Evil Female Murders. Part 10

John and Susan Newell at their trial.
Susan Newell
John Newell
The execution was carried out in the Duke Street Prison on the morning of 10 th October 1923.
John Johnston
Women prisoners being discharged from Duke Street Prison in 1909
The forbidding buildings at Duke Street Prison, with exercise ground in front, photographed in 1909. It was also known as the Northern Prison.

Newell, Susan.

Susan Newell was born in 1893, she had had rather a hard life; the family had little money to live on.

In June 1923, then aged 30 years she was living in a very small rented flat in Newlands Street, Coatbridge, a superb of Glasgow. She was living there with her husband, John and her 8 year old daughter, Janet Mcleod, from her previous marriage.

It would appear that John, her husband was a drunkard as well as a womaniser. After just 3 weeks their landlady, Mrs. Young had become fed up with their rows an had given them notice to quit, as well as his drunkenness.

Susan, like her husband was noted for having a very bad temper and had some history of violence. On the 19th June 1923 she assaulted her husband, beating him around the head in a severe fashion. It was bad enough for him to have to attend hospital and as a result he reported the incident to the police.

The following day they had yet another violent row and so he left home, saying that he was going to his sister’s for the night.

She felt his body go limp and he fell to the floor

About 6.45pm on Wednesday evening, the 20th June 13 year old newspaper boy, John Johnson called at Newell’s home asking her if she would like to purchase a newspaper. She invited him in and asked for a free newspaper, as she was short of money. He explained that was not possible. She asked twice more and still got the same answer. She then flew into a terrible rage grabbing the boy around the neck and strangling him. She felt his body go limp and he fell to the floor. She picked him up and laid him on the sofa.

Meanwhile her daughter was outside playing and when she came in she saw the body of the boy lying on the sofa. She got her daughter to help her to roll the body in a rug. She didn’t know quite what to do it; she left it there that night. The following morning they carried it downstairs, still wrapped in the rug. Luckily she had found an old pram and placed the wrapped body in it. Janet sat on the rug and Susan pushed them away down the road towards Glasgow.

A part way down the street a friendly lorry driver pulled up and offered them a lift. He dropped them off in Duke Street, Glasgow.

However, as they were getting the pram off the lorry, when the bundle containing John’s body came undone and a foot was seen to be sticking out of one end and the top of his head at the other end. Apparently the lorry driver didn’t see but a woman who happened to be looking out of her window of her house nearby did. This was just before Susan could cover it all up again. The woman decided to follow Susan and Janet and enlisted the help of her sister. After a while they met a man walking along the road in the opposite direction. Meanwhile the two women continued to follow Susan and Janet. After a while they met a man and asked him to fetch the police for them while they continued to follow Susan and Janet. The women started to lag behind as Susan, in pushing the pram was able to keep up a tidy pace. However, the man was able to keep up with Susan and saw her leave the bundle containing the boy’s body at the entrance to a tenement building.


Susan attempted to escape over a wall and was immediately arrested by a policeman who was waiting on the other side of the wall.

However, Susan had already worked out her story should she get caught and had also primed her daughter what to say if she was questioned. She told the policeman that her husband had killed the poor boy and that she had tried hard to stop him. He had then forced her and Janet to dispose of the body for him. John was now also arrested and they were both charged with the murder.

The Trial.

On the 18th September 1923 they both appeared in court before Lord Alness They were both brought up together and placed in the dock. In the meantime, john had strongly pronounced his innocence, saying he had no knowledge about any murder.

The case against him quickly collapsed as he could prove that he was no where near the house on the day the murder took place. He was able to produce a number of witnesses in order to prove his innocence and whereabouts.

The Judge freed him immediately saying that he should never have been brought to court. He castigated the police for that fact. He left the dock without even glancing Susan’s way.

The trial then commenced with the most compelling evidence being given by Susan’s daughter, Janet. She spoke in a very clear voice without showing any nerves whatsoever. She told the Court how she had been outside playing and when she came indoors she saw John’s body lying on the sofa and then how she helped her mother wrap it up. She also told the court how she had helped her mother to dispose of the body, by leaving it at the entrance to a large tenement house. Having answered a couple of questions, she went on to explain what her mother had told her to say, if we were stopped and questioned by the police. Apart from telling the whole story she must insist in saying that her father killed the boy.

Her defence team argued that Susan was insane although the prosecution team rebutted the fact. She had been examined by an eminent professor and he could find nothing wrong with her.

A little more evidence was given before the Jury was ready to retire. The Jury returned to court after just 37 minutes. The Judge addressed the Jury and was told they had found Susan guilty but only after a majority verdict. At least one of the Jurors believed her defence of insanity. They did recommend mercy for her.

Upon receiving the verdict of guilty, the Judge sentenced her to death. She was then taken back to the prison in Duke Street where she was again examined regards to being insane. After extensive tests she was pronounced sane.

The Execution.

No woman had been hanged in Scotland for 50 years and there appears to be considerable efforts made to have her reprieved. The Secretary for Scotland saw no good reason to reprieve her and so the execution was to go ahead. The execution was set for 10th October 1923. It was agreed that John Ellis assisted by Robert Baxter would carry out the execution. Now, Ellis hared executing women and for some reason always seemed to have some sort of incident at these times. In a way he felt sorry for Susan and so not wanting to hurt her too much he did not pinion her wrists properly. Ellis decided to use the leather body belt that he had made for Edith Thompson which he had made in such a way that it had an extra strap to go around the thighs. This was necessary because as the woman dropped her skirts flew up.

With Susan standing on the trapdoor she allowed Baxter to strap her legs and thighs without any protest. Because of the wrists straps not being tightened she managed to get her hands free and defiantly pulled off the white hood, which has just been placed on her head, saying to Ellis, “Don’t put that thing over my me.” Rather than risk another trying scene, Ellis  decided to proceed without it, as the noose was already in place and so he simply just pulled the lever and sent Susan through the trap with her face in full view of the small number of officials who were present there.


She as the last woman to be hanged in Scotland and it was said at the time that she was the calmest person of both sexes in the execution chamber and who accepted her fate with both courage and dignity although she never once admitted the crime.

However, people have pondered for years about what the motive may have been. He certainly wasn’t the boy’s money as he only had 9 pence on hi at the time of his death, according to his father. The general feeling being it was because of her nasty, vicious temper because the boy wouldn’t give her a free newspaper. It seems such a poor reason for the young boy to lose his life for doesn’t it? 


Welcome to the Finsbury Publishing

David Rowland has just launched his 15th and final book, “The Spirit of Winsome Winn II”, all about the B-17 Flying Fortress which crashed at Patcham after being hit by anti-aircraft fire over Germany.





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