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