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Case against William and Helen Harkness, Glasgow (1921-1922)

Case File [GB 0248 GUA FM/2B/7] consists of case notes, production reports, post mortem notes and press cuttings.

William and Helen Harkness were charged with the murder of Elizabeth Benjamin, aged 14, in Whiteinch Glasgow in 1921. The case was known as the Whiteinch Murder. The case was tried at Glasgow High Court on the 30th January, 1922. Helen Harkness was found guilty and sentenced to death. Her sentence was subsequently commuted to penal servitude for life. William Harkness was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was hanged on 21st February 1922.


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Ref: GUA FM/2B/7

1st November, 1921: The Whiteinch Murder: Girl's Body Found with the Hands Tied. The headline is accompanied by the following text:
‘A photograph taken shortly after the discovery of the body of the murdered girl, Elizabeth Benjamin, in the back court at 67 George Street, Whiteinch. The hands were tied behind the head by a rope fastened round the wrist, and there was a wound on the head.'
‘News of the crime created an enormous sensation in the neighbourhood, and a large crowd gathered to witness the removal of the body to the police mortuary'.

Whiteinch Girl Murder, Valuable Clues, Purse and Attaché Case Found

'Speedy developments have taken place in connection with the murder of the young Jewess, Elizabeth Benjamin … the suspects appeared before Police Judge Drummond, at Partick Police Court … and were remanded for 48 hours for an inquiry.
…The arrested persons are:-William Harkness (31) a driller, Helen M'Leary or Harkness (28), his wife, both residing at 67 George Street.


Click on image to enlarge

Ref: GUA FM/2B/7

30th January, 1922: ‘In the Whiteinch Trial there are 70 witnesses for the Crown …11 documentary productions are features of the Whiteinch trail, including microscopic slides showing smears taken from stains on a washing house-boiler, parts of the boiler, and pieces of wallpaper and plaster.'

Jewish Girl Murdered: Husband and Wife go on Trial

The man, who at the pleading diet ten days ago had been unshaven, and was wearing a muffler, looked considerably brighter on that occasion. He seemed to be about thirty years of age, and was wearing a soft collar and black tie, with dark suit. His wife also appeared respectably dressed in a navy blue coat and hat. She appeared, if anything, to be younger than her husband.


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31st January: Closing Scenes: No Evidence for Defence, Cause of the Girl's Death: Medical Opinion that it was Due to Suffocation (by Handkerchief Gag).
‘The jury retired to consider their verdict at 2.53 p.m., and returned at 3.19 p.m.-an absence of 26 minutes. The verdict was a unanimous one of guilty of murder against both accused, with a strong recommendation to mercy on behalf of the woman'. Their motive was theft of money collected by Elizabeth Benjamin.

18th February: Mrs Harkness Reprieved
She was sentenced to a life of penal servitude.

21st February: ‘ William Harkness was hanged in Duke Street Prison, Glasgow yesterday morning. Ellis was the executioner, and he was assisted by Willis … Harkness's arms were pinioned … he stepped on to the trap-door, the cap was fixed, the rope was adjusted, and the lever was pulled almost simultaneously.'
Associated material:

National Archives of Scotland: Holds Trial Papers on William Harkness and Helen Harkness, Reference JC26/1922/2, and ‘Plan of House of accused', RHP140155.

Publications:

Crowther, M.A. and White, B. (1988) On Soul and Conscience: The Medical Expert and Crime (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press).

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