Monday, 10 July 2017

Toryglen Street, Oatlands, March 28th 1961

It was around 5.30pm on the wet afternoon of the 28th March 1961 that a report of a child having fallen from a third storey window at 39 Toryglen Street, Oatlands, Glasgow, came through the ambulance  radio to driver Jack Kirkland. He would later recall that accidents of this kind weren't particularly unusual at that time, he would tell a reporter in the 1980s: 'Accidents of that nature were a common occurrence in those days, especially with the old fashioned windows.' But it soon became apparent that this was no ordinary fall, and this was no accident. Before the ambulance had even reached the scene, a second call came over the radio reporting that not one, but several children had fallen from the same window, as the emergency services fielded dozens of frantic calls from the public. Jack would later recall: 'As we turned into Toryglen Street we were confronted by a nightmare. There was frantic activity, police cars everywhere. The policemen were trying to clear a path for us through the shocked and horrified groups of people ...Women in headscarves and aprons held each other and cried uncontrollably.'

As the responders forced their way through the gathered crowd they were confronted by the sight of five crumpled young bodies lying on the pavement. One of the bodies, four year old Marjorie Hughes, had died on impact and had been mercifully covered by a blanket by onlookers, but miraculously the other four children were still alive, though gravely injured. A neighbour, 45 year old James Haiming, would tell reporters his memories of that day. He had just returned from work when he heard two sickening thuds outside his Toryglen Street home. He would recall: 'I looked out and saw two kiddies lying there.' Having rushed out into the street he saw another child plunging toward the pavement from the third storey window. 'I half caught him on my shoulder before he fell to the ground - but before I could do anything else I looked up and saw two more kiddies on their way down. I felt so helpless, there was nothing I could do.'

 As the paramedics attended to the four injured children, the story of that days events began to emerge. It seemed that the children had been invited by a local woman to her top floor flat to look at a litter of puppies. But once the children were inside, the woman bolted the door, opened the window, and began to throw the children from the window one by one. Once the children began to realise the reality of the situation, they tried to escape. Neighbours hearing the commotion ran up the stairs and began trying to break down the door, while on the other side a sixth child, a young boy, desperately tried to unbolt the door. He would escape unharmed but suffered badly from shock. 

The dead child was Marjorie Hughes (4) of 15 Toryglen Street, and the four injured children, Francis Lennon (7), his sister Margaret Lennon (5) also of 15 Toryglen Street; Thomas Downie Devaney (4) and Daniel McNeill (5). The woman was 37 year old Jean Barclay Waddell, a former hotel receptionist and shorthand typist, she was charged the following day with 1 count of murder and 4 counts of attempted murder at Glasgow's Sheriff Court. During her appearance she was said to have 'bitten her lip but otherwise seemed quite composed.' She would later be found insane and unfit to plead, and was afterwards confined to Carstairs psychiatric hospital.

Jean Barclay Waddell, 37

It would later emerge that Waddell had suffered a complete mental breakdown following the breakup of her marriage to soldier Floyd Oakman. After the end of the second world war she entered a sanatorium to be treated for tuberculous, but while undergoing treatment she assaulted a nurse and was then transferred to a mental institution.  She was said to have suffered from delusions and paranoia, sometimes believing herself t o be Empress of Japan, at other times convinced that she was carrying an illegitimate baby, or that the police were watching her. It would later emerge that she had been subject to electric shock treatment in an attempt to alleviate these symptoms. Afterwards she was said to be so frightened of undergoing shock treatment again that she would tell people that she would rather die, she would attempt suicide by overdose a few days before the murder. Crime writer David Leslie would say of the case: 'What would save Jean from being hung, as much of the public called for, was that by 1961 politicians and most of the public had lost the stomach for marching a female to the scaffold.' She would later fade into anonymity and died in a care home in 2009 at the age of 86.

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