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Evidence of the Dead

There are several stories from Scotland's history in which the evidence of the dead was said to have been accepted in criminal cases.

One such example is said to have occurred in June 1662, when a malt man named George Grieve was killed in Kirkcaldy. His body was found in a river and what initially appeared to be a case of accidental drowning soon turned into something more serious when an injury to his head was noted. It was discovered that he had, in fact, been shot at close range, yet with no obvious signs of any struggle or robbery, who would want to shoot him and then try to conceal their act was a mystery.

The family of the victim was questioned by the town authorities to try to establish whether they were aware of anyone who may have ill will towards George, or whether they knew anything themselves about the shooting. Both his wife and son claimed to know nothing of what had happened or who might have committed the crime. As part of the process, both were asked to touch the body, which they did with nothing unusual happening.

This was based on the belief that if a murderer touched the body of their victim, it would bleed. However, one of the authorities pointed out that this would only occur if at least 24 hours had passed since the death. As they were unsure when the murder had taken place, they did not know if 24 hours had passed.

The decision was made to detain his wife and son to allow them to repeat the process several hours later. When they again touched the body, nothing happened when his wife did so, however, when the son placed his hand on his father's corpse, the dead man began to bleed from the nose. As soon as he removed his hand, the bleeding stopped.

Silence filled the room, only broken by the sobbing of his mother who knew this meant that she had not only lost her husband, but she had now lost her son.

When questioned again, he confessed that his relationship with his father had become strained and they were arguing on a regular basis. He had lost his temper and approached his father while he was working in the mill, and shot him. The sound of the mill concealed the gunshot and, in a panic, he loaded his father's body on the back of his horse and galloped to the nearby river where he dumped it, hoping that it would be swept out to sea.

Unfortunately for him, it had instead become caught at the side of the river, not far from the bridge where it had been thrown in. His only act if redemption was his assertion that his mother had no knowledge of the quarrels between his father and himself, or of his actions.

With the full confession, the son was sentenced to death and hanged in Kirkcaldy. What happened to the poor woman who had her life ripped apart is sadly unknown.

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