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 It was almost 100 years from then until the death penalty was repealed.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.