Because Mondays are MURDER...

Monday, 25 June 2012

Murderous Monday - Women who Kill - Susan Newell, Newspaper Murder

On 10th October 1923 Susan Newell met her maker at the end of John Ellis's rope.  She had been convicted of the murder of 13 year old paperboy John Johnson.  She became the last woman to hang in Scotland and the first woman to hang in Glasgow Prison

Susan was born Susan McAllister sometime between 1893 and 1895 to Peter, a tinsmith and Janet McAllister.  Not much is known about her early life, but around the outbreak of World War I she is said to have married Robert McLeod with whom she had a daughter Janet in 1915.  Severn years later Robert McLeod was dead and Susan had married John Newell.  John by most accounts was a drunken womaniser and their relationship was volatile and at times violent.

In the May of 1923 the Newells had moved to 2 Newlands Street, Coatbridge after being given notice to quit their previous lodgings due to their noisy and violent arguments.  However within three weeks of moving into their new lodgings, they were again given notice to quit.  This caused another argument between the couple, resulting in John abandoning Susan and Janet to move in  with relatives in Glasgow.  Susan is said to have tracked her husband down and demanded that he return to the family home, when he refused she head-butted him.  A matter John reported to the police, yet it is unknown whether Susan was ever spoken to about this matter.

On the evening of Wednesday 20th June 1923 John Johnson stopped by 2 Newlands Street to enquire whether Susan would like a copy of the evening paper.  Susan invited John in and took the paper, but when John asked her to pay Susan lost control and throttled the helpless lad crushing his windpipe.  Some accounts say that John was also battered about the head resulting in several fractures and his body had extensive burns.  Was a woman really capable of such brutality?

When young Janet came home from playing in the street she found her mother with the body of John.  Susan urged Janet to help her wrap the body in a quilt before the retired for the night.  In next morning Susan and Janet loaded John's body into a old pram and set off, with Janet perched on top of the bundle, towards Duke street in Glasgow.  Susan accepted a lift from a passing Lorry driver Thomas Dickson, who dropped them off in Duke's Street.  As Thomas was helping lift the pram down from the lorry the bundle came undone a little and the top of John's head and his foot became visible.  Thomas failed to notice this, but a neighbour, Helen Elliot did notice. 

John and Susan Newell at their trial

Helen Elliot called her sister and together they decided to follow Susan to see what she was up to.  The sisters followed Susan to 650 Duke Street, where the bumped into Robert Foote and James Campbell.  Robert and James took over tailing Susan while Helen and her sister went to alert the police. 

Susan was caught clambering over a wall adjoining two greens.  Discovered dumped near a tenement in Duke Street, wrapped in a red quilt was the body of a teenage boy.  Susan and her husband John Newell were arrested for his murder.  John Newell was able to provide alibis to his whereabouts at the time of the murder and as a result was found not guilty of John Johnson's murder.  Susan was not as lucky, her own daughter's evidence against her was damning.  Despite protesting her innocence throughout her trial Susan was found guilty and sentenced to hang.

Susan was executed by John Ellis with William Willis assisting at Glasgow Prison in Duke Street, the same street John's body was dumped.  Ellis disliked executing woman and in his hurry to get the ordeal over with quickly he failed to pinion her wrists properly.  Susan was able to work her hands free and tear the white hoof off her head saying 'don't put that thing over me!'  John Ellis proceeded with the execution minus the hood.

Glasgow Prison in Duke Street

Was Susan really guilty of killing John Johnson?  Was a woman capable of inflicting the brutal wounds suffered by the boy?  Did her husband have more to do with the murder?  These are answers Susan took to her grave.


  1. Yes, a woman would be capable of inflicting those injuries. There's quite a few cases in the Old Bailey Archives of women beating others to death, for example. The most puzzling thing I find about it is the motive.

    1. It is rather puzzling, but I guess rage rarely makes people rational. There are those that believe Susan was innocent, but is that because she's a woman and no one likes to think of a woman being capable of such violence towards a child?