The Courier & Advertiser (Perth and Perthshire Edition)
Perthshire axe murderer’s identity still a mystery
Janet Rogers was discovered lying in a pool of blood after being struck multiple times by an axe in the kitchen of a Perthshire farmhouse.
Blood spattered the walls and furniture at Mount Stewart Farm near Forgandenny in March 1866.
Janet, who was a married mother of five, travelled to the farm of her brother, William Henderson, to help with chores while he looked for a new domestic servant.
Three days later she was dead. Henderson’s ploughman James Crichton was suspected of the murder but the evidence was only circumstantial.
The trial jury in Perth took just 12 minutes to return a verdict of “not proven”.
The investigation into Janet’s death went cold and it remains one of the UK’s oldest unsolved murders.
Criminologist and former police officer Dr William Graham has looked back over the case and believes something “doesn’t add up”.
Henderson had breakfast with his sister and left home with a horse and cart at 10.30am to go to market seven miles away in Perth.
On his return, between six and seven in the evening, he was surprised to find the house locked up.
When he eventually gained access he found Janet lying dead in a pool of blood. The Courier said a scene of a horrifying description was presented which bore “unmistakable signs of a desperate struggle having taken place”.
“The murdered woman was lying on her back in a literal pool of blood, with her arms outstretched and her hands covered with gore; the floor was covered with bloody foot marks; the furniture lay about in indescribable confusion; and the walls near the part of the room where the foul deed had evidently been committed were as thickly spotted with blood as though they had been sprinkled with a brush.
“The woman’s head lay within a few feet of the door and her feet at the fire place. The bed clothes had been pulled out of the bed and thrown above her after the murder, as, with the exception of the sheet next to her body, all the other clothes were free from any stains of blood.
“There is nothing whatever to favour the supposition that the deed had been committed in the bed, as not a single spot of blood was to be found about it; while, on the contrary, from the condition of the room, there is every reason to suppose that the woman had been brutally butchered while fulfilling her domestic duties.
“The murder had evidently been committed five or six hours previous to the arrival of the police for the body was found by them to be quite warm, though the extremities were cold.
“No scratch or injury of any part was found upon the body; but the back part of the head, which was covered with two woollen caps, was dreadfully smashed, and a large irregular hole of considerable depth was found beneath the right ear.
“The injuries had evidently been inflicted with the kitchen axe, which was found lying unconcealed near the body covered with gore, and portions of hair were sticking to it.
“Whether the helpless woman had been struck down with the axe it is impossible to say, but there is little doubt, from the examination that was made, that after the woman had fallen or been knocked down, her murderer had struck her on the head with it two or three times – dealing one blow behind the right ear and one or more on the middle of the back part of the head.
“The house was searched with the view of obtaining a clue to the murderer, but, we understand, without much success.
“That the woman had been murdered by robbers with the view of their more effectually plundering the house did not appear to be the case, as, with the exception of the furniture in the kitchen, everything remained undisturbed and no article seemed to have been taken away.”
Henderson later said the farmhouse was found to be “wholly ransacked” and the contents of a pocket-book and a £1 note which were in the closet were missing.
The police investigation that ensued lasted a year, until just before Christmas 1866 they found a reason to arrest Crichton.
Henderson had fired a servant, Christina Miller, just before the murder and she had gone to stay with Crichton and his wife.
In a police interview, Miller said that two days after the killing she overheard Crichton confess. He was arrested and charged with murder but
freed after the not proven trial verdict.
“I was not in the farmhouse of Mount Stewart on said Friday and did not see Mrs Rogers there, or inflict any injury upon her,” he said. “Neither did I take any money or article from said house.”
Henderson died in Murray Royal Asylum in Scone in 1890 after his mental health deteriorated.
Crichton relocated to Dunfermline with his family and continued to work as a labourer until he died of gangrene in 1894 at Milton, Markinch.
In taking a fresh look at the case Dr Graham, pictured, senior lecturer in criminology at Abertay University, brings the experience of 30 years’ service with the former Strathclyde Police.
He said: “A few things jumped out when I looked at the evidence in reports from the crime scene.
“Henderson said he came home to find all the doors locked and the windows shuttered and got in through an upstairs window to find his sister lying on the kitchen floor.
“Burglars and murderers don’t tend to be so careful – first of all, if it was a random burglar who came across the lady and killed her, would he be likely to start covering her up with a blanket and then lock all the doors and windows before leaving?
“How did he get out if everything was locked up? That doesn’t tend to add up in my mind. There are very few random killings by strangers.”
Dr Graham said it did not look like a robbery because police initially found nothing was taken and that the house had not been disturbed although Henderson later claimed the place was “ransacked”.
He said Henderson’s “conflicting stories” and movements on the day would have raised a red flag to police nowadays.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that he killed Mrs Rogers,” he said.
Dr Graham said Crichton being blamed for the murder “seems a bit too easy”, adding: “It seems a motiveless crime. Could there have been an argument between brother and sister at the breakfast table? We can only speculate and will probably never get an answer.”
“A few things jumped out when I looked at the evidence