10th October 1923

Scotland carries out its last female execution

Nobody ever proved that Susan Newell was a murderer, but the circumstantial evidence presented at her trial was sufficiently compelling to seal her fate. She was executed on 10 October 1923, becoming the last woman to be legally hanged in Scotland.

The crime of which she was convicted was the killing of 13-year-old John Johnston, whose body was discovered in a courtyard in the east end of Glasgow. He had been strangled.

Newell on the scene

Newell herself had been in the same courtyard just a few moments earlier, and had been witnessed entering with a heavy bundle trussed up on a cart which, when she reappeared, was gone. The assumption was that the bundle had been Johnston’s body.

She was arrested and, alongside her husband, stood trial at Glasgow High Court in September. Her husband proved that he had been at a funeral at the time of the murder, and the charge against him was quickly dropped. Susan Newell was not so lucky.

Among the witnesses called to give evidence against her was a lorry driver who had given Susan a lift to Glasgow, and her own daughter, who testified that her mother had wheeled Johnston’s body through the city in a pram.

Susan Newell’s daughter testifies

“Janet McLeod, aged eight, daughter of Mrs Newell by her first husband, said that on returning home from play she saw the dead body of the paper boy lying on the coach,” reported the Sheffield Daily Telegraph of 19 September 1923. “She knew he was dead because she went over and looked at him. Her mother tried to raise the floor with a poker so as to put the body in. Then her mother went to get a box but failed and on the following morning, awfully early, they set off for Glasgow. The body was put in a bundle which was placed on the go-cart, witness being given a seat on the top of the bundle.”

By the afternoon of the second day, Susan Newell’s trial was at an end.

Susan Newell convicted

“A great fight was put up by her counsel, Mr TA Gentles, KC, to save the woman’s life,” reported the Glasgow Herald of 20 September 1923. “He urged that she was insane at the time the crime was committed, or alternatively that the verdict should be culpable homicide; but by a majority the jury found her guilty of murder as libelled. Unanimously, however, they made a strong recommendation for mercy on behalf of the prisoner.”

Unfortunately for Newell, their pleas were not heeded, and she was sentenced to suffer the ultimate punishment, becoming not only the last woman to be executed in Scotland, but the first that had suffered such a fate in the previous 70 years.

Susan Newell’s execution

“There was no scene of any kind, and she walked firmly to the scaffold, and only when Ellis, the executioner, pulled the white cap over her head did anything of note occur,” reported the Dundee Evening Telegraph and Post of 10 October 1923. “She uttered the mild protest, ‘Do not put that thing on.’ Before those present realised what had happened, Ellis had pulled the lever… the final scene lasted but a few seconds.”



Other events that occured in October

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