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John Watson LAURIE





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: July 15, 1889
Date of arrest: September 3, 1889
Date of birth: 1864
Victim profile: Edwin Robert Rose, 32
Method of murder: Battering with a stone
Location: Isle of Arran, Scotland, United Kingdom
Status: Sentenced to death. Commuted to life in prison. Transferred to Perth Criminal Asylum in 1893. Died in the asylum in 1930

On 12th July 1889 Edwin Rose, a clerk from London, was travelling on the steamer from Rothesay to the Isle of Arran for a holiday, when he met 25-year-old Laurie. Laurie was a pattern-maker from Glasgow and was travelling under the name of John Annandale. He invited Rose to share his lodgings on the island. The pair made friends with two other young men and the four of them went boating and walking together.

Laurie had proposed to Rose that the two of them climb Goatfell. One of the other men took Rose to one side and warned him to be wary of Laurie and not to go on the climb with the man. The other two men left the island on 14th July, at the conclusion of their holiday, and the next day Rose and Laurie left their lodgings without saying where they were going. Their landlady assumed that they had absconded to avoid paying their bill.

Rose's brother arrived on the island on the 27th July. He had become concerned when his brother had not returned from his break. He found out that his brother had set out to climb Goatfell on the 15th in the company of Laurie. A search involving 200 islanders found Rose's body hidden under a pile of rocks. He had been beaten to death and robbed. A shepherd was found who had seen Laurie coming down Goatfell on the 15th, alone and exhausted. Laurie had also been seen the next morning leaving the island.

When news of the killing reached the mainland Laurie left his job and moved to Liverpool. He couldn't resist writing to the newspapers to tell them that 'I smile when I read that my arrest is expected hourly.' On 3rd September he was spotted boarding a train at Fernigair and was chased by a local constable. When he was trapped in a local wood he tried to cut his throat but the wounds were only superficial.

He appeared at Edinburgh charged with murder. He admitted robbing Rose but denied killing him, contending that he had died as the result of a fall. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. This sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after he was found to be of unsound mind. He was transferred to Perth Criminal Asylum in 1893 after a short escape from Peterhead Prison. He died in the asylum in 1930.


John Watson Laurie

John Watson Laurie was the longest serving prisoner in Scotland.

Born in Coatbridge in 1864, he became a pattern-maker for one of Glasgow's locomotive engineering works.

In 1889, Laurie was jilted by his fiancee after a scandal over money stolen from his work place.

But he was never charged over the incident as his family repaid the cash.

He went in search of the woman at the favourite Clyde coast summer holiday resort, Rothesay, on the Island of Bute.

Failing to find his fiancee, and short of funds, he met up with an English tourist, Edwin Robert Rose, and they decided to take a trip to Arran.

While there, they climbed Goat Fell.

But Laurie descended alone and was later seen wearing his climbing companion's distinctive hat.

Listed missing by relatives, Rose's body was eventually found in a gully below Goat Fell and following an exhaustive search Laurie was caught and tried for murder.

Witnesses claimed to have seen Rose at different times on the fateful day, discrediting Laurie's version of events and he was convicted and sentenced to death.

However, Laurie's sanity was very much in question resulting in his sentence being commuted to life.

Rather than being sent to a state hospital for the criminally insane he was to spend much of the rest of his life in one of Scotland's toughest prisons at Peterhead.

He was eventually transferred to Perth Prison where he died in 1930, having served 40 years and 11 months, the longest period anyone has ever been incarcerated in Scotland.


Mountain-top death: Did he slip or was he pushed?

Craig Howie

A Scotsman and an Englishman went up a hill and only one came down alive, or so the old joke goes.

But more than a century after the Scotsman, John Laurie, was convicted of killing Edwin Rose on the isle of Arran's Goatfell peak in July 1889, a deadly serious controversy still surrounds a case of "murder in the mountains", a violent death and possible miscarriage of justice that still haunts Scottish hillwalkers to this day.

Rose's decomposed body was found hidden in a howff, or hut built of rock, on a remote mountainside near Arran's main town of Brodick, three weeks after he had left London for a week's summer holiday on Scotland's west-coast islands. His skull was shattered, his spine badly broken.

Laurie, 25 years old, was subsequently arrested after two months on the run, having fled first from Arran then subsequently his Lanarkshire hometown of Coatbridge, where on his apprehension by police he attempted suicide with a cut-throat razor.

"I robbed the man," Laurie stated on his arrest and later in his defence, "but I did not murder him." Laurie would protest his innocence until his death more than 40 years later in 1930, age 69, in the lunatic division as it was then known - of Perth Prison.

In a trial at Edinburgh's High Court, held in a relative frenzy of media activity and amid massive public interest, Laurie was tried and convicted of murdering the 32-year-old Rose. He was sentenced to death, later commuted to life in prison. But with the benefit of history and hindsight, the case leaves open more questions than it ultimately answered.

The two men had met in Rothesay, on Bute, and struck a friendship. Rose, was a well-to-do fellow, working as a builder's clerk in London and travelling with several companions.

Laurie, a pattern-maker at Springburn's Atlas Iron Works, travelling alone and seemingly an odd fellow, was, according to The Scotsman, described in the criminal trial as "square-shouldered but slightly built, and walks with a rolling gait. His teeth are a conspicuous part of him, and are remarkably white and regular. He is exceedingly fond of dress, and was often seen in knickerbockers."

Both men would stay at a hotel in Rothesay, but Laurie, mysteriously, would check himself in under the name of Annandale, leaving a calling card to that effect. Rose, meanwhile, was apparently warned by several of his friends that Laurie looked a nasty piece of work.

Fast fact

The genesis of the name Goatfell is disputable.

"Field" is the Norse name for mountain or fell, and the four sides of the peak are all Norse names.

However, the Gaels believe Goatfell comes from the Gaelic terms: Gaoithbheinn, "Mountain of the Wind", or the literal translation Beinn-Gaibhre.

After a few days climbing and walking together around Bute, Rose and Laurie sailed on the mid-afternoon ferry to Brodick, where they would then strike for the summit of Goatfell, an easily accesible peak, though the going could get treacherous in the wet weather common to the west.

Nobody knows just what transpired on the descent from the summit, but certain facts appear indisputable. Rose's body was found purposefully concealed in a 42-stone crypt, having died of massive injuries to the head and body. Several of his belongings - a hat and walking cane - had been found further up the isolated corrie. The pair had been seen by at least five witnesses on the summit of Goatfell at about 6.20pm, but none had witnessed their descent.

Laurie was seen at the Corrie Bar in Brodick that evening, ordering drinks just before 10pm. The following day, he left the island without paying his lodging bill and was seen by several witnesses clutching a striped jacket later revealed to be Rose's.

The discovery of Rose's body coupled with Laurie's apparent odious behaviour was enough to spark a manhunt. Laurie was apprehended "lurking in the vicinity" of Hamilton, The Scotsman reported, after giving up his job and apparently a girlfriend before drifting for several months between Glasgow, Aberdeen and Liverpool.

The trial, sensational in its day and held "with every manifestation of public interest", saw queues forming outside the public gallery each day, all seeking to hear first-hand the gruesome nature of the crime.

The Crown's ultimately successful case rested on circumstantial evidence surrounding the nature of Rose's injuries backed by behavioural reports that convinced the jury of Laurie's murderous intention. Laurie, meanwhile, claimed that Rose had met two others on Goatfell summit and ascended with them.

From the archive

  • The Goatfell Tragedy
    The Scotsman
    4 September 1889

Crucially, the case skipped over details involving the cause of death. Initially the Crown had claimed Laurie battered Rose with a stone, causing his horrendous injuries, though this was easily disproved by the testimony of the Queen's surgeon, Patrick Watson.

Not a drop of blood was found on Laurie's clothes, or indeed anything that linked him to the murder, though clearly he had robbed Rose of his possessions.

So a fall was suggested, if not proven. A stream runs through the slippery Coire nam Fuaran, about 700ft below the lower of the two cols between North Goatfell and Mullach Buidhe, where climbers on one side could negotiate an exposed drop of 10ft, or on the other a drop of 32ft. So if Rose indeed slipped, it seems likely that Laurie stole his effects and hid the body.

Yet the murderer if there was one at all had clearly not sought to hide evidence. A folded cap and walking stick were found in the vicinity, the cane openly visible and placed consistent with a fall. And the solicitor-general based the charge of murder upon what he called Laurie's "conduct" and his run from the law.

With hard evidence of murder in the balance, it seemed crucial for the Crown to play the behavioural card as Laurie's motive. In reality, the Crown had proved nothing, though the jury convicted by a majority of one after just 45 minutes' deliberation. The verdict resonated throughout the island community and the mainland, as well as sending a chill through hillwalking circles.

"The obvious idea is that an opportunity came where Laurie could give Rose a push and then rob him and then take his gear, and that somebody who lies a lot is inevitably under suspicion," says Robin Campbell, archivist of the Scottish Mountaineering Club, who has written extensively about the case.

"But why would Laurie kill him? The evidence is circumstantial and weak, and, my guess, it was an accident. Rose died in the accident, Laurie decided to take what he had and stuff him under a boulder. The medical evidence presented by the Crown was also dubious at best."

Noting that the peak is "only an hour" from Arran's Glen Sannox, Campbell says the spot remains popular among hillwalkers today. You can, in fact, spend a night in the same howff in which Rose was found, though Campbell doesn't recommend it.

"Murder in the hills is easy," Campbell says, adding, "who can prove a push or a fall?".


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