24 June 2015
Just over 100 years ago, retired spinster Jean Milne was found murdered in her Broughty Ferry Home. Recently, journalist Andrew Nicoll re-opened the files to re-examine the past, discovering more about the town and its police service a century ago. ...
Just over 100 years ago, retired spinster Jean Milne was found murdered in her Broughty Ferry Home. Recently, journalist Andrew Nicoll re-opened the files to re-examine the past, discovering more about the town and its police service a century ago.
Here, Andrew tells his story: I vividly remember the first time I heard the story of the Elmgrove murder. It was 1974 and I was 12 years old and poor Jean Milne seems to have haunted me ever since.
I come from a police family. My grandfather joined the City of Dundee Police soon after the Great War, my uncle followed him in and I would have been a policeman too if I'd enjoyed better eyesight. Nowadays, equality rules mean they pretty much let anybody in the force and I'm not entirely sure that a wooden leg would disbar you from service but, in the good old days, it was a job for men who stood six-foot on their stocking soles. And there was no room for snivelling weaklings with specs.
But in 1974 I had yet to discover how cruel life could be. I still had ambitions for a life as a crime fighter so, when Dundee City Police was wound up and amalgamated into the new Tayside Police, I devoured the fancy commemorative booklet that marked the event.
LIFE IN BROUGHTY FERRY
There's a section of it looking back on previous amalgamations for, just as Dundee was being swallowed up by Tayside, so it had swallowed other, smaller forces in the past - forces like Lochee and Broughty Ferry. And there was Jean Milne.
100 years have passed but folk in the Ferry are still pretty sore about the way Dundee annexed our proud little burgh. There was a church service to mark the centenary not too long ago. It wasn't well attended and the atmosphere was more one of reconciliation than celebration. But, in that pamphlet, Dundee Police held up the Elmgrove murder as a joint failure. There was no gloating that the men of Broughty Ferry Burgh had let the murderer escape. It was a sting of shame that both forces shared.
And there was almost no information. Only the bare facts.
In a way, I was glad of that. It left more room for wild imaginings and I did imagine.
I couldn't go past the gates of Elmgrove without looking up, through the dripping trees, to imagine what happened inside that big, dark house when my grandfathers were boys.
The house is a nursing home now. They changed the name, of course, but I felt sure something of the old horror must linger. What must the old folk think when they shuffled through the lobby where poor Jean lay with her head bashed in? I shuddered deliciously.
BRINGING THE CASE BACK TO LIFE
Then, a couple of years back, I stumbled on the police files, released at last after 99 years of gathering dust on a shelf. I hit 'download' and for an hour or two I neglected my work and read every single page.
I could hardly believe what I was reading. It was a dripping roast. So many astonishing facts. So many names I recognised, houses I knew, streets I walked along, such appalling police work, such bigotry, so many assumptions, a blind determination to find somebody to take the blame and a few courageous individuals who refused to go along with it.
Those pages were packed with stories. Some of the testimony was written in the crudest officialese but, now and again, the real words of real people broke through, jealous people, bitter people, broken hearted people, people who had things to hide but, after a century, they were all out on show again.
Best of all there were gaps, great gaping holes, huge chunks of evidence never followed up or simply disregarded because they didn't fit with somebody's assumptions. A story could take root in those gaps, a solution could form.
And that's where The Strange Life and Curious Death of Miss Jean Milne was born. After a hundred years, it was about time somebody came up with the answer.
The Strange life and Curious Death of Mill Jean Milne is published by Black & White Publishing.
(Postcard copyright Tuck DB Postcards; book cover copyright Black & White Publishing)