Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Murder of Elizabeth Benjamin, Maryhill 1921

Glasgow in the 20s
Monday 31st October 1921

14 year old Elizabeth Benjamin was a door-to-door salesgirl selling handkerchiefs, blouses, and lace employed by her elderly father to collect orders and payments from customers in Scoustoun and Whiteinch. She carried her wares in a small black suitcase and her payments in a red leather purse.
On Halloween 1921 she set out from her home at 1 North Elgin Street, Clydebank, on her usual weekly round of customers, calling first at houses in Scotstoun and then on to her Whiteinch round in the afternoon. 

Glasgow in the 20s

At approximately 3pm she visited a house in a tenement at 67 George St, she collected a small amount of money as a part-payment and then left to visit the the house across the street at No.88. At this house she mentioned to the occupant that her business had been slow today and that her next house call was in nearby Dumbarton Road. Elizabeth never made it to the next house.

Just before 7am the following morning, a resident at 67 George Street was at her kitchen sink which overlooked the back court. She thought she could make out the shape of a young boy lying on the ground against a stone wall. It was the battered body of Elizabeth Benjamin. The resident immediately raised the alarm.

Two women in the back court in the east end of George St in 1955

Elizabeth was dressed in a brown overcoat, blue dress and black long-legged boots. Although there appeared to be very little blood on the ground around the body, Elizabeth's head  had been bludgeoned and  a large wound ran across her forehead and down the side of her nose. Her hands were lifted above her head and tied together with rope at the wrists. Detectives later discovered that the rope used was similar to that used to tie down tarpaulins on railway carriages and that the knot used was one commonly used by sailors.

Elizabeth's failure to attend the family meal had aroused suspicion but her family did not contact the police. Instead they carried out their own search, the homes of friends and acquaintances were visited but no one had seen or heard from Elizabeth. It was the following morning before the family found out what had happened when detectives called at the family's home and asked them to attend the murder scene where they officially identified the body as it lay in the cold mud.

When detectives ordered that the body be removed, it was noted that ground under the body was dry, suggesting that the body had been there before it had started raining in the early hours of the morning. Muddy footprints and some blood stains were found on the stone at the top of the wall, indicating that those responsible had climbed the wall to escape the scene.

The residents of No. 67 George Street were among the first to be interviewed. One woman stated that at a very late hour she heard voices in the back court but she thought little of it and did not make any further investigation. Another female resident claimed that at approximately 3am she had occasion to look out of her window and saw what she thought to be a 'Halloween dummy' lying in the back court and unperturbed she went back to bed.

Within a couple of hours the search parties had turned up some vital evidence. An ashpit in a back court a few numbers down from where the body was found was discovered to contain a number of pieces of linen cloth, many of them bloodstained. Detectives immediately swooped upon the property, residents were interviewed and their houses searched. The detectives got no response to their knocking from a ground floor flat and just as they were about to force entry the door opened. Inside they found two men and a woman who admitted it was them who had thrown the linen in the ashpit. The woman claimed that she had found a black suitcase on her back window ledge this morning, but as the news of the body spread around the neighbourhood, the three feared being implicated in the crime and decided to burn the suitcase in the fireplace. However as the contents were wet it wouldn't burn and it was thrown in the back court bin.

All three were arrested and taken for further questioning. Very quickly the police realised that was their story was true, they had nothing to do with the murder of the Benjamin girl and they were released without charge. This decision was mostly down to the police having received information that not only corroborated the prisoners innocence but sent the police inquiry off in a different direction.

This information led police to a house in No 67 George Street where they found the metal framework of a red purse in the ashes of the fireplace. As the search continued bloodstains were found behind the front door, the floor, and the walls of the flat. A large drill-bit, 18 inches long made of solid grooved steel and covered in blood was found in a hallway cupboard. The police immediately arrested the occupants of the house - two brothers and the wife of one of them and took them to Partick Police station. Their names were given as John Harkness aged 33, William Harkness aged 31 and his wife Helen Harkness aged 28. While in custody the search of No. 67 continued, in the communal washhouse police found a heavily bloodstained bathtub, and when it was lifted the floor underneath was bloodstained too.

A postmortem examination was carried out and it was found that the cause of death was asphyxiation While Benjamin had been severely beaten these injuries had, surprisingly, not proven fatal. The coroner found a white linen handkerchief lodged in the girl's throat. This had killed her, and the time was death was thought to be around 4pm on the 31st of October.
Almost exactly three months later, on January 30th 1922, two of the accused, William Harkness and his wife Helen, went on trial at the High Court in Glasgow, accused of Elizabeth Benjamin's murder. The charges against John Harkness had been dropped and he was cited to appear as a witness. And what a witness he turned out to be.

Harkness testified that he was in the home of this mother in law at 1204 Dumbarton Road when Helen Harkness called about 8pm smelling strongly of alcohol and asked him to go with her to meet his brother. She said that their had been some trouble, Harkness agreed and went with her to 67 George Street where he met his brother William. When he asked his brother what sort of trouble he was in he replied that he had hit a women over the head and killed her. John was taken to the wash house by candle light and shown the body of Elizabeth Benjamin. William asked his brother to help him get rid of the body from the wash house and he agreed. They quickly removed it and placed it in the back court where it was later found.

Not until the following day, when the crime had been discovered and wildly reported in all the newspapers, did John Harkess call at his brother's house. He remonstrated with his brother about the fact that the girl was old 14 years old and that she had been gagged. He told the court that Helen Harkness retorted: 'Yes, Johnny. She was a tough little bastard. My legs are black and blue where she kicked me.' His brother boasted that he had been bitten on the fingers by Elizabeth as she struggled.
On the second day of the trial, the crown case of concluded around midday. As no witness were called for the defense, the jury retired to consider their verdict at 2.55pm. The jury returned 30 minutes later with two unanimous verdicts of guilty of murder on William and Helen Harkness. The jury however, stipulated that they strongly recommended mercy to be shown to the female prisoner. The prisoners held hands as they were sentenced to be executed at Duke Street Prison on the 21st of February 1922.

The true circumstances that befell Elizabeth Benjamin are these:
On leaving 88 George Street, the young girl was intercepted by Helen Harkness who asked her to go to the flat at No.67 under the premise of wishing to buy some of her wares. Once there Elizabeth showed off her samples but with no sale forthcoming she was eager to leave. As she walked along the hallway towards the front door, William Harkness struck her on the back of the head with the reamer causing her to fall to the floor. Helen Harkness then held the girl down while her husband struck more blows with the reamer. Elizabeth struggled bravely and William Harkness decided to quieten her by forcing a handkerchief into her mouth causing her to suffocate.

Duke Street Prison
The recommendation of mercy toward Helen Harkness was directed to the proper authorities and on Saturday 18th February a dispatch from the Scottish Office was received. It contained the information that Helen Harkness had been reprieved of the death penalty and her sentence had been commuted to penal servitude for life. William Harkness's execution was to go ahead as planned.

At 8am on Tuesday 21st of Febuary 1922 John Harkness was hanged at Duke Street Prison. Helen Harkness was released from prison in 1937 she was convicted twice in the next ten years on theft charges, her last dealing with the law was in 1947.

Curiously, another woman was found bludgeoned to death in the vicinity where William Harkness worked. She was found at her place of employment, Oswald's Dairy, Dumbarton Road, Whiteinch. She had been beaten to death as she opened the premises in the morning, her hands had been roped together with a clove hitch knot, like Elizabeth Benjamin. The case remains unsolved.

John Harkness met a grisly end when he was found in the backcourt of 1188 Dumbarton Road in the early hours of New Years Day 1927. His injuries indicated that he had fallen or been pushed from a great height. A man was arrested for his murder but was later released without charge.

Elizabeth Benjamin had only £1 on her person when she was murdered.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

The Sad Story 'English Nellie' and the Anderston Ripper, 1956

Ellen Petrie grew up in Southport, Lancashire with her mother after her father was killed in the first world war. She married a man named Jackson in 1939 and together they went to live in Liverpool. They had a son together but tragedy struck when both he and her husband were killed during an air raid on Liverpool docks. After the war Ellen moved north to Glasgow and in 1952 she met and married John Petrie. They went to live at 160 Curle Street in Whiteinch, her husband worked at the nearby Singer sewing machine factory in Clydebank. However this happiness was cut-short when, only two years after they wed, her husband died suddenly in 1954.
Singer Sewing Machine Factory 1910
The factory suffered extensive damage during an air raid in 1941 was was demolished in the 80s

Ellen moved between low-paid jobs to support herself and in June 1956 she found herself working at a women's hostel in Carrick Street, Anderston. Many of the residents were alcoholics and most had turned to prostitution, and Ellen soon found herself turning to prostitution to supplement her meager income.

On the evening of Friday 15th June 1956 finished her shift at the hostel at 7pm and then called at a public house on the corner of Argyle St and Carrick St. In the pub she chatted with many of the hostel's residents and she also made the acquaintance of a man who bought her a drink. He was later described as well-dressed, between 40 and 50 years old, medium height with receding brown hair.

McLeans bar on the corner of Carrick St
closed in 1911 but the same location as the bar in this story

At about 9.10pm that evening Ellen was seen by witnesses standing outside the bar with her back against the wall of the pub locked in a passionate embrace with the man, much to the amusement of the many passerby's. Eventually the pair moved off and were seen 10 minutes later walking across Bothwell St into Pitt Street.

West George Lane
About 10.20pm that night, John McIlvenna, a bakery worker went to the back of his premises in West George Lane only to find the body of Ellen Petrie lying on the doorstep. Covered in blood, Ellen was lying on her back with her skirt lifted up and twisted around her waist. One of her shoes and one of her stockings were missing and a large 'V' shaped wound had been carved on the inside of her exposed thigh.

When the police arrived, one of the officers recognized her from previous dealings and was able to share that she was known by the street name of 'English Nellie'.Over the course of the weekend police identified 'English Nellie' as Ellen Petrie of 76 Hill Street, Garnethill. The police then broadcast an appeal for a man who had been seen in Ellen's company on the evening in question and had reportedly been seen by one witness running out of the lane just minutes before Ellen's body was found.

Police spent the weekend canvassing the pubs of Anderston trying to piece together the final movements of Ellen Petrie. Detectives began linking Ellen's murder with two similar attacks on women in the area in the previous eight weeks. In April Mrs Margaret Davies or 'Ginger Margaret' as she was known, was attacked and severely injured in Brown Street while on a 'date' with a man she had met once before. He had walked her home to the women's hostel on Carrick Street (the same hostel where Ellen worked) but as she walked away from him he called her back. The man then punched her in the face, knocking her to the ground before producing a knife and proceeding to slash at her body and throat. Luckily, Davies managed to get to her feet and run into the hostel.
Brown Street

Then in June, only two weeks before Ellen's murder, 31-year old Ina McDonald was attacked and assaulted in Robertson Street. She had met a man in a local public house and was walking with him on Robertson Street when without any warning he dragged her into a close mouth and started slashing at her with a knife. Ina's screams brought the attention of residents who found her bleeding profusely on the stairwell from a slashed throat, miraculously, she survived the attack.

Robertson Street

Each of the women had injuries on their upper thigh and each women had their throats slashed. The description of the man who attacked Margaret matched Ina's attacker and both were identical to the man seen in Ellen's company the night of her murder. The women at the hostel were scared to go out at night saying there was a maniac on the loose. 

Additional officers were drafted to patrol the Anderston area in efforts to catch the man responsible but after two weeks complaints were made by local businesses that the extra patrols were affecting trade and even the local prostitutes complained that their clients were being chased away. As with the previous two cases within a few weeks the Petrie case went cold.

Peter Manuel
In 1958 serial killer Peter Manuel allegedly confessed the murder of Ellen Petrie. However he was never interviewed at length about his involvement and when his photograph was shown to both Ina McDonald and Margaret Davies they failed to identify him as their attacker. Furthermore, all the descriptions of the man wanted in connection with the murders state that the man was between 40 and 50 years of age but Manuel was only 29 at the time of the murders. Another fact to consider is that, while Manuel had attacked women with a knife, he had never gouged the distinctive 'V' shape into the thigh as featured on the three Anderston victims.

After the murder of Ellen Petrie there were no more attacks, the reason for this sudden stop is a mystery and the case remains unsolved to this day.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Jock The Ripper: Murder at West Lodge, 1892

Wednesday October 12th 1892
'A shocking tragedy, which in many of its revolting details resembles the horrible murders that took place some time ago in Whitechapel, occurred early yesterday morning in the western district of Pollokshields. A jobbing gardener, named William McEwan, who had been left in charge of a villa on Maxwell Drive, murdered a woman and after mutilating her body in the most inhuman manner buried it in pieces in the grounds surrounding the house.

West Lodge, Maxwell Drive
Photographed in 1889

The news of the tragedy created the greatest excitement in the district, which is one of the most aristocratic residential suburbs in Glasgow. What prompted the man to take the woman's life. or in what particular manner he did so, nobody, except probably himself, is in a position to say. After committing the crime he absconded from the vicinity, and though diligent search was made for him throughout the day, up until a late hour he had not been heard of.

The earliest intelligence of murder was communicated to police by another gardener who is employed at an adjoining house. This man to have been on very friendly terms with McEwan and was in the habit of visiting him at West Lodge a good many times a day. On the day in question. on calling at West Lodge he was surprised to find the front door open. Obtaining no answer to his call he walked straight into the apartment and was almost overcome by what he saw. The room was in the greatest confusion. and on the floor was a sickening pool of blood. A square of about two yards was covered in blood. He retraced his steps the courtyard, where he remarked blood stains on the gravel of the avenue.This trail he followed for about thirty yards it struck off into the cultivated ground between the roadway and the eastern boundary wall. Here his practiced eye told him that the soil where the blood-trail terminated had only recently been turned up and decided to see if there was anything underneath. A turn or two of the spade disclosed the mutilated remains of the unfortunate woman and without waiting to investigate further he went and informed the police.

On their arrival at West Lodge they found everything as the man had represented it to be - the blood on the kitchen floor and on the furniture of the room, and the other evidences that a horrible crime had taken place. The bedding and some wearing apparel, which may have been the property of the woman, and a white shirt, presumably McEwan's, were found stained with blood. The whole appearance of the room indicated that severe struggle had taken place. From the kitchen the officer proceeded to the ground that their informant had partially turned over and there discovered the remainder of the body in four different places. It had been shockingly mutilated. The legs and arms had been sawn off, the head had been severed from the trunk, the breasts were torn off. and the intestines extracted.

In the course of the evening the woman was identified as Mary Anderson a woman about 36 years of age. Although belonging to the unfortunate class she is said to have been a woman of quiet habits.'

Friday March 6th 1964: Boxing Champ and Girl Found Stabbed in Back Court

Warning: This post contains a crime scene photograph.

Cornwall Street, Kinning Park

A well-known Scottish boxer and a girl were found stabbed to death in a backcourt at 35 Cornwall Street, Kinning Park, Glasgow, today. Beside them lay a blood-stained knife.

The man who died was 23 year old Andy Barrie, a docker and professional middle-weight boxer. The woman was Mrs Betty Duncan. The double tragedy was discovered by neighbours in the Cornwall Street tenement, one of whom, Mr Charles McLure of No.39 phoned police.

Mr McClure opened the window to see what was happening and heard a woman neighbour shouting for a pillow. He then saw the couple lying in the back court.

A crowd gathered in the street as police and an ambulance arrived at the close where a trail of blood led to the back court.

Thomas Milliken of Glasgow C.I.D told reporters: 'Inquiries are proceeding but we are not looking for any other person at the moment.'

Mrs Lena McGee whose ground floor flat looks out over the back court told reporters that she heard Mrs Duncan shouting, and on looking out saw Mrs Duncan lying in the back court with Mr Barrie standing nearby.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Partick 1962: 10-year-old Girl Charged With Murder of Baby

Partick Cross

A 10 year old girl has been charged following the discovery of the dead body of baby Catherine Coyle of 9 Torness Street, Partick, Glasgow in a tenement last night.

Baby Catherine disappeared from her pram outside her home at approximately 7.15pm. Police with tracker dogs searched the area, combing gardens, backyards, closes and waste ground.

When first told of her daughter's disappearance by neighbors who has looked in the pram and found it empty, Mrs Coyle thought that they were joking. Realizing that they weren't, the distraught mother - who has been having a cup of tea in a neighbours' house - ran into the street crying for her baby.

It is alleged that on the 20th of September the 10 yr old girl (who lived in the same close as the Coyle's) assaulted the baby, aged seven weeks, tied a dishtowel around her neck and a piece of cloth around her head and repeatedly stabbed her on the body with a knife or similar instrument.

A Dr McNiven said that the girl had been confined to a hospital since the attack and during that time has been friendly. cheerful and quite happy. He said that whenever he spoke of the events she became serious and troubled and professed loss of memory. 'I consider that she must have been insane at the time of the offence' argued Dr McNiven.

The girl's academic record was poor and she showed tendencies toward aggressiveness and violence. The girl could give no explanation for acting as she did. Mr McNiven says that in his experience this case was unique - 'I have never examined a child of this age in regard to events of this kind.'

The next medical witness, Dr James Watson, said that in his opinion the girl was suffering from a mental illness and was unfit to plead, although he added that in a case of this nature it was difficult to distinguish between hysterical amnesia and pretended amnesia.

Appearing in court accompanied by her mother, the chubby faced, auburn-haired girl wore a blue and white woolen helmet, loose fitting pale green coat, woolen mitts, white ankle socks and black strapped shoes.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Murder in the Green


A young man was arrested and charged with murder after a woman was found dead today in Glasgow Green.

The dead woman has been identified as Esther Hendry (62) of no fixed abode.
Red-haired and dressed in a light blue plastic coat, she was found grotesquely posed over the railings of the children's playground bordered by Greendyke Street and only 200 yards from the Glasgow Central Police Station on Turnball Street.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Dancehall Disappearance


‘Police throughout Britain are today looking for an attractive 18-year-old Glasgow girl whose parents believe that she is being held somewhere against her will.
The girl, dark-haired Ann Gibson, was last seen on Saturday afternoon leaving a Glasgow dance hall with two men. She is described as having appeared reluctant to accompany them. Almost frantic with anxiety after a three-day search of dance halls, cinema queues, and cafes, her parent now fear that she is being held.

Her mother, Mrs Jessie Gibson, said in her corporation house at 9 Kentigern Terrace Bishopbriggs, to-day – “I am convinced Ann is being kept against her will. She would never have stayed away as long as this – and, in fact, has never been away from home. She knows how worried we would be and would have come home.”
Her father, Mr Andrew Gibson, said: ‘She had only ten shillings when she left on Saturday. She couldn't have managed all this time on so little. That is one of the reasons why we believe she may be held somewhere.”

Ann’s parents reported her missing to Bishopbriggs police on Sunday night – but it wasn't until Monday that the mystery deepened when Ann’s friend, 17-year-old Isobel Fairbairn told her parents what had happened at the dance hall.
She said two men had been dancing alternately with Ann, but that Ann had not been very keen on them. Afterwards she left and went off with both men.

Mrs Gibson said her daughter was a shy girl whose main interests were knitting and the church choir. She added ‘she is that kind of girl: very rarely goes out in the evening at all. The only thing she did go to was the Saturday afternoon dance.’
Mrs Gibson, who is off work, ill with worry of his daughters disappearance, sad Ann was a very nervous type of girl. ‘If she was pulled out of the hall against her will she wouldn’t scream.’ Mr Gibson then told of another point which was worrying them – ‘Ann doesn't know Glasgow very well. The only place she really knows is the dance hall which is at the Charing Cross end of the city’

When she set out of the Saturday afternoon dance Ann was wearing a fawn and lemon skirt in rainbow stripes and a white woollen jacket – just knitted by her mother. 

Ann's disappearance occurred 8 years before the first reported victim of Glasgow serial killer 'Bible John'  who hunted for victims in Glasgow's dance halls between 1968 and 1969. He is believed to have murder three young women after meeting them at the Barrowlands Ballroom. The case remains unsolved.