Our current book project is about John Watson Laurie – the longest serving Scottish prisoner. He was commuted to penal servitude for life in 1889 and spent the rest of his life in Peterhead Prison, then latterly the criminal lunatic asylum section of Perth Prison.
The text (in its draft format) is provided below, but transcripts, photographs and extracts from prison documents will be provided in the published book.
CHAPTER 1 – INTRODUCTION
Summer – 1967
I was twelve years old when I first heard the story about the Arran ‘murderer’.
It was a Sunday and that particular Sunday began like all the other Sundays; such was our family routine at that time. My sister and I were dressed in our ‘Sunday best’ – usually a dress, straw hat and polished shoes. We were sent to Sunday school, (note the ‘sent’ as it would not have been our choice of routine for a Sunday morning). Mum went to church and dad had the house to himself. After the Sunday service, we had a traditional Sunday lunch and then everything was quickly cleared away to allow for the one hour drive to our grandparents’ house in Prestwick, Ayrshire. Every Sunday was the same routine and my sister and I knew little else. The journey by car from our house to theirs was slow and tedious. The houses were only about 17 miles apart but cars being what they were in those days plus dad being overcautious on the road, we travelled more slowly than the average driver of the time – at about 30 miles an hour.
As part of this routine, the family often went for a walk along Prestwick sea front. My grandfather often talked about his ‘daily constitutional’ which involved a brisk walk to ‘take in the sea air’. He delighted in taking his granddaughters out; often to the shops or to the sea shore; teaching us how to ‘go’ our bikes and generally entertaining us with stories of his time in the army (although he was discharged fairly early on with an injury).
I have no recollection of why it was just me with my grandfather that day, as I recall no other family members out on that particular walk. It was a beautiful clear day and we could see for miles across the sea. I can only assume that the others stayed behind to wait for my aunt (my father’s sister) and uncle who often visited on alternate Sundays. They brought their dog with them, so perhaps I was taken out of the house as I had a great fear of dogs – still do. The dog would often be over-excited when it arrived. It was best that I wasn’t there for that initial greeting.
I recall asking about the mountain that we could see clearly across the sea (the Firth of Clyde) and grandfather explaining that it was called Goatfell on the Island on Arran. “You had a great great uncle who pushed a man off that hill,” he said. I recall being intrigued by the story. “It was a long time ago” he said. “His name was John Watson Laurie”.
Although the events of that day are ingrained in my mind, I didn’t have the sense or know-how to ask more questions. “Who was he?” “How was he related?” “Was it your paternal side of the family as his name was Laurie?” “What happened to him?” Did you ever meet him when you were a boy?” These are all questions that years later, I wished I had the maturity to ask.
On returning to my grandparents’ house, I rushed in to tell my parents about the Arran murderer. “Did you know I had an uncle who pushed a man off the hill in Arran?” I asked excitedly. I remember my grandmother being very angry with my grandfather. “Stop filling her head with that silly nonsense” she said. My parents didn’t say a word as I recall; dismissing the story as nonsense. I wouldn’t keep quiet however, and kept on and on about it until I was told that it wasn’t true and that it was just a piece of silly nonsense. As a child, I was often described as ‘precocious’ ‘chatty’ and was often asked “lassie – don’t you ever halt yer tongue?” In the end (probably after being told that “children should be seen and not heard”), I kept quiet about it altogether. I think I may have mentioned the story from time to time and my dad stated that he didn’t know anything about it, so I grew up believing that it was probably a made up story because we shared the same surname.
Years passed and my grandfather died in 1970. In 1973 I went off to college, married in 1977, had a family in the 1980s, and then my father died in 1984. To my knowledge (at that time), no known male descendent was left from that particular branch of the Laurie family and for a while, I forgot about the story until a series of plays called ‘Murder Not Proven’ was aired on the BBC in the early 1980s; one of which was called ‘Murder on Goatfell’.
Having two baby boys fourteen months apart leaves little time for hobbies. One evening in the 1980s my mother was staying with us for a short holiday and we were getting the boys ready for bed. It was always a bit of a frantic time to get both of them fed, bathed, then into pyjamas in time for the night time stories; and I mean ‘stories’ as one story was never enough. My mother and I managed some respite that particular evening, because the boys asked for their dad to read to them. “We want dad to read the stories as he puts on all the voices,” they chimed in unison. My mother and I were clearing up the toys strewn across the living room floor when a programme came on TV called ‘Murder Not Proven’. “Tonight’s story is about the infamous case of John Watson Laurie, who in 1889 murdered Edwin Rose on the Island of Arran,” the announcer proclaimed.
“Wasn’t that the story your grandfather told you all those years ago?” asked my mother.
“Yes. Remember grandmother saying it was nonsense. I assumed grandfather only told the story because the surnames were the same. To be honest, I often think about the story and would love to research it further” I said.
As luck would have it, a very dear friend and neighbour of ours was into genealogy in a big way. The next day I asked him about his family tree research. In those days (pre computer searching), it meant a trip to Register House in Edinburgh where you could look through enormous ledgers of indexes and request three lookups at one time. Your name had to be written down and added to a list and the people who worked in Register House would call out your name. When it was your ‘turn’ you were taken upstairs in to the huge Dome room to view your certificates from original books. The people who called the names and ushered you to the bound certificate books were akin to doctors’ receptionists. You had to take your lead from them and lo betide anyone who did not conform to the procedures as laid down by the clerks who worked in the archives. Although the use of computers and web searching is the norm for today’s genealogists, there were no short-cuts for the genealogist in the 1980s. There was something wonderful about handling the original index books. Although it was a time consuming process we weren’t at the mercy of poorly transcribed records on a computer screen, as the original documents of indexes and records were being viewed. Some of the people who worked in Register House were helpful; but others were formidable characters indeed. It appears to be a pre-requisite for employment in archives these days; hence the reason I compare them to doctors’ receptionists. Helpful clerks would assist if you had difficulty reading an entry or were at a loss when you couldn’t find a particular record. I remember one such search when I knew the actual date of birth but couldn’t find the entry. “I know he was born in Scotland on this date but his record isn’t there” I said. Such was my innocence and inexperience in determining possible reasons why a record could not be found. “Perhaps he was illegitimate,” said the clerk “so try looking under the mother’s surname.” Surely not, I thought. In my family?
As soon as my children were old enough to go to nursery, I spent long days in the local library. I searched various newspapers dated June 1889 onwards which covered the event, the police search for John Watson Laurie, and the trial. I hand wrote all the excerpts into various notebooks. Fortunately, the case was so well reported by most newspapers of the time, especially the Scotsman and North British Daily Mail. (North British? – surely that is Scotland?). I was determined to find out as much as I could about John Watson Laurie. I was sure there must be a connection to our Ayrshire Laurie family. Although John Watson Laurie was born and lived in Lanarkshire, most of our Laurie relations were in Ayrshire; however we did have some Laurie relatives in Lanarkshire, as one of my great aunts lived there. In later years (and after studying to be a professional genealogist at Strathclyde University), I discovered through more detailed searching that many of my grandfather’s brothers moved to England. For those genealogists out there you will be aware of my excitement every time another snippet of information unfolded from newspapers. For all the others who have been bored to tears (by me and others) you will probably not be reading this book unless you are interested in genealogy and perhaps the surname LAURIE (LAWRIE, LOWRY, LAURY or any other spelling). One of the first pieces of information that caused hairs on the back of my neck to stand up was the headline “LAURIE’S AYRSHIRE RELATIVES – A FORGOTTEN CRIME”. This story appeared in the Fifeshire Advertiser on the 22 November 1889.
“Referring to the statement that Laurie is distantly related to another well-known Ayrshire family, a correspondent of the North British Daily Mail says a member of the family referred to (and is believed to have been an uncle of Laurie’s) was suspected some forty years ago of having brutally murdered or otherwise ill-used a servant girl in his employment at his house in the North of Ayrshire. The weapon used to commit the crime is reported to have been part of the iron, or “shod” of a cartwheel.”
Even in those days, newspapers were keen to dig around for a story!
This was the first newspaper clipping that I found about John Watson Laurie. By trawling through indices about the Arran murder I was able to establish a timeline of events. This was a slow process over many weeks as computers were not available in libraries at that time. Although I benefited from handling the original copies of newspapers, in many cases they had been well thumbed and the paper was crumbling and in poor condition. This however was still preferable to reading from microfilm as often the films were of poor quality and difficult to manage on the reading machines. It wasn’t like the clear images you often see in American Movies where the person searching just happens upon the correct article clearly visible on high quality film on a state of the art reading machine.
Throughout the summer of 1988 I persevered in my quest to find out as much as possible about the Arran murder. I had gleaned various bits and pieces from the local newspapers in the Dundee city library and had come across an article in a magazine (I think it was some Murder Detective magazine that our neighbour had unearthed about the story). In the article it cited a book called “The Pleasures of Murder”. During that summer holiday our family went to York on a camping holiday. I recall going round all the book shops asking if they had a copy of “The Pleasures of Murder”. This was pre-Amazon days. I am not sure what the book shop owners thought about this young mum, with two cherubic looking blonde boys in tow, making such a request. As luck would have it, I did eventually obtain a copy of the book in a bookshop in York along with a second hand book in the Notable Trials series in which the trial was featured.
These sources spurred me on to continue the research and the account that follows does not purport to be a great literary masterpiece. It is simply the unfolding of a family history story using sources which detail the ‘event,’ the police search and trial, the prison years, and the impact on the families. As a genealogist however, there is considerable detail about the family backgrounds and genealogies of various Laurie families from Ayrshire and Lanarkshire. As so many resources have been used, not all appear in this book. They are however present on the website [https://www.johnwatsonlaurie.co.uk] to allow for future updating (e.g. transcripts of births, marriages, deaths, census returns, prison letters, photographs, additional newspaper clippings).
In studying the facts and the family history, you – the reader, may form your own opinion. To my mind, I am convinced that no deliberate murder took place. Edwin Rose did unfortunately die on that mountain and there is no doubt that his family would have suffered, not knowing the exact circumstances. John Watson Laurie spent over 40 years in prison (penal servitude for life) as a result of his poorly thought out actions and decisions following the death of Rose on Goatfell that fateful day.
John Watson Laurie was travelling under an assumed name of John Annadale. At the end of the day on Monday 15th July 1889, Rose was dead at the bottom of the mountain and Annadale (Laurie) returned to the lodgings, stole all of Rose’s belongings and disappeared. Although well documented in newspapers of the time, there are many conflicting statements. From the time the trial began in 1889 until the death of John Watson Laurie in 1930, the story was revisited often by the press of the day. There are many unanswered questions about the relationship between John Watson Laurie and the young ‘dapper’ man from London whom he met whilst holidaying in Rothesay and Arran. Years later once the prison records were made available, there is further insight into J.W. Laurie’s state of mind and well documented accounts of his vanity and sexual tendencies which may have contributed to the family’s keenness to have him certified as ‘insane’ in 1889. Scrutiny of his ancestry has led to some possible reasons as to why he was a loner; why he adopted a pseudonym when going on holiday and why the relationship with his parents may have been strained. He was not the only child to leave the family home.
CHAPTER 2 –
EARLY LIFE OF JOHN WATSON LAURIE
John Watson Laurie was born in Castlecary, Parish of Falkirk on March 15th 1861. He was the 5th child of James Laurie and Agnes Watson who had married on the 4 June 1850 at Coatbridge. At the time of his birth, James’s occupation was given as engineer. Their other children (one who died) according to the 1861 census when the family was living at Castlecary Bridge, were:
Agnes – aged 9, born 26 June, New Monkland, Lanarkshire in 1851
Gavin – aged 8, born Bothwell, Lanarkshire in 1853 (named after the father’s father – traditional for the first son in Scottish naming conventions)
James – aged 5, born 3 July, Bothwell, Lanarkshire in 1855. Scottish registration began in 1855, and these records are very informative as they often outline where the parents came from and the number of children currently living (and the number who are deceased). James’ birth record states “1 boy living and 1 boy deceased.”
John Watson Laurie – under 1 month old, born Falkirk, Stirlingshire in 1861.
By the 1871 census, John Watson Laurie was 10 years old and the family was now back living at Main Street, Adams Land, Coatbridge. His sister Agnes, brothers Gavin, James and another addition to the family (younger brother Matthew, born 1862 on the 12 November) are resident on census night. His mother Agnes died in 1866 on the 3rd July, aged 34. The death occurred at Auchencloch, Kilsyth.
James appears on the 1871 census as ‘widower.’ It would have been tough for James having five children to look after and this may the reason he moved the family back to Coatbridge, to be near his own relatives. Daughter Agnes was aged 19, Gavin, 18, James 14, John Watson, 10 and Matthew 8.
By the time of the 1881 census, father James had remarried to Jeannie Laurie (nee Russell) and they had another son, David, (aged 4 on census night). By all accounts (extracted from the prison letters written by JW Laurie to his aunt) this was not a happy time. Matthew wasn’t at home on census night. James by this time had emigrated to the USA (in 1879) where he married Annie Semple. The couple settled in St. Louis City, Missouri, USA. Their daughter Annie was born August, 1889. Their son Gavin was born 2 years later. (Matthew and James first appear as boarders on the 1880 census, Missouri)
On the 1891 census, only Agnes and Matthew are in residence at the family home at 11 Church Street, Coatbridge with their father James and step mother Jeannie.
Of the five Laurie children, only Agnes remained at home. Matthew disappeared shortly after the 1891 census and at the time of James’ death (father) he noted in his will that Matthew’s whereabouts were unknown to him. John Watson Laurie was not mentioned in his father’s will.
Subsequent newspaper reports around the time of the trial, suggested that John Watson Laurie was the ‘black sheep’ of the family. He had been in trouble many times and his crimes were often covered up by the well to do Laurie family in Coatbridge. As this story unfolds, it will suggest that there is no doubt he was guilty of trying to conceal the death of Edwin Rose by covering up the body and robbing him. Through the newspaper accounts and the family history study, it is clear he was a troubled youngster who caused his family great grief. Something happened on top of Goatfell, that resulted in Edwin Rose falling to his death; but it is unknown if this was caused by a push, or by an accident. What is clear however, is that John Watson Laurie made the wrong decision in trying to cover up the death of his young friend. Given the nature of Laurie’s history, it is possible that, (if it were indeed an accident) he would be blamed for the death (given the fact that he had been in trouble so many times before, and who would believe him this time?) The decision to rob the body, camouflage it under a boulder then flee the island, was surely the most stupid mistake of his life.
As the second youngest son of a well respected church going family, he appeared to have a troubled childhood, following the death of his mother in 1866. His father remarried in 1871 and the step mother did not ‘take’ to her youngest stepsons (John Watson Laurie and Matthew Laurie). John Watson Laurie’s prison letters to his aunt (to whom he was close) are evidence of his relationship with his step mother. This relationship may have deteriorated further, when in 1876 Jeanie’s only son to James Laurie was born. Tragically, David died aged 5 of meningitis in 1881. One can only imagine the grief in the household at that time and the impact that this death would have had on the family. Jeanie’s relationship with the other step sons, who were considered ‘wild and wayward,’ may have impacted considerably.
CHAPTER 3 – 1889 – The Arran Murder
Some of this section is extracted from the Introduction of William Roughead’s account of The Trial of J.W. LAURIE published in 1932.
July 1889, is a red-letter date in the black calendar of crime. No fewer than three diabolical crimes were reported. On the 18th of July Jack-the-Ripper perpetrated the seventh and last of the appalling series of his atrocities, known to history as the Whitechapel murders. On the 31st, at Liverpool Assizes, the Grand Jury returned a guilty verdict against Mrs. Maybrick for the murder of her husband by arsenic; and on the 15th there was committed in Scotland one of the most remarkable murders on record.
The Isle of Arran lies in the estuary of the Clyde, between Kintyre and the coast of Ayr. It is the largest and most picturesque of the Clyde islands; the others, Bute and the two Cumbraes, with Ailsa Craig, the Bass Rock of the west, are relatively tame and lack its infinite variety. The savage grandeur of its hills and glens – one day shrouded in mist, another bathed in sunshine – is only to be matched in Skye; and the outline of the island, seen against the western light whether from the Ayrshire shore or from some passing vessel in the fairway, is of incredible beauty and enchantment. Its most striking feature is the great, grey cone of Goatfell, 2866 feet above sea level and the highest peak in that isle of mountains. Glen Sannox, the finest of its many glens, is comparable in lonely splendour to Glencoe. This delectable land may be approached by steamer either from Ardrossan or from the higher reaches of the Firth. At the time in question the favourite “sail” down the Clyde was the daily run of the steamer Ivanhoe from Helensburgh, by Greenock, Gourock, Dunoon, Wemyss Bay, and Rothesay, through the Kyles of Bute to the Arran ports: Corrie, Brodick, Lamlash, and Whiting Bay.
On Friday, 12th July, 1889, when the Ivanhoe called at Rothesay on her morning run, there boarded her for Arran two young men with whom we shall have much to do. As the steamer passed through the Kyles, the narrow strait between the north end of Bute and the mainland of Argyll, they could hardly fail to notice the house and policies of Ardlamont, which four years later were to be the scene of Cecil Hambrough’s tragic shooting expedition with his friend and tutor Mr. Monson. (Listen to the Podcast of this crime at LibriVox ).
Of our two passengers – who, as appears, were then unknown to each other, but who made acquaintance on the voyage – one was an Englishman named Edwin Robert Rose. A clerk in the employment of Mr. James Goodman, a builder, of Brixton, London, he was on a fortnight’s holiday in Scotland; thirty-two years of age, of slight build, five feet seven in height, of athletic, active habits and agreeable manners; frank and open in disposition, and prone to “take up” with strangers. He was in the best of health and spirits.
The man with whom he forgathered on the trip, though showily dressed, was one of the artisan class; a Scotsman, twenty-five years old, half an inch shorter than the other, fresh complexioned, fair haired, notably square shouldered, and wearing a slight moustache and whiskers. Rose on the other hand, was dark and affected a heavy moustache. Which of them took the first step towards the formation of their fatal friendship we do not know; but from what we do know of their respective ways, it was probably not the Scotsman. He introduced himself to the other as John Annadale. (Later investigations into this choice of name has concluded that the choice of Annandale was linked to the area he was accustomed to visiting – his aunt’s house in Moffat, Dumfriesshire. Annandale is named after a dale of the river Annan).
When the Ivanhoe reached Brodick, the two men landed to spend the time during which the steamer continued on her way to Whiting Bay, the farthest port of call, whence she would return in the afternoon to take up her Brodick passengers. How Rose employed himself we are not informed; but his companion called at the house of Mrs Walker, in the village of Invercloy, and inquired for lodgings. This was Glasgow Fair week, the local trades holidays; all the Clyde resorts were crowded, and Brodick participated to the full in the incursion. Rooms were not to be had; but Mrs Walker was able to provide accommodation in a wooden lean-to structure, adjoining her house, which enjoyed the advantage of having a separate entrance of its own, whereby the occupants might come and go at will without disturbance to the landlady. Mr Annandale approved the place and took it for a week. He gave his card, stating that he came from Tighnabruich, in the Kyles of Bute; that he would enter into possession on the following day, Saturday; and that he would then be accompanied by a friend, who, however, could stay no longer than the ensuing Wednesday. Mrs Walker agreed to the conditions of let, and it was further arranged that Mr Annandale should take his meals in the lodging, while his friend should take his “out”, at the adjacent teashop, locally known as Wooley’s. They returned together to Rothesay in the afternoon. Rose was staying at the Glenburn Hydropathic, where he had, in his affable way, become friendly with two other visitors, Mr Mickel and Mr Thom, both hailing from Linlithgow. To these gentlemen he vouchsafed the fact of his new acquaintance, and when in the evening Mr Annandale called by appointment, Rose introduced him to his friends. Mickel and Thom were also going to Brodick for the weekend; and on Saturday, the 13th, they met Rose and Annandale on the Ivanhoe and travelled thither in their company. The Linlithgow men were unable to procure in the village a roof for their heads; they were fortunate to find a friend’s yacht in the bay, aboard which they obtained shelter. On Sunday 14th, the party did not see much of each other; Mickel and Thom walked over the hill road to Lamlash, Rose and Annadale went up Glen Ross. They all met again in the evening. On Monday, the 15th, Mickel saw Rose breakfasting alone in Wooley’s shop. The impression made by Annandale on him and his companion was distinctly unfavourable; he was silent and uncommunicative, and they failed to find out who he was or where he came from. So when Rose told him that he proposed that day to climb Goatfell with the unknown, Mickel strongly advised him to get rid of him, and, in particular, not to make the ascent in his company. Rose undertook to act upon this advice and promised not to go up Goatfell with Annandale: he said he would “try” to get rid of him – from which it would appear that Rose had his own misgivings as to the wisdom of the association. When Mickel and his friend Thom went back to Rothesay by the Ivanhoe that afternoon at half past three, Rose and Annandale were on the pier to see them off. The effect of Mickel’s warning must quickly have worn off under the persuasive power of the stranger, for, though the hour was considerably later than that usually chosen for the purpose, the two men set out forthwith to climb Goatfell
When Mrs Walker and her household went to bed that night, they were unaware whether or not the lodgers had returned. She had heard of their intended expedition, and knew they could get into their room when they liked, without reference to her establishment. In the morning there was no sign of them stirring; doubtless they were tired after their excursion and were enjoying what is technically termed “a long lie.” But, when eleven o’clock came, she thought it time they should be aroused. She accordingly knocked at their door and, getting no answer, entered the room. It was empty. The one bed seemed to have been occupied overnight by two persons, but her lodgers had vanished, taking with them, their respective bags. A straw hat, a pair of slippers, an old waterproof, and a tennis racket had been left behind; sole mementos of their visitation.
Annandale had undertaken to pay 17 shillings for the week, with a further 3 shillings in respect of Rose’s presence. Mrs Walker perceived that she had been “done” – such incidents were not unprecedented during the Fair week – and decided to bear her loss in silence. She did not report the matter to the police, deeming the loss of her rent the most serious feature of the affair.
On Thursday 18th July, Edwin Rose was due in London on the termination of his holiday, and his brother went to the station to meet him. His non-arrival alarmed his relatives, who telegraphed to the Rev Mr. Goodman, a brother of his employer. This gentleman was staying at the Glenburn Hydropathic a fact which, as they were intimate friends, had induced Rose to visit Rothesay. On Tuesday, the 16th, Mr. Goodman had received from him a letter dated from “Mrs Walker’s, Brodick,” stating that he would be back at Rothesay on the Wednesday for his letters and to say good-bye. On Monday, the 22nd, Mr. Goodman got the telegram from Rose’s brother, informing him that Rose had not returned. He went at once to Brodick, learned what Mrs. Walker had to tell, and communicated with the police. On Saturday the 27th, Mr. Benjamin Rose, of Balham, arrived from London at Brodick to find out what had become of his brother.
The first that the general public heard of the matter was a paragraph in the Glasgow Evening Citizen of Monday, 29th July, Headed –
AN ARRAN MYSTERY
SUSPICIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF AN ENGLISH TOURIST,
AN ACCIDENT OR A CRIME?
After narrating the facts of the case so far as then known, the journal observes: “What has become of the young man Rose is shrouded in mystery. He has not returned to his friends in England, and there is a growing suspicion that he never left the island. Alarmed at his long absence, a brother reached Arran on Saturday, and has been making an anxious search.” It was learned that before Rose and the stranger left for Goatfell, Annandale was remarked by the villagers to be moody, absent minded, and meditative. He walked to and fro along the little lane in which their lodging was situated, with bowed head and excited gait, which caused one venerable inhabitant to exclaim that “she feared the deil was busy with the young man” – a diagnosis only too accurate. It further appeared that the two men were seen together on the summit of the mountain shortly after six o’clock.
Mr. Benjamin Rose was not single in his
quest. The unusual circumstances of the case aroused in that quiet
neighbourhood intense and widespread interest. Every available man,
native as well as visitor, was only too willing to assist in the search.
On Sunday, the 28th, a large party was organised to scour the hills,
but the day proved wet and misty, so the volunteers had not only a most
uncomfortable and even dangerous experience, but all their endeavours were
unavailing, as at some points they could not see a couple of yards around them;
so they returned to the village disheartened and depressed. It was
decided that should small separate parties of searches continue during the week
unsuccessful, a large party, drafted from Brodick, under the command of
Constable Munro; from Lamlash, under Sergeant Munro; from Corrie and Sannox,
under Mr. James Douglas and Mr. Alexander Kerr, should on the following Sunday,
comb the mountain in all directions from base to summit, in order, if possible,
to solve the mystery.
After a deluge of rain, which continued
throughout Saturday till an early hour on Sunday morning, 4th
August, the weather cleared rapidly; by eight o’clock the sun broke out, the
mist rolled off from the hills, the highest peaks of Arran could be seen
distinctly, and the various tracks round Goatfell and over the ridges were
boldly and plainly defined. No one unacquainted with the nature of the
ground can appreciate the magnitude of the task by which the searchers were
confronted. Upon the north and west Goatfell is bounded by a congregation
of jagged mountain ridges and fantastic peaks, with deep shadowy glens and grim
ravines, the bleak sides of which are furrowed by innumerable gullies and
abrupt watercourses – a scene in its awful solitude and grandeur so wild,
dreary, and desolate as hardly to be matched in Britain.
Nine o’clock was the hour fixed for the
assembling of the company at the Kennels, within the Brodick Castle policies,
on the line of the usual route to the summit of the mountain. When the
party started it consisted of 150 persons, exclusive of the Corrie contingent
of 50, which proceeded by way of Glen Sannox. The gathering at the
Kennels was divided into three sections. The first, under command of Mr
John Dewar, the Castle gamekeeper, and Sergeant Munro, Lamlash, went by way of
the eastern ridge; the second, under the guidance of Mr James Crawford and
Constable Munro, Brodick, went straight up the face of the mountain; the third,
led by Messrs. Robert and Peter Davidson, and Constable McColl, Shisken, went
westward by Glen Shant and Glen Rosa. The several parties then began
their arduous adventure; but before the second had arrived at the summit, a
heavy mist came down, which held them up for nearly two hours. On
reaching the top, this party, reinforced by the company from Corrie, again
divided, some descending the ridge which unites Goatfell with The Saddle;
others going directly down into Glen Rosa.
When about half-way to The Saddle. A shout was
heard passing rapidly from group to group, and it was apparent that the object
of their quest had been attained. In a deep, precipitous gully, leading
from the ridge of north Goatfell straight down into Glen Sannox, and beneath a
great granite boulder, the cavity under which was elaborately built up about
the face with no fewer than 42 minor stones, the heaviest weighing over a
hundredweight, the crevices between them being artificially filled with pieces
of turf and heather, lay the dead and decomposing body of the missing
man. Francis Logan, a fisherman from Corrie, being high up on the flank
of the mountain, noticed, instead of the clean scents of heather and
bog-myrtle, an evil and suggestive odour, which he traced to the large boulder
father up the slope. The place is named Coire-na-fuhren – the gully of
fire This is the correct spelling, though Corr-na-fourin was used throughout
the subsequent trial.
Nothing was done until Sergeant Munro reached the
spot. When the barricade of stones was removed and the cavity behind them
laid bare, the body was seen lying at length upon its face, fully clothed, with
the skirt of the jacket turned back over the head. It remained untouched
and guarded by the police till the arrival about 8pm of Dr. Gilmour. This
gentleman, who was sent for as the nearest medical man, was then on holiday at
Corrie, from Linlithgow, where he had been long in general practice. With
the aid of the police he lifted the body from beneath the boulder; it was at
once identified by Mr. Benjamin Rose as that of his brother Edwin, and Dr.
Gilmour proceeded to examine its condition. Nothing was found upon the
body; all the pockets were empty, and one of them was turned inside out.
On removing the jacket, the head and face were seen to be, in Dr. Gilmour’s
words, “fearfully and terribly smashed.” Practically the whole of the
face and the left side of the head had been destroyed and were in an advanced
stage of decomposition. Otherwise the body was uninjured, but for a
fracture of the top of the left shoulder-blade.
Meanwhile, others of the company had not been
idle. While those who found the body were awaiting the doctor’s arrival,
a search of the surrounding ground was made. Above the boulder the
hillside slopes steeply upward to the ridge at an angle of 45 degrees, on the
line of a deep gully and watercourse, often dry in summer, but in which there
was then a small stream. The surface of the ground is composed of slabs
of granite, patches of heather, sand and gravel; strewn with boulders big and
little, and loose stones. The following articles, later identified as
Rose’s property, were found higher up the gully at various distances from the
boulder: – a walking-stick, lying head downwards, as if dropped; a waterproof,
torn into two pieces, “huddled together in a dub, as if they had been trampled
upon”; a knife, a pencil, and a button; and a cap, folded in four, with a large
heavy stone on the top of and almost wholly concealing it, lying in the middle
of the bed of the burn.
On one side of the gully, above the place where
the cap lay, was a clear drop of 19 feet; on the other side, lower down, above
where the knife and pencil were found, was a similar fall of 32 feet.
From Coire-na-fuhren, where the body was found,
to Corrie village is some 9 miles of very difficult country. A rude shell
had been procured from the hamlet; and when this was brought up to the boulder,
the body was laid on it. Eight bearers volunteered to carry it; and about
nine o’clock, in the gathering dusk, amid the sinister shadows of the giant
peaks, Rose’s last journey was begun. Down the precipitous slope of the
mountain-side to the bed of the valley beneath, through the track-less upper
reaches of the glen and the only less arduous wildness of its widening mouth,
past the little burying ground of Sannox, in which Rose was finally to rest,
and so by the coast road to Corrie, the ghastly burden was borne in the
deepening darkness, until by one o’clock in the morning it was laid down at
last in the coach-house of Corrie Hotel.
There at one o’clock on Monday, 5th
August, by instructions of the Procurator-Fiscal for Bute, telegraphed from
Rothesay, a post-mortem examination of the body was made by Dr. Gilmour, of
Linlithgow, and Dr. Fullarton, of Lamlash. This was performed under very
unusual conditions; for we read in the North British Daily Mail of 6th
August: “It was impossible to conduct the examination with such privacy
as was desirable, so limited was the accommodation; but the group of
villagers who gathered round the entrance to the coach-house, although
following every movement of the medical men with melancholy interest, refrained
from making their presence too obtrusively felt. About an hour elapsed
ere the inquiry was completed.” It “transpired,” as the journalists say,
that in the opinion of the medical men the injuries to the head had been inflicted
by repeated blows from some heavy instrument, probably a stone. “On the
other hand, it is thought that a cowardly push from the murderer sent Rose
reeling over the precipice, and that death not ensuing immediately, Annandale
clambered after his helpless victim, and silenced for ever his futile cries for
help. Be the method what it may, the whole circumstances point to murder
in its blackest aspect, and murder by some one moved by feelings of more than
fiendish malignity.” This remarkable forecast of the facts reflects much
credit on the acumen of the Mail reporter.
At four o’clock that afternoon the burial took
place. The remains, in a plain black coffin, were taken back along the
shore road to Sannox, followed by the deceased’s brother and by all the natives
and visitors in the district. The funeral service was conducted by the
Rev. Mr. McDouglas, minister of Sannox, and the body was buried in the ancient
graveyard at the entrance to the glen, a beautiful and peaceful spot, rich in
old headstones, surrounded by a low wall and sheltered by venerable trees,
within sound of the waves that break for ever on the sands of Sannox Bay.
On 27th September the body was exhumed
by warrant of the Sherrif, to enable Sir Henry (then Dr.) Littlejohn, and
Dr. Fullarton to examine it more particularly as to the condition of the
Afterwards, with better intention than taste, a
huge granite boulder, brought from Glen Sannox, was laid upon the grave,
bearing the inscription, “In loving memory of Edwin R. Rose, who died on
Goatfell, 15th July, 1889.” As I first recall it, this stark
grey block, within a massive iron railing, was gruesomely suggestive of that
other sepulchral stone, some 6 miles up the glen. But by time and nature,
by embowering it in a wealth of greenery, have mitigated the harshness of its
aspect and dispersed, so far as possible, that painful association.
Meanwhile, the criminal authorities of Bute and Glasgow had, naturally in the circumstances, not been idle; but their activities concerned the personality and present whereabouts of John Annandale.
Researches at Rothesay disclosed that on Saturday 6th July, a man giving that name and of appearance similar to that of Rose’s companion, engaged a room from Mrs Currie, Iona Place, Port Bannatyne, a village contiguous to the capital of Bute, on the north side of the famed Rothesay Bay. He lodged there till Tuesday, the 9th, when he went up to Glasgow, returning next day with a brown knickerbocker suit and stylish stockings, in place of his previous raiment. On Thursday, the 11th, he informed his landlady that he was going to Inveraray. Next day, Friday, 12th July, he told her that he had been invited by a friend to visit Arran, that he meant to “do” Goatfell, and that he would probably not be back till Tuesday. He then left for his week-end trip, taking with him his brown leather bag, and wearing his knickerbocker suit and a straw hat. On the afternoon of Tuesday, the 16th, he reappeared at his Port Bannatyne lodgings, wearing a grey felt hat and carrying a brown-paper parcel containing, as his land-lady later learned, a white serge yachting-cap and a chocolate and brown striped tennis blazer. In these adornments he arrayed himself during the remainder of his stay. He talked “quite pleasantly” to Mrs Currie about his visit to Arran, saying he had been up Goatfell, and had enjoyed himself. On Friday evening, the 19th, he asked to have his breakfast at half past eight next morning, as he intended to see a friend off by the nine o’clock steamer. That day his fortnight’s occupation of the room expired; he ordered his dinner for one o’clock and bade the landlady prepare his bill, which amounted to £3 3s. 8d. This she duly did; but the lodger never returned from his morning stroll, and all that Mrs. Currie got in respect of board and lodging was the yachting cap and a pair of tennis shoes, which were later identified as Rose’s property. Annandale had given her his address as No. 6 Cambridge Street, Glasgow, but an application to that quarter produced no response.
The Glasgow Mail of 6th August, in a leading article on the facts so far then ascertained, observes: “The story appears to be that of a man without money, reduced to desperate straits, seeking the acquaintance of a gentleman who seemed to be well off, inducing him to go in his company to a distant and lonely place, and there deliberately and of set purpose murdering him for his money. If there be any other explanation, it is for Annandale to appear and give it.” Next day that journal was in a position to announce the identification of the mysterious unknown. The assumer of the sounding surname was in fact a man named John Watson Laurie, twenty five years of age, employed as a pattern maker by Messrs. Sharp, Stewart & Co., at the Atlas Locomotive Engine Works, Springburn, Glasgow. Since 8th June of that year he had been living in lodgings at No. 106 Frederick Street, until he went to Rothesay on 6th July. The black sheep of a respectable, well-to-do family resident in Coatbridge, he was not unknown to the police, having been, on 23rd March, 1889, at Glasgow Sheriff Court, convicted of theft – in connection with the disappearance from the house of his land-lady of jewellery to the value of £18. As his relatives made good the loss, Laurie got off with an admonition.
The “information received,” whereby the police were made aware of the wanted man’s identity, was obtained from a Glasgow holiday maker, named James Gillon Aitken, who knew him as Laurie. Aitken also had chanced to go to Rothesay on 6th July and noticed Laurie on the pier. He saw him two or three times in Rothesay during the week; and on Friday, the 12th, happened to be on board the Ivanhoe when Rose and Laurie were going to Brodick. Laurie pointed out Rose to him as a gentleman with whom he proposed to stay in Arran. Aitken met him next on the following Friday, the 19th, and observed that he was then wearing a white serge yachting-cap, which strongly reminded him (Aitken) of that worn by Rose on the steamer. Aiken asked him how he and his friend got on in Brodick, to which he replied: “Oh, very well.” He gave no details of the visit, but said he was returning to Glasgow, as his holiday was over. On Saturday, the 27th, Aitken met him again at Rothesay; he said he was down for the day. Their next encounter was in Hope Street, Glasgow, on Wednesday, 31st July. By that time Aitken had read in the newspapers of the disappearance of Rose. He hailed Laurie with the pertinent question: “What do you know about the Arran mystery?” The other hesitated – “hummed and hawed.” “Dear me,” said Aitken, “have you not been reading the papers? Was not Rose the name of the party with whom you intended going to Brodick?” Laurie still hesitated, and then said it was the same name, but it could not be the same man, “as Rose had returned with him, and proceeded to Leeds.” Aitken strongly advised him to communicate what he knew to the authorities, and then asked him “whose cap he was wearing that Friday?” Laurie exclaimed: “Surely, you don’t think I am a . . .?” Aitken thought he would have added “thief,” but, like Macbeth’s “Amen,” the word stuck in his throat. Aitken extracted a promise to meet him again that evening and give him further particulars, which needless to say, Laurie failed to do. The conversation was broken off by Laurie saying he wished to speak to a passing friend; but he went off in the opposite direction. Aitken, his suspicions now thoroughly aroused, forthwith informed the police.
But Laurie, having also read the news from Arran, was already prepared for flight. That morning he had applied to the foreman at the Springburn works for his wages, saying he was leaving to become a traveller in the grain trade. To a fellow workman he said he was going to Leith on an engineering job; that he had a return-half ticket to London; and that he had been spending his holiday at Brodick with a friend, whom he euphemistically added, “he had left in Arran,” where he was spending some time. The same day he sold his pattern maker’s tools to a broker in the Commercial Road for 25s., and disappeared from Glasgow.
The North British Daily Mail of Thursday, 8th August, gives an interesting account of an incident connected with Laurie’s visit to Rothesay, not mentioned at the trial –
“Yesterday a young man from the Caledonian Railway Company called at the address in North Frederick Street, where Laurie was lately residing, and asked if Mr. John Annandale resided there. He was surprised to hear that he was not there, and on being asked his business, he said that a gentleman, giving the name of John Annandale and the address of his lodgings in North Frederick Street, was on board the Caledonia on Saturday, July 20th, when that steamer ran down a small boat in Rothesay Bay, and that he volunteered to give evidence if required in the case, at the same time giving his card, bearing the name “John Annandale” and his address in North Frederick Street upon it.
This is one more link in the chain of evidence incriminating Laurie, as July 20th was the day he left Rothesay, and he had given his fellow-lodger a detailed account of the Caledonia accident, which he said he had witnessed.
When his testimony was called for, however, Mr. John Annandale had other things to think about. It is characteristic of the man that he should have thus thrust himself forward at a time when his safety depended on his lying as low as possible. It is of a piece with his wantonly going about Rothesay wearing his victim’s yachting cap and tennis blazer, the very week of the murder.
The excitement caused by the identification of Laurie and his simultaneous vanishing was intense in the district where his name and doings were known. The general opinion was that he had committed suicide. While no one seemed to question his guilt, the greatest sympathy was expressed for his unhappy relatives. The hunt for Laurie, as daily described in the newspapers brought forth the usual crop of rumours, and irresponsible correspondents were eager in suggesting that he had been seen here, there, and everywhere. On the top of a wall surrounding an old pit shaft at Mossend a workman found materials for a meal, together with a piece of paper, inscribed: “I’m the murderer!” from which it was inferred that Laurie, abandoning his lunch, had cast himself down the shaft in a fit of remorse. But after a great deal of trouble on the part of the police it was found that the pit, like the story, had nothing in it. Meanwhile the authorities were informed by Laurie’s Glasgow landlady, Mrs. King, that, more fortunate than those hostesses who had enjoyed his patronage at Brodick and Port Bannatyne, she had received from him a remittance for the amount of rent due by him. It was accompanied by a pencil note, posted at Hamilton on 2nd August, and was to the following effect:
I beg to enclose P.O.O. for my rent, as I can’t call, for I have to go to Leith. There are some people trying to get me into trouble, and I think you should give them no information at all, and I will prove to them how they are mistaken before very long.
The Mail, in a leading article on 8th August, took the police sharply to task for their slackness in failing to apprehend the Arran murderer. “We had hoped,” says that journal, “that by this time Laurie would have been in their hands. Short of going about the streets shouting ‘ I am “John Annadale,” ‘ Laurie did pretty nearly all that was possible to put the police upon his track. What strikes one most strongly about his conduct since the night of the tragedy is its sheer stupidity. He acted with the utmost recklessness, apparently on the extraordinary assumption that no inquiry would be made regarding the missing gentleman by his relatives, or at least that the murder would remain unknown and that the body would never be discovered.” The writer instances Laurie’s going back to his Bute lodgings straight from Brodick, carrying Rose’s things with him; his return visit to Rothesay; his wearing of Rose’s clothes there; his exhibition of a London return-half ticket, similar to that stolen from Rose; his volunteering to give evidence in the matter of the Caledonia accident; and, finally his letter to his Glasgow landlady, which was now public property.
The police, however, had found out more than the Mail gave them credit for. They ascertained that Laurie had arrived in Liverpool on Tuesday, 6th August, where he took lodgings at No. 10 Greek Street, paying a week’s rent in advance. On Thursday, the 8th, he told his landlady, Mrs. Ennitt, he was leaving that day, as he had obtained a situation at Manchester as a traveller in the cotton trade. He left behind him a box, which on subsequent examination was found to contain certain white shirts, later identified as Rose’s, having the name of their new owner, “John W. Laurie,” impressed upon them with a rubber stamp, which was also discovered in the box. It does not appear from the evidence led at the trial why Laurie left Liverpool so suddenly; but the Liverpool Courier had published that morning the fact of his identity with “Annandale,” together with some account of his recent adventures, from which he doubtless inferred that it was time for him to go.
Not content with the considerable degree of notoriety which his singular behaviour had secured for him, and annoyed, perhaps, by the popular attention being now largely transferred to Mrs. Maybrick, then under sentence of death after her seven days’ trial at Liverpool, for whose reprieve the “genuine philanthropists” were even more clamorous and insistent than they were to be in due season for his own, Laurie took the astounding step of personally addressing the British public through the medium of the daily press. On Monday, 12th August, the Mail published a letter received from him, bearing the Liverpool postmark, to the following effect:
10th Aug. ’89.
I feel that I should write a long detailed letter to your paper, but I am in no mood to do so.
I rather smile when I read that my arrest is hourly expected. If things go as I have designed them, I will soon have arrived at that country from whose bourne no traveller returns, and since there has been so much said about me, it is only right that the public should know what are the real circumstances which has brought me to this.
Three years ago I became very much attached to Miss ____, teacher, ______ School, and residing at _____. My affection for this girl was at first returned … until I discovered that she was encouraging the attentions of another man, ____, teacher, ____, who took every opportunity to depreciate me in her estimation.
Since then I have been perfectly careless about what I did, and my one thought was how to punish her enough for the cruel wrong she had done me; and it was to watch her audacious behaviour that I went to Rothesay this and last year. I may say that I became acquainted with another young lady, whose good qualities I sincerely wish that I had learned to appreciate sooner, as if I had I would have been in a very different position today.
As regards Mr. Rose, poor fellow, no one who knows me will believe for one moment that I had any complicity in his death.
The morning I left for Arran I was in the company of two friends on Rothesay pier when Mr. Rose came to me and said that he was going to spend a few days with me at Arran.
I was very much surprised at this, as my friends could vouch, for I had not invited him. We went to the top of Goatfell, where I left him in the company of two men who came from Loch Ranza, and were going to Brodick.
I went down to Corrie and met some friends, and we afterwards visited the hotel, where we met several of the gentlemen who were camping out, and I left for Brodick about ten.
I could easily prove that what I say is true, but I decline to bring the names of my friends into this disgraceful affair, so will content myself by wishing them a last adieu.
John W. Laurie.
The names mentioned in the third paragraph were deleted by the editor, and the entire paragraph was omitted from the letter as read at the trial. They are those, respectively, of a young lady who had rejected his unwelcome and persistent addresses – he had pursued her even unto Rothesay after the murder – and of another, to whom he believed she had become attached. Laurie afterwards stated, as we shall hear, that his object in writing this letter was to “spite” these two innocent persons. Happily, however, he was hoist with his own petard; for the names were supressed, and the postmark directed the attention of the police to Liverpool, with the result that they recovered there the box containing Rose’s shirts.
The publication of this letter – as to the genuineness of which there was no question – caused a renewal of the public interest in the Arran mystery, and the writer must have been gratified by the consequent rise in his sensational stock. Emboldened by the success attending his first literary effort, the fugitive again addressed the public in a letter, dated 27th August and bearing the Aberdeen postmark, directed this time to the editor of the Glasgow Herald. This communication, with the requisite editorial omissions, was duly printed in that journal on 29th August: –
27th August, 1889.
I expected that the letter which I so foolishly addressed to the Mail would have been my last, but I read so many absurd and mad things in the daily papers, that I feel it my duty to correct some of them, and the first of these is the assertion … that I am kept out of the way by friends.
I have not come across a friend since I left Glasgow, nor have I been in communication with any one. I don’t deny the fact that I would like to meet some of my friends again, but I am more careful than to allow myself to be lured like the moth to the flame.
Although I am entirely guiltless of the crime I am so much wanted for, yet I can recognise that I am a ruined man in any case, so it is far from my intention to give myself up.
I first went to Glasgow in the spring of 1882, but being among strangers, I became homesick, so was glad of the offer held out to me of something to do at Uddingston.
Messrs. John Gray & Co. were at that time making a winding engine, also several steam cranes for the underground railway, and during the months of June, July, and August I assisted Mr. John Swan to make the patterns. I remember Mr. Swan as being a very nice gentleman, but I have no recollection of a man the name of Alexander.
I was not at Hamilton eight weeks ago, and I certainly did not smile to Alexander on the way there. If I had travelled in a train where I was known, don’t you think it likely that I would have left at the first stoppage?
The stories about me being seen are all imagination. I have not been seen by any one who knows me, and I have been travelling all the time in England and Ireland; and as I can see that this is no land for me, I will be off again.
It is true that I did take a room for a week at 10 Greek Street, Liverpool, which I paid in advance. I only stayed three days. I did not board with the lady of the house, and after destroying my papers, I left my box, with no intention of ever calling for it again, as it was an encumbrance to me.
The Mail takes credit to itself in this case, which does not belong to it at all, for it was a friend of mine who felt it his duty to inform the authorities that Mr. Rose left Rothesay with me; and when I saw from an evening paper that Mr. Rose had not returned to his lodgings, I began at once to arrange for my departure, for I had told so many about him.
Seemingly there was a motive for doing away with poor Rose; it was not to secure his valuables. Mr. Rose was to all appearance worse off than myself; indeed, he assured me that he had spent so much on his tour that he had barely sufficient to last till he got home.
He wore an old Geneva watch with no gold albert attached, and I am sure that no one saw him wear a ring on his tour, and no one saw me wear one, and well – knew that he was speaking a lie when he said that he saw me wear a ring at Rothesay. A nice picture this fellow made of me, surely out of ill will, because I had fooled his precious brother. He says that when he saw me I was wearing a ring, and had one of my hands gloved. This is a preposterous falsehood; indeed, his whole story from beginning to end was a lie.
I met him one morning in Shamrock Street, not Cambridge Street, and I caught hold of him arm, when he asked a boy to call a policeman. There was no striking on either side, but if there had been, I leave those who know us to judge who would come off second best.
____ has changed his opinion about the girl I was more than intimate with from the spring of 1887 to the end of June, 1888. She has now an irreproachable character. It suits him, of course, to say this; but if that were so, this trouble would never have come.
However, these are trivial matters, uninteresting to all but those immediately concerned, and as I am not inclined to say any more, I hope this will be the last the public will hear of me.
John W. Laurie.
The references to the lady friend were not read at the trial.
In the same envelope was also enclosed a private letter addressed to the editor, making further scurrilous aspersions upon the character and conduct of this girl, which, of course, was withheld from publication. Both letters were handed to the police, who were satisfied that they, as well as the former letter, were in Laurie’s hand writing.
The modest hope expressed in the last paragraph of the Herald letter was not destined to be realised. The police believed that the posting of the second letter at Aberdeen was intended to put them off the scent, and that Laurie had in fact returned to his old haunts, as he was reported to have been seen at Uddingston and also at Coatbridge. The net was slowly but surely being tightened. How much money Rose actually had upon him at the time of his death was never proved; but at least there must have been enough to enable the murderer so successfully to elude the vigilance of the police during the five weeks which elapsed between his absconding and his apprehension.
On Wednesday, 4th September, 1889, the North British Daily Mail was in a position to give its readers exceptional value for their money. In bold headlines it annojunced: “ARREST OF LAURIE. RECOGNISED AT LARKHALL. FLIGHT AND PURSUIT. CAPTURED IN A WOOD. HE ATTEMPTS SUICIDE.” So the hunted man was run to earth at last, and in circumstances appropriately thrilling.
Shortly before the arrival of the Glasgow train, due at the Ferniegair Station of the Hamilton line, on Tuesday, 3rd September, the stationmaster noticed a man hanging about the entrance. He sent a boy to tell the man, if he were an intending passenger, “to hurry up, as the train was due”; but the man said he did not propose to book, and hastily made off. At that moment Constable Gordon came into the station with a view to joining the train. To him the stationmaster said that a man who looked like the wanted one had just left. Gordon went up to the railway bridge over the line, which commanded a prospect of the immediate neighbourhood, and saw the suspect going along the Carlisle road. He followed at a rapid walk, and was overtaking his quarry, when the man looked round, “and seeing that the officer meant business, bolted through a gate leading into a grass field.” Traversing this at headlong pace, the fugitive crossed the railway line and reached the Lanark road. Along the highway he flew, pursued by Gordon, shouting: “Catch that man; that’s Laurie!” Presently a party of Larkhall miners from the Bog Colliery nearby, hearing the shouts, joined in the chase. They threw down their tools and darted down the road from the pit at breakneck speed. On reaching the Quarry Wood, a mile and a half from Ferniegair Station, they found the panting constable, and asked him where was Laurie. “There; in that wood,” he gasped.
It was a small plantation of about two acres, sloping down to the Clyde. The miners were for dashing in at once, but the constable caused them to surround the clump of trees, before any one entered. Meanwhile two boys, who had been in the wood, told how they had seen a man hiding under some bushes in the old quarry from which the plantation is named. Some of the party then went into the wood, and some of the miners soon detected the fugitive, who lay among the undergrowth, with a razor in his hand and a superficial cut on his throat. He was dragged out of his hiding place and given in charge of the constable. “I am Laurie,” said he; “but not Rose’s murderer. I wish I had got time to do the job right. I intended to commit suicide to-night.” His hand was less capable than at Coire-na-fuhren. Cautioned that anything he now said might be used against him, Laurie rejoined: “I robbed the man, but I did npt murder him.” He was then taken to the colliery, where his wound was dressed, and was afterwards removed to Hamilton and safely locked up.
The news of Laurie’s capture was telepgraphed to Rothesay, and the Procurator-Fiscal at once sent two officers by the first steamer – the Lord of the Isles – to bring the prisoner back to Bute. Next morning he was conveyed in custody to Rothesay, in order to be formally charged in the Sheriff Court there with the murder of Edwin Rose. One who witnessed Laurie’s arrival at the island communicated to the Sunday Post of 12th October, 1930, his recollections of that forty-years’ old event –
“It was the last year of the old white-funnelled boats which for years had overtaken the Wemyss Bay service to the coast, and it was on the Adela that he made his passage to Rothesay.
A huge crowd gathered on the pier, but as the Adela was circling round the bay a cab was seen speeding in along the east shore. Seated on the dickey was a Rothesay police sergeant, and the crowd at once jumped to the correct conclusion that Laurie had been landed at Craigmore Pier in the hope of avoiding notice.
There was a stampede up to the Court-house, but all that was obtained was a fleeting glimpse of a bowed figure, clad in a brown suit, being hustled in by the big front door.
It was noticed that Laurie’s neck was closely wrapped round, and it afterwards transpired that he had tried to cut his throat.
The Court procedure was brief, and early in the afternoon he was conveyed to Greenock Prison, via Gourock.”
In his first declaration, being judicially examined before the Sheriff at Rothesay on 4th September, the prisoner admitted his identity, adding, “I have nothing to say to the charge in the meantime.” In a second declaration, emitted before the Sherriff at Greenock on 11th September, being shown the cap, waterproof, and other articles belonging to Rose, found near the boulder, he further declared, “I wish to say nothing about any of these articles.” At a pleading diet at Greenock on 29th October, the accused formally pleaded Not Guilty, and was remitted to the High Court at Edinburgh for trial.
Switch to draft
The High Court of Justiciary stands in the Parliament Square, Edinburgh, a backwater of the busy High Street, deserted most days save for King Charles on his leaden charger and Master John Knox in his resting grave. But when a murder trial is afoot the lonely plaza is thronged throughout the proceedings by a curious crowd, each member of which lingers in fond hope to gain admission to the free and popular entertainment within. The exceptional circumstances of the present case attracted a record gathering. “For hours before the time announced for the commencement of the trial,” says the Scotsman of 9th November, 1889, “the entrance to the Court buildings was besieged by a crowd estimated to consist of about 2000 persons. Anticipating the interest manifested in the trial, the authorities made specially stringent regulations concerning the admission of the public, and the doors were opened as early as nine o’clock.”
The sombre walls and lofty windows of the old Court-room have looked down upon many a famous – or rather, infamous – figure, seated in the grim narrow dock. That very year, on Monday, 18th February, with the same judge upon the Bench and the same counsel for the Crown, I remember witnessing, enthralled, the prosecution and conviction of Jessie King, the notorious baby farmer and child murderess, who enjoys the distinction of being the last woman to be hanged in Edinburgh. It was my first murder trial; and I can still hear the dreadful wailing of the condemned woman on the pronouncement of her so well-deserved doom. But the interest attaching to her case pales in comparison with that created by the Laurie trial, of which also it was my privilege to be a spectator.
At a few minutes before ten o’clock, on Friday, 8th November, 1889, the trapdoor in front of the dock was raised and the prisoner, in charge of two constables, came up into Court from the cells below. The appearance of the man was surprising; he looked so unlike one’s conception of the supposed murderer. Well dressed and groomed, commonplace, calm, and respectable, could this be the brutal ruffian of Coire-na-fuhren? On the stroke of ten the Lord Justice-Clerk (Lord Kingsburgh) took his seat upon the Bench. The Solicitor-General (Mr. – afterwards Lord – Stormonth Darling, Q.C., M.P.), assisted by Mr. Graham Murray (afterwards Lord President and later Viscount Dunedin) and Mr. Dugald McKechnie (afterwards Sheriff of Argyll), advocates-depute, appeared for the Crown. For the defence were the Dean of Faculty (Mr. J.B. Balfour, Q.C., M.P., afterwards Lord President and later Baron Kinross) and Mr. Charles Scott Dickson (afterwards Lord Justice-Clerk). The Crown Agent was Mr. James Auldjo Jamieson, W.S.; the agents for the prisoner were Messrs. Webster, Will & Ritchie, S.S.C.
Monday is the usual day for the opening of an important criminal trial. Why Friday was chosen in this case I cannot tell; but the fact was attended by the proverbial ill-luck for all concerned, because the Justice-Clerk having intimated that the case must finish on the Saturday, the proof on both sides suffered compression, and, even so, the verdict was not delivered until the uncomfortable hour of half past ten at night.
The indictment was as follows:
“John Watson Laurie, prisoner in the prison of Greenock, you are indicted at the instance of the Right Honourable James Patrick Bannerman Robertson, Her Majesty’s Advocate, and the charge against you is, that on 15th July, 1889, at Corr-na-fourin, near the head of Glen Sannox, in the island of Arran, Buteshire, you did assault Edwin Robert Rose, Wisset Lodge, Hendham Road, Trinity Road, Upper Tooting, London, and sis throw him down, and did beat him, and did murder him.”
Annexed to the indictment were (1) a list of productions containing 12 documents and photographs relevant thereto, and 23 articles, the property of Rose; and (2) a list of 86 witnesses for the Crown. The indictment having been read by the Clerk of the Court, the accused pleaded Not Guilty; a jury was empanelled, and the prosecutor adduced his proof.
As the reader is already familiar with the main facts and the evidence is printed in full in the following report, it were tedious to take him for a third time over the same ground. I shall, therefore, merely mention such points as have not yet been dealt with, and consider, in particular, the medical evidence for the Crown and defence, which, of course, forms the crux of the case.
The Trial – part II
The fact that Rose was last seen alive in Laurie’s company was established by testimony of several witnesses.
From the sea-level at the beautiful old-time inn of Brodick – now used in connection with the estate – on the north side of the bay, the way to Goatfell lies through the grounds of Brodick Castle, past the Kennels, and thence by the Castle woods to the open moor. Alexander Morrison and Thomas Purdon, respectively brother and brother-in-law to Mrs Walker, were staying with that lady on the date in question, and knew her lodgers by sight. On that afternoon of Monday, 15th July, these gentlemen, having been up Goatfell, were returning to Brodick, when they met in the Castle grounds, going up, “Annandale” and Rose. Purdon noticed that Rose was then wearing a watch-chain.
The Rev. Robert Hind of Paisley, with his friends Mr. John McCabe and the Rev. Joseph Ritson, came from Lamlash that day to climb Goatfell. They started from Brodick at three o’clock, and when they got out upon the open hillside, were overtaken by two young men, one of whom was “exceedingly like” the accused, the other being by his photograph identified as Rose. The fair one (Laurie) kept on ahead and spoke to none of them; the dark one (Rose) chatted awhile with the party, saying that he came from London and had been staying at Rothesay. “He referred to the other young man, and said he [the other] was his guide.” Rose was wearing a black waterproof, similar to that produced; but it was then untorn. After continuing in company for half an hour, a shower coming on caused Mr Hind’s party to shelter behind a boulder; the other two carried on. When Mr. Hind’s party reached the top about six o’clock, they saw the two young men standing on the farther edge of the summit, looking towards Glen Sannox. The party, having for a quarter of an hour enjoyed the view – one of the most extensive and magnificent in Scotland – descended by the way they came, reaching Brodick in time for the 8.30 steamer to Lamlash. On the way down they wondered what had become of the two young men, whom they could see neither in front of nor behind them, and concluded that they had gone down by The Saddle.
Two brothers named Francis, from London, also climbed Goatfell that afternoon. Edward sat down to rest before tackling the last stiff pull of the ascent; Frederick went on alone, reaching the summit twenty minutes before him. When the brother arrived he was proceeded in single file by two young men, one of whom “closely resembled” the accused. The other was an Englishman, dark, and wearing a black macintosh, like that now produced. Witness had some conversation with the Englishman, who asked him as to the various ways down. The other did not speak. The last the brothers saw of them, they were standing on a boulder, with their backs to Ailsa Craig, and pointing in the opposite direction. “They were apparently arranging about going down. They seemed on friendly terms and were talking together.” The brothers left the summit for Brodick at twenty-five minutes past six, and saw them no more. This is the last that was seen of Rose alive.
At half-past nine that evening David McKenzie, a shepherd of High Corrie, was “doffing” in the gloaming with two servant girls, employed by summer visitors, in the leafy lane beside the old burying ground of Sannox, when she saw a man emerge from the glen, and cut across the field beside the graveyard, in the direction of Corrie. McKenzie remarked to his companions that the wayfarer “was awful tired and worn-out like, and that he appeared to have had a heavy day’s travelling on the hills.” The accused was the man. This is the first that was seen of Rose’s late companion after they had departed upon the mountain top for ever.
James Wilson, law clerk, Greenock, chanced – it might have happened to anyone – to be in the bar of Corrie Hotel at ten o’clock that night, when he was accosted by a man whom he identified as the accused. The stranger asked Wilson to order for him a bottle of beer, as the hour for supplying non-residents was past. He did so, and left him. Margaret Livingston, the barmaid, corroborated. The stranger subsequently ordered a bottle to be filled with spirits, giving as his reason that he had to walk the 6 miles to Brodick.
Mary Robertson, Kilmarnock, had been on a visit to Brodick. On Tuesday, 16th July, she set forth to catch the early steamer for Ardrossan. Midway between the village and the pier she overtook a man carrying two bags, one black, the other brown. The accused was the man.
Andrew Gilmour, student of medicine, Linlithgow – presumably a relative of Dr. Gilmour – was staying at Corrie. He knew Messrs. Mickel and Thom; and on Saturday, the 13th, was by them introduced to Rose and “Annandale.” He, too, left the island on the 16th by the Scotia from Brodick at 7a.m., and the first person he saw on board was “Annandale.” That gentleman said he was going to Glasgow. They got into the same compartment of the train at Ardrossan; “Annandale” had either one or two bags, and Gilmour offered to help him with his luggage. He took a black leather bag into the carriage with him, and put it on the rack. Gilmour got out at Greenock. He identified the accused as his fellow-traveller. This is the last that was seen of Rose’s bag. How “Annandale” disposed of it is not known.
The trial – Part III
The accused set his defenders a difficult task by insisting on the line of defence which he had laid down in his letter to the North British Daily Mail, namely, that he parted from Rose on the top of Goatfell, and never more set eyes on him, alive or dead. How, upon that assumption, were the accused’s subsequent actions to be accounted for? It was proved that Sergeant Munro, in company with Dr. Fullarton and two constables, going at an ordinary pace, walked from the summit to the boulder in half an hour, and from thence to Corrie Hotel in an hour and forty minutes. Yet Laurie, leaving the top soon after six o’clock, did not reach Corrie until ten. What was he about during those two superfluous hours? Then, having regained his lodgings and finding that Rose has not returned, he leaves without a word to anyone by the first available steamer next morning, taking away with him his friend’s luggage – an act only to be explained by his knowledge that Rose could never come back to claim it. This seems to me of itself sufficiently damning, despite the fact that no article proved to have been on Rose’s person at the time of his death was definitely traced to Laurie’s possessions. But it is more probable that the missing pocket book, containing his money and return ticket to London, was then in his pocket. It is unlikely that he would leave it unprotected in the open hut at Brodick. However Rose met his death, whether by accident or design, there is no doubt that someone rifled his body and elaborately buried it beneath the boulder. That a casual stranger, coming across the corpse, even if abandoned enough to rob it, would run the gratuitous and fearful risk of burying it, is beyond belief. The defence, therefore, making the best of a bad job, had to concentrate their efforts on persuading the jury that the death was accidental. The charge was murder; if that could be discounted, the robbery, though morally regrettable, was a minor matter.
The Trial – Part IV
The case for the defence was that all the injuries to the body were produced simultaneously, as the result of a single fall over one or other of the steep rocks before referred to, farther up the gully from the boulder where the body was buried. On the left side, above the place where the cap was found, as already mentioned, was the 19-feet drop, 156 yards beyond the boulder; the 32 feet drop was on the other side, 40 yards lower down, above where the knife, pencil, and button were found. The former fall was that favoured by the defence. There was no indication on the body or clothes of its having been dragged from thence down to the boulder, which, looking to the nature of the ground, would, if done, surely have left unmistakable signs of the process. The only injury to these, apart from the head, was that on the shoulder-blade, with corresponding damage to the flesh, the clothing, and the waterproof. If killed farther up the gully, therefore, the body of Rose must have been carried down to the boulder.
The Crown case, however, was that Laurie, who was familiar with the locality, having induced Rose to descend by way of Coire-na-fuhren, struck him down by a blow with a stone upon the left side of the head, delivered from above and behind, as they clambered down the steep incline. Then, as the wounded man may helplessly on the ground, his face and head were furiously battered so as to prevent recognition, the injury to the top of the shoulder-blade being caused by a blow which missed the head and struck the shoulder. The deed was done beside the boulder, beneath which, having rifled the body, the murdered concealed his victim by erecting the elaborate barricade of stones before described. Why he did not include in this sepulchre the several articles scattered about the gully the Crown made no attempt to explain. The defence maintained that these were dropped by Rose as he pitched head-foremost over the rock; but though that might conceivably account for the stick, knife, pencil, and button lying where they were found, how come the waterproof to be torn in two and trampled – “huddled together” – in a pool? And how came the cap, folded in four, to lie in the bed of the stream, with a stone weighing between seven and eight pounds upon the top of it? The learned Judge suggested that they had been deliberately placed so as to create the presumption of a fall. My own view is that the murderer, having emptied the pockets, threw away the smaller articles as of no importance, and probably overlooked the others until he had completed his sepulchral labours, when even he may well have hesitated to reopen the cavity, preferring rather to hide the cap under the stone in the stream, and let the rest take their chance. I have heard no theory to account for the dissection of the waterproof.
The members of the search party who were at the finding of the body one and all denied that the descent from the ridge to the boulder was either specially dangerous or difficult to a person using ordinary care, and maintained that a man going down on the left side of the gully by what was obviously the natural way, would have no occasion to go near the steep rocks at all. In his cross-examination of the police witnesses, the learned Dean elicited the singular fact that, after the post mortem in the coach-house on 5th August, the boots removed from the body were taken to the seashore at Corrie and there buried below high-water mark. Sergeant Munro, who gave instructions for their removal, and Constable Coll, who carried out his orders, were severely cross-examined as to their reason for so disposing of them. The boots were the only articles connected with the body which were not preserved as “productions”; and the Dean held that their condition with regard to heels and nails was most vital to the question at issue. The sergeant could give no reason beyond the fact that the boots “were so fully identified” as not to call for preservation. The constable said that Munro “told him to put them out of sight.” He thought that if a correct description of them were given, “that is good enough.” Pressed again and again as to why the boots were buried, both witnesses took refuge in silence.
Now I am credibly informed that the carrying out of this curious and irregular interment was due to a Highland superstition, namely, that the dead man’s ghost would thereby be prevented from “walking” to the disturbance of the living! If such were indeed the motive, it would seem to imply an imperfect sense of humour on the part of those concerned. Nay, more; there was precedent against it. For did not the ghost of Sergeant Davies “walk,” not only bootless but without his clothes, as was solemnly sworn to in the High Court of Justiciary at Edinburgh in 1754? But Sergeant Munro knew not Sergeant Davies.
The Trial – Part V
The real battleground of the case was, of course, the cause of death. The skilled witnesses for the Crown were Drs. Gilmour and Fullarton, who inspected the body at the boulder and performed the subsequent post mortem examination, and Dr. (afterwards Professor Sir Henry) Littlejohn, who examined the body further on its later exhumation. Into the ghastly details of the injuries to the head and face it is unnecessary now to enter. These will be found by the professional reader fully set forth in the medical reports and in the evidence of the medical witnesses at the trial. It is sufficient here to state that these experts concurred in the opinion that they had been produced by direct violence in the manner alleged by the prosecution. The limbs and extremities were free from fractures and dislocations, and there was no indication of blood upon the body or clothes. The injured parts were horribly decayed; and the fact that the highest cervical vertebra was lying loose when first seen by Dr. Gilmour was attributable to the advanced decomposition of the neck. The entire upper jaw was detached in one piece. These injuries, in Dr. Gilmour’s view, must have been caused by repeated impacts, whether due to blows or falls. All the injuries were confined to the left side; and in the case of a sheer single fall such injuries to the face would not be present. Dr. Fullarton stated that the extent and severity of the fractures were the result of repeated blows with a blunt instrument; he had never seen a head so smashed except by a machinery accident. The injury to the shoulder confirmed this view, for any conscious person falling would have had his hands before him, and the injuries, which in this case were all localised, would have been different. He thought that the first blow was given while the man was standing, and the rest while he lay on the ground. Dr. Littlejohn stated that the condition of the cranium as seen by him was at once suggestive of direct violence by blows. A heavy stone in the hand would be instrument likely to inflict such injuries. The severity of the bruises would stop haemorrhage, and the absence of haemorrhage would account for the speedy decomposition. The detachment of the cervical vertebra was consistent either with decay of the tissues or with dislocation. A fall could not have produced such localised violence without sever injuries to the extremities and to the internal organs, which were intact and uninjured, and remarkably well preserved. He had considerable experience of falls from heights such as the Dean Bridge and the Castle Rock, Edinburgh, but he never saw injuries like these so caused. A fall of such severity must have implicated the liver, the condition of which was normal; and there would also be other lesions, not present in this case.
The detached upper jaw, by the way, which figures so prominently in the medical evidence, was preserved by Dr. Littlejohn for professional purposes, and may be still seen by the curious in the laboratory of the Department of Forensic Medicine in the University of Edinburgh.
Three eminent Edinburgh surgeons were called for the defence: Dr. (afterwards Sir Patrick) Heron Watson, Dr. Charles McGillivray, and Dr. (afterwards Professor) Alexis Thomson. It is to be observed that none of these gentlemen had seen the body and the actual injuries which it bore; they gave their opinion solely upon reading the three medical reports and hearing the evidence for the Crown. Drs. McGillivray and Thomson, however, had visited and inspected the locus with reference to the present inquiry. Dr. Heron Watson stated that the injuries which he had heard described were in his view more consistent with a fall than with repeated blows; he considered that they had all been produced simultaneously. The probabilities were in favour of a fall upon the vertex. The vertebrae of the neck were probably broken, so that there would be little bleeding, which in the case of blows would have been copious. The fact that the liver was unruptured did not affect his opinion. As the result of certain grisly experiments, witness described the difficulty of fracturing the human skull by blows, so as to produce the extensive smashing present in this case. His theory was that Rose slipped on the slope, and turning round to the left in attempting to save himself before he reached the edge, fell over the rock headlong and backwards. If the head alighted on a granite surface on which there was a nodule of some size; that would account for the injuries both to the face and shoulder. Dr. McGillivray described the nature of the ground, as seen by him at Coire-na-fuhren. The 32 feet drop, which he measured, was hidden from a person coming down. Witness pushed a boulder over, and it was smashed to pieces. Anyone falling down the 19-feet drop would land about where the cap was found. If Rose fell over either of these rocks, all the injuries present on the body could have been produced. From the facts so stated, he considered a fall a more probable cause than blows. Dr. Alexis Thomson also gave a description of the gully. The 32-feet drop was above where the knife, pencil, and button were found. A person might find himself on the edge before noticing his danger. The ground at the foot of both drops was shelving granite, with lumps of various forms and ragged surfaces. It was much more probable that the injuries described were produced by a fall from either of these places than by repeated blows.
Skilled medical opinion in a criminal trial is invariably conflicting, greatly to the confusion of the lay mind. But the expert testimony in this case presents a most unusual feature: neither side, on cross examination, would absolutely negative the possibility of the other’s theory. To the lay mind aforesaid it occurs that Rose may have fallen or been pushed over, and then battered with stones – either to death, if not already killed; or with a view to render recognition impossible. “The bearings of this observation,” as Mr Bunsby remarked in another connection, “lays in the application on it.”
In addition to their medical men, the defence called only four witnesses: one an Italian fisherman named Latona, to give expert evidence as a “guide” regarding the dangerous character of the descent by Coire-na-fuhren; another, a girl who had known Laurie at Rothesay, to say that she found him “chatty and agreeable” on his return from the excursion to Arran. It appeared, however, on cross examination, that the “guide,” who had only been three years in the island, was never in Glen Sannox till after the body was found; while the girl admitted that on her asking Laurie how long he took to climb Goatfell, he avoided the question and made no reply. The other two witnesses called were the servant girls who were with MacKenzie at Sannox burying ground. They did not remember his remark about the man, but admitted that it might have been made.
It was fortunate for the accused’s neck that he was tried in 1889 and not in 1898, for then the provisions of the Criminal Evidence Act of that year would have enabled him to give evidence on his own behalf. A man so vain and self-sufficient could not have been kept out of the witness box; once there, like his blood brothers, the competent Mr. Seddon and the plausible Mr. Rouse, he would infallibly have helped to hang himself.
The Trial – Part VI
The case for the defence being closed, at half past five on Saturday, 9th November, the second day of the trial, the Solicitor General rose to address the jury on the part of the crown. There still, for me, echo across the forty years the tones of that musical voice; I can still see the fine and gracious figure of the prosecutor, as he discharged with perfect fairness his painful duty. Particularly I recall the impressive effect of his opening summary of the salient facts –
Two young men went up a hill together and only one came down. The other was found, after an interval of weeks, with his body horribly mutilated, hidden away among the rocks of the hillside, and with all his portable property removed. The one who came down was seen within a few hours of the time when the death of his friend must have taken place. He returned from the excursion on which they both started, and gave no sign or hint that anything had happened to his friend, or that he had not returned with him. The next morning he left Arran, and resumed his ordinary occupation until the hue and cry began. Then, when it did begin, he took to flight; and finally, when he was about to be arrested, he attempted to cut his throat.
With regard to the prisoner’s conduct, he came to Rothesay under a false name; he spent the night of his friend’s disappearance in the room which they had shared; he left by the first steamer next morning without paying his bill, and leaving the room in such a state as should suggest that both had occupied it; he obliterated every trace of Rose except the tennis racket, which, as it bore the owner’s name, would have been an awkward thing to take with him. He returned to Rothesay wearing Rose’s hat and carrying other property of Rose’s in a parcel; while certain things which also belonged to Rose were found in the trunk left by him at Liverpool. The watch and chain and pocket-book, which Rose was proved to have upon him, were missing; and though it was not known how much money he had, it must have been enough to pay his way for the remainder of his holiday. The question was: Whose hand rifled through the pockets and buried the body beneath the boulder? He thought the jury would be satisfied that the prisoner was with Rose till the end; the suggestion of the defence that these two parted on the mountain top was excluded by the whole facts of the case. If, then, the prisoner robbed and buried the body, was his the hand that caused the death? The suggestion that Rose met his death by accident, and that the prisoner robbed and buried him, was so inherently, so wildly improbable that they must hesitate to accept it. If such were indeed the fact, it indicated a depravity of mind but little removed from that which led to murder. Having dealt exhaustively with the medical theories of each side, the Solicitor-General said it was for the jury to consider, not so much what was possible – “because all things are possible where you are dealing with medical testimony” – but what probably happened. The prisoner’s own behaviour afforded the readiest solution. He asked them to apply to it the ordinary standard of human conduct, and to say whether any man could have so acted who was not the murderer or Rose. As to motive, the prisoner probably expected to get more than he got, but having done the deed, he had to go through with it. Finally, he submitted that the prosecution had established beyond reasonable doubt that the prisoner was guilty of the crime charged, and he asked for their verdict accordingly.
The Dean of Faculty, leader of the Scots Bar, despite his brilliant gifts and persuasive power of oratory, may well have had his own doubts as to the success of his endeavours on behalf of the accused. But not withstanding the insufficiency of straw wherewith he must effect his forensic brickmaking, the speech for the defence displays no lack of confidence in the stability of the structure. His hands, of course, were tied from the first by the impossible instructions of his conceited client, who, deeming himself wiser than his legal advisers, insisted that his case be fought on the footing that he left Rose, alive and hearty, upon the mountain. Had he admitted witnessing an accidental fall, and a yielding to the temptation to profit by it, that indeed would have been another story, which might, peradventure, have secured a verdict. The learned Dean said that he agreed with the prosecutor that if the charge were true, this was a murder unprecedented and incredibly atrocious. The onus of proof, therefore, was all the heavier upon the Crown; but he hoped to show that no murder was in fact committed. There were no signs of any struggle or of the dragging of the body; no instrument had been found likely to have inflicted the injuries. All these were upon the left side; no right-handed man would so have attacked Rose, and it was not suggested that the accused was left-handed. He argued that, upon a balance of the medical evidence, all the injuries supported the theory of the defence. Near the spot were two declivities; a fall from either would produce these results. Where, according to the Crown, was this murder committed? If at the boulder, how came the various things to lie where they were found? Their position was quite consistent with Rose’s pitching over the rock and the things flying in all directions. The accused’s meeting with Rose was casual, the visit to Brodick fortuitous; he could then have had no murderous design. His alleged reticence was due to toothache. There was no evidence that Rose and Laurie were ever together in this world again from the time they were seen on the top of Goatfell.
The Solicitor-General is quite mistaken in stating that the defence admits that the two were together. It must be taken as a thing not proved that they were together. Whoever removed the body – I hope you will understand that you do not go to deliberate upon your verdict on the supposition that it is the theory or suggestion of the defence that the moving of the body was done by Laurie – nobody knows by whom it was done.
A man of the accused’s size and strength could not have carried and buried the body without assistance – one of the stones weighed 1 ½ cwt.
The Solicitor-General seems to think that we, for the defence, are admitting that Laurie robbed the body of Rose. We admit nothing of the kind. It may be that somebody did it. Very likely, at the Fair holidays, there would be plenty of people on the island who would do that.
This certificate to the character of the local holiday-makers would, no doubt, be gratefully received in Glasgow.
When seen later in the evening, Laurie had no appearance of being a red-handed murderer; but if the Crown case were true, he must have exhibited some traces of the deed. He certainly appropriated improperly some articles belonging to Rose; and if this were a charge of theft, that would be important. But he made no secret of it; he wore the things openly among people who knew them both. Not until Aitken showed that he suspected him did Laurie realise that, having been with Rose in Arran, he might be held responsible for his disappearance. His subsequent conduct was due to that fear; if he had expected this charge, he would not have remained in Glasgow till 31st July. When arrested, he said: “I robbed the man, but I did not murder him.” That was certainly not a confession that he had rifled the body, but referred to the things which he had taken away from the lodgings. In conclusion, the learned Dean maintained that the Crown had failed to prove, firstly, that there was any murder, and, secondly, if there had been, that Laurie was the murderer. He asked the jury to return a verdict which would acquit the accused of this most terrible and appalling charge.
The Trial – Part VII
When the learned Dean sat down, having spoken for an hour and forty minutes, there was a brief adjournment, to enable the jury to sustain the judicial charge. At twenty minutes to nine o’ clock the Lord Justice-Clerk resumed his seat; dead silence fell upon the chattering benches, and, turning to the jury, his lordship began his charge. His review of, and comments upon, the evidence lasted exactly and hour, and the packed audience hung upon his every word. Perhaps the most composed of his hearers was the accused, who looked steadfastly at the Judge, with an occasional glance at the jury, to see whether they appreciated certain judicial points. His lordship characterised the case as one of the most remarkable that had ever come before a Court of Justice. It was a case of purely circumstantial evidence, and he proposed first to examine the facts, as to which there was no doubt. He traced the association of Rose and Laurie till they were last seen together upon the mountain top. It was proved that the deceased was then wearing his watch-chain, and they knew that he had in his pocket-book a return-half ticket to London. These two did not descend by the ordinary route, but by one proved not to be dangerous to any one taking reasonable care. Now, on the way down Rose undoubtedly met his death by violence, and his body was carefully hidden by some one. If he died by falling over one or other of the rocks farther up the gully, it must have been a work of great difficulty to bring down his body to the boulder. His lordship then described the rifling of the body and the disposition of the several articles found in the vicinity. He then followed the accused on his emergence from the glen, to the bar of Corrie Hotel, and so to bed at Brodick, till his departure next morning with Rose’s belongings; and recalled his wearing of Rose’s clothes at Rothesay, his statement that he had a return-half ticket to London, his conversation with Aitken, his flight to Liverpool with a box containing Rose’s property, his letters to the press, his apprehension, and his attempted suicide. These were facts about which there could be no doubt; and the Crown said they all pointed to the prisoner’s guilt. The defence was that the death of Rose did not take place in Laurie’s presence; that, having gone up Goatfell together, they did not descend together – although one met his death on the way by Glen Sannox to Corrie, and the other reached Corrie by way of Glen Sannox. Laurie should have been surprised when he found that his friend did not return to their room; but the effect of Rose’s non-arrival was that, without a word to any one, he went off with both their bags. The defence maintained that one man could not have carried the body down to the boulder; but the Crown contended that Rose was killed with a stone, which might have happened beside the boulder. The Dean asked, if Rose were killed there, how came the things to be found farther up the gully? But if Rose were in fact killed at the boulder, his murderer might so have disposed of them as to suggest that Rose had fallen over the rocks. The hiding of the cap and the cutting-up of the waterproof must have been done by a human hand after Rose’s death. It was very remarkable that the prisoner did not reach Corrie till ten, when those who left the top at the same time reached Brodick before eight-thirty. If the jury could not reconcile these facts with the prisoner’s case that he was not “in at the death,” there was no escape from the conclusion that his was the hand that hid the cap, tore off the waterproof, and buried the body. After reviewing at large the medical evidence his lordship observed that those who saw and examined the injuries were in a better position to form an opinion than those who based theirs merely upon the evidence which they had heard. It was not the jury’s function to decide between conflicting medical evidence, but to find what, taking the whole facts and circumstances along with that evidence, was the probable cause of death.
The jury then retired to consider their verdict, the Judge left the Bench, and the prisoner was taken to the cells below. For three-quarters of an hour the intense excitement – I know of none more thrilling – always aroused by the jury’s absence on their fateful duty, kept the audience in a buzz of expectant whispering, till the ringing of the jury-bell announced that a decision was reached. The Judge came back to the bench; the accused, as cool as ever, re-entered the dock; The Bar reassembled; the jury filed slowly into their box; the hum of the people was hushed. “The jury, by a majority, find the prisoner guilty.” Mr Graham Murray having moved for sentence, the prisoner unflinchingly stood up to receive his doom. The Lord Justice Clerk, in pronouncing the sentence of the Court, was visibly affected by the solemnity of the occasion. Not so the prisoner, who heard his fate unmoved, and immediately his lordship had finished, turned round in the dock, surveyed for a moment the crowded Court-room, and said in a loud, firm voice: “Ladies and gentlemen, I am innocent of this charge.” The Justice-Clerk at once said that the prisoner could not be allowed to make a speech. Laurie then walked steadily from the dock between the constables and disappeared below; and, the jury having received the customary thanks, the Court rose at twenty minutes to eleven. So the curtain fell upon the last act of the tragedy of the Arran murder.
The Scotsman report of the proceedings ends upon a quaint note –
It seems that the jury were very much dissatisfied with the lunch which was provided for them on both days of the Court, and remonstrated with the officials concerning the same.
Surely, if the labourer be worthy of his hire, the lunch should have been worthy of the jury. I may perhaps be permitted to quote, from the account of the case which I published eighteen years ago in Twelve Scots Trials, my recollection of the final picture –
No one who witnessed the closing act of this famous trial can forget the impressive character of the scene. Without, in the black November night, a great crowd silently awaited the issue of life and death. The lofty, dimly-lighted Court room, the candles glimmering in the shadows of the Bench, the imposing presence of the Justice-Clerk in his robes of scarlet and white, the tiers of tense, expectant faces, and in the dock the cause and object of it all: that calm, commonplace, respectable figure – the callous and brutal murderer whom Justice had tardily unmasked
The Hidden Years – Part I
The reception of the verdict throughout the country was attended by uncommon circumstances. The lateness of the hour on a Saturday night at which it was delivered, and the unprecedented interest taken by the public in the progress of the trial, were alike remarkable. Glasgow, of course, was especially concerned to hear the result. The verdict was telephoned from Edinburgh to the office of the Evening Times as soon as it was given, and fifteen minutes later parcels of a special edition were dispatched to every quarter of the city. The Glasgow Herald of 11th November, 1889, gives some interesting details. The printing machines at the head office were kept working till midnight, by which hour 167,000 copies had been sent out and distributed. At Hamilton, we read, copies of the issue sold at fourpence each; there is no record of the price charged for them ay Aberdeen. In Paisley, Greenock, and the westward towns the demand was enormous; the police had to regulate the crowds of purchasers, the shops were besieged, and the newsagents had the time of their lives. The conviction came as a surprise, a verdict of Not Proven being generally expected.
Meanwhile the prisoner spent a quiet night in the Calton Jail, and, having had a good breakfast, in order to avoid public attention he was driven in a cab to the Haymarket Station, where, practically unnoticed, he joined the 9.30 train to Greenock via Airdrie, reached Princes Pier Station at midday, and was safely lodged in the local prison.
The news that the execution was appointed to take place in Greenock was received by that respectable burgh with anything but favour. The last person to be hanged there was a man named Boyd, who, on 23rd October, 1834, had suffered appropriately for the murder of his wife. No wonder the citizens failed to appreciate the distinction proposed to be conferred upon them, and were urgent in demanding a reprieve. The narrow majority by which the prisoner’s fate was decided, and the recent commutation of the death sentence pronounced on Mrs Maybrick, were popularly held to justify his getting the benefit of the doubt. Accordingly a movement to that end was forthwith begun in the Coatbridge district, where Laurie’s relatives were well known and highly respected. A petition to the Secretary for Scotland (the Marquess of Lothian) was prepared, in which were urged against the carrying out of the sentence the following reasons, namely, that the medical evidence was not conclusive; that the other evidence was purely circumstantial; that the verdict was arrived at by a majority of one; that there was insanity in the prisoner’s family; and that he himself from infancy had shown symptoms of mental aberration. The text of the petition is printed in the Appendix. An influential committee was appointed, and arrangements were made for copies to be sent to all the principal towns, where meetings were organised in favour of the petition. In Glasgow, copies were exhibited in the churches, banks, public offices, institutions, and shops; in Edinburgh they were laid out on tables in the streets, supplemented by a house-to-house canvass; Carluke even carried on into the night, with a lamp-lit table beneath the Town Cross. On the 22nd the monster petition, containing 138,140 signatures, was forwarded to Dover House. Glasgow topped the list with 51,000; Coatbridge, 13,000; Edinburgh, 12,000.
It was presently announced that by instructions of Lord Lothian a medical inquiry would be held into the prisoner’s mental condition. The alienists appointed for that purpose by the Scottish Office were Sir Arthur Mitchell, K.C.B., Dr. Yellowlees, of Glasgow Royal Asylum, and Professor (afterwards Sir William Tennant) Gairdner, of Glasgow University. These experts, having visited and examined the prisoner, and heard statements by relatives and friends as to his mental history, retired to consider and formulate their report.
Time, however, was getting on; the execution was fixed for the 30th, and the Greenock magistrates had to prepare for the 30th, and the Greenock magistrates had to prepare for the worst. The services of Berry, the eminent specialist, were reluctantly retained to conduct the ceremony; a scaffold, frugally borrowed from Glasgow for the occasion, arrived on a lorry and was erected behind the County Court buildings; and a flagstaff was put up on the roof of the prison. But the Black Flag was not to fly for Laurie. On the 27th it was announced that the Lord Justice-Clerk was in consultation with Lord Lothian at his country seat, Newbattle Abbey, regarding the petition and the report of the alienists, which had then been received; and on the 28th the following official intimation was made by the Secretary for Scotland:-
Newbattle Abbey, Dalkeith. 2p.m.
In consequence of the Medical Commission having reported that the convict Laurie is of unsound mind, the Secretary for Scotland has felt justified in recommending that he should be respited.
The decision was intimated to the Provost of Greenock by telegram, confirmed by the following letter:-
Office of the Secretary of Scotland,
Whitehall, S.W., Nov 29/89
Sir, – I am to signify to you the Queen’s command, that the execution of the sentence of death passed on John Watson Laurie, presently in Her Majesty’s prison at Greenock, be respited until further signification of Her Majesty’s pleasure.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
You will acknowledge receipt hereof by telegram and return of post.
“The public mind in Greenock,” says the Glasgow Herald, “is not altogether relieved by the terms of the communication from the Scottish Office.” A reprieve had been confidently expected, and there was fear that the execution had only been postponed. This uncertainty was removed on 1st December by the receipt of an official telegram stating that the death sentence had been commuted to penal servitude for life. The text of the Conditional Pardon is printed in the Appendix. The Greenock magistrates tried to recover from the Prison Commissioners the expenses incurred by them in preparing for the execution; but the Commissioners, being, officially, devoid of bowels, left the burgh to pay the bill. On 2nd December the convict was removed to Perth Penitentiary, which had been appointed as the place of his expiation.
The Hidden Years – Part II
On 3rd December the Glasgow Herald published an interesting and instructive article entitled, “Laurie in Greenock Prison,” which I have thought worth reprinting in the Appendix. “It ought to be stated,” says the writer, “That in the opinion of persons who have been coming into close contact with him since his incarceration, his hand and no other committed the foul deed, and that had the respite been delayed for another day, the world would have been apprised of all the circumstances relating to the crime.” His first statement was that he and Rose parted on the summit of Goatfell and that he never saw him again. “After his conviction, and when he had the imminent danger of execution pressing upon his mind, he wrote a letter to Lord Lothian which contained the admission that he had witnessed the fall of Rose from a high cliff, that he had gone to his assistance, that he had taken his bruised and bloody head between his hands, and when he found Rose dead he robbed him of his valuables and buried the body.” But as the day of execution drew near and there was no word from London, he became very uneasy, and just before the arrival of the telegram announcing the respite, he made inquiries as to the proper person to whom to make a confession. “His reference to Rose,” continues the writer, “were not marked by any exhibition of sympathy for that unfortunate gentleman. On the contrary, he spoke of him as a vain, proud man, always boastful of his money, and desirous of making his hearers believe that he was wealthy. The significance of Laurie’s comment upon this point is striking. With singular callousness, he added that Rose had not very much at all.”
Now, this is a very different story from that which Laurie told his legal advisors and upon which they based his case. It is at least a more feasible defence than that advanced for him in Court, and it is probable that, in the skilled hands of the Dean of Faculty, it would, if adopted, have resulted in an acquittal.
The conflicting evidence of the medical experts at the trial was the subject of prolonged correspondence in the press, and Dr Campbell Black, Assistant Physician to Glasgow Royal Infirmary, and a champion of the “fall” theory, as opposed to the “direct blows” school, published a pamphlet in which he maintained (1) that it was not proved that Rose was murdered at all; (2) that death was instantaneous, thus accounting for the absence of much or any haemorrhage; (3) that Rose fell om the vertex of the skull, falling backwards, and that all fractures thereof occurred then and thereby; and (4) that the injury to the spinal column was probably the cause of instant death, and that it could only have been produced in this manner. As the pamphlet has the imprimatur of Dr Heron Watson and will interest the professional reader, it is reprinted in the Appendix.
The Scottish Leader of 19th November, 1889, in a long and able article in favour of the reprieve, observes:
But in addition to the general reasons for asking clemency for Laurie there are very special reasons more or less apparent to all who consider the circumstances. In the first place, there is the uncertainty dwelling in men’s mind as to whether an act literally to be described as murder was actually perpetrated; the dubiety arising from the absence of intelligible motive. There was no passion in the case; the association of the two men was accidental and unsought by Laurie; and all of the hope of wealth that was held out cannot be conceived as tempting any one but an insane creature to an act so atrocious. If murder were done, then within Laurie’s nature there is enclosed a psychological enigma which the general human experience is powerless to explain.
Secondly, the journal maintained that the trial was “unduly hurried.” Begun on a Friday, the Judge, doubtless with the best motives, “announced his determination to finish the case at all hazards within two days”; and the jury, ill-equipped with food and refreshment, were called upon to give their verdict when worn out with strain, excitement, and long confinement in bad air. “In the third place, there is a powerful reason for staying the hand of the executioner in the fact that the verdict was only obtained by a majority of one vote……..It is horrible beyond expression to think that for this man the difference between absolute freedom and a criminal’s death was determined by the vote of a single, fagged-out juryman.”
On the other hand, there was a strong body of opinion that the conviction was sound and should not be disturbed. From the mass of newspaper correspondence on the subject I give excerpts from some letters typical of this attitude, addressed to the Glasgow press –
If circumstantial evidence is to go for anything, there could scarcely be a clearer case of guilt than Laurie’s. Yet I am surprised to observe certain well-meaning philanthropists are trying to work a reprieve for this man who murdered his victim under the guise of friendship. I cannot believe they will succeed in getting a decent number of signatures to enable them to persevere with any chance of success; but in case they should, and to stifle this mawkish sentimentality in the bud, I propose that petitions be prepared to the effect that the law be allowed to take its course. If Laurie were to escape the death penalty, the hope of conviction by circumstantial evidence might as well be abandoned once and for ever.
New Club. Glasgow, Nov. 18th, 1889
“A Scotswoman” writes:
In the name of common sense what is coming over us all, that this hysterical howl for a reprieve is raised every time a person is convicted of murder nowadays! If ever circumstantial evidence is to convict, surely it has rightly done so in this case. If ever a foul and brutal murder was brought home to the murderer, step by step, with fatal certainty, by the silent evidence of circumstance after circumstance, this murder of a helpless traveller has been brought home to the man Laurie, so clearly, so convincingly, that unless we are to wait to convict till the murderer selects an audience before whom to do the deed, I fail to see how murder is to be detected. It is high time for persons who are content to abide by the law, and who feel confidence in those who administer it, to raise their voices with no uncertain sound, and try to stem this tide of maudlin sentimentality and secret lawlessness which is making its way among us. It will be monstrous if we allow this brutal murderer to escape pour encourager les autres, and to make our lovely and lonely Highland glens as dangerous to the solitary traveller as the passes of the Apennines or the mountains of Greece.
“Justice” observes –
My firm belief is that Laurie is not insane, and I cannot find any reason or arguments in “Humanitarian’s” letter to make me change that opinion. He says: “Who but a maniac would commit such a deed?” Any person whom the love of finery and money combined with a brutal, vain, and selfish disposition had led away could do it, as this case has proved ….. Many people who are now signing the petition are doing so more for sympathy with them (his parents) than with him. I can only say that I hope the Home Secretary will not accede to public clamour, but will deal out justice without fear or favour.
Another correspondent makes a practical suggestion which undoubtedly would have exercised a chastening influence on the thousands of enthusiastic signatories –
As I feel convinced the present fashion of making heroes of condemned murderers is not for the good of society at large, I humbly suggest that no petitions should be received in future on this subject unless each signature is signed through a sixpenny stamp, payable by the party who signs.
From a correspondent, whose name, by a curious chance, was Laurie, writing from Greenock, we get an interesting glimpse of the methods pursued in that burgh to promote the success of the petition –
A socialist with a crank placed tables in the streets with sheets, and got all and sundry who could as much scrawl their names to adhibit their signatures, many of them going from sheet to sheet and signing it several times in different names. On Monday, the school children were marched in hundreds “like dumb driven cattle” to sign it. So much for how the petition was manufactured.
And among the reasons heard by this writer as given for signing was: “Only think for the disgrace to our good town to have an execution in it.” A strange example, this, of enlightened public opinion!
The Hidden Years – Part III
Considerable dissatisfaction was caused – and expressed – owing to the fact that the report of the medical experts upon Laurie’s mental condition was not to be published. The Saturday Review of 30th November, 1889, had a leading article, “The Respite of Laurie,” which may serve as an indication of the popular feeling –
It was announced last Thursday evening that the Provost of Greenock had received an official communication that morning that Laurie, the man recently convicted of the murder of the English tourist, Mr Rose, had been respited. The convict, it was further stated “was made very cheerful by the receipt of the news,” although when the intelligence was communicated to him he manifested no particular emotion, but confined himself to merely saying “Thank you.” Before the public, however, can either share his cheerfulness or re-echo his thanks, it will be necessary to know a little more than we do at present as to the cause of his reprieve.
What was the view taken by the Scottish Office as to Rose’s death, and in what precise way did Laurie’s alleged insanity operate to bring about his reprieve? (Note – the insanity case has taken some time to unravel, but the later Chapter in this book outlines the link to J.W. Laurie’s mother’s side of the family – the case of James Tennant).
Has it, that is to say, been treated as exculpatory or merely as explanatory? Is it the official theory that he killed Mr. Rose, but that, being of unsound mind, he is not criminally responsible? Or does that theory start with the assumption that Mr. Rose’s death was, as Laurie protested in his defence, accidental, and that the latter’s insanity only comes in to explain his flight and concealment after the accident took place?
For our part we must admit that we have seen nothing in the case from first to last to raise any presumption of Laurie’s insanity; and we trust that the public will be informed, not only on the grounds on which certain medical experts have discovered a defence for him which was not so much as suggested at the trial, but of the complete theory of his connection with the death of Mr. Rose, as that theory has taken shape in the mid of the Secretary for Scotland.
But to this, as to all other journalistic inquiries, the Scottish Secretary opposed an official silence. Finally, a question was asked in Parliament, of which notice was given for 17th February, 1890 –
Mr Pickersgill – To ask the Lord Advocate, whether he will communicate to the House the substance of the report of the three medical experts appointed by the Secretary for Scotland, to examine the mental condition of J. W. Laurie, who was convicted of the murder of an English tourist in Arran: And, whether these experts unanimously reported that in their judgement Laurie was “not responsible”; and, if so, upon what grounds the Secretary for Scotland advised Her Majesty to commute the capital sentence.
This question being duly asked, the Lord Advocate (Mr. J.P.B. Robertson, afterwards Lord President of the Court of Session and, as Lord Robertson, Lord of Appeal in Ordinary in the House of Lords) replied as follows:
It would be quite contrary to practice for me to communicate to the House the substance of the report received by the Secretary of Scotland. I may, however, inform the hon. Member that the words quoted in the question were not used by the medical experts.
The whole question of the criminal responsibility of the insane bristles with difficulties and has long been a battleground for experts. As to what constitutes insanity and who, precisely, should be termed insane, that is another story; but it is not given to every man to walk solely and always by the light of reason. Indeed, judged by this high standard and upon a strict accounting, few and fortunate would be those of us found by our alienists to be in all points above suspicion. And it must be borne in mind that at the trial counsel for the defence, with the whole facts and circumstances before them, made no suggestion that the accused was not to be held accountable for his acts. That card was first played by the petitioners and, as we have seen, it won the trick.
But whether or not, and if so, to what extent Laurie, when he committed the crime, was, technically, insane, his behaviour exhibits certain well-marked features which I have noted as common to the many murderers whose conduct I have had occasion closely to study, from Mary Blandy in 1752 to Dr. Pritchard in 1865. None of these practitioners has, so far as I am aware, ever been deemed irresponsible or mentally deficient. All were liars, inveterate and gratuitous – the technical term is, I understand “pathological”; but their most striking characteristic is a supreme self-conceit and a total disregard for the claim to consideration of anyone except themselves. Your murderer is the perfect egoist. For his special benefit the sun shines daily, and the pick of the basket is his by right. This pleasant illusion is by the learned term “megalomania,” and by the vulgar, swollen head it is not certifiable. A person of such importance cannot, of course, permit anyone else to get between him and the light or stand in the way of his desires. Should somebody do so, why then, so much the worse for somebody: he is liable to become, as our American friends would say, “some” body.
Combined with this intense and overwhelming selfishness is a callous indifference to the suffering which the application of their ruling principle entails on others. Sometimes, as with Mary Blandy and with Katherine Nairn, it is naked and unashamed; sometimes, as with Dr. Pritchard, it is cloaked by a specious hypocrisy. Thus, while Miss Blandy unfeelingly asked: “Who would grudge to send an old father to hell for £10,000?” and Mrs. Ogilvy imprudently exclaimed, with reference to the purposed poisoning of her spouse “Divel burst him! I wish I had the dose, I should give it him!” Dr. Pritchard’s wife died in his arms, and he had her coffin opened that he might kiss her for the last time. It is merely a matter of taste; the evil spirit manifests itself in different forms. The heroine of Henley and the mistress of Eastmiln would have thought little of Laurie’s remark that “Rose had not very much after all.” But it would have shocked profoundly the considerate physician of Sauchiehall Street.
The Hidden Years Part IV
Had John Watson Laurie known when he entered H.M. General Prison of Perth, that within the walls of that penitentiary and those of the seaside settlement at Peterhead, he should spend the forty-one remaining years of his life, the degree of insanity would doubtless have been considerably heightened. But at the outset, he had no such fear, and was confident that he would regain his liberty in a couple of years.
For four years the granite silence of Peterhead remained unbroken. Then, on Tuesday, 25th July, 1893, the newspapers surprised their readers by the announcement: “Attempted Escape of Laurie, the Arran Murderer.” The following paragraph, being of quotable length, is taken from the Scottish Highlander :-
On Monday morning, about half past seven o’clock, a convict, supposed to be Laurie, the Arran Murderer, at present serving a life sentence at Her Majesty’s Convict Prison, Peterhead, escaped the vigilance of the warders and civil guard, and set off for freedom. The convict was working at some new warders’ houses, which are being erected a little to the north-east of the prison, the whole being enclosed by a wall about eight feet high. It is supposed that the convict, taking advantage of a fog, had managed to cross the intervening space between the houses and the wall unnoticed by the civil guard, who paces a platform in front of a sentry-box erected on the top of the wall, and as there were plenty of ladders and planks lying about, he had no difficulty in getting over the wall. He had then crossed the road and made across the fields to the west, entering a plantation lying to the back of Bellevue Cottage, occupied by Mr. McBain. In the meantime the alarm signal had been given by the prion authorities and several warders and prison guards, with loaded carbines, surrounded the plantation, while others proceeded to search the wood. It was not long before the fugitive was discovered, and having been shackled he was conveyed to the prison. On the way back to prison Laurie characterised his captors in a language wholly inconsistent with the ecclesiastical office which he fulfils – that of precentor in the convict prison chapel. In less than half an hour after he threw down the plank and took to flight, the big gate again closed behind him, and another epoch of his eventful life was brought to an abrupt termination. It is understood that the punishment for an attempt to escape is that the prisoner has a belt of iron riveted around his waist, similar bands being put round his ankles, and these are bound together by heavy chains. He has to wear these ornaments night and day.
The “unecclesiastical” language may be excused when we remember that this was the second occasion in which he had trusted to a wood in vain and been betrayed by a plantation. A fuller and more detailed report, was published in the Scotsman on the same date:
ATTEMPTED ESCAPE OF THE ARRAN MURDERER
Considerable excitement was caused in Peterhead yesterday morning by a rumour that Laurie, the Arran murderer, had made an attempt to escape from the convict prison. The officialism surrounding everything connected with convict life within the establishment at Salthousehead makes it very difficult to obtain information regarding any incident that occurs to vary the monotony which characterises the everyday life of a convict. Although attempts at escape are so rare, this is the second within the last six months – both, however, ending in ignominious failure. On the previous occasion an Aberdeen burglar got away about half a mile, and ran into the arms of a policeman who was coming along the road. On this occasion Laurie, fleet of foot as he is, was overtaken before he got out of sight of the prison. It appears that Laurie, by his good behaviour, had advanced himself to be a prisoner of the first class, and as such had an amount of freedom which is denied to those in the lower grades. He is said to be surly in disposition, and to have at times annoyed the authorities by groundless complaints, but he is a good workman, and was entrusted with responsible work. He was employed in the carpenters’ shop, and was one of a gang who were erecting scaffolding in front of an addition to a block of warders’ houses, forming one of the lines of such blocks parallel to the Aberdeen turnpike road. The latest addition to this block is the sixth of a series of three-storied buildings, and is at the north end of the row. A high stone wall is built along the side of the road, upon the top of which is a sentry box, one civil guard promenading from the centre of the wall to the respective ends, and overlooking the squads of convicts working in the space between this wall and the building. At the gable of the new house there is a close paling about 12 feet high running along the breadth of the house, and at the end of this paling there is another sentry-box. At one part of this wooden erection there is a section not so high as the rest – probably a door to the outside, and it is believed that it was over this part that Laurie leaped in making his exit. Part of the squad were picking the front wall of the house previous to pointing it, and Laurie was carrying a plank to be made part of the scaffolding at the time. About quarter before eight in the morning there was a very thick sea fog hanging over the land – so dense, indeed, that it is said objects at a hundred yards distance were barely discernible. There is no doubt that Laurie had his plans made, and that a fog favoured him in his attempt to carry them out. In the near distance to the west there is what, in its present luxuriance of green, would look from the prison as a small forest, but which in reality is a series of plantations, with very limited tree-covered enclosures surrounding the house of Dales of Invernettie, and Laurie, doubtless, had the idea that if he could reach that apparent place of security he would be able to elude his pursuers. Between the prison and Dales there is a small clump of trees at the rear of Bellevue Cottage, and the fugitive had only reached that place when he was captured.
After clearing the wooden fence before referred to, Laurie had to pass up to the road, cross it, leap over a dyke about 4 feet high into a clover field, in which there are still some coles of hay standing, and on through a cornfield, his course leading him over three moderately high stone dykes. As soon as he emerged upon the public road he was discovered by Graham, the civil guard, who at once loaded his carbine, and, as he alleged, tried to fire, but the cartridge did not go off. Before he got it extracted and a fresh one substituted, the fugitive was hidden by the fog. This, it is understood, is Graham’s version of the incident, and doubtless an investigation will follow. The alarm was at once given, and the whole army of warders and reserve civil guard on duty was ordered out for the pursuit. Only one warder could be spared from the gang in which Laurie was working, and he at once started on his track. Unfortunately for the success of Laurie’s daring exploit, the sun got out and dispelled the fog, and his line of flight was made visible. One warder got his bicycle and, seeing that Laurie must needs cross the Blackhills Road, sped along it to intercept him. Those who witnessed the pursuit describe it as very exciting while it lasted. Laurie had a good start, but he is a small man, and had no chance with the average 6-foot warder, nimble of foot though he proved himself to be. The people who live at Bellevue Cottage, hearing the whistling of the warders, looked out, but seeing a man in convict’s dress approaching, they shut and bolted the door. Laurie, however, did not seek the shelter of a house, but made for the clump of trees behind, and there he was overtaken and held. He struggled violently but the timely arrival of other warders made resistance futile, and he was securely handcuffed with his hands behind, and marched back along the road to the prison. On the way back to prison Laurie characterised his captors in language wholly inconsistent with the ecclesiastical office which he fills – that of precentor in the convict prison chapel. In less than half an hour after he threw down the plank and took to flight, the big gate again closed behind him, and another epoch of his eventful life was brought to an abrupt termination. It is understood that the punishment for an attempt to escape is that the prisoner has a belt of iron riveted around his waist, similar bands being put round his ankles, and these are bound together by heavy chains. He has to wear these ornaments night and day. His escapade will likely also reduce his standing from the first class, and in other ways restrict his liberties, besides probably adding to his term of servitude.
In regards to Graham, the civil guard, it is stated that his rifle was taken and tested with the cartridge which he alleged would not go off, and that it discharged without any hitch. It is further stated that he has been suspended from his duties, pending enquiry.
During 1909 there were rumours in the press that Laurie had been released. These were doubtless due to the fact that in November the convict would have completed twenty years penal servitude. From the fact that Laurie was not liberated, but was transferred, as we shall find, to Perth, we may assume that his mental condition had so deteriorated as to render him unfit to be at large.
On 27th April,1019, the Daily Record and Mail was able to inform its readers that on the preceding day Laurie, the Arran murdered, had been removed from Peterhead to the Criminal Lunatic Department of Perth Prison. It was understood that “his mental condition has prompted the transfer.” Together with a history of the half-forgotten crime, the journal published a photograph: “The convict Laurie removed to Perth”: taken at the railway station and showing Laurie between two warders, leaving the Aberdeen train.
THE ARRAN MURDERER AT PERTH
AN OLD CRIME RECALLED
From the Daily Record and Mail, Thursday,27th April, 1910.
The murder of the English excursionist, Edwin Robert Rose, on the slopes of Goatfell, Arran, over twenty years ago, was recalled yesterday by the removal of Laurie, who was convicted of the crime, from Peterhead penal establishment to the Perth Criminal Asylum.
It does not necessarily follow that because Laurie has been removed to the Perth Criminal Asylum that his mental condition has prompted the transfer. On this point the officials approached refused to speak.
Perth Prison is an old penitentiary dating back to the days of the French wars at the beginning of the last century, and before the prisons were under central control it was known as the Penitentiary, and was used for the detention of prisoners dealt with at the High Courts. The local prisons in those days had to accommodate the Police Court cases.
For years back male convicts have been sent to Peterhead, mainly to work on the breakwater there, and the greater part of Perth Prison has remained empty. A portion has been used as the Criminal Lunatic Department for Scotland; another part is used as the local prison; and another has been structurally altered to form a State inebriate reformatory.
Lately there has been talk of yet another part being converted into a place of detention under the Prevention of Crimes Act. Such a scheme would, of course, involve a lot of work by tradesmen of one kind and another, and it may be that Laurie, who is a patternmaker by trade, has been moved to Perth to assist in this work, though it may be recalled that during his incarceration at Peterhead he has on more than one occasion attempted to escape; and it seems improbable that the prison authorities would in these circumstances remove him from the convict establishment for labour reasons.
But, whatever his mental condition, he has been removed from Peterhead, where he has spent the greater part of twenty years in confinement.
He was removed yesterday in company with five other convicts. The tragic party left Peterhead in charge of three warders at half past nine in the morning, and travelled in a specially reserved compartment, Aberdeen Joint Station being reached at 11.35. On arrival, the convicts, all heavily manacled, were marched hurriedly to one of the waiting rooms, where they remained for an hour and a half awaiting the 1.10 Caledonian train for Perth. The coach employed for the conveyance of the convicts was attached to this train (having left Glasgow in the morning with half a dozen men for Peterhead). This was coupled to the south-going train, and when all was ready Laurie and his fellow-convicts were put in.
Laurie was easily distinguished. The Arran murderer, however, has aged considerably. His hair, cropped close in accordance with prison rules, is quite grey, and his face wan and haggard. He walks with a stoop, and his whole appearance points to his being in the latest stages of senile decay.
Perth was reached at about four o’clock, and a few minutes later, Laurie and his convict companions were once more within the grim walls of a prison.
At Aberdeen the Daily Record and Mail photographer was able to secure a striking snapshot of the convicts as they were leaving the Aberdeen train.
The crime for which Laurie is incarcerated will for all time be known as the Arran murder. Its circumstances resemble more the imagination of the dramatist or novelist than an episode in actual life. The trial of John Watson Laurie before Lord Kingsburgh on the charge of murdering the young Englishman, Edwin Robert Rose, on the slopes of Goatfell, on the 15th July, 1889, was heard in the High Court of Justiciary, Edinburgh, on the 8th and 9th of November that year.
In summing up the case the judge described it as one of the most remarkable that had ever come before a Court of Justice. The evidence was purely circumstantial. After an absence of forty minutes the jury returned a verdict finding the prisoner, by a majority, guilty of murder, and he was sentenced to be executed in Greenock Prison on the 30th November. It was understood at the time that the verdict was arrived at by a majority of eight to seven.
Before the day fixed for the execution, however, Laurie was reprieved as being of unsound mind, and on the 28th of November his sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life.
Briefly stated, the facts of the crime were that Rose, an Englishman, was clerk to a builder in London. In the first week of July, at the suggestion of a brother of his employer, a clergyman, Rose left London for a holiday in Rothesay, and put up at the Glenburn Hydropathic establishment. Laurie, who was a joiner and pattern maker, employed at the Springburn Works, Glasgow, and who had a weakness for dandy dress, went on holiday to Bute on the 6th July and took lodgings under the name of Annandale at Port Bannatyne. Rose on the 12th of July, accompanied a party of friends from the hydropathic on a day’s excursion to Arran.
It so happened that Laurie, calling himself Annandale, was also on board the steamer and that he struck up an acquaintance with Rose. On the return to Rothesay the latter took “Annandale” to the hydro., and introduced him there as a friend. On the following day, the 13th of July, a Saturday, the pair travelled together to Arran and took lodgings in Brodick, occupying the same room. They started on the afternoon of Monday, the 15th to climb Goatfell. The summit was reached, and shortly after six o’clock the two were seen standing on a boulder. From that moment Rose was never seen again alive. Laurie was observed leaving Glen Sannox about half-past nine in the evening; later he entered a hotel at Corrie and had a drink at the bar, and the next morning he was seen going on board a steamer and carrying two bags and wearing a hat which was afterwards proved to have belonged to Rose. He went to Glasgow, returned once more to Rothesay, where he spent the rest of his holiday. He returned to work at Springburn on the 22nd July, but, when the hue and cry went forth, left on the 31st and began a most exciting career of wanderings which took him to Liverpool, Aberdeen, and other places, until his capture in a wood between Hamilton and Lesmahagow put a period to his exploits.
The search for the murdered man began on the 28th July and was not brought to a successful issue till the following Sunday. The search party numbered about 200 men – 150 from Brodick and 50 from Corrie – who scoured the whole of Goatfell. Eventually the body was found at a place called Corr-na-fuarin at the head of Glen Sannox, hidden beneath a great boulder and with his head and face smashed beyond recognition.
Despite the reporter’s lugubrious description, Laurie in the photograph, seems a sturdy figure, his head being bent obviously to defeat the operator. He was officially certified as suffering from progressive dementia.
The Hidden Years V
From his admission to Perth on 26th April, 1910, till his death there twenty years later, nothing more is heard of John Watson Laurie. For all the world knew or cared, he was now much dead and buried as his victim. But on Monday, 6th October, 1930, there was in the Scotsman an echo of the old story –
ARRAN MURDER RECALLED
The murder of a London tourist, a Mr. Rose, on Goatfell, Arran, in 1889, was brought to mind yesterday through the death of John Watson Laurie in Perth Penitentiary. Laurie, who was sixty-nine years of age and a native of Coatbridge, had been in prison for forty-one years. The first twenty years were spent in Peterhead, and the last twenty-one in Perth Prison. During the major portion of this time he had been confined in the lunacy department.
And the Glasgow Herald of that date, in chronicling the event, justly observed that it “recalled one of the most remarkable dramas of crime and retribution in the judicial annals of Scotland.” The cause of death was paralysis, of which Laurie had suffered more than one stroke.
The Hidden Years VI
While the Arran of today is not the Arran that Rose and Laurie knew; though the quiet villages have broken out in an eruption of bungalows; though the peaceful hill and coast roads are now less delightful to the wayfarer by reason of the ubiquitous motor omnibus; though the majesty of Glen Sannox is affronted by the presence of a light-railway for the working of a barytes mine; yet the mountains and the glens remain, splendid and unrivalled, as of yore. You may still climb Goatfell by the path on which, that fatal July afternoon, the two travellers set forth; behold from the summit the same incomparable prospect that gladdened poor Rose’s sight for the last time; and if you be sufficiently stout and venturesome, you may go down into Glen Sannox by the wild and lonely gully of Coire-na-fuhren, past the boulder – marked now by a cairn – where the body lay concealed; and ponder awhile upon that other boulder by which, in the lovely old graveyard at the foot of the glen beside the sea, is preserved for all time the memory of Edwin Rose’s tragedy.