Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Murder of Jean Milne, Broughty Ferry 1912


West Ferry is the scene of a fiendish murder.

Miss Jean Milne, a lady of independent means, was found lying in her blood in her mansion-house, Elmgrove, yesterday morning, and there was all the evidence of a violent struggle.
The old lady’s face and head bore frightful injuries. Her face was a mass of bruises and clotted blood, and near the body was a poker which had been used with such tremendous force that the knob had been knocked off and blood and hair still adhered to the weapon. After completing his work, the murderer had tied Miss Milne’s legs together, covered the body with a sheet and before leaving he cut the telephone wire. The murder is supposed to have taken place three weeks ago and the murder is still at large.

Elmgrove is a mansion-house of some pretensions, and stands in its own grounds, which are considerable. It is situated at the junction of Grove Road and Strathern Road, and was bought by the deceased’s brother, the late Mr James Milne, who was for many years a tobacco manufacturer in Dundee. Mr Milne died eight years ago, since then Miss Milne has lived alone.

Jean Milne

A wealthy spinster, Miss Milne’s habits and mode of living were thought peculiar and somewhat eccentric. She showed a marked preference for her own society. Friends made many efforts to get her to visit them, but the invitations were always declined with the remark, ‘I just want to live my own life in my own way.’ None the less the deceased was known to a wide circle and was highly respected. She spent much on travel, frequently visiting London and the continent while living for many years without the assistance of a gardener or a maid at home. One friend remarked that the grounds of the impressive mansion had fallen into disrepair: “Time was when she had a maid and a gardener but for many a day up to the time of her death she conducted all her own affairs. The garden became a wilderness and believe me it was an eerie experience to walk up the dark avenue to the silent house.

When at home Miss Milne was almost daily in Dundee where she lunched and had afternoon tea before returning to West Ferry. Her friends more than one remarked to her upon her solitary lifestyle, but Miss Milne, though a small, fragile woman was not afraid and appeared to enjoy the solitary life that she led. One thing is certain that when at home she had next to no social intercourse. She made no visits to the few friends that she had, and she extended no hospitality at Elmgrove, whose interior was something of a mystery to all.

A friend told reporters: ‘I could not tell you how many time I have advised Miss Milne not to shut herself up in that big house. It was unthinkable that a lady well up in years should prefer solitude. She was quite fearless and laughed when I displayed concern about her.’
‘I remember some time ago Miss Milne telling me of an incident which showed how plucky she was. For many years, she had been in the habit of sitting in her dining room writing or reading. The blinds of this room were never drawn, and she sat there in full view of anyone in the garden. Well, one night while she was reading she became conscious of the fact that she was being watched. Lifting her head quickly she saw a man at the window, his face pressed hard against the glass. It was a trying experience, but Miss Milne was in no way alarmed. Rising she walked to the window and coolly ordered the man to ‘clear out’. She admitted afterwards that the sight of the man at the window gave her a start, but she resolutely declined to draw the blinds or get someone to live with her.’

The tragedy at Elmgrove was discovered in a peculiar way. Miss Milne generally didn’t care to be disturbed, on one occasion when the postman called with her letters – despite her solitary life she maintained a very extensive correspondence – she challenged him for ringing the doorbell with the remark: ‘Don’t you know that I keep a letter-box at the back for my correspondence?’. The postman took the hint and from that day all letters and documents addressed to the lady were deposited in a mailbox fixed to the back door.

Mr James Sidders, the postman, started to notice that the letters he was placing in the box were accumulating and thought that something may be amiss. However, fearful of arousing Miss Milne’s short temper the postman decided that it was better to continue to push the letters in the box, supposing that Miss Milne has most probably gone on a short holiday and would be back to clear the mailbox soon. Yet he was surprised that Miss Milne had not communicated with the post office, remembering that she was a woman of most precise habits and that her invariable custom had been to instruct the postal authorities when she went on holiday to forward her mail to London or continental hotels, and she never failed to send a postcard advising of her return to West Ferry.

As the mailbox became more stuffed it was decided that an attempt should be made to get in touch with Miss Milne by telephone, but there was no response despite repeated attempts. The postman then alerted the police who were reluctant to force entry into the house as some time ago Miss Milne’s absence had given rise to fears for her wellbeing, the house was entered by the authorities and everything was found in order. Miss Milne had been on holiday and was greatly indignant on her return to discover that the police had entered her home.

Despite this the police did eventually visit, they found all the windows on the ground floor fastened and the doors secured. A window was forced open and the police entered only to discover the body of Miss Milne lying in the hall, not far from the foot of the stairs, blood stains were everywhere and the head of the body was fearfully bruised. Nearby lay the fifteen inch long steel poker which had been wielded with such terrible effect on the body of the old lady, still covered in tufts of grey hair and clotted blood.

An examination of the body showed that Miss Milne had been repeatedly struck by the murderer, there was one terrible scar on her chin and the skull was dented in several parts, the face was a mass of congealed blood with the eyes protruding from the sockets, her set of artificial teeth had also been broken in the struggle, part of them were found near the body and the rest on the stairs. Her legs had been tied with the cord of a window blind and the telephone wires had been cut to prevent all possibility of making an effort for assistance. Near the body various articles of furniture has been upset: vases were smashed and high upon the globe of a gas bracket was a lamp bespattered with Miss Milne’s blood.

At first it occurred to the authorities that the tragedy might have been due to Miss Milne having fallen down the stairs. The murderer seems to have supposed that the authorities might have arrived at this conclusion because the body bore evidence of having been dragged in order to make it appear as if Miss Milne has fallen over the balustrade. Yet this clumsy attempt as concealment was hampered by the murderer leaving the murder weapon behind and by tying the victims feet and finally covering the body with a white sheet.

It was supposed that the crime had taken place nearly three weeks ago, as the body was in an advanced state of decomposition. When police opened the letter box they found that all letters prior to the 14th of October (three weeks ago) had been opened by Miss Milne while all letters after this date had been untouched. So accustomed were Miss Milne’s neighbours to her habits of quietly departing for a lengthy holiday that no one was seriously alarmed at the fact that no lights showed from the house at nights. This accounts for the delay in discovering the crime.

It is thought that the author of the crime must have been aware of Miss Milne’s solitary habits; one theory is that the murderer had concealed himself in the house while Miss Milne was gardening and on her return to the house had taken her unawares and stunned her with the poker. Friends said:
‘I shall always remember her as a cheery little lady with a good word for all, although she resented intrusion upon her seclusion.’

The case remains unsolved to this day

Saturday, 21 February 2015

" He died, as an erring man should die, Without display, without parade." - The Execution of William Perrie 1837

Paisley in the 1900s

From 1837 to 1901 Queen Victoria presided over the world's biggest empire - and during her 64 year reign approximately 1,100 judicial hangings were carried out in Great Britain and Ireland - the execution of William Perrie on the 18th of October 1837 was the first Scottish Victorian hanging.

A broadside ballad (a form of popular song often reporting dark or salacious deeds,filling the place occupied today by the tabloid press) inspired by the execution begins: 'The morning came, the hours flew past:- / Yea, the fatal hour, poor Perrie's last, / Drew near, on which he was to die, / And meet his God, his Judge on high.' Under the title a small quotation has been provided: '"He died, as erring man should die, / Without display, without parade."

William Perrie was a native of Glasgow, but  at the time of the murder had resided for eight years in Paisley. He was a tobacco-spinner by trade and was generally described by those who knew him as a quiet inoffensive man. However, Perrie was without a doubt a dangerously jealous man when it came to matters of the heart. Twice married, his first wife was described in contemporary reports as 'a respectable woman' who 'always conducted herself with propriety'. Despite this Perrie continually jealous,  'keeping up a constant espionage upon her motions, and finding cause for suspicion where none such existed'.

Newspapers of the time recount an episode where at a party where Perrie was playing the violin to the company, his wife was asked to dance by one of the guests. Perrie was immediately seized with a jealous rage and springing from his seat, he tore his wife from her partner, and broke the bow of his violin over her head.

This and other instances of Perrie's jealousy no doubt led the end of his first marriage. His second was to a woman 'of light character' (read: a flirt) who had  already borne several children to another man in Paisley. Although Perrie was aware of his wife's chequered history before he married her, he made her promise that she would give up all association with other parties. He was described to have been infatuated to the point of obsession with this woman and his tendency to jealousy was exacerbated by her tendency toward flirtation although he had no real reason to conclude that she had ever been unfaithful to him. No doubt frustrated by her husband's unending charges of infidelity, it was said that she used to taunt him and was in the habit of hinting that some cause existed for his suspicions. His friends also used to amuse themselves by hinting that all was not right at home, and by jokes and insinuations.
One the day of the murder, Perrie left his workshop at an earlier hour than usual and returned home. After dinner he dismissed his two children (which he had by the first marriage) and having then bolted the door, he began to accuse his wife of infidelity which she denied. During the scene, he got up in a fit of ungovernable passion and stabbed his wife several times with a small file, with which he used to polish the head violins: she died almost immediately. 
Following his arrest Perrie hoped that his punishment of death might instead be commuted to a prison sentence and while he displayed some degree of remorse he also spoke of his wife's provocation and received some sympathy from the press:

‘the murder was not committed either for love of cruelty and bloodshed or from the cold calculations of gain, but was almost a complete example of murder prompted by the mingled feelings of jealousy and revenge, such as we pity, and almost admire, in Othello on the stage.’

Despite this the sentence of death remained and William Perrie was hanged on October 18th 1837, his execution prompting debate in the local press on effectiveness of the death penalty itself:

‘This execution at Paisley, of William Perrie, happened on the 18th of October; that week, Agnes Colquhoun was murdered and thrown in the Clyde. The same day, Mr Angus McDonald of Glasgow disappeared with property on his person; and from evidence already before the public, is believed to have been murdered, although the body has not yet been found. A few days after, Nov 11th, a gamekeeper on the estate of Sir W Anstruther, unable to overtake Dickson and another poacher in their flight, wantonly shot them both, for which he was been sentenced to several months imprisonment. Soon afterwards, Nov 16th, another man, Daniel Campbell, was fired at, and dangerously wounded, between Greenock and Paisley, by two villains, who made their escape. It appears, therefore, that the execution of Perrie, if it has produced any effect, has been a provocative to crime.'