Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Trial of Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds), Part 4

Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds) is my one of my paternal third great grandmothers. Around the beginning of May 2011, I discovered that Roseannah had been charged and convicted in 1877 with several counts of theft by housebreaking. This post, along with the three previous posts, summarize the statements and evidence that was used against Roseannah during the trial held in Glasgow. The original records from the trial are housed in the National Archives of Scotland and, for a fee, I obtained a copy of the records (the NAS provided high quality copies and appear to have been very thorough in ensuring I received everything requested).

Fourth Charge

Mary Ann Malley was a shopwoman who resided at 17 Victoria Street in Govan, near Glasgow, where she lived with her father Patrick, a boot and shoemaker. Mary Ann described their flat (or apartment) as a room and a kitchen, located up one flight of stairs in the building.

According to Mary Ann, on Friday, September 21, 1877, she and her mother left the flat at about noon and locked the flat door. They returned at about 3:00 p.m. and found the door locked just as they had left it. Mary Ann subsequently noticed a little while later that a tunic and dress belonging to her, a dress belonging to her mother, as well as a skirt belonging to her sister were missing. These items, according to Mary Ann's testimony, had been hanging either in the flat entry or in the one room of the flat. Patrick Malley later reported the theft to the police. In early October 1877, Mary Ann stated she went to the police station and identified some of the missing items that the police had recovered.

Mary Ann's testimony was corroborated by her mother Bridget Malley (nee Welsh). Mary Ann's father, Patrick later also identified a pair of trousers belonging to him that Mary Ann had not mentioned in her statement.

Anne Brierton (nee Hanlon) lived at 65 Drygate in Glasgow with her husband Charles, an engineer. Anne worked at her father's fruit and vegetable stand in the Bazaar at Cowlings in Glasgow. According to Anne's testimony, sometime near the end of August 1877, Roseannah Mitchell showed her a black silk dress, a jacket and a tunic, asking Anne if she would buy them, a common practise of hawkers at the bazaar. Anne purchased all three items for £2, four shillings and six pence. Anne saw Roseannah on a couple of other subsequent occasions at the bazaar but didn't purchase anything. Finally, Anne stated that she went to the police station where she again saw Roseannah and the basket Roseannah used to carry her articles for sale but she was unable to positively identify any of the clothing articles.

Anne's sister, Mary Hanlon lived at 18 North Albion Street in Glasgow and knew Roseannah from seeing her at the bazaar. Mary stated she never purchased anything from Roseannah but had seen both her sister Anne and mother Ann Hanlon buy articles from her in the past. Mary testified that she identified a dress bought from Roseannah and later recovered by the police but added that she had never seen Roseannah with the dress.

Anne and Mary's mother, Ann Hanlon (nee Brannon) also knew Roseannah from the bazaar. Ann stated that her daughter, Anne purchased a dress, jacket and tunic, for which she had loaned her daughter £2. Later, according to Ann, Roseannah came to their house where Mary Hanlon tried on a dress, found that it fit fine and so it was purchased. Ann did not obtain a receipt for the purchase stating that this was not unusual in dealing with hawkers.

The Police

William Booth was a criminal officer (Detective) with the East District of the Glasgow Police. William was assigned to investigate the thefts from the Cullen and Smith homes. He subsequently arrested Roseannah on September 29, 1877 in High Street, Glasgow. Booth stated he took Roseannah to her Havannah Street home that he then searched. During the search, Booth found a cape and a napkin that Roseannah stated belonged to her. Booth also stated that during the search, he found a key that when tried "easily" opened all the doors to the flats where thefts had occurred.

Booth further testified that he arrested Margaret Prentice (nee Brown) whom he stated denied involvement in the thefts but that when shown the recovered articles, stated that Roseannah had sent her to the pawn shops with the clothing items.

Agnes Grant was a police search woman who stated that she searched Roseannah who was wearing a red flannel petticoat when processed at the police station.

John Anderson was a criminal officer with the Govan Burgh Police. John stated that he saw the recovered clothing articles in the Glasgow police station that "resembled" the articles stolen from the Malley residence. According to Anderson, he took the key found by William Booth and found that it easily unlocked the door to the Malley's flat.

The Co-Accused

Margaret Prentice (nee Brown) was a widow living at 1 Muse Lane, off Duke Street in Glasgow. Margaret's statement was clear - "I am entirely innocent." Margaret stated she had never seen any of the clothing articles that the police showed to her and that the pawnbroker who identified her "must have mistaken me for some other woman" although she did admit that in past she had pawned some articles for Roseannah, the articles she pawned were not the stolen items and she had dealt with a woman at the pawn shop, not a man.

My Opinion

The police admitted in their statements that they had arrested a third woman, named Johanna Walker, when they had arrested Roseannah and Margaret. According to the police, Johanna was known to them as a prostitute, not a thief, so they released her and had been unable to subsequently find her again. In her statement, Margaret Prentice indicated that while she was lodging with the Mitchells for about a three week period, an unknown woman who could have been Johanna Walker did come to the flat on possibly three occasions. Margaret stated she, nor anyone else, ever spoke to the woman so had no idea as to what the stranger wanted.

While it might be at worse case suspicious that Roseannah appears to have been in possession of a key that opened the doors to all of the various flats involved, it is possible that locking mechanisms used at the time and in the homes of the less-than-wealthy families involved, were not sophisticated and overly secure locks. I think it highly unlikely that Roseannah had been able to fashion herself or have made for her a universal "master" key capable of fitting the locks of diverse neighbourhoods and buildings. In addition, no witnesses could place Roseannah at any of the residences at the times of the thefts. Is it possible that Johanna was the thief and Roseannah a subsequently an unwitting victim of circumstance?

The evidence, especially that of Ann Hanlon (nee Brannon) who stated that Roseannah not only sold her some clothing but also offered to purchase some articles from Ann demonstrates the business Roseannah was in - acquiring articles from a wide variety of sources in order to sell them at a hopefully higher price later.

In the next and final post on the trial of Roseannah, I will share Roseannah's own words from the court records.

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