The Mount Stewart Murder by Chris Paton

Although I enjoy crime fiction and particularly vintage crime I don’t often read books about real life murder but I saw this book at my library and was drawn to read it because the murder in question took place in Perthshire, not all that far from where I live.

The author came across the story of the murder whilst he was researching his family tree, as many people have been doing recently. He discovered that his great-great-great-grandmother Janet Rogers had been horribly murdered in her own home at Forgandenny, Perthshire in 1866.

Chris Paton has used the many newspaper accounts of the crime which went into great detail of the crime scene, post mortem and subsequent police investigation and the trial of the accused. He has embroidered the details and it all amounts to an interesting read, although there’s probably an added frisson when you know the areas concerned, as I do. It is thought that the murder is the UK’s oldest unsolved case.

I was particularly amazed when another murder was mentioned which took place in 1865 on the Dollar to Blairingone road, close to what is described in the book as Vicker’s Bridge.* A baker’s cart was discovered abandoned on the road and the baker was found to be dying nearby, he had been shot and he was apparently killed for his ‘takings’. The upshot of that investigation seems to be that a poacher called Joseph Bell was hanged for murder at Perth prison. It was the last public hanging in Scotland and it seems that jurors might have been reluctant in the past to pass guilty verdicts because there hadn’t been a hanging for 17 years in Scotland until that one. The railway company had to put on extra trains as so many people wanted to see the spectacle! The supposed culprit protested his innocence to the end and I think the main grievance against him was the fact that he was English! It was almost 100 years from then until the death penalty was repealed. As you can imagine I’m going to be having a careful look at the road around Vicar’s Bridge* the next time I travel along it.

*The modern road sign is spelled Vicar’s Bridge.

13 thoughts on “The Mount Stewart Murder by Chris Paton

  1. This sounds right up my alley! They have it on Kindle! I love cold cases. I read about one here in the Midwest in the early 1900’s on a farm. It was really good. Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America’s Heartland
    by Patricia L. Bryan, Thomas Wolf
    I learned a lot about living on a farm during that time period and the isolation there was and the mental issues that brought on. Very interesting.

    • Peggy Ann,
      I hope you enjoy it if you get it. The Midnight Assassin book sounds like they went into everything very thoroughly. The murders I’ve heard of here seem to have been for more common reasons, greed, jealousy and the like.

    • Valerie,
      It’s a horrible thought, and that’s why I prefer crime fiction. I always think that we live in violent times now but there seems to have been quite a lot going on in the most unexpected areas in the past.

  2. So someone got away with murder, and presumably went on living his life – maybe wracked with guilt, maybe quite unconcerned with what he or she had done. I wonder if the community had any idea about who had done it. Of course if it was a psychopath or someone passing through – say who killed during a robbery – that would be much harder to trace, particularly with the resources of the time. But there’s something chilling about the thought of a murder living quietly on in the neighborhood.

    • Lisa,
      I don’t think many murderers are/were wracked with guilt and in the past they seem to have been quite happy to let some poor soul take the blame and get hanged for it. I can imagine they might even plan to do the deed just when there were ‘strangers’ in the area, knowing that suspicion would fall on them. It was often gypsies, tinkers,reclusives,Jews or the local ‘simple’ person who got the blame, with very little in the way of evidence needed. I always think of John Christie – who was happy to see his neighbour hanged for something he didn’t do.

  3. I have a fascination with reading about unsolved murders or disappearances so this sounds right up my alley. There is something so scary about knowing that there are killers walking around, unknown.

    • Anbolyn,
      Too scary for me! I’m more comfortable reading about real life murders if they happened a good century ago, then there’s no chance of THEM coming to get me!

    • Chris,
      Thankfully not many people will have had the same experience that you had when you looked into your family history. I suppose it helped that it was all so long ago, I can imagine you found all the research involved absolutely fascinating. Thanks for writing an interesting book!

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