Monday, 8 December 2014

Susan Newell, The Last Woman Hanged in Scotland

Susan McAllister was born into poverty in Oban in 1893, and poverty is a constant feature in the sad story of her life. After completing school she worked in a series of low paid jobs before moving to Glasgow in 1910 at 17 years old. She again worked in a series of low paid jobs before meeting and marrying John McLeod, a 24 year old from Lewis, who, like Susan, had moved to Glasgow for a better life. With the outbreak of war in 1914 John signed up and was sent abroad, leaving Susan pregnant and alone. She gave birth to their daughter Janet in 1915.

Within weeks of Janet’s birth Susan received the news that her husband had been killed in the trenches of Northern France. He never met his daughter. 
Little is known of Susan and Janet from 1915 until 1922 where the story restarts. In 1922 Janet had grown into a mischievous 7year old and Susan was approaching 30 when she fell in love with a 29 year old tubeworker named John Newell, the pair were married. For a period they lived happily until just after Christmas 1922 John was layed off from his job at the British Tubeworks along with many others. With so many workers unemployed and positions scarce, John was out of work for a whole six months. During this time tempers became frayed between the pair, they were arguing constantly, and they both began to drink heavily.

In one particularly heated exchange in 1923 Susan attacked her husband, not for the first time, and left his face bloody and bruised. He reported the assault at the local police station, but due to lack of evidence and perhaps a reluctance to get involved in what was deemed a domestic dispute, the police didn’t ever speak with Susan Newell about the allegations. Following this incident John Newell packed his bags and left his wife and stepdaughter. In a further blow to Susan she was given notice by her landlady to quit her lodgings citing unreasonable behaviour as the reason.

The following day, Wednesday the 20th of June 1923, was carnival day in Coatbridge. 13 year old John Johnson was a street newsvendor and he saw the increased activity of the carnival as a way to increase his sales. He began calling at houses hoping to sell his papers, at 6.45pm he called at No. 2 Newlands Street and knocked on door of Susan Newell. He was invited in and once inside Susan Newell took a newspaper from him, however, she made no attempt to pay for it and an argument ensued between the pair. During the disagreement John Johnson was strangled by Susan Newell.

Just after 8pm that evening Janet returned to the flat from playing out with friends. She was confronted by the scene of John’s body lying dead on the couch with his newspapers scattered over the floor. Her mother swore her to secrecy and made her help her roll the body in a rug.

Sometime before 8am the following morning Susan Newell and her daughter were seen pulling a child’s go-cart in nearby Dundyvan Road. The cart appeared heavy and laden with clothing. There were no more reported sightings of the pair until 9.30am at a junction in Bargeddie. Thomas Dickson, a delivery driver, saw a woman and a child walking along the road, the woman asked if he could give her, her child, and the go-cart, a lift into Glasgow as they were looking for digs. He agreed and helped load the cart onto the lorry before heading into the city.

Dickson let the pair off on Duke Street, but while helping unload the cart it almost turned over and fell to the ground. Dickson managed to catch a hold of the cart to stop it falling completely but it’s burden became partially dislodged. John Johnston’s head protruded from under the thick quilt-like cover, while his left foot jutted out the bottom, hanging over the edge of the cart. Susan managed to quickly shroud her sinister cargo and thanked Dickson with a terse, ‘I’ll manage it. Leave it alone.’ Susan and Janet then walked off along Duke Street but the incident had been witnessed by and alert resident who had been looking out her window. She decided to discreetly follow Susan and Janet.

Coincidentally the resident met her sister in the street and explained to her what she seen. They both began to follow Newell and her daughter as they pushed the cart along Duke Street and then pulled into an access lane next to No. 630. One of them decided to fetch the police while the other continued to watch the tenement building. Robert Foot, a local resident, came out of a newsagents shop when one of the women shouted to him: ‘There is a woman away up that entry and she is carrying a dead body.’

Newell had reached the end of the lane and found herself in the backcourt of the tenement, there was no exit save the way she had come in or climbing a six foot wall that separated the backcourts from each other. Newell had been aware of the suspicion she had aroused since the incident the lorry and panicked as she saw Robert Foot walking up the lane. She immediately let go of the cart, abandoning Janet, and began climbing the six foot dividing wall.

However, a passing police officer, Constable Thomas McGennet, had been alerted and appeared in the backcourt as Newell was half way over the wall. He managed to take hold of her, pulled her off the wall and placed her under arrest. Word has spread like wildfire and Duke Street became a heaving  mass of curious onlookers who hung their heads in a show of respect as the body of John Johnston was carried out by two constables.

Newell was taken to Eastern Police Station in Tobago Street where she was interviewed. She told the detectives that it was her husband John that had killed the young boy and then left the house, leaving her with the problem of how to dispose of the body. Janet was also interviewed and gave a similar story, she had been primed by her mother on what to say if they were ever arrested.

A post-mortem was carried out on the body of John Johnston. It confirmed the cause of death as strangulation. The pathologists also noted that there had been recent burning to the boys scalp and to the sides of his head. Both of his ears had been completely burned off. It was unclear whether these injuries were caused in an attempt to destroy evidence.

A search began to trace John Newell, descriptions of him were passed to newspapers who printed them on their front pages. On the 22nd of June, John Newell walked into a police station in Haddington, West Lothian and handed them a copy of that day’s newspaper, telling them he was the man they were looking for. Newell found himself under arrest and in a cell.

Both Susan and John Newell went on trial at Glasgow High Court at the start of September 1923. A plea of insanity was entered for Susan and John claimed a special defence of alibi. The two sat together in the dock but not once did the look at one another.

Susan Newell’s landlady testified that she saw Johnston enter the Newell house, Dickson the lorry driver testified as did other witnesses who saw Susan and her daughter with the cart in various streets. But the star witness turned out to be Janet Newell, she told the court of how she entered the flat in Coatbridge to see the dead body of Johnston sprawled on the couch with her mother leaning over it. She told the court of how she had helped wrap the body and how her mother constantly reminded her what to tell the police should they be caught, which was that John Newell had murdered the boy.

John Newell’s defence counsel were able to show that he was not at home at all one the evening of the murder and all charges against him were dismissed. Without looking at his wife, Newell stepped down from the dock to freedom.

Susan Newell at her trial

The trial continued. Susan’s defence attempted to introduce evidence that showed that she was insane at the time of the offence but this was rebutted by expert medical witnesses who interviewed and examined her while she was in custody. The counsel then tried to argue that the murder of John Johnston was not premeditated but a spur-of-the-moment act in the midst of an argument. They also made great play out of the fact that the prosecution could not provide a motive for the crime. The court heard that John had no more than 9d (4p) on him at the time of calling at the Newell’s.

The jury adjourned to make its verdict. It took them 37 minutes to find Susan Newell guilty. They recommended that the prisoner be shown mercy. But the judge had no say in this matter for Newell had been convicted of murder, for which the only punishment was death. Susan Newell showed no emotion as she was led from the dock and taken back to Duke Street Prison to await execution.

An appeal against the sentence was launched and received considerable public support. The appeal was refused and Susan as heard to cry out in her cell when she learned the news. Just before 8am on 10th October 1923 the executioner entered Susan’s cell and pinioned her arms by fitting a belt around her waist which had straps designed to tie elbows to her body. However, in his haste, the execution failed to secure the straps around her wrists.As she stepped on the trapdoor of the gallows, her legs were strapped together, and the noose was placed around her neck and tightened. As the hood was placed over her head Susan managed to free one of her arms and pull it off, she threw in the direction of the executioner and said, ‘Don’t put that thing over me.’

The executioner pulled the trapdoor and Susan Newell fell to her death, her unsecured arm flailing wildly and her eyes wide open, staring at the assembled officials to surrounded the gallows. The executioner, John Ellis, later wrote that Susan Newell was not only the calmest person he had ever executed but also the bravest.

John Ellis

After the execution Ellis resigned as the country’s executioner-in-chief. He began to drink heavily, and within 10 months of Newell’s execution he attempted to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head but failed in the attempt. Eventually he did kill himself, cutting this throat with an open razor in full view of family members.


Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The World's End Murders and the Glasgow Connection

In October 1977 two 17-year-old girls, Christine Eadie and her friend Helen Scott were murdered in West Lothian.  The girls had been drinking at the World's End in Edinburgh, it was their last stop on a pub crawl. They were seen leaving the pub at closing time in the company of two men.

The World's End, Edinburgh
On October 6th Christine Eadie's nude body was found on the foreshore at Gosford Bay, East Lothian and three hours later the semi-naked body of Helen Scott was found 6 miles away in a field off the Huntington/Coates road near Haddington. Both had severe head injuries, both had their hands tied behind their backs, both had been raped, and both had been strangled.

In 2007 Angus Sinclair stood trial for their murders and was acquitted in controversial circumstances. He was retried in 2014 after the amendment to the double jeopardy law, and in November 2014 he was found guilty of the murders and sentenced to a minimum prison term of 37 years. He will be 106 years old before he will be eligible for parole.

The murders that became known as 'The World's End Murders' had long been connected by press and police with a series of murders in Glasgow in the late 1970s. Angus Sinclair is suspected to be responsible for some if not all of these cases.

The Plaza Ballroom, Eglinton Toll
Hilda Miller, a 36-year-old divorced mother of two, left her Glasgow home on Saturday 1st October 1977 to go dancing with friends at the Plaza dance hall at Eglinton Toll. At midday the following day her half-naked and brutally battered body was found by a group of youngsters out bramble-picking, lying among the long grass opposite the entrance to the West Ferry caravan site in Langbank, Renfrewshire. The area was known as a local lovers lane. Her clothing had been scattered among the bushes and her coat, shoes and handbag were missing. Her hands had been tied behind her back and she had been strangled with her own stockings.

Police quickly eliminated from their inquiries a man said to have left the Plaza dance hall with Hilda after midnight. Another woman contacted the Glasgow Herald office with the name of an other man. She said that it had been 'on her conscience' for several years that he may have been 'Bible John' - the untraced serial killer of three women who were murdered after visiting Glasgow dance halls in 1968-69. It is not known what became of this lead. Detectives said that they were anxious to trace a slim man seen talking with Hilda in McNee's bar next to the Plaza around 10pm the evening she was killed. The case remains unsolved.

The Cladda Social Club, 1980
A few weeks later 23-year-old Agnes Cooney, a children's nurse, was found in a copse at Caldercruix, Lanarkshire, she had been stabbed 25 times. She had spent the evening at the Cladda Social Club in Westmoreland Street only about 500 yards from the Plaza ballroom. At the time of her disappearance she was wearing a royal blue cagoule, blue cords, and fawn desert boots.
Police believe that she left the Cladda Social Club alone and because she was careful with her money, tried to get a lift to her home in Coatbridge. Police said they were anxious to speak to two young men who were seen in two cars outside the Cladda around midnight when Agnes left. The first car was a Ford Cortina and the second a white van. Police believed that Agnes could have been held captive for up to 24 hours before her death. 

When asked about a link to other recent unsolved murders Detective Superintendent John MacDougall said: 'We are bearing in mind the girls murdered in Edinburgh as well as Hilda Miller's murder  and the disappearance Anna Kenny. There are certain similarities - the victims disappeared at midnight from places of entertainment and were found in the country. He warned that the 'weekend killer' could strike again  and appealed to young women not to leave dance halls and clubs unescorted.

On the 1st of August 1977, 20 year old Anna Kenny disappeared while she was walking to her home in Gorbals after a night out in Glasgow. On the night of her disappearance she and her friend, Wilma, had been drinking in the 'Hurdy Gurdy' public house in Townhead where they met two young men. After closing time Anna said goodbye to her friend and accompanied by one of the young men set off to walk to George's Square to catch a bus. Police were able to trace the young man, he told them that Anna got a taxi from the corner of Lister Street and Baird Street, Townhead.

The Hurdy Gurdy public house, 1979

On April 28th 1979 Anna's skeleton was phone buried in a shallow grave in a remote spot of Kintyre.

Police search for Anna Kenny's remains

In 1978, Mary Gallagher, aged 17, the eldest of six children, left her home at 16 Endrick Street, Keppochill on November 19th for a night out with friends. She left home about 6.30pm, walked down Endrick Street onto Keppochill Road and then onto Flemington Street where she took a shortcut across a railway bridge into the pathway.

Springburn Rd, Flemington St in 1977
She was going to meet her friend Elizabeth Blair in Avonspark Street and the intention was that the two teenagers would walk to Carlisle Street to meet a Mr and Mrs Dolan who were taking them to the Firhill Club, adjoining Partick Thistle football ground in Maryhill. But Mary never made to her friends home on Avonspark Street.

On the quiet pathway, between 6.45 and 7.30pm she was brutally attacked and killed. Her body was not found until the following morning. She had been stripped to the waist. Another 17-year-old girl had been attacked on the same pathway the previous evening and at the time police believed it was the same person who killed Mary, however, no one was every arrested for this attack.

Police interviewed more than 2000 people in door to door inquires without anyone yielding the vital information that would lead to Mary's killer. Police knew that the killer would almost certainly be bloodstained after the attack and believed that someone may have been shielding him. Police also believed that Mary's handbag, which was found in a tenement building at 147 Edgefauld Rd about 10 minutes walk from where her body was found, near Barnhill Station, had been deliberately placed there by someone who wanted them to find it.

In 2001 Angus Sinclair was convicted of the murder of Mary Gallagher it was revealed that after stripped her of her clothing he had strangled her with her trouser leg before raping her and slitting her throat.

In August 1978 Patricia Caldwell, a mother of two, went missing after attending a city center dance hall. She was last seen talking to two men at George Square at about 2.30 in the morning. Police linked her disappearance with the murder of Hilda Miller and Agnes Cooney. Her body was never found.

If all of these cases, and almost certainly more like the murder of Frances Barker in 1977, can be attributed to Angus Sinclair and/or his brother in law Gordon Hamilton then they could be Scotland's worst serial killers. It has been reported that an FIB profiler is looking into connections between Sinclair and other murder cases in the 1970s.