It’s a photograph of an old tenement room like any other with its recessed bed, heavy furniture and clothes drying from a line stretched across the ceiling.
But this seemingly ordinary scene at 61 Urquhart Road, Aberdeen, belies a wicked truth.
The photograph was taken days after the room witnessed the murder of eight-year-old Helen Priestly who was killed by her downstairs neighbour Jeannie Donald in April 1934 after a stairwell feud spiralled out of control.
After the girl collapsed following a confrontation, Donald then dragged her into the room and assaulted Helen, possibly with a broom handle, to make it appear as if she had been murdered by a rapist. Helen came round and was strangled.
The girl’s body was first stashed under the sink and then left in a blue hessian sack in the back court. The case was to become known as the Aberdeen sack murder.
The crime scene photograph from this most hideous crime, which has been kept in old Grampian Police file, will now be shared with the public for the first time as part of the Granite Noir crime writing festival.
Writer Diarmid Mogg has put together the Crime Scene Aberdeen exhibition and has researched the stories behind several police photographs which are now kept by Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archives.
He said: “Some of the pictures in the file are absolutely gruesome but we have concentrated on some of the other images, the really interesting ones which show off the interiors of these houses, where you can really peer into them and see all the details of ordinary life that were interrupted by a crime, usually a murder.” Mogg also believes the photograph of the room in Urquhart Road, which runs away from Old Aberdeen towards the beach, also tells another, untold, aspect of the case.
With the tenement room so small, Mogg said it was “inconceivable” that Donald’s husband, Alexander and their young daughter, also Jeannie, had slept through the commotion of his wife moving the child’s body from under the sink, as was heard in court.
Mr Donald was arrested along with is wife following the discovery of Helen’s body but was not prosecuted. A barber in the city centre, he had several alibis of his whereabouts on the day that Helen went missing.
Mogg said: “The Donalds eat, slept and cleaned in this room. It’s a very small room.
“It is inconceivable, when you look at that room, that the husband and child could have slept through this. “My view is that the husband could have been prosecuted for trying to cover up crime and I think this picture tells a missing bit of the story. My view is the police and the prosection did not charge the husband because they wanted to be sympathetic to his daughter and not leave her without any parents.”
The case of Joseph Hume also features in Crime Scene Aberdeen. Hume, an Edinburgh soldier, left Fort George near Inverness and murdered stonebreaker John Smith in his bothy in Lhanbryde, Moray, in 1907 before stealing his silver pocket watch and small amount of cash.
An old Grampian Police folder, now also held by Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archives, holds every piece of paperwork related to the 111-year-old investigation.
Mogg said: “Its very rare to see something like this. They are written in black ink by dipped pen with the documents so full of detail, down to an inventory of items in the bothy, from the wraps of tea and the bags of sugar. Every single thing about how that person lived is there.
“Smith’s pocket watch was found in a pawn shop in Edinburgh. This was not a sophisticated crime. Hume turns out to be a venal and horrible fool. Why he had to kill the man I really do not know.”
Hume was executed in Inverness.
The Crime Scenes Aberdeen exhibition will also feature the case of George King, a night-watchman in Aberdeen who stole women’s underwear worth £180 from 19 drying greens and eight houses between January 1946 and March 1948.
He was caught after a police photographer captured a footprint in the snow which marched the sole of a shoe belonging to King. He pled guilty to them all and was given six months in jail.
-Crime Scene Aberdeen will be at Seventeen, Belmont Street, Aberdeen, from Friday February 23 until Saturday, March 3.