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Scottish Mysteries. / Writings · 6 May 2022

Scottish Mysteries. (Janet Rogers)

Janet Rogers.

The great-great-great-grandson of a woman who was killed 150 years ago has uncovered details of her unsolved murder.

Janet Rogers, who was 55, died at Mount Stewart Farm, near Perth, in 1866.

No-one was convicted of bludgeoning her to death with an axe and it remains one of the UK’s oldest unsolved murders.

The victim’s descendant Chris Paton has written a book on the case but after re-examining evidence from the time says it may never be solved.

Mr Paton began uncovering details of the gruesome murder while looking into his family history about 10 years ago and became determined to uncover the killer.

His interest was piqued when he discovered that there was no cause of death listed on his ancestor’s death certificate and decided to find out why.

Clubbed to death

In March 1866 Janet Rogers (nee Henderson) had travelled to her brother’s home at Mount Stewart Farm, a few miles south of Perth.

She was there to help William Henderson with household chores, while he looked for a new domestic servant.

Three days later Mr Henderson found his sister dead on the floor of the farmhouse kitchen.

Mr Paton, who works as a genealogist, soon learned that the police had put up a £100 reward to find the killer, a huge sum for the time.

He said: “In many ways it was an act of desperation because they had so few witnesses that were coming forward.

“It worked in the extent that it attracted a lot of publicity towards the case, but in many ways it also worked against the case, because a lot of untoward people were coming forward with all sorts of claims that had to be sifted through and rejected in the investigation.”

Not proven

The police eventually charged ploughman James Crichton with Mrs Roger’s murder.

But, at the end of the two day trial, the jury took just 12 minutes to return a not proven verdict.

Mr Paton said: “They had a lack of evidence, in the way that they would gather evidence today.

“There was no forensic evidence, there was no psychological profile, nor any of this.

“All they had to rely on was witness statements of people who had been in the area and they were few and far between, so it actually didn’t take long to get through the various witnesses.”

The investigation took the genealogist to Perth’s AK Bell Library.

Using their newspaper collection and the series of trial papers held at the National Archives of Scotland’s West Register House, Mr Paton said that what he discovered was a “sorry picture of an investigation that was simply incapable of bringing the perpetrator to justice”.

‘Second victim’

With no-one ever found guilty of the crime, the murder had a lasting legacy.

Medical records show that her brother William eventually went insane and was committed to what, in those days, was called the lunatic asylum.

Mr Paton said the papers showed Mr Henderson was convinced James Crichton had murdered his sister, but his inability to prove that consumed him.

He said: “In some ways he’s the second victim of the murder, although he died 20 years afterwards, obviously it played a major part in his own decline.”

But, after piecing together all available evidence, Mr Paton said he still could not say who the murderer was.

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