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Ghosts and Gallows
True Stories of Crime & The Paranormal
By Paul Adams
The History PressCopyright © 2012 Paul Adams
All rights reserved.
THE HILL OF CHRISTIE SPECTRE
SERGEANT DAVIES, 1754
Early one morning at the beginning of June 1750, a young shepherd, Alexander MacPherson, left his master's sheiling hut at Glen Clunie, a remote spot in the Cairngorm Mountains over forty miles north-east of Dundee, and set out across the lonely but familiar hillside in the general direction of Dubrach. The landscape was wild and uninhabited but MacPherson made his way with practiced ease around the treacherous mountain bogs and windswept rocks. As he approached an expanse of moorland tract known locally as the Hill of Christie, the Highlander slowed his pace and quickly took stock of the locality before moving forward again, this time seeking out a particular spot amongst the peat moss.
After a short time of searching, MacPherson located a steep bank and began pulling with his staff at a bundle clearly visible under an overhang. Part of the object quickly revealed itself to be a human head, practically decayed down to a skull, but with lengths of mouse-coloured hair still attached and tied back with a faded black ribbon; the rest of the corpse, still wearing a pair of brown brogues and partly covered by strips of faded and weather-beaten material, had also been reduced to a skeleton, which the shepherd now drew out from under the sphagnum. Unsettling as this discovery no doubt was, MacPherson was prepared for it, as he later testified that he had been given specific instructions on where to find the body of this unfortunate person who had been missing, presumed dead, for nearly nine months. The young shepherd had, so he later declared, been given his information by the ghost of the very man whose ravaged remains now lay scattered at his feet. It was a supernatural encounter that was ultimately to make its way without precedent four years later to the High Court of Justiciary at Edinburgh.
MacPherson's grim discovery on the lonely Highland moor was played out in the immediate aftermath of the 'Forty-Five', the last great Jacobite uprising which saw the Young Pretender, Charles Edward Stuart, attempt to reclaim the British throne for the House of Stuart, then in exile in France. On 16 April 1745, a weary Jacobite army, already in retreat, was routed by William, Duke of Cumberland at Culloden. Over 1,500 of Stuart's men were killed and in the weeks that followed, amid Cumberland's brutal repercussions as defeated Jacobites were hunted down and brought to trial, the Bonnie Prince became a fugitive before finally escaping on a French frigate to the Continent.
The Hanoverian government was quick to put in place measures to quell any future revolt and to stamp out the last embers of the rebellion as those of Stuart's fighters who had escaped imprisonment or execution melted back into the Highlands. Parliament passed the Heritable Jurisdictions Act of 1746 that stripped the Scottish lords of much of their power, while the Proscription Act of the same year was a powerful measure to destroy the clan system by outlawing traditional Highland dress – anyone caught wearing tartan faced a prison sentence of up to six months and transportation for a second offence. Garrisons were established in districts where Stuart sympathisers were suspected of remaining active and these supplied troops to smaller outposts in rural locations who carried out regular patrols, constantly on the lookout for signs of underground rebellion or resistance to the new laws.
One such station was located at Dubrach, a small upland farmstead in the clachen of Inverey in Braemar (the last place in eastern Scotland where Gaelic was still spoken in the 1930s) and two miles from where Alexander MacPherson lodged with his employers, the MacHardie family. In June 1749, a picket of eight footsoldiers from Lieutenant-General Guise's regiment stationed at Aberdeen took up a billet at this lonely post, while a second detachment from the same company occupied a similar position at the Spittal of Glen Shee, around eight miles away. Patrols from both stations kept the immediate countryside under close observation and met regularly twice a week at a location equidistant from their respective headquarters to exchange information. An un-named corporal officiated at Glen Shee while at Dubrach, Guise's men were under the command of Sergeant Arthur Davies, a newly married man whose wife was the widow of the former paymaster of the regiment.
Davies was to spend little short of four months at his billet but during this time, despite being an obvious hate figure for the Highlanders around him, managed to garner a certain amount of respect from the locals through a tactful and somewhat moderate approach in enforcing the laws of the land. Writing about the case for his Twelve Scots Trials (1913), William Roughead describes Davies as a likeable man 'of a genial disposition, a keen and indefatigable sportsman, fearless, thrifty, and particular in his dress.' Despite these welcome characteristics, they were ultimately to prove disastrous. Additionally, the Englishman's individual approach to policing the district, namely going out alone in advance of his men on both the outward and return leg of patrols to shoot game, and his habit of carrying two purses, one of green silk holding fifteen and a half guineas in gold and a second of leather containing an unspecified amount of silver 'for current expenses', became well known and were factors that lead to tragedy.
On 28 September 1749, Sergeant Davies rose early and made ready to carry out a routine midweek patrol of the district. As was the norm, the Dubrach soldiers were to meet up with their counterparts from Glen Shee and Davies set out in advance of his regular company of men dressed in his usual blue surtout coat, striped silk vest, breeches and brown stockings, and carrying his money purses and a long-barrelled musket, which had been given to him as a gift by a fellow officer. An hour after sunrise the sergeant reached Glen Clunie, where he had cause to stop and briefly detain John Growar, a kilted Highlander who, despite over three years of Proscription, was wearing a tartan coat. Luckily for Growar, he was sent on his way with a reprimand rather than being handed over to Davies' company of footsoldiers, four of whom were following at a distance. The sergeant's leniency was most likely due to his desire to spend the day 'pursuing his sport' rather than escorting a prisoner to the stockade, and, after dismissing the Scotsman, he continued on his way; the Dubrach soldiers glimpsed him briefly on the skyline as they made their way to the rendezvous, and at one point heard him fire a shot.
Later that afternoon, the Glen Shee company, having met up with the Dubrach soldiers, were returning to their billet when they came across Arthur Davies at a hollow known as the Water of Benow. The sergeant informed them that he intended to walk up onto the Hill of Christie to try and bring home a deer for his evening meal, and, despite the Glen Shee corporal's reservations on him venturing out alone at such a distance from the station, Arthur Davies, confident of being able to protect himself, parted company with the patrol and the group of soldiers turned for home. They were the last of Guise's regiment to see him alive.
The following morning it quickly became clear that Sergeant Davies had not returned from his hunting expedition and was in fact missing. The soldiers from Dubrach set out to retrace the route he had taken the previous day but despite a combined search, neither they nor the Glen Shee company could find any trace or indication of what might have taken place. On the following afternoon, a Saturday, a runner was sent to Braemar Castle and a search party mustered, which marched to Dubrach the same day. For the next four days the entire district was scoured, with the local populace being coerced into assisting with the search. However, a week to the day that the Englishman had gone missing, and with no trace as to his whereabouts, the manhunt was abandoned and the search party returned to Braemar.
Despite the rumour spread by the local Highlanders around Inverey that Sergeant Davies had simply deserted, his wife was convinced from the outset that he had been robbed and left for dead somewhere out on the wild and lonely hillsides. As well as the money purses he was known to habitually carry, Davies wore two gold rings, a silver fob watch and had a dozen silver buttons on his waistcoat, which would, she insisted, have been temptation enough for someone to waylay him on his return home to the station. His position in the army was a solid one and his fellow officers conceded that his future career within the service was assured – it was widely accepted that he would receive a promotion to Sergeant-Major at the first vacancy and, as a person, Davies was well-liked and respected throughout the entire company. This, together with the security of his marriage and the great affections of his wife soon convinced the regiment, and the district as a whole, that Sergeant Davies had in fact met a murderer – or murderers – out on the wild expanse of the Hill of Christie, although it was to be over nine months before both the regiment and his wife were to learn with certainty that she had indeed become a widow for a second time.
One night in the early summer of the following year, Alexander MacPherson awoke in his shepherding hut at Glen Clunie to find the figure of a man standing at the foot of his bed. The person, dressed in a blue coat, was solid and lifelike, and the young Highlander automatically assumed it was a brother of Donald Farquharson, his employer, who was sending word for him to attend to some matter on the farm. The figure moved silently out of the door of the hut and MacPherson rose and followed. Outside, the figure made its supernatural nature clear by announcing that he was in fact Sergeant Davies, late of Lieutenant-General Guise's regiment, and confirmed the now commonly held belief that he had been murdered the previous year. The apparition spoke in Gaelic, the only language that the Highlander was familiar with, and directed him to go to a particular spot on the Hill of Christie, where he would find the soldier's body, with the additional request that MacPherson arrange with Donald Farquharson a decent burial. The young shepherd had the courage to reply to the ghost and asked who had carried out the murder, but the figure was either unresponsive or unable to do so and immediately faded away.
Alexander MacPherson returned to his bed, telling no one of his experience. The following day he did visit the Hill of Christie, as instructed, where he recovered the sergeant's skeletal remains, which lay within a few yards of where the apparition said he would find them, and at a spot not far from where Davies had stopped and reprimanded John Growar for his tartan coat on the day of his murder. Despite this evidential outcome to his extraordinary experience, MacPherson in fact did nothing else, returning instead to Dubrach, where he kept his encounter with the spectre to himself.
A full week later, at the same time and place, the ghost of the murdered soldier appeared to the shepherd again. This time the apparition was naked but its message was the same, that MacPherson return to the lonely hillside and bury the Englishman's body. MacPherson repeated the question as to the identity of the killer and on this occasion the apparition complied, naming two local men, Duncan Clerk and Alexander MacDonald, both of dubious character, as his slayers. Having spoken, the figure of Sergeant Davies vanished and was seen no more.
Following this second visitation MacPherson spoke with two local men about his strange experience and the subsequent discovery of the bones of the murdered soldier. Both these Highlanders, the aforementioned John Growar and another, John Shaw, were unwilling to become involved and advised the shepherd to either do nothing or, if he felt inclined to carry out the apparition's bidding, to undertake the burial in secret. Fearing reprisals should it become common knowledge that the killing had been carried out by local men, on no account should he allow the military authorities to discover either the whereabouts of the body or the identity of the killers.
Taking their advice, MacPherson sent word to Donald Farquharson and the two men met. The elder Scotsman at first dismissed the Highlander's story as fantasy, but, on being told that the bones had been discovered exactly as the apparition had directed, reluctantly agreed to accompany the shepherd out to the Hill of Christie to view the remains. The two men made the trip onto the desolate hillside where the bones lay just as MacPherson had described them, now scattered about over the peat moss by the wind but still discernable as parts of a human skeleton, complete with the tattered remnants of the sergeant's blue overcoat and striped vest, and a pair of waterlogged leather brogues from which the silver buckles had been cut. Feeling it unwise to remove the remains to the local kirk for fear of discovery, and in the absence of any direct instructions from the apparition itself as to where its mortal remains should be interred, both men agreed to bury the body at the location where the killers had concealed it. A shallow grave was dug with a spade that MacPherson had brought for the purpose and the bones of the unquiet soldier were finally laid to rest without ceremony.
Despite the Highlanders' common reticence about disclosing both the location of Sergeant Davies' remains and the alleged identity of his killers, at some point after this clandestine burial, word that the Englishman's body had indeed been found on the Hill of Christie became common knowledge in the locality, most likely through the indiscretion of John Growar, with the result that over a period of time a body of evidence, albeit circumstantial, began to grow in support of the spirit's claim that both Duncan Clerk and Alexander MacDonald were involved in the murder. The locals also became aware that the two men had been named as the killers by the ghost of the murdered man.
Not long after, a local girl, Isobel Ego, who had been sent to fetch horses from the hillside, returned to Dubrach carrying a silver-laced hat. Her mother, convinced it belonged to the murdered Englishman and might summon both the garrison soldiers and the unquiet spirit of its owner in equal measure, took the hat and hid it under a stone by the side of a nearby burn. The hat was subsequently found by local children who took it to the village, where several people either saw it or temporarily had it in their possession. They included Donald Downie, a miller at Inverey, and James Small, who was employed as a managing agent on the Strowan estate, and it was he who passed it to John Cook, the barrack-master at Braemar Castle, who recognised its significance and held the item in safekeeping. John Growar evidently told about his conversation with Alexander MacPherson, as the dead sergeant's rifle was also subsequently recovered by a relative from the hillside.
John Cook at the Braemar garrison may well have been the person who finally began investigations into the rumours concerning Clerk and MacDonald, but four years were to elapse before the suspects were arrested and formally charged with the murder of Sergeant Davies. During the winter of 1753, James Small, the factor of Strowan, carried out enquiries in the district for the Sheriff-Substitute and was able to amass a collection of interesting evidence. Since the Englishman's death, Duncan Clerk, a reputed sheep-stealer who also went by the name of Duncan Terig, had married local girl Elizabeth Downie, whose gold wedding ring with a heart-shaped design was remarkably similar to one that had been on the hand of the murdered soldier, although Elizabeth was adamant that the ring had been given to her by her mother. Clerk had also become the employer of Alexander MacPherson. He apparently gave the shepherd a promissory note for £20 as an incentive to keep whatever he knew of the murder to himself, but Clerk later refused to honour it.
As a prelude to James Small's investigations, Clerk and MacDonald had been arrested in the September of 1753 and, charged with the murder of Arthur Davies, were being held at Braemar Castle (now itself a reputedly haunted building where, amongst other eerie happenings, the cries of a ghostly baby have been heard and the apparition of John Farquharson, the Black Colonel of Inverey, has been reported over the years). Towards the end of January, the prisoners were examined by the Lords Commissioners of Justiciary and the trial began in Edinburgh on Monday, 10 June 1754. A jury of Edinburgh tradesmen was sworn in and the presiding judge was Lord Justice-Clerk Alva assisted by Lords Drummore, Strichen, Elchies and Kilkerran. A panel comprising the Lord Advocate, William Grant, together with 'His Majesties Solicitors' Patrick Haldane and Alexander Home conducted the prosecution, while the two Scotsmen were defended by Alexander Lockhart and Robert Macintosh.
Excerpted from Ghosts and Gallows by Paul Adams. Copyright © 2012 Paul Adams. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
1. The Hill of Christie Spectre Sergeant Davies, 1754,
2. The Red Barn Murder William Corder and Maria Marten, 1828,
3. Autumn of Terror Robert Lees and Jack the Ripper, 1888,
4. The Welcomes Murder Ernest Dyer, 1922,
5. The Enigma Netta Fornario, 1929,
6. An English Ghost Hunter Abroad Harry Price and Ludwig Dahl, 1934,
7. The Death of Innocence Frederick Nodder and Mona Tinsley, 1937,
8. The Whispering Woman Doris Harrison, 1957,
9. The Power of the Psychic Detective Gerard Croiset, 1960s,
10. Ghost of the Frozen Girl Anne Noblett, 1974,
11. The Psychic Search for the Yorkshire Ripper 1979-1980,
12. Viewing a Killer Suzanne Padfield and Inessa Tchurina, 1980,
13. The Voice from the Grave Christine Holohan and Jacqueline Poole, 1983,
14. Fall of the House of Death Brady and Hindley, 1985,
15. The Evil Within Muhammad Bashir, 1991,
16. The Haunting Murderers 1910-Present,
Bibliography and Further Reading,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Interesting at times but a little slow at others. Sentences can be very run on and the point lost at times. All in all, a good read for someone interested in how the supernatural plays in crime situations.