New book reveals Edinburgh's 'Murder Houses' - is there one on your street?

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
'Which of Edinburgh’s most gruesome murders happened in your street?' That's the question posed in Murder Houses of Edinburgh, a new book by Dr Jan Bondeson.

Bondeson has trawled the archives to record the Capital's murderous history, much of which remains around us, if we know where to look. The book gathers together the stories behind some of the more unusual and gruesome deaths that have taken place in premises that still stand even if the deed that took place there is long forgotten.

The chapter titles give clues as to the locations of some murder houses; the Stockbridge Baby-Farmer, the Demon Frenchman of George Street and the Triple Killer of Falcon Avenue being just three.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Then there's the Royal Mile tenement where a woman fell from a top-floor window in 1912, but was she pushed? Or the old house in Candlemaker Row where, in 1919, a woman was brutally murdered by a man with no arms. Or the flat in Rose Street South Lane where a horrible triple murder in 1917 wiped out an entire family, or even the stairway in South Clerk Street where a woman was found battered to death in 1995 - her killer has yet to be brought to justice.

Jan BondesonJan Bondeson
Jan Bondeson

Bondeson first had the idea to write the book during a holiday in the Capital in 2003, having already considered penning equivalent volumes for London, his home at the time.

He explains, "I lived in London in the Ninties and had the idea to write a book about the murder houses there, however, that was difficult back then because the Internet was still in its infancy so it was not possible to research it properly. Then the online newspaper archives became available and I wrote Murder Houses of London, published in 2014, followed by two other volumes, Murder Houses of South London and Murder Houses of Greater London, in 2015."

He continues, "The idea for the Edinburgh book was conceived 17 years ago when I came here as a tourist. I was here for two whole weeks and went around to see few of the most famous murder houses."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Swedish-British author, a senior lecturer and consultant physician at Cardiff University for 17 years, retired a few years ago and moved to Edinburgh.

Dr Jan BondesonDr Jan Bondeson
Dr Jan Bondeson

Now based in Dunbar, he says, "I had already decided to move to Edinburgh permanently and write books when I retired. I had stayed in South Wales for 17 years and had never written a sentence about Wales but I always had a strong fascination with Edinburgh - I had actually started working on the book before I moved here."

As he charts each murder, Bondeson paints vivid pictures of the lives of the murderers and their victims bringing a lost Edinburgh back to life with cases that span the centuries. They offer rare insights into the social history of the city.

"It's quite important to record the social history surrounding these crimes and my book is the first to do it,” says Bondeson. “There have been a few before but they are old now and were published before the Internet, my one is the first to make use of modern research techniques."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He elaborates, "There have been three avenues of collecting material for this book. Firstly, to research the older cases, those more than 100 years old, there are files at the National Records of Scotland and online newspaper archives, including The Scotsman.

Murder Houses of EdinburghMurder Houses of Edinburgh
Murder Houses of Edinburgh

"Then you have the British Library newspaper archives, which have the old Edinburgh Evening News. Thirdly, there are what can be called the 'Murder Ledgers' at the Edinburgh Room of the Central Library. These are a series of ledgers, 20 or so in all, which chronologically list murders in Edinburgh from the 1930s to the present day, with the press cuttings pasted in."

As Bondeson discovered during his research, many the Capital's murder houses are long since demolished, especially those of the Old Town where many of the crimes were driven by poverty and its associated ills. The 57-year-old writer admits that some of the cases left him feeling for the murderer as well as their victims.

"Some of them were just victims of circumstance but the contrast between the Old Town and New Town was quite stark - in the Old Town there were all kinds of down and outs, men murdering their wives, it happened again and again and again, but many of those houses were cleared in the slum clearances.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"The Candlemaker Row murder is a properly unique case, both here and abroad, it's not everyday you see an armless man commit a murder. Many thousands of people pass by Greyfriars Kirk House, where it happened, without knowing the history and I must say, I became a little attached to the poor man, William Lamb, who committed the murder because he really had everything against him in life, losing his arms in an accident, then having to sit there treading his barrel organ with his feet, and even when he went to prison they treated him with disrespect... some of the stories are really pathetic."

The fashionable New Town, however, is not without stories to tell, despite a lower murder rate. Indeed, it is on Frederick Street you will find the city's second oldest murder house.

"In the New Town, home to a better class of people, there was less inclination to murder except for the likes of Alexander Milne. Although one of the better class of people he was an alcoholic and had his own shop on Frederick Street. You could still see the door into the shop when I first visited Edinburgh - it was a Chiquito's Mexican restaurant."

You can read the story of murderer Alexander Milne in the Evening News’ extracts of Bondeson's book, running all this week from tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Murder at 88, Candlemaker Row

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Murder Houses of Edinburgh, by Jan Bondeson is now available here

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.