Three months jail for black­mail plot

Stirling Observer - - FIRST WORLD WAR CENTENARY -

It was, said the Ob­server of 100 years ago, a case of an ex­tra­or­di­nary na­ture re­veal­ing a “sad depth of de­prav­ity” in a miner, mar­ried man and dis­charged sol­dier.

At its cen­tre was ex-mem­ber of the Royal Scots Fred­er­ick McDon­ald and a bizarre black­mail bid by an ap­par­ently sin­is­ter or­gan­i­sa­tion called ‘The Black Thir­teen’.

McDon­ald, of Lower Craigs, Stir­ling, ap­peared be­fore the town’s Sher­iff Court charged with steal­ing on Oc­to­ber 26, 1917, from the house at 9 Lower Craigs, ten­anted by Mrs Mar­garet Letham, a gramo­phone, 52 records, a man’’s jacket and over­coat, bed­ding and other items.

He was also al­leged on Oc­to­ber 17, 1917, on road lead­ing to Tay­lor­ton Farm, oc­cu­pied Robert Cun­ning­ham, to have handed to Mr Cun­ning­ham’s daugh­ter Bessie a letter signed by ‘The Back Thir­teen’ stat­ing they were short of money and de­mand­ing £15.

The letter con­tin­ued: “We are a rough gang and un­less we get the money we have made up our minds to deal with your three daugh­ters (who) cy­cle daily to school.

“We have kept a close watch on your farm for weeks and will have a spe­cial watch tonight. It will be an easy mat­ter deal­ing with three chil­dren so if you have any love for them you know what to do.”

The Black Thir­teen boasted in the letter they had de­ceived the po­lice for nine months and the letter added: “If you dare give us away we can as­sure you it won’t be good for you or your fam­ily. The one who delvers this note will be the first to be kid­napped.”

Cash was to be handed over at the “dou­ble hedges” and Mr Cun­ning­ham was told not to come along with back-up as the The Black Thir­teen mem­ber pick­ing up the pay­ment would be “well armed with a six cham­ber”.

How­ever, the bizarre plot came to noth­ing and McDon­ald was snared when he was iden­ti­fied by wit­nesses at the County Build­ings where he was be­ing held after be­ing ar­rested in con­nec­tion with the break-in at Mrs Letham’s home.

The court was told that 21-yearold McDon­ald, who ad­mit­ted the of­fences, served with the Royal Scots for two years and was in France for 21 months.

He was wounded dur­ing the Bat­tle of Somme and re­turned to Bri­tain in Au­gust 1916 be­fore trans­fer to the Army Re­serve. His con­duct in the Army was good and he was a first of­fender.

McDon­ald said he had been in the habit of cy­cling near to the Cun­ning­ham’s farm on his way to the pits and he dis­missed the black­mail bid as a “bit of a lark”.

He got the idea from a film he had seen at the pic­tures and ap­proached Bessie with the letter after mak­ing a mask from the lin­ing of his cap.

Fis­cal Mr Waugh ac­cepted the letter was “fool­ish” but thought it also alarm­ing as Mr Cun­ning­ham’s three daugh­ters cy­cled to and from Stir­ling ev­ery day.

McDon­ald’s lawyer, Mr TJY Brown said McDon­ald was “more like a sim­ple young fel­low than a wicked one.

“His wound broke out on cer­tain oc­ca­sions, leav­ing him un­fit for work and when the theft by house break­ing oc­curred, he and his wife were starv­ing,” added the lawyer.

Sher­iff Sub­sti­tute Dean Les­lie could “scarcely be­lieve” McDon­ald imag­ined he could get money from the scheme. He was sen­tenced to three months’ jail.

* Thanks to Stir­ling Coun­cil ar­chiv­ist Pam McNi­col who dis­cov­ered that the film ‘The Black Thir­teen’ showed at the Olympia Pic­ture Palace, Stir­ling, in 1915.

How the Ob­server re­ported the out­come of the court case 100 years ago (above) and be­low, film list­ings at the Olympia fea­tur­ing Black Thir­teen

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