Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Thomas Jackson or Johnston - A Theft at Braemar Followed by Escape From Forfar

According to The Weekly News of Saturday November 21st 1885, Thomas Jackson (alias Johnston) was a joiner by trade who came originally from Cambridge. As the newspaper report of his arrest reveals, his crime of choice was breaking into hunting lodges, 

"The Aberdeenshire Police have just apprehended a man on a charge of breaking into a shooting lodge at Glenclunie, Braemar. It appears that he had obtained permission from the housekeeper at the lodge to put up for the night in an outhouse adjoining the lodge, and during the evening the housekeeper left the premises temporarily. On her return she found the lodge lighted up, and on proceeding to ascertain the cause of its being so the man rushed past her. Information was given to the constable at Braemar who soon apprehended a man in a barn at Auchallater, whom the housekeeper identified as her lodger. In his possession were found a large quantity of miscellaneous household furnishings, such as blankets, bed curtains etc." 

Further enquiries alerted the attention of the police at Forfar who recognised the description of the items as matching those stolen from a shooting lodge at Mount Blair, in the area north of Blairgowrie, but south of the Spittal of Glenshee. 

Thomas Jackson's story would be a fairly unremarkable one of rural petty theft were it not for what subsequently happened when he was transferred to the prison at Forfar. The Aberdeen Evening Express of Wednesday December 16th takes up the story under the headline "Escape of a Prisoner From Forfar Prison" which reveals some of Jackson's cunning as well as the pressures on the prison system at the time,

"Thomas Jackson, an Englishman sentenced last week by Sheriff Robertson to six months' imprisonment for breaking into Mount Blair shooting lodge in the parish of Alyth, escaped from prison yesterday morning. Forfar prison is a short sentence prison, 14 days; but during the last week or two, prisoners sentenced to longer terms have been kept a portion of their time in Forfar and then transferred to Perth. Jackson had not been removed. There was only one man in charge of the prison, Inspector Morris of the county constabulary, and he had had his prisoners up at work as usual at six o'clock, and between seven and eight o'clock made them one by one clean out their cells. As each prisoner was disposed of he locked the cell door; but it would seem that in the case of Jackson a quantity of hemp had prevented the door locking, and while the keeper was attending to some other duty Jackson got out, and the other doors being also open, he escaped. The inspector a few minutes later missed his man by seeing his cell door open and his shoes lying in his cell. At that time a milk boy called, and in answer to the inspector said he saw a man in moleskins running along the Prison Road. Assistance was got and a chase instituted, the prisoner having about 15 minutes' start. He left the highway and cut through the Market Muir, and casting off his prison jacket called at a house in the suburb called Zoar and asked for a coat. This he did not get, and he then proceeded along the Brechin Road. His footmarks were traced to a wood at Carsegray, fully a mile from Forfar. By midday a regular search party went out, but up till evening Jackson had not been found. He is a man of spare build and about twenty-six years of age".

The following day, December 17th 1885, a report in The Daily Free Press describes Jackson's fate, 

"The prisoner, Thomas Jackson, who escaped from Forfar prison on Tuesday, was caught late at night at the Bridge of Finhaven. He had concealed himself in a wood all day, and had also got a coat and a pair of boots. His intention was to get over the hills to Aberdeenshire".

Given that it was the middle of December, Thomas Jackson's return to a prison cell was perhaps marginally the warmer option than tramping over the Angus hills. 

Thursday, June 2, 2022

James Crabtree or Wilson - A Violent Bigamist

 This is the first time in the blog that I have been able to feature the criminal and the victim in the same photograph. James Crabtree (otherwise known as James Wilson) was a house painter by profession. He married Charlotte Ashton Findlay, a domestic servant, at St. Andrew's Episcopal church on King Street in Aberdeen on 27th June 1895, with the couple subsequently living at 77 Loch Street. The picture above may well have been taken on their wedding day when they surely would both have been looking forward to many years together. However, James had a secret: he was already married.

Under the headline of "Bigamy in Aberdeen" The Aberdeen Journal of the 28th July 1896 provides more details about the case,

"James Crabtree, alias James Wilson, was charged with having, on the 27th June...then being the lawful husband of Julia Hirst or Crabtree, 16 Lapage Street, Bradford, bigamously married Charlotte Ashton Findlay, domestic servant, 77 Loch Street, and cohabited with her as her husband. Accused pleaded guilty. Mr. W.M. Sellar, solicitor, in his behalf stated that Crabtree had left his first wife after living with her for two years, and that, having been unable to pay the aliment, for which decree had been given against him in an action for separation, he had come north where he had met the second woman, whom he had married while on the spree and in a state of intoxication. The Procurator Fiscal stated that the girl Findlay whom the accused [had] married was a respectable domestic servant, and that Crabtree, by false statements, had induced her to leave her employment. He was perfectly sober when married. Both wives gave him a bad character. Accused was sent six months to prison".

I am sure the fact that Crabtree was intoxicated when he proposed to Charlotte Findlay but "perfectly sober" when they married would have been little consolation to her.

A subsequent report in The Aberdeen Journal of the 13th January 1898 sheds more light on quite what a nasty piece of work James Crabtree was, 

"In the London Divorce Division yesterday, before the president, Sir Francis Jeune, a case was heard in which Mrs Julia Crabtree, of Drass Street, Bradford, petitioned for a divorce from her husband, Mr James Crabtree, printer, on the grounds of his cruelty, desertion, misconduct, and bigamous marriage with Charlotte Ashton Finlay, a seamstress, of Aberdeen. The suit was undefended...The petitioner gave evidence that she was married to the respondent on the 5th January 1889 at Bradford. Her husband threatened to shoot her, and had also threatened her with a knife. In 1893 he tried to strangle her, and she summoned him before the magistrate. He was convicted. The next she heard of him was that he had gone through a form of marriage at Aberdeen. Charlotte Ashton Finlay, a seamstress of Aberdeen, said that the respondent made her acquaintance through living in the same flat, and in 1895 he was married to her in the name of James Wilson. They had lived together in Aberdeen. A brother of the petitioner, Albert Hirst, said he had identified the respondent who was undergoing nine months' imprisonment in Northallerton Gaol".  

A dissolution of the marriage was granted.

Monday, April 18, 2022

John Fowler Smith - A Buckie Loon Does Porridge at Perth and Peterhead

John Fowler Smith was a light-fingered farm servant who first appeared in court in August 1904 charged with a number of thefts. The Aberdeen Daily Journal reported the case in its edition of the 18th August as follows, 

"John Fowler Smith, a farm servant with no fixed place of residence, was examined in chambers in Aberdeen yesterday before Hon. Sheriff-Substitute James Murray of North Inveramsay, in connection with a series of charges. Smith is alleged to have stolen 30s. from the dwelling house on the croft at Hill of Bandode, Midmar, on 1st of September last; a quantity of clothing from a shed at Whinnypark Cottage, Birse, on the 8th or 9th inst., and a jacket from a shed at Marywell Cottage, Birse, and a quantity of clothing from the bleaching green adjoining. The offences were denied and Smith was remitted for further examination".

Frustratingly, the results of this "further examination" do not appear to have been reported in the press. However, on searching the Perth Prison Registers (which have recently been made available through Scotland's People) we find that John Fowler Smith was admitted as a prisoner there nearly two years later, on the 9th May 1906 following a trial for theft by house breaking at Kinross. For this crime he was given a 12 month sentence. He was 25 years of age, with his birthplace listed as Buckie. His height was 5 feet 7 inches, his occupation given as a "labourer" and was in good health with 20 previous convictions.

Although liberated from Perth on the 21st May 1907, Smith found himself back inside the same prison later that year, being incarcerated on the 28th December 1907. On this occasion he had been sentenced to 18 months at Forfar Sherriff Court for theft by housebreaking. The Perth Prison Register further reveals that he was liberated to Bridge of Allan on the 26th June 1909.

Detail from the Perth Prison Register showing the entry for John Fowler Smith, incarcerated on 28th December 1907
(National Records of Scotland: HH21/47/13)

Once again, Smith remained at liberty for only a short spell of time receiving a sentence of five year's penal servitude in September 1909 for a series of thefts from farms in Fife and Perthshire. On this occasion it appears that he served the majority of his sentence at Peterhead prison where he appears as an inmate on the 1911 census.

Detail from the 1911 census return for Peterhead showing John Fowler Smith as an inmate at the prison 

Although the census records that he was single in 1911, it is apparent from his death certificate dated May 24th 1933 that John married a Helen Ann Sievewright at some point after his release from Peterhead and that their address was 610 Holburn Street, Aberdeen. The certificate further reveals that he was an engineman on a trawler at the time of his death and that he died as a result of acute pneumonia. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Grace McIntosh - The Life of a Victorian Criminal

Since Grace McIntosh first appeared in the Criminal Portraits blog, many more details about her life have been discovered which are now included in this expanded post. Grace's life-story was the subject of a recent talk at the Granite Noir crime writing festival by myself and Dr. Dee Hoole of the University of Aberdeen whose research into the Aberdeen Prison Registers and other original records has unearthed many of the additional facts. My thanks to Dee for helping tell this amazing story.

Friday, January 21, 2022

James William Lumsden - The Fraudster, a.k.a. "Wigs"


The album into which this image is pasted contains a note in pencil directly above the mugshot that reads,

"James William Lumsden "Wigs", oft.-convicted Aberdeen thief and fraudster. Obtained goods by writing fraudulent letters".

Every "good" criminal needs a nickname and "Wigs" is a particularly great one. How he came by this moniker becomes apparent when reading the report of his trial in the Aberdeen Daily Journal of the 11th October 1904, under the headline "The Extraordinary Frauds in Aberdeenshire", 

"Before Sheriff Robertson at Aberdeen yesterday, James William Lumsden, joiner, of no fixed residence, was charged with nine different acts of fraud committed in Aberdeen and in Peterhead, Fraserburgh, and other parts of the Buchan district. The frauds consisted in getting articles by means of false letters and of getting board and lodgings by plausible but untrue statements to landladies, whom he succeeded in duping. A number of previous convictions were recorded against Lumsden, who pleaded guilty".

"Mr. J.B. Rennett, advocate, who appeared on the accused's behalf, stated that there was one charge to which the accused did not plead guilty".

"The Fiscal (Mr. Thomas MacLennan) - That is the charge in regard to the wig; but the fact is that the man was wearing the wig when he was apprehended. (Laughter)."

"Mr Rennet - it is the charge in regard to obtaining clothes from Mr. Henry Gray. The Fiscal - I am prepared to accept that. The Sheriff - Eighteen months' hard labour".

The scanty personal details that the report provides about "Wigs" mean that it has been impossible to identify him with any certainty in the 1901 census. However, it is quite possible that he is the James Lumsden, a joiner, born "about 1855 in Tarves" living at 7 Lemon Street, Aberdeen, with a wife and three children.


Monday, December 20, 2021

Ephraim Jacob Feldman - "The Silk-Hatted Prisoner"


The picture of Ephraim Jacob Feldman is no mugshot, but rather a posed, formal portrait. It shows Ephraim as a dapper, well dressed young man, an impression which is born-out by the report of his trial which appears in The Daily Record and Mail of Saturday 15th April 1905 under the headline "Silk Hatted Prisoner - Young Man Who Traded in Golf Requisites":

"Ephraim Jacob Feldman, a young man of stylish appearance, amazed those who were witnesses of the proceedings yesterday in Glasgow Sheriff Court. When his name was announced he jauntily stepped into the dock, and while the indictment of fraud, with which he was charged, was being read out, he was seen calmly smoothing his silk hat, then adjusting his prince-nez, and generally tending to his dress, with the apparent object of emphasising the perfection of his sartorial outfit.

While Feldman seemed to have the knack of decking himself in the most up-to-date fashion, he was also possessed of the very questionable gift of defrauding unsuspecting shopkeepers...in Glasgow, Perth and Aberdeen. The goods obtained mainly consisted of golf requisites, and included the latest productions in balls, clubs and bags".

The newspaper report goes on to describe how Feldman offered to return the goods to the firms he defrauded, as well as repaying the majority of the outstanding £50 that he owed to other creditors. However, the Sheriff was not impressed and sentenced Ephraim to nine months' imprisonment. 

In the album containing Feldman's photograph, a note above the image states that his address was "18, Featherstone Buildings, London", which is located in Shoreditch, towards the East End. This part of London was well known for its large population of Jewish immigrants during the latter part of the nineteenth and into the twentieth century. His unusual name is further evidence that his ancestry derived from this community.  

A search of the 1891 census for Shoreditch reveals that Ephraim was one of seven children born to Simon and Frances Feldman. Frances was an East End girl, having been born in Whitechapel, but Simon, an auctioneer and boot manufacturer, had been born in Poland and had probably fled the persecution of Jewish people that swept across that part of Europe after 1880.

Granite Noir - 24th-27th February 2022

Aberdeen's annual festival of crime writing, Granite Noir, takes place next February. I'm delighted to have been asked to contribute again and will be giving a talk, alongside Dr. Dee Hoole of the University of Aberdeen, at the Cowdray Hall at Aberdeen Art Gallery. We will be focussing on the fascinating life story of Grace McIntosh who has previously featured in this blog. You can find the full programme for Granite Noir here....

Thomas Jackson or Johnston - A Theft at Braemar Followed by Escape From Forfar

According to The Weekly News  of Saturday November 21st 1885, Thomas Jackson (alias Johnston) was a joiner by trade who came originally from...