The King's Cramond Murderer

THE KING'S CRAMOND MURDER - PART ONE

John Dods e-mailed me about the Cramond Murderer. He was proud of the fact that he (John) had appeared on STV to discuss the ‘Cramond Murderer’ and that a likeness of the ‘Cramond Murderer’ was now exhibited in Cramond Maltings. But John’s hair-raising question to me was: “Was it your house?” 

My house – the Black family home – is at 2 Brae Park which, before about 1900, was the hamlet of Long Row, a
terrace of 11 single roomed cottages in the Township of King’s Cramond. In fact Long Row extended almost the
length of the property boundaries of both 1 and 2 Brae Park. Yes, the victim was a resident of Long Row.

The trial of the murderer started in the High Court of Justiciary at 10 am on Saturday, 31 December 1831 and
concluded at 3 o’clock in the morning of the following day, Sunday, 1 January 1832! I took myself off to General Register House and spent a good part of three days finding out more. No fewer than 8 of the 11 households had at least one member who was cited to appear as a witness in court. Their precognitions are carefully preserved and I can now tell you the story of one day in the life of the good folk of Long Row.

Our tale unfolds at 7.30 am on Friday, 2 December 1831 as 25 year old Janet Geddes was setting out for work. Janet lived with her 73 year old widowed mother Martha in the westmost of the Long Row Cottages. It was located on the site of the now set-paved yard where we park cars at our house. The Geddes’s had only one room with a single closet (and it was not a water closet!). At the front, two steps led up to the outer door which could lock but was kept unlocked by day. An inner door could not be locked. They kept their garden spade behind the open outer door. Young Janet was a gardener so, having set the fire for her mother – it was a chilly December with an average minimum temperature of minus one degree Celsius – she set off down the steep “brae” opposite their door and across the wee bridge over the burn to turn right on the “Cramond Brig Road”. She carried on in the gloom; the waning moon that morning showed only 10% of its sun-reflecting surface, till she got to Mr Vere Hope’s place at Craigie Hall, across the River Almond, where she worked in his garden.

Next door but one in Long Row lived another widow, Abigail Yates. About 10 o’clock Abigail popped in to see how Martha was faring. She found her knitting by the fire. While Abigail was there, the neighbour who lived between the other two, a third widow, Mrs Christian Grinton, came to visit Martha. (She reported that Martha was in “ordinary health”.) Abigail mentioned later that Christian had seen a man going about, seemingly begging, and Christian herself said she saw the man “coming towards her”. Others saw this mystery man in Long Row making his way from east to west. 

Willie Simpson, the weaver, who lived about third or fourth from the east end, said the man had come to his door asking for charity. Willie’s sister, Helen, was also at home at the time. Willie mentioned that he had met this man before: [see next instalment]. The wife of George Willis-the-nailer, Letitia, encountered the man when he came into her house seeking charity. Presumably having denied him this, she followed him to her door and saw him stop at Mrs Rutherford’s nearer to the west end of the Row. Letitia watched our man lift up a garden hoe three times and three times put it back down. Inside Mr and Mrs Abraham Rutherford’s house (Abraham was a mason), their 8 year old son James was preparing, just before 12 o’clock, to go to school in the building opposite Cramond Church. He said he heard “voices”. Meanwhile, our Letitia Willis watched the man enter Abigail Yates’ second-from-the-end house; but did not see him again.

Around noon that Friday, Long Row had a second visitor. In 1831 (and later, too) Fridays were “Fish Fridays”. Our new
visitor was Mary Fraser the fisher-woman. Mrs Christian Grinton said Mary had come to her door selling dried fish. Mary asked if Martha Geddes was at home. Mary went on there but came out again immediately. She had found the house doors open and discovered our Martha lying dead. The murder weapon had been that garden spade, kept behind the front door. 

Next time: I shall tell you about the murderer.

Cameron Black


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