Released: October 2015
Publisher: Bradwell Books
Size: 180 x 110mm
Author: Kathryn Buchanan
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A collection of solved and unsolved murders from Scotland.
The murders are recounted in a factual analysis of the events leading up to the murder and how the perpetrators were tracked down, tried and what punishment was handed down. Scottish Murder Stories is a family title and does not include graphic details of events. There are however some images of the location where the murder took place or photographs of the perpetrator.
Murder is not an everyday occurrence in Scotland but over the years there have been many murders, solved and unsolved, that have caught the public’s attention. The death penalty was execution by hanging until the abolition of capital punishment for murder in 1965, but unlike England it was not ‘hang by the neck until dead’, so there are cases like ‘Half-hangit Maggie’, who was found to be alive, banging on the lid of her coffin on the way to her burial, who did not have to be hanged again and lived to a ripe old age. In the Grassmarket in Edinburgh, the pub, Maggie Dickson’s, is named after her. Nearby is the Last Drop Pub where the condemned were given their last drink before they dropped through the scaffold’s trapdoor.
There are some famous cases in this book, such as Burke and Hare, who murdered people and sold their corpses to Dr Robert Knox for dissection. Helen McDougal, Burke’s common-law wife, received a not proven verdict in court. In old Scots law the verdicts were culpable, convict or clense, and it was Cromwell who introduced the ‘guilty’ and ‘not guilty’ verdicts. However, after the Reformation these were dropped and ‘proven’ and ‘not proven’ were used. In 1712, at the trial of Samuel Hope, the jury demanded to return a ‘not guilty’ verdict, so Scotland’s three-verdict system came into use. Both the ‘not guilty’ and the ‘not proven’ verdicts result in the acquittal of the accused, and until 2011 they could not be tried again for the same crime, but the law of double jeopardy has now changed so this is no longer the case.
Despite all the murders mentioned in this book, Scotland is actually a pretty safe place. In the past ten years, the annual number of homicides has fallen from 137 to 61. The most common method of killing is with a sharp instrument and over half the accused were under the influence of drink or drugs or both. New scientific methods have aided police investigations with fingerprinting being used since the late nineteenth century, resulting in criminals choosing to wear gloves.
However, by the 1930s scientists had found a way of lifting fingerprints from material such as the inside of discarded gloves. The use of DNA profiling has been another breakthrough in investigating crimes and has led to cold cases being solved, such as the brutal murders in 1977 of Christine Eadie and Helen Scott, who were beaten, assaulted and throttled with their own underwear, and their bodies dumped in East Lothian. They were last seen by their friends in the World’s End pub in Edinburgh. In 2014, at the age of 69, their murderer was finally sentenced to 37 years’ imprisonment and became the first person in Scotland to be retried after an acquittal following the changes to the double-jeopardy law.