Princes Street, Dundee, February 1889

When a man came to the police station on the night of 10th February 1889 to report the suicide of his wife, Ellen Bury, alarm bells began to ring for the Lieutenant who took his story.  Amid claims that she had killed herself, Bury made another startling claim.  Upon “finding” her prostrate body, Bury stabbed her in the abdomen.  Fearing he would be likened to Jack the Ripper, he had hidden her body.  In his empty, dank basement squat below a shop in Princes Street, officers found the dead body of his wife, and Bury was arrested.

Ellen’s lifeless corpse had been crudely stuffed into a wooden box, exactly where Bury said she would be.  The force required to push her into the box in such a manner was enough to break her bones, as her right leg had been broken in two places.  Whether this was done prior to putting her corpse into the box, or during the process is unclear.  Ellen had been strangled with a rope Bury had bought days before, and stabbed with a penknife later found in their squat.  Her abdomen had been sliced and mutilated to the point that her intestines were protruding.

The ligature marks around her throat and the bruising on her hands and body were consistent with a violent struggle, and injuries which she could not have applied herself.  It was theorised that Ellen would have been sufficiently stunned by the violence of the blows rained upon her to allow her attacker to strangle her without much of a struggle.  Whether or not Ellen was alive when Bury stabbed her still remains to be seen, and will probably never be known for certain.

Ellen and Bury were not long married, and had recently moved to Dundee from London, in a perceived attempt to rid themselves of their demons.  Bury was a violent drunk with a shady past, but Ellen had baggage all of her own.  A London bargirl and prostitute, Ellen met Bury whilst he was indulging in two of his favourite pastimes; alcohol and licentious women.  They married, despite his drinking, womanising and ceaseless violence – he attempted to cut her throat on more than one occasion – and, on the basis of a lie told by Bury, made their way to Dundee.

Euan Macpherson writes that Bury “stole from his wife, assaulted her, frightened her by sleeping with a knife under his pillow, gave her a venereal disease, reduced her to a life of utter misery…yet showed absolutely no guilt or remorse” in his book The Trial of Jack the Ripper: The Case of William Bury (1859-1889).

The reasons surrounding the motive for Ellen’s murder are unclear to this day, but Bury’s links to Jack the Ripper thrust the duo into the global spotlight for all the wrong reasons.  Whether Ellen Bury was keeping a dark secret for William, we will never know.  One thing we do know for certain is that she met her death at the hands of a violent, abusive, drunken man with no care for the torment he caused her in life or in death.

Atlanta Constitution Georgia, U.S.A.14 February 1889
Dundee Policemen Think They Have Caught Jack the Ripper

London, February 13.

The body of a woman concealed in a wooden chest, was discovered Monday by the police of Dundee. The body was mutilated. The chest was so small that the murderer had been compelled to squeeze the body into it. The husband of the woman has been arrested on suspicion of being her murderer. It was positively ascertained that Wm. H. Bury, the victim, murdered her. Bury was a resident of Whitechapel, London, and his antecedents suggest that he is probably Jack the Ripper, and that he is subject to fits of unconscious murder mania. The post mortem examination held on the body proved that the woman had first been strangled, and that her body had then been mutilated, the abdomen being ripped open and the legs and arms twisted and broken.

Bury says that he left Whitechapel three weeks ago. He refuses to say why he left there, and acknowledges that he had no business requiring his attention at Dundee. He says that he and his wife drank heavily last night before retiring, and that he does not know how he got to bed. Upon awakening, he says he found his wife lying upon the floor with a rope round her neck.

Actuated by a sudden mad impulse, for which he cannot account, he seized a knife and slashed the body. Upon reason returning he became alarmed and hastily crushed the body into the chest in which it was found, thinking to make his escape. He found, however, that he could not leave his wife’s remains, and he finally resolved to inform the police.

The theory of the police officials is that Bury’s wife knew of facts connecting him with the East end atrocities, and that she took him to Dundee in the hope of preventing a recurrence of the crimes.

Times (London)
29 March 1889

SENTENCES OF DEATH.-At a Circuit Court, held yesterday in Dundee, Lord Young presiding, William Henry Bury, 29, was charged with murdering his wife by strangling and stabbing, in Dundee, on the 5th of February. Prisoner pleaded “Not Guilty.” Mrs. Corney, Stanley-road, Stratford-le-Bow, London, said deceased was her sister, and before her marriage was in service. Seven years since an aunt left her £300. Prisoner and her sister married in April last. He was often drunk; and was always demanding money from deceased. He ill-treated her. Cross-examined, she admitted her sister was servant in a brothel in London, that it was there she first met prisoner, and that she married him after a month’s acquaintance. Other witnesses from London deposed to the drunken habits of the prisoner and his cruelty to his wife. In the first week of February prisoner went to the police and said his wife had strangled herself, and that, seized by an impulse, he had stabbed the body, which was found dreadfully mutilated in a box. Medical evidence was to the effect that deceased did not strangle herself, but was choked by a cord drawn round her throat. Lord Young summed up, and after a consultation the jury returned a verdict of Guilty, but was recommended prisoner to mercy. Sentence of death was pronounced.

‘Eight little whores, with no hope of heaven
Gladstone may save one, then there’ll be seven
Seven little whores beggin’ for a shilling
One stays in Henage Court, then there’s a killing
Six little whores, glad to be alive
One sidles up to Jack, then there are five
Four and whore rhyme aright
So do three and me
I’ll set the town alight
Ere there are two
Two little whores, shivering with fright
Seek a cosy doorway in the middle of the night
Jack’s knife flashes, then there’s but one
And the last one’s the ripest for Jack’s idea of fun’

Dundee, December 1825

On what we can safely assume was a cold, wintry day on 22nd December 1825, David Balfour murdered his wife using a butcher’s knife he had obtained from the Fleshmarket in Dundee. David was a sailor, and, as such, was prone to being away at sea for long bouts of time. Margaret, for all intents and purposes, appears to have been a lively, interactive type of woman, and it was reported that she had taken many lovers during her husband’s absence. In an attempt to bring in more money, Margaret would take in lodgers, some of whom she would then embark on sexual affairs with. As you could imagine, this caused many arguments in their household, and the events proceeding Margaret’s murder started off, once again, in this fashion. During this furious exchange, David Balfour stabbed his wife with the butcher’s knife.

In a bizarre turn of events, Balfour immediately made his way to the Town House where he ardently confessed to his crime, only to be advised that he would need to wait outside until someone could deal with him! Defying the odds, Balfour patiently waited, and eventually re-confessed to his crime and was jailed. The website at shows that Balfour was put on Trial in Perth on 20th April 1826 for the crime of murder in Dundee, and sentence was passed that he was to be executed on Friday 2nd June 1826. The Courier reported that a cast was made of Balfour’s head after his body had been sent for dissection, in an effort to find a link to identifying and understanding a typical “criminal” head. The cast of his head is still in existence, but sadly unseen and largely forgotten by the general public at the site of the old Barrack Street Museum, which is now a storage shelter for McManus.

Fintry, August 2012

A great night out in Dundee turned into a tragedy for 50 year old John McMurchie when his life was taken in a senseless attack in the early hours of August 12th 2012. Described as the life and soul of the party, John had been out with his wife, Donna, and some others for a few drinks before returning to a house in Dundee. He had been having such a great time that, when it was time for Donna to go home, John decided to carry on the party a little bit longer.

However, events started to go wrong in a big way once Donna left, and a “significant physical altercation” took place inside the house, resulting in John leaving the property. Within half an hour, he was found seriously injured in Fintry Terrace. The vibrant, fun-loving father of five and grandfather of two was rushed to Ninewells Hospital, but was pronounced dead on arrival. His untimely death was not due to any underlying illness or medical condition, but as a fatal stab wound to the heart.

Word spread through the city very quickly as police swarmed the area. The property alleged to have been the scene of the initial altercation was seized by officers and swiftly became the key focus of the investigation for five months before being returned. A man was initially arrested, but later released without charge.

Detective Inspector Bobby Dow of Tayside Police was quoted as saying: “Someone knows who is responsible and can give John’s family the answers they deserve…I would urge anyone who has knowledge of what took place in the house, or who might be involved, to get in touch with us…Establishing exactly what happened in that house is a significant part of our investigation and may be key to finding out who is responsible for John’s murder”.

Mrs McMurchie was told at a meeting with officers in February 2013 that no detectives were working on the case at that time. Disheartened, but remaining resolute, she said: “They said they have investigated all the avenues that they could and there was no more they could do without finding the murder weapon. The only way now is for the person to come forward and say they did it — but they’re not going to do that are they? Let’s face it.”

Despite appeals for information leading to the arrest of a suspect, the murder goes unsolved and John’s murderer still walks among us to this day.

Like a textbook “whodunit” mystery, nobody seems close to catching the killer, but the McMurchie family still live in the hope that they can have the closure that would finally end their nightmare and allow John to rest in peace. The charity Crimestoppers is offering a reward of up to £5,000 to anyone providing information to them anonymously via 0800 555 111 that leads to the arrest and conviction of any person in connection with Mr McMurchie’s murder. Tayside Police can be contacted on 0300 1112222.

City Centre, February 2010

Failing to return home from a night out in the city centre of Dundee in February 2010, the relatives of Mary McLaren began to worry.  With no clues whatsoever as to the whereabouts of Mary, the rumour-mills were abound with gossip.  Had Mary secretly left Dundee, without saying goodbye, or was something altogether more sinister afoot?  As the search for her intensified, events took a dark turn when police officers located her body covered by ivy close to the city’s Ladywell roundabout.  Sgt Scott Findlayson, the officer who first made the grim discovery said “I found a pair of feet and I knew right away there was a body there.”  By the time of her discovery, Mary had been missing for 2 weeks.

Further examinations revealed that Mary had been brutally raped and murdered.  This was no accident.  Panic gripped the city, with many women fearful to go out as the news spread like wildfire throughout the city.  Police enquiries and CCTV footage built up the hours prior to Mary’s disappearance, and police became very anxious to speak with a man who they believed was the last person to see her alive.

41-year old Patrick Rae had been out drinking with an acquaintance before deciding to continue alone throughout the evening.  After leaving Fat Sam’s nightclub in the city centre, Mary was seen walking with Rae, through the centre and along Rattray’s Close before arriving at the area close to Ladywell roundabout.  Footage of Rae walking to a garage about 2 hours later to this, along with eyewitness evidence provided by the garage clerk, made Rae the prime suspect in Mary’s horrific murder.  Despite previous convictions including rape, attempted rape, sexual assault and assault (which were not made available until after the trial), Rae protested his innocence.

His futile attempts to pervert the course of justice, however, fell flat, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment for his disgusting crimes after a four week trial.  The jury heard how, after an evening of partying with her sister, an inebriated Mary randomly met Rae, who had also been drinking, and the two had walked together through the centre of Dundee.  At the crime scene, Rae stabbed his helpless and trusting victim, before strangling her, forcing her clothes off, beating her and raping her.  They learned that Mary died under the barrage or evil Rae’s vicious assault.

Mary’s family, whilst deeply upset and heartbroken by this devastating tragedy, attended court during the trial and sentencing.  Showing commendable strength of character, a very diplomatic statement was released after sentencing had been passed, stating “She loved us.  We love her still and cannot believe that she is no longer with us…Patrick Rae has robbed us of a much-loved and loving daughter, wife and mother…He also denied Mary the chance of holding a grandchild that she was so looking forward to welcoming into the world.”

In the following weeks, a major inquiry was launched into the circumstances that allowed Rae, a registered Sex Offender in Ireland, licence to travel to Scotland.  Although blame was not the purpose of the inquiry, concerns were raised as to how Rae had managed to move to Scotland whilst having an outstanding warrant for his arrest, and without alerting the proper authorities regarding not only his change of address, but also the re-spelling of his birth-surname of “Rea” to “Rae”.

Unsurprisingly, the monster’s submission of appeal against his sentence was refused, and he remains incarcerated for his hatefully wicked crimes against a loving and caring woman.

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.

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?

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?

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.

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.