Saturday, 26 October 2013

Patrick Higgins - Child Killer

This case was one of the major forensic breakthroughs in the early 20th century and the first major case involving legendary pathologist Sydney Smith.  Yet it involved a most appalling case of child murder by the father, and was brought to justice by fantastic forensic work by Smith & Prof. Harvey Littlejohn.  This tragic tale began in 1913 when two farmers were walking by a flooded quarry, outside of Edinburgh, when they spotted what looked like a big bundle of rags in the water.  Picking up a long branch, they brought the bundle closer when they realised it was the bodies of two young children tied together.  They immediately went for the Police, who had the bodies removed and sent to Prof. Littlejohn.

    The children`s bodies were badly waterlogged, and the presence of adipocere told Smith that the bodies had been in the quarry for between 18 & 24 months.  The adipocere actually preserved the stomach contents, and these were vegetables, so Smith deduced that the vegetables were seasonal and put the time of death at some time at the end of 1911.  He also made a crucial discovery, that broke the case.  A shirt worn by one of the deceased had a mark on it that was the sign of the Dysart Poorhouse, and this led them to Patrick Higgins, a widower and drunkard.  He had been unable to look after his children so he put them in the Dysart Poorhouse but had been unable to pay the small fees, for which he had gone to prison. He took his children out of the Poorhouse and went for a walk with them down to the quarry......

    In September 1913, Higgins stood trial for double murder but pleaded temporary insanity.  This was rejected by the Jury and he was sentenced to death.  He was hanged on 2nd October 1913.  Sydney Smith went on to become one of Britain`s greatest pathologists of the 20th century.