body, with each concluding that she had indeed died from arsenic poisoning. Mr Webster was accused and stood trial for the murder of his wife at the court in Edinburgh the following February. Amidst accusations of ill-feeling between Webster and his wife, the life insurance policy and the allegations that Mrs Webster had been drinking a popular tonic known as Fowler’s Solution, which was known to have arsenic in it, the jury listened for three days. After much deliberation and no real, substantial evidence from either party, a conclusion could not be reached, and so a ‘Not Guilty’ verdict was passed. John Webster returned to his pub in Kirriemuir a free man.

Arbroath, 8th October 1826

On 14th April 1827, Margaret Wishart appeared at Perth Circuit Court, charged with the wilful poisoning of her blind sister, Jane, and her newly born son. The charges laid against her were: ‘[having] administered a quantity of arsenic to her sister, Jane Wishart, residing with her in Arbroath, on the 3rd, 4th, 5th or 6th days of October 1826, which poison was mixed up with a quantity of porridge or gruel, and given to her to eat, – as also to an infant male child of which the said Jane Wished had been delivered up the said 6th October, – in consequence of which poisonous mixture the said Jane Wishart immediately thereafter became violently ill, and lingered in great pain until the 8th day of said month, when she died in consequence thereof.’

Despite these charges, Margaret pled her innocence. Key witnesses to the life of the two sisters were put on the stand and cross-examined to prove Margaret’s guilt. Janet had given birth to a boy on 6th October, and it was heard that Margaret had only been informed of Janet’s pregnancy in the week leading up to the birth. This was Janet’s second child, although her first had sadly passed away. The father was alleged to be a man named Andrew Roy – a man who’s own reputation was questionable.

It was also intimated that he and Margaret had been more than just acquaintances in the not-so-distant past, and that there may have been more to their relationship recently than had been publicly known. Janet had been urged by both her sister and Andrew Roy not to reveal the identity of her children’s father. To add to this, during the period leading up to the birth of the child, despite Janet’s obvious deteriorating health, Margaret seemed nonchalant. Janet herself blamed bad food for her sudden downturn, and Margaret did not disagree with her assumption. On Tuesday 3rd Oct 1826, Janet began to complain of pains in her stomach and bowels (which happens to coincide with Jane confiding in Margaret about her pregnancy, and, more than likely, the identity of the father).

It wasn’t uncommon for the sisters to have lodgers, and it was one of these lodgers, David Edwards, who told the court Jane had confessed to him that Andrew Roy was the father of her children. He testified that, during those days, he had seen and heard Janet vomiting. Margaret seemed to do very little to help ease her sister’s suffering. Despite this, Jane gave birth to her son. Margaret was alleged to have told David Edwards that the birth of the child was ‘a great affront to them…and were the mother to die, it would be given out…’ By the time Jane had delivered her baby, she was so ill she could barely speak other than to tell a friend she felt like she was dying.

The baby was also clearly unwell, and was seen to be vomiting and in distress. When a family member offered to get a doctor, Margaret was dismissive of any help stating that no ‘doctors in Arbroath can do you any good.’ Another witness claimed to have seen Margaret feeding the baby with a milky-like liquid, and, when she noticed she was being watched, acted as though she had been caught doing something she shouldn’t have been. Jane died on Sunday 8th October; her child died the following day, only 3 days old. They were both buried a few days later in St Vigean’s cemetery in Arbroath, where they lived.

In a small town like Arbroath was back in 1826, gossip and speculation ran rife that Margaret had somehow been responsible for the deaths of Janet and her son. The authorities were alarmed by the accusations of murder, and the bodies were promptly exhumed in front of an entire congregation the following Sunday morning during the church service. Margaret was arrested and detained in Arbroath’s Tolbooth until the Crown had decided what to do with her. A decision was eventually made that she was to be tried, and her day in court came on 14th April of the following year. An examination of Jane’s intestines revealed a very small amount of arsenic, and it was from this finding that the examiner concluded that Jane had been administered the poison. He further speculated that the arsenic had been administered over a period of time, most likely within the last week. Whilst conceding under cross-examination that the symptoms surrounding Jane’s death may have been caused naturally, and that the amount of arsenic found was not of a significant volume, the seed had already been planted that would seal Margaret’s fate.

A jury, unconvinced with Margaret’s pleas of innocence, and unmoved by any of the defence’s character witness testimonies or arguments, found Margaret Wishart guilty of the murder of her sister and her days-old nephew. Her sentence was death by hanging. Those who doubted Margaret’s guilt petitioned on her behalf for clemency, but it was refused. Protesting her innocence, even to the end, Margaret went to the gallows with remarkable restraint and dignity, meeting her end on Saturday June 16th, 1827.

Roseangle, May 1980

A beautiful building stands on the corner of the intersection between Perth Road and Roseangle. It stands empty and haunting, a tragic tale of murder hidden within it’s walls. Dr Alexander Wood was a very well-known and respected doctor within Dundee. At 78 and in ailing health, Dr Wood and his wife Dorothy were brutally butchered when an unknown assailant entered their home on a balmy evening in the middle of May, 1980.

The perpetrator was later to be identified as Dundee-born Henry Gallacher, a 29 year old man with a shady history of theft and burglary. Aged and defenceless as they may have been, Dr Wood and Mrs Wood tried to defend themselves from the attack, but sadly fought in vain as Gallacher bludgeoned them to death with a hammer.

After murdering the elderly couple, Gallacher stole from their home before fleeing the city. Their bodies were discovered on May 18th, 1980 by a young medical student who was retrieving a football from their garden that had been kicked there unintentionally. Upon peering in the window to see if he would get into trouble for being in the garden, he happened upon a nightmare scene of bloodshed and carnage.

Gallacher had no motive for killing the pair, but it began the start of a killing spree for him when his confession to a priest was met with horror. Once apprehended by police, Gallacher was sentenced for his crimes in England and incarcerated at Broadmoor Hospital, a high-security psychiatric hospital, previously known as Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. To this day, he remains there. Unfortunately for Dr and Mrs Wood, Gallacher was never brought back to Scotland to stand trial for their murders.

Various ideas for renovation are still being considered in an effort to restore what was once a magnificent building and a happy home.

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 1834.  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 1834.

The Wife O’ Denside

We’ve stepped out of Dundee a wee bit to bring you the tale of the Wife O’ Denside – a tale of love and passion with disastrous consequences. David Smith, was a busy and prosperous farmer at West Denside, a large farm estate in the parish of Monikie. He lived there with his wife Mary Elder (or Smith) and their two sons and two daughters. As the boys grew, they helped their father with the upkeep of the farm. One daughter still lived with her parents, but the other was the wife of the farm foreman and lived in the foreman’s cottage with him. The Smiths had three live-in servants; Barbara Small, Jean Nome and Margaret Warden, in addition to various other servants who came and went throughout the day. Barbara slept at the foreman’s house, whilst Jean and Margaret slept in the main house on a cramped, uncomfortable box bed in the corner of the kitchen. Young Margaret is the focus of the tale of the Wife of Denside – a twisted tale of forbidden love with tragic consequences.

When Margaret’s father died, her mother was left with three children to bring up on her own. Mary’s sister was a friend of Margaret’s mother and did everything she could to help the woman through her unfortunate situation, to the point where Margaret’s mother was “greatly beholden” to her. Due to their friendship, Mary’s sister put in a good word for young Margaret, and, before long, Margaret was employed as a live-in servant at the Denside estate. Mary was alleged to have been quite elitist, and looked down her nose at a lot of people. Margaret was no different, despite her mother’s friendly connections with Mary’s sister. It did not do Margaret any favours when, at the age of twenty-one, she found herself pregnant. She was sent away from Denside in shame, back to her mother’s, where she had the baby, whose father was unknown. How Margaret managed to secure employment again at Denside remains a mystery, but it was more than likely to do with pressure from Mary’s sister. Margaret’s mother agreed to keep Margaret’s baby and raise it herself whilst Margaret returned to work for the Smiths.

Before long, the tension began to build up once again between Margaret and Mary. When Mary was told that Margaret was in a relationship with Mary’s youngest son, she flew into a rage. In some stories, it is alleged that Mary found the young lovers in a compromising position behind a barn; in others, she merely seeks out Margaret and berates her. However the story goes, Mary is said to have called Margaret all the names under the sun, resulting in a slanging match that ended with Margaret tearfully storming back home to her mother’s once again. Another attempt between the women to reconcile failed miserably, so Margaret remained at home. In her fury, it is alleged that Mary banished her son, George, so that he would never see his love again. Mary felt that a woman with morals such as Margaret had no right being with someone as prestigious as her son, and she made sure everyone knew it.

When Margaret’s mother returned home from work one afternoon some weeks after this last incident, she was very surprised to find Mary sitting in conversation with Margaret. Mary alleged that she had come over to bury the hatchet once and for all with Margaret, and to ask her to return to Denside under her employ. In private, Mary pressed Mrs Warden for information on her daughter’s present condition, allaying her fears that Margaret was pregnant with her son’s child. Whilst Mrs Warden stated that she did not know, Mary was said to have told the woman that she would obtain something from the chemist to ensure that Margaret’s “ill-behaviour” did not become a “trial”. Mary got her way, and Margaret returned to Denside that night. She was made to work hard, both inside the house and out on the land and was said to have been fed and watered only enough to keep her from starving. Margaret is not noted to have complained about this much, but there is a reference to her intimating to another two servants on 4th September 1826 that Mary was trying to harm her. It is also not known whether Margaret had been made aware by Mary of her intentions, and was perhaps originally complicit (maybe in order to deflect more shame upon her family) but tried to back out of the agreement; by which time it was too late. The following night, at around 9pm, Mary appeared in the kitchen, holding a short glass tumbler, filled almost to the top with a milky liquid. She offered a small spoonful to Jean before giving the rest of it to Margaret, telling them she had already has some herself and it would do them the world of good. Margaret gulped it down readily, finishing it off with a lump of sugar to sweeten the bitter-tasting liquid.

Margaret swiftly became ill, gradually getting worse as the early hours of the morning made way for daylight. During the course of that day her condition deteriorated to the point where she feared she would die. Shaking, vomiting and barely able to move, Margaret’s condition became so grave that Jean begged Mary to send for help. Cholera was doing the rounds at the time, so it was assumed she had fallen ill with disease. Margaret’s mother was called for, as Margaret was too unwell to return home. By this time, it was Friday 8th September, and Margaret had been ill for almost 3 days. Screaming in agony that her insides were burning, a doctor eventually arrived to attend to the ailing young woman. Before he was allowed to examine her, Mary took him aside and described her symptoms. In addition to this, she also asked whether or not he would be able to tell if Margaret was pregnant and also whether this “bout of sickness” could bring on a miscarriage. When he asked if Mary has given anything to Margaret, she replied that she had only administered Castor Oil. Upon examining Margaret, Dr Taylor noted her grave appearance and tired, frail demeanour and concluded that he should not stress her any further by asking more questions. As far as he was concerned, Mary’s diagnosis was accurate – Margaret Warden was dying of cholera.

Suspicion was only raised when Margaret mentioned to Jean, in the presence of her mother, that her illness was not caused by natural means, and that someone was to blame for her condition. When pressed further by her mother, Margaret is said to have told her that Jean would explain what she meant. She is alleged to have said to her mother “My Mistress gave me…” and then could not continue. Margaret Warden died that night, with nobody disputing the earlier diagnosis which led to her death. On 10th September 1826, Margaret was laid to rest, but it was not to last for long.

Within a week, rumours had been circulating that Margaret had been poisoned by Mary and that she had been pregnant with Mary’s grandchild – a social disgrace that Mary would never have allowed. It transpired that neither Mary’s husband nor sons knew of Margaret’s pregnancy, but it is not known if her daughters were aware or complicit. When questioned by neighbours, Mary’s retelling of events was inaccurate and wildly variable. Enough suspicion was raised to lodge an official complaint, and, on 30th September, no less than twenty days since she had been laid to rest, the body of Margaret Warden was under medical examination. Traces of arsenic were found in her system, and, amidst a protracted series of incidents incited by Mary to stall further examinations, she was arrested on suspicion of murder. She was forty-two at the time of her trial; her alleged victim, twenty-five.

Originally, she had stated she had never purchased arsenic, but this turned out to be untrue. Changing her story to account for the purchase did nothing to confirm her innocence, and she stood charged with ‘the wilful Murder of Margaret Warden, a young woman, her own Servant maid, by Administering Poison’. The trial itself was eventful, with many witnesses and a few postponements due to illness, new information and calls for abandonment, but it eventually went ahead. With all arguments heard, the jury returned a verdict of ‘Not Proven’, and Mary was freed with an admonition.

The rumours must have continued well after she was released, as she earned the nickname “The Wife Of Denside”.

Here is the transcription of the Broadside concerning the trial and sentencing of the Wife Of Denside, as found at the National Library of Scotland.

A Full, correct, and Particular Account of the Trial and Sentence of MARY ELDER or SMITH, wife of David Smith, Farmer at Denside, Parish, of Monikie, and county of Forfar, who was tried at Edinburgh, on Monday the 19th February 1827, for the wilful Murder of Margaret Warden, a young woman, her own Servant maid, by Administering Poison to her, on the 5th September last, in consequence of which she Died the third day after; but the libel was found Not Proven.

At Edinburgh, on Monday the 19th February, 1827, came on, before the High Court of Justiciary, (after several postponements, one of which was in consequence of the sudden indisposition of one of the Jury, after a good deal of the evidence for the prosecution had been gone through, and out of which circumstance another postponement was rendered necessary, in consequence of the arguments of Counsel against proceeding again with the case,) the Trial of MARY ELDER or SMITH, wife of David Smith, farmer at Denside, parish of Monikie, and county of Forfar, accused of Murder, by having, on the 5th September last, within the house at Denside aforesaid, wilfully, maliciously, and feloniously, administered, or caused to be procured or administered, to Margaret Warden, then servant to the said David Smith, a quantity of arsenic, or other poisonous substance, mixed up with water, or other liquid, inducing her to swallow the same, by falsely representing to her that it was a medicine intended for her benefit; and she having accordingly swallowed the said deleterious mixture, became immediately thereafter violently ill, and lingered in great pain until the 8th of the said month of September, 1826, when she died inconsequence thereof; she being thus wilfully, maliciously, and feloniously Murdered – To which the panel pled Not Guilty.

A number of witnesses were then examined, from whose evidence it appeared, that the deceased turned unwell on Tuesday, and that the prisoner gave her something to drink of a whitish colour, in a large dram glass, with a peace of sugar to take after it, about nine o’clock at night, which she swallowed, and went to bed. That she turned ill before morning, complaining much of her inside, and suffering from thirst; and, on drinking water, which she always cried for, saying her inside was burning, she immediately threw it up. That the prisoner, on Thursday night, a witness observed, came and asked the deceased if she thought a drop of whisky would be good for her, to which the witness, Jean Norrie, a fellow servant, who slept with the deceased, replied, that she had got enough of that, or something else, she could not tell what, for such purging and vomiting she never before had seen. That Margaret Warden’s mother was sent for and came to see her on Friday forenoon, the day she died, and said to this witness, in presence of her mother and 1 Ann Gruar, another witness, ‘ you ken wha has been the occasion of my lying here, but dinna say nathing; they will get their rewards, but I forgive them.’ That she died that night at 9 o’clock, and her body appeared of a blackish colour. She was 25 years of age, was with child at the time, and George, Smith the prisoner’s son, the deceased had said, was the father. The body was buried on Sunday the 10th September, and the corpse was taken up three weeks after, opened in the church-yard, and some particles of poison taken from the stomach, which was the cause of her death, the quantity and quality of which being particularly described by the medical gentlemen attending; one of whom, Dr Taylor, who had been sent for, states, that the prisoner repeatedly inquired, if he thought the violent vomiting would not cause abortion, adding in her own words, I dinna care though such a thing, (a miscarriage) should happen, for the’ gude man would tear down the house if he ken’d it.’

The prisoner’s declaration was then read, and several exculpatory witnesses examined, when the Jury were addressed by the Lord Advocate for the Crown, and Mr Jeffrey for the panel. The Lord Justice Clerk summed up the evidence, and concluded an animated address at half-past 5 on Tuesday morning, when the Jury were enclosed, and directed to return their verdict in writing at 2 o’clock afternoon. The Court met accordingly at 2 o’clock, when the Jury returned a verdict finding the Libel Not Proven ; and, after a suitable admonition, she was dismissed from the bar. This trial excited a great deal of interest.

Printed for JAMES M’LEAN.

The story has lasted almost 200 years, and is the ultimate “did she/didn’t she?” tale of forbidden love and dire tragedy. Whilst Mary Smith may have been found not guilty, there’s a lot of truth to the saying “there’s no smoke without fire”. Innocent until proven guilty, right?

Templeton Woods, March 1979

On March 21st, 1979, the naked body of Carol Lannen was found in the growth at Templeton Woods.  A search quickly began, scouring the entire country for the callous murderer of 18 year old Lannen.   A troubled teen, Carol had fallen into the trappings of Dundee’s seedier side, and had become a prostitute.  This high-risk behaviour may have put her in extreme danger often, but it most certainly sealed her fate on the night of 20th March/morning of 21st March.

A little over a week after her murder, Carol’s handbag was found washed up on the banks of the River Don, Aberdeenshire.  Last seen getting into a red vehicle the evening before her disappearance, the search focused on owners and drivers of red cars; specifically a Ford Cortina.  However, with no more witnesses and no real evidence, the case of the murdered mother of one was beginning to go cold.  Although there were suggestions that the murderer was from the Aberdeenshire area, there were theories which suggested the ditching of the handbag was merely to provide a decoy to divert attention away from the real location of the murderer.

The murder of Elizabeth McCabe less than a year later in almost the same area led people to believe that there was a serial killer on the loose.  Many people were fearful to walk in the woods alone in case they met the “Templeton Woods Killer” and suffered the same fate as these very different young women.

Carol’s murder was thrust into the spotlight again as speculation and gossip ran rife, not only throughout the city, but throughout the entire country.  Peter Sutcliffe was briefly intimated to be a suspect, but this theory was rejected due to the fact that Carol had not appeared to have suffered a particularly violent death (although murder by strangulation is still pretty horrific in our eyes!).  Evil Angus Sinclair was also suspected, but charges were never brought to the notorious sex killer.

Subsequently, in an effort to crack the cold case, investigations opened up again nearly 30 years later.  New evidence and eyewitness reports led police to talk with sex offenders Peter Syme and Joseph Stewart in Peterhead Prison, in an effort to extract information in relation to a lead they had received that a registered sex offender incarcerated in HMP Peterhead may have been responsible for Carol’s death.  Despite this breakthrough in the investigation, the man pegged as their prime suspect had since died, so no formal charges could ever be brought, and indeed, his guilt or innocence never proven.

Unfortunately for the memory of Carol Lannen and for the sake of closure for her grieving family, her murder continues to be largely unsolved.  Surprisingly, despite the high level of publicity surrounding the case, her estranged father did not learn of her death until 2005 due to a complete breakdown in family relationships after he left them and moved away in the early 1970’s.

Although police are satisfied that Carol’s killer is dead, her murder still essentially remains unsolved, and still begs the question: What really did happen to the tragic Carol Lannen?

Templeton Woods, February 1980

Still regarded as a huge mystery is the story surrounding the disappearance and murder of Elizabeth McCabe, a nursery nurse with a kind heart and a new-found passion for socialising and disco-dancing.  Elizabeth’s body was recovered on 26th February 1980 entangled in woodland growth at Templeton woods by two rabbit hunters, 16 days after her ill-fated night out.  Believing that she may have stayed out with a friend, her mother was not overly concerned to see that Elizabeth’s bed had not been slept in the following morning.  However, as the day wore on and she was made aware that Elizabeth had not turned up for work that day, Mrs McCabe became understandably alarmed.  This was completely out of character for shy, quiet Elizabeth.

Police were notified, but it took a few weeks before things began to pick up pace.  Mr & Mrs McCabe scoured their daughter’s favourite haunts around the city in the hope of locating their daughter safe and sound.  As Elizabeth’s parents’ frustrations rose at the little-to-no progress made in their own investigations and those of the Police, they turned to local media for help.  This appeal still yielded no answers and it seemed as though Elizabeth McCabe had literally vanished from the face of the earth.

As the rabbit hunters stalked through the undergrowth on the morning of 26th February 1980, one of the dogs began showing signs of interest in a nearby covered mound.  Horrified, the two men quickly realised that they had stumbled upon a female body, naked but covered by a blue jumper and some surrounding fauna.  Ligature marks on her neck suggested she had been choked to death.  Gossip consumed the city, with many believing there to be a link between Elizabeth’s death and the death less than a year earlier of Carol Lannen, whose body was found close to where Elizabeth’s body had lain.  As vague pieces of Elizabeth’s last night came together, it emerged that she had left her friend, Sandra in a nightclub and had headed outside.  When the idea was posed that perhaps she had gotten into an unknown car, those close to Elizabeth denied this, citing an earlier incident which had made Elizabeth very aware of getting into an unmarked “taxi”.

With this in mind, every single taxi driver in the city was invited for questioning, in the hope that a breakthrough in the case could be made.  In desperate attempts to ascertain anything about Elizabeth’s final moments and her cold-hearted killer, Police even attended a séance for answers, but this too, proved fruitless.  With Carol Lannen’s unsolved murder not far behind them, the search became focused on taxi drivers and little else.  During the course of questioning both the taxi drivers and witnesses, a man named Vincent Simpson was noted a vital witness, as he had been seen and had admitted to being in that area around the time Elizabeth was murdered.  Although his home and his vehicle were searched, there was no evidence linking him to the crime.  Whilst he may have been involved in petty crime in the past, there was nothing to support the theory that he may have been the murderer, and he was released without charge.

The case went cold, and for a quarter of a century, the story of Elizabeth McCabe and any hope for a conviction slowly faded.

When the Scottish police force initiated ‘Operation Trinity’, a number of cold cases were re-opened and evidence re-checked using up to date DNA analysis techniques that were not available at the time of investigation.  Elizabeth’s murder was one of these cold cases, and, once again, she was thrust into the spotlight.  Evidence from the crime scene and the victim was re-examined and, based on this, police arrested Vincent Simpson 27 years after they had first questioned him.  Despite his repeated protestations of innocence, Vincent Simpson stood in the dock at the High Court in Edinburgh accused of Elizabeth’s murder.

During the trial, the Court heard that examination and crime scene protection techniques had changed significantly since 1980.  Protective clothing had not been worn when officers removed Elizabeth’s body from the woods, and no real effort had been made with regards to the contamination of the site by other officers and officials attending the scene.  Swabs taken from the body had been stored in a paper folder inside a filing cabinet, rendering them all but useless.  Once officer told the Court that the mortician did not wear protective gloves during the removal of personal effects from the body.  Whilst unheard of today, these practices were the norm.

Details of Vincent Simpson’s private and personal life were laid bare in the Courtroom as the weeks unfolded.  Despite the onslaught, he maintained his innocence.  He provided an alibi, called witnesses and also provided names of people who may have been responsible, either alone, or in a group for this horrific crime on a loving young woman.  Although DNA evidence has proved culpability and secured convictions in the past, doubt had grown as to the validity of the findings due to their degradation and the overall poor management of the case itself.  As prosecution lawyers argued for their credibility, defence lawyers counter-argued for their dismissal as conclusive evidence.

DNA experts, in their findings, reported that DNA from a specialist who had examined some of the evidence in the past had been found on items, despite the man taking appropriate cautions not to contaminate anything during his initial investigation.  Footage of further investigations revealed that cross contamination was highly likely in this case due to the number of officers handling various items without taking adequate precautions.  Whilst this was denied, it was clear that cross contamination had occurred, and the prosecution’s argument started to flounder.

After a trial lasting seven weeks, Vincent Simpson was found not guilty by a jury and discharged from the dock.  With no more than a quiet “Thank you very much”, Vincent Simpson left by the side door a free man.  To date, no-one has been brought to justice for the murder of innocent Elizabeth McCabe.  Unfortunately for her family and the memory of Elizabeth herself, we may never know the real story of what happened to the pretty 20 year old with a zest for life and a promising career ahead of her.

Dundee recently earned itself the notorious title of “Murder Capital of Scotland”, based on it’s percentage of murders to overall population. It’s certainly not something we as a city should be proud of. At the same time, however, we cannot argue that Dundee has had it’s fair share of gruesome and grisly murders over the decades. Many forms of punishment have been enforced throughout the ages, from banishment or imprisonment, to birching, burning and hanging.

The last “judicial hanging” in Scotland took place in August 1963, before it was permanently abolished in 1969. To this day, it is common to hear the phrase “bring back hanging” when discussing the more heinous crimes of humanity. Our list is by no means exhaustive – by now, you should know we like you to do your own digging too, and the wealth of information out there on this most sensitive of topics is abundant. For now, whet your appetite, and beware, as some of the reading is not for the faint of heart.