The last man hanged at Calton Jail

Philip Murray was the last man to be hanged at Calton Jail (pictured) on 30 October 1923. Pic: TSPL
Philip Murray was the last man to be hanged at Calton Jail (pictured) on 30 October 1923. Pic: TSPL
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93 YEARS AGO this week Edinburgh news vendor Philip Murray was making headlines of his own as he became the last ever man to be hanged at the city’s notorious Calton Jail.

Dundee-born news vendor Philip Murray’s unenviable place in Edinburgh’s history can be traced back to the night of Saturday 23 June 1923 when he awoke in a drunken stupor to discover 30-year-old railway worker William Ronald Cree arrive home with his partner, Kate Donaghue.

View of Calton Jail. Pic: TSPL

View of Calton Jail. Pic: TSPL

It was not uncommon for Ms Donaghue, a local prostitute, to bring men home, but for reasons which remain a mystery, the arrival of Mr Cree to the second-floor flat at 40 Jamaica Street sent Philip Murray into a wild rage.

Murray, described as “a big bruiser of a man with his right eye missing”, allegedly went berserk, assaulting William Cree in brutal fashion before throwing him to his death out of the window. A handful of people were there to witness the awful moment Mr Cree hit the pavement.

Both Philip Murray and Kate Donaghue were arrested and subsequently charged with murder.

On 30 October 1923 Philip Murray was executed by hangman John Ellis. He steadfastly claimed his innocence right until the very end.

Jamaica Street  New Town (now demolished) Pic: TSPL

Jamaica Street New Town (now demolished) Pic: TSPL

Ms Donaghue escaped with all charges dropped as a result of turning King’s evidence against Murray on 9 October. In hindsight, it does appear suspicious that an intoxicated news vendor was able to single-handedly propel a burly railway worker through a tenement window to his death.

Murray was the last ever person to be hanged at Calton Jail prior to the opening of H.M.P. Saughton – his fateful place in history secured.

It is thought that the body of Philip Murray lies under the car park of modern-day St Andrew’s House along with 9 others.

The last man hanged in Scotland was Henry Burnett in 1963. The death penalty was abolished by the end of the decade.

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