Friday, July 16, 2021

John Ross - "This Drunken Freak"

According to the pencil note above John Ross's photograph, he came from Lossiemouth. Perhaps it was his new-found freedom or the excitement of the bright lights of Aberdeen, but he soon found himself in trouble after moving to the big city. The Aberdeen Daily Journal of Saturday 29th September 1906 reported his trial under the headline "Aberdeen Housebreaker Sent to Prison", 

Before Hon. Sheriff Substitute Henry Peterkin, at Aberdeen yesterday, John Ross, coppersmith, was charged with having broken into premises adjoining a bakehouse at 93 George Street with intent to steal. He pleaded guilty. Mr. George Mackenzie, solicitor, who appeared for the accused, stated that the prisoner was a coppersmith to trade and came to Aberdeen about four months ago. So far as he (Mr. Mackenzie) knew, there was nothing against the accused before and it was certainly very unfortunate that he should have been tempted to break into those premises with intent to steal. The explanation was that he was the worse for drink and could not understand how he had let himself commit this drunken freak. Nothing had been stolen. Mr. T. Maclennan, Procurator Fiscal Depute, stated that the accused was caught before he had time to take anything. The sentence was two month's imprisonment. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Arthur Ross - "The Accused's 'Speciality' Appeared to be the Theft of Horse-Hair"

A newspaper report from The Aberdeen Daily Journal of 31st August 1901 records that Arthur Ross had spent a combined total of eight of the last fourteen years in prison having been incarcerated on multiple occasions. However, he wasn't so much a hardened criminal as a minor nuisance. His very long list of petty crimes were as a result of trying to eek out an existence, but also having the unfortunate habit of getting caught in the process. He is variously described as a "vagrant" or as having "no fixed abode". The report from the Aberdeen Daily Journal describes the items that Ross was caught with on that occasion: 

"Arthur Ross, a vagrant, was yesterday morning convicted at Inverurie Police Court of having in his possession a bag containing 2lb of horse hair, 7 duck eggs, 2½lbs of hard [salted] fish, and 1½lbs of cheese, without being able to give a satisfactory account of how he obtained the goods. The accused pleaded guilty and Provost Jackson, in sentencing him to imprisonment for 60 days said he could not impose a smaller penalty looking to the accused's previous record and character. There had been twenty-one previous convictions, involving terms of imprisonment ranging from six days to fifteen months".  

Some six months earlier, on the  25th February 1901, The Aberdeen Daily Journal reported one of Arthur Ross's previous convictions which also featured the theft of horse-hair. The report again refers to Arthur as being of no fixed residence and that he was a "native of Ross-shire". It also states that he had "about 40 previous convictions recorded against him" an inflated figure from that recorded in The Aberdeen Daily Journal, quoted above. Arthur evidently caused much amusement in court by promising to reform his character. However, the sheriff remained straight-faced, dourly stating that,

"...during the past 24 years, the man had been many years in prison, and the stuff stolen did not amount to more than £ was not really worth the man's trouble".

A subsequent newspaper report some three years later, from The Aberdeen Daily Journal of 23rd November 1904, records more of Arthur's antics when he was again tried for stealing horse-hair from the farms of Haremoss, Monquhitter, Honeynook, also in Monquhitter, and the Mains of Tollo, Inverkeithny, Banffshire. At the trial the Sheriff said, 

"...the accused's "speciality" seemed to be the theft of horse-hair. Apparently his method was to go about the country in the darkness of the night, enter the stables and steal the hair, and when he had collected a sufficient quantity, sell it. He had been 26 times previously convicted, and a great proportion of the thefts were connected with horse hair. His lordship repeated the last sentence - eighteen months' imprisonment, with hard labour"

Frustratingly, but perhaps not surprisingly given his itinerant lifestyle, it has proved impossible to locate Arthur on any of the likely census returns. A tantalising note in pencil above his mugshot that reads, "Arthur Ross, horse-hair thief, many convictions, now insane, 1905" would tend to suggest that a life of vagrancy and the revolving door of prison, may well have take its toll on his mental health.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Albert Becker - Fingerprint Technology Comes to Aberdeen

Albert Becker was a professional swindler who was apprehended in Huntly in November of 1904 after conning a number of clergymen of the Episcopal Church  out of sums of money ranging from 2s 6d. to 10s 6d. Becker was evidently adept at spinning a hard luck story that induced listeners to put their hands in their pockets on the promise of being repaid by his well-to-do sister at a later date.

He was known by several aliases including, Albert Heintz, John Muller, John Kind, John Ernest Becker, Gustavus Schaffer and Albert Deckers and had a long list of similar crimes recorded against him at, among other places, Nottingham, Exeter, Northampton, Wrexham, West Sussex, Windsor and Durham. The Aberdeen Press and Journal of the 12th November 1904 notes that in 1903 he had received 12 months' imprisonment for the offence committed at Durham, 

" that he had just been liberated when he once more resumed his old tactics, his field of operations on this occasion being Scotland and his dupes chiefly clergymen...The man, who is said to be of German extraction, has been removed to Dundee to answer charges brought against him there, and from Dundee he will be sent onto Perth where he is also "wanted". Since the date of his apprehension fresh charges have been proffered against him in Aberdeen and it is not unlikely that others may yet be forthcoming".

The newspaper report goes on to say that,  

"The identification of the accused was effected through the system now practised of taking fingerprints, and this is the first occasion, it is believed, on which the system has been put in to practise successfully in Aberdeen. The prints of the fingertips taken on a sheet of paper were forwarded to Scotland Yard, and an answer was received by return giving the career of the man in custody. The man was also photographed, but the identification through the fingerprints was established without the aid of the photographs. Whether the man is a German or not, he has an intimate knowledge of Germans and Germany. The geography of the country is well known to him, and, it is said, he would keep a clergyman amused for nearly an hour with an account of his doings in the Fatherland". 

That fingerprint technology was used in this case is illustrative of how the science was being used and adopted by police forces across the United Kingdom: bear in mind that that the first conviction in this country to be based on this new branch of forensic science was just over two years earlier, in September 1902. 

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...