George Alexander Robertson
George Alexander Robertson was the last man to be hanged in Edinburgh, at 8:02 am on 23 June 1954.
He was executed within 15 weeks of the murders he was sentenced to death for, at the hands of executioner Albert Pierrepoint.
Only three other Scottish executions followed this one (two in Glasgow, and the last in Aberdeen) before death penalty was ultimately abolished.
In an episode described as a brainstorm, or 'mad turn', Robertson had killed his wife, and his son, and severely injured his daughter while attempting to kill her too.
In 1954, Elizabeth McGarry was a Catholic single mother with two teenage children, no job and few prospects. Her second marriage had collapsed after only a few months, and her first husband, with a history of violence, abuse, and intense jealousy, had returned. For some reason, despite this record (he had admitted that the only way he could "make her see sense" was to bind, gag, and threaten her with a hatchet) Elizabeth opened the door and let him into her home in Edinburgh's Tron Square, 19 years after they had married.
Sadly, 39-year-old Elizabeth, and the couple's teenager children George, 18 about to start National Service, and Jean, 16 with a job at a city paper mill would soon learn that George's brutal side was far from healed, that vile, aggressive streak was as frightening as ever. Having discovered that aspect of his nature had not changed, Elizabeth threw him out of her home at the end of February 1954. Aware of his vicious side, from then on mother and children kept the doors to their home at 57 Tron Square locked at all times, with a chair was wedged against the handle for extra protection, and a poker beside one of the windows.
But, on the 28th it seems they were having a party, and this may have led to a lapse.
Events that were to follow were described when The Scotsman gave an account of the case:
Elizabeth, hardworking George and Jean, a strikingly attractive teenager who had battled ill health to complete her schooling at St Thomas of Aquin's in Lauriston, had just enjoyed a fun evening at home with neighbours, singing and laughing into the night.
It may be they were simply too exhausted or too relaxed to remember to wedge the chair into place, hard against the front door.
Jean woke first. The soft, urgent whisper of her father's voice had drifted from the hall to her bedroom as he ordered his wife: "Get ben the kitchen."
Jean later told the High Court: "I awoke my brother after my mother had gone to the kitchen. We went out into the lobby and I was just behind him.
"I saw him sticking a knife in George's head.
"George fell and my father came round to me," she said, her tears flowing as she gave her evidence to the hushed court. "He pushed me on the bed, he had a knife in his hand. He started stabbing me. I was screaming."
There was the sound of the front door opening perhaps her mother's desperate attempt to flee the scene but it was enough to save Jean's life.
Her father dashed back downstairs leaving two bleeding, terrified teenagers in the upstairs hallway, George pleading with his sister to get a doctor.
Jean grabbed two bedspreads and tried to tie them together in order to hang them from the window so they could climb down to safety. It nearly worked, but her arm was just too badly injured.
Now her father was returning upstairs. And along with his knife, he carried something even more horrific the blood-drenched body of his ex-wife, a gaping hole in her stomach and a white handkerchief stuffed in her mouth, hands bound together.
George Robertson, a veteran of the Spanish Civil war, now jobless, homeless and rejected by his wife, threw her to the kitchen floor.
Now for Jean.
He was busy winding tape around her mouth and tying up her hands too, when young George, a coal porter while he awaited the results of his National Service medical, suddenly made a dramatic bolt for freedom.
He dashed along the balcony, down to the quadrangle outside and then threw himself through a neighbour's kitchen window, where he begged for help.
Following him, just yards behind, enraged and still clutching his knife, came his father.
The Hay family, whose quiet home was now about to become a murder scene, cowered in terror as blow after blow rained down on the terrified teen as he screamed for help.
Defenceless against his father's brutality, young George finally slumped to the floor, dying.
Job done, his father threw his body over his shoulder and strolled home leaving a bloody trail across Tron Square.
Jean cowered as he propped George and Elizabeth up in the kitchen and then proceeded to stick his head in the gas oven.
He was still there when police arrived, still alive and Jean desperately ill from her injuries. They found Elizabeth, dressed in just her bra and with a brown coat draped over her body, was dead, riddled with 15 separate stab wounds.
Teenager George, blood-soaked and lifeless, had been stabbed 14 times.
Robertson pled guilty to avoid the spectacle of a trial, but two days of testimony from the witness box kept attention focussed on the case. The sentence was inevitable, and he did make any attempt to fight the finding.
1 ⇑ Lothian Murder Files: Brutal man was city's last to hang - The Scotsman Retrieved October 08, 2016.
- Lost Edinburgh: Tron Square Murders - The Scotsman Retrieved October 08, 2016.
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