THE MYSTERIOUS MURDER IN MEIKLE EARNOCK – Discovery of blood-stained clothes July 1862.

On Thursday the 17th of July 1862 the quiet little hamlet of Meikle Earnock was thrown into a state of alarm and fear by the presence of a woman’s blood-stained clothes which were found in a field. Before I tell you of the circumstances surrounding the incident of the blood-stained clothes, I first have to tell you that as the story unfolds, the murder did not happen in Hamilton, but 17 miles away in Anderston in Glasgow, however, for a few days it was reported that the murder took place here! a correspondent from Hamilton whose name is lost in the mists of time recorded a very detailed account of the findings.

In 1862 the village of Meikle Earnock was a very quiet countryside hamlet and it was full of country folk who lived here and not much happened, so when this story made headline news, the little community of Meikle Earnock was in mass panic as they believed that they had a murderer amongst them.

The notes of the place and which circumstances in which the fragments of clothing were discovered were very detailed, however, trying to pinpoint the location of where they were found is proving difficult and I have narrowed it down to the land where the road splits from Low Waters and you can go right up on to Meikle Earnock Road or left to Strathaven Road.  

The old Meikle Earnock Road.
Location of Mrs Gibson’s Inn & the area where the blood-stained clothes were dumped.
The closest location to the Tommy Linn Burn – Now called the Cadzow Burn.

The reason for not pinpointing an exact location of the blood-stained clothing is due to two things, one is trying to find a map series that can show a clear layout for 1862 and the second reason is down to the construction of Eddlewood Colliery which ripped through much of this area. There are also a number of old by roads and old rights of way footpaths leading from Meikle Earnock to Strathaven Road and in 1862, they would have been commonly known as “The Eddlewood Road” and the “Strathaven Road”, these old roads & paths are now mostly overgrown and would be hard to find but back in the day, they would have been used by most of the residents and travelers not wanting to have to cut down through Hamilton to get to other towns & villages.

In 1862 the Eddlewood Road was parted from the one leading to Strathaven, the closest hamlet was Low Waters, and the two roads were separated by an angular termination of two hedges, which bound a field, on the east side of which ran to the Strathaven Road, and the west the Eddlewood Road, both diverged wider apart as they ascend.

The point referred to was in reality the apex of an irregular sided triangle, the base which was formed by a crossroad from the toll on Strathaven Road, which joined the Eddlewood one, where it turns more to the right and becomes shady with fine trees. A short distance onward there were two quarries just outside of Meikle Earnock. (Back in 1862 the writer describes Meikle Earnock as a small village of some antiquity).

The clothes were found in these fields and when gathered by the police, and one petticoat (Which had been taken home by a local woman) after it was found in her house in Meikle Earnock. It did not do to judge one hastily, but it is true referring to the much spoken of zeal and diligence of the local police in that era, that it was known to some locals on Thursday & Friday, that bloody clothes were lying in the quarry park and on the following days, it was well known, as on both of those days groups of children and grown-up people went and looked at the blood-stained clothes;  and one woman as was noticed, took away a flannel petticoat which the cattle had not damaged.

The blood had evidently exited the grazing cattle in the field, as they had tossed them wildly about. The gown appeared to have been trimmed with a fringe, as the curious boys when viewing the bloody fragments invariably raised up on sticks, the long fringe bordered skirt of a silk dress.

In the neighborhood at the burnside a penknife was also found wrapped up in a pocket handkerchief, which was believed to have been found by a boy who lived at Low Waters and it was rumored to have still been in his possession. Not far off from this spot a child’s frock and pair of stockings was also found, all of them apparently torn and tossed by the cattle in the field. The bloody clothes were known to have been lying in the field for four or five day’s before the police, notwithstanding their carful search, came to know of them, a fact which exited considerable surprise at the time in the neighbouring village, which is just two miles from Hamilton.

The woman who was rumored to be a Mrs McLachlan was seen on the Eddlewood Road with a bundle under her arm and went into the Inn kept by Mrs Elizabeth Gibson at the upper end of Low Waters and got a ‘dram’, but the people there could not say positively whether she had a bundle or not. After leaving the house, she appears to have chosen the Eddlewood Road on account of its rural sequestered appearance, and to have proceeded up it to the crossroad already spoken of whatever further.

It was a matter of conjecture among the villagers whether or not there has been design cunningly displayed, in order to mislead, by the handkerchief and pen knife, and the child’s frock and stockings, being found so near to the bloody clothes.

The quiet little hamlet of Meikle Earnock was thrown into a state of alarm and fear by the presence of the bloody clothes, which did take some time to effectually remove.

On the day in which the clothes were dumped Jessie McLachlan had come from Anderston over to Hamilton by train. It is unclear why she had chosen to visit our town to dump the blood-stained clothes, she perhaps knew someone who lived here. However, she left the train station at Hamilton central and walked up the Low Waters Road. During her journey she had in her possession a box which at different stages of her journey she had asked for the station masters at each end to send for a boy to carry the box.

When she reached Low Waters, she topped at the Inn for a ‘Dram’ and she paid a penny for it. Mrs Gibson who ran the Inn saw that she was tiered looking and poured her a half glass of whisky to try and perk her up. She was a stranger to Hamilton and when she reached the Inn the box in which she was carrying had been left behind somewhere and she how had the blood-stained clothes wrapped in a handkerchief.

After she had her drink, she headed in the direction of Meikle Earnock and before she left the Inn, she asked the daughter of Mrs Gibson who was called Elizabeth “Could you tell us a burn where to get a drink o water, for all the lang road that I have travelled I havena a burn or sheugh whaur a person micht wat their lips”.  

Elizabeth told her of a nearby burn near a gate and pointed her in the place that leads to the Tommy Linn Burn – ‘Today, we call this the Cadzow Burn’. Jessie McLachlan was last seen going up the road and passing the big oak tree going onto the direction of Meikle Earnock, the bundle of clothes still under her arm.

Little Elizabeth Gibson later that day was playing up the road at the Tommy Linn Park and she found some flannel clothing in the hedge. When she pulled them out, she found them to be blood stained and being frightened by what she found she ran away home.

The next day she told her friend who was called Marion Fairley about her discovery and the two kids walked back up to the Tommy Linn Park to have another look at the bloody clothes. The next time she went back, she took another friend who was called Janet Cameron and the police were at the hedge, the police Officers name who was first in attendance was called Daniel Stewart and he was the PC who had taken the clothes away from the scene. It was then found that on the opposite side of the Inn, a park which was known to the locals as Templeton Park, that more blood-stained clothes were found scattered.

This story made the national news across the country and pressure was on the Hamilton police to quickly track down the murderer. Attention was very quickly drawn to the woman who was called Jessie McLachlan and she was quickly apprehended and from the start, Mrs McLachlan denied that she had anything to do with the murder.

Jessie McPherson’s death certificate.

The Hamilton police worked fast and efficiently and full credit was given to them for the quick apprehension of Mrs McLachlan. However, this was a Glasgow murder and not one which happened here in our town. Superintendent Dewar of the Hamilton district police sent a telegram that same night to a Captain McCall of Glasgow to “hand over the case”. The woman who was murdered was called Jessie McPherson she was 38 years old, and it took place at 17 Sandford Place, just off Sauchiehall Road in the Anderston district of Glasgow.

A full investigation was carried out on this murder and it went to trial in September that year and it was found that Jessie McPherson sadly was the best friend of Mrs McLachlan. She was the servant for the owner of the house where she was murdered.  

She was brutally murdered with a meat cleaver at 17 Sandyford Place. She had stab wounds all over her body, including long, deep gashes across her forehead and the back of her head, which had cut through the bone.

There was blood all over the bedroom, lobby and kitchen, and some of the victim’s clothing and belongings (as well as some silverware from the house) had been stolen. But, strangely, the kitchen and bedroom floors had recently been washed, as had the face, chest and neck of the corpse.

The correction of entries for Jessie’s murder 1862.

With bloody footprints still visible, however, the murderer had done a pretty bad job of cleaning up the crime scene. The first suspect was James Fleming, the father of the owner of 17 Sandyford Place. Fleming was staying alone in the house at the time of the murder, and (given his previous history of getting a servant girl pregnant) it was thought that he may have murdered McPherson after she refused his amorous advances.

A pawnbroker, who had read the story in the newspaper, said he had received the missing silverware from a woman called Mary McDonald – a name sometimes used by Jessie McLachlan, a former servant at 17 Sandyford Place, and best friend of the victim. McLachlan was arrested and gave a statement to police, but they found that most of what she said was a lie. The discovery of blood-stained clothing in her house made the suspect seem even more guilty.

The Sandyford murder was the first Scottish police case in which forensic photography was used to help solve the crime. Police asked McLachlan to place her foot in a bucket of cows blood and then step on a plank of wood. They then matched this bloody footprint to a photograph of one at the murder scene.

Despite McLachlan maintaining her innocence, she was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death. Due to public outcry, this was reduced to life imprisonment. Many experts now think she was innocent, and her story of walking in on Mr Fleming while he was murdering McPherson might just have been true.

On further investigation of this story, I found that Mr Fleming was at first arrested for Jessie’s murder and was somehow let off. The police did say that if any new evidence had come to light that they would re-arrest him, so in my opinion, the Glasgow police did suspect him of the murder, but they found no evidence.

I also found that after Mr Fleming was released from police custody, he only hung around Glasgow for a few days! He boarded a 2 pm train down to Greenock accompanied by two relatives. He at once getting off the train continued down to Gourock where he boarded the steamer Vulcan and then crossed over to the Dunoon where he lived with his son. It is unknown where he lived after that, however by him fleeing the area, I ask, does that sound like an innocent man to you?

Story researched and written by Garry McCallum – Historic Hamilton.

Garry McCallum – Historic Hamilton. © 2021

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