Friday, 22 June 2012

Mysterious Murder at Alnmouth, Northumberland

Always considered mysterious was the murder of John Nisbet on 18 March 1910. A man was convicted and hanged for this crime, but mystery remains as to whether he was actually guilty. Every Friday John Nisbet left Newcastle for Widdrington by train, carrying with him a bag containing the wages for the miners of Stobswood Colliery: £370 9/6d. Other bank employees went about similar tasks on Fridays and there was nothing then at all unusual in the habit of carrying cash around like this.

On this particular Friday, Nisbet went to Newcastle Station along with three other clerks. They then split up to catch different trains. As they did so one clerk, Charles Raven, saw Nisbet meet another man. Nisbet obviously knew the newcomer and greeted him as a friend. Raven had seen the man with Nisbet before and recognised him, but did not know his name. Nisbet and the unknown man were seen at Heaton Station sitting in the carriage. But when the train reached Alnmouth, Nisbet was found shot dead on the floor of the carriage by a porter. The bag and the money were gone.

The police were called and began investigations, while Nisbet’s employers put up a reward of £100 for information on the killer. A description of the man seen with Nisbet was produced and publicised through the newspapers. People known to have been on the train were interviewed by the police. It was quickly established that the murder had taken place between Stannington, where Nisbet and his companion had been seen, and Morpeth by which time the compartment in which they had been travelling and where the body had been found was seen to be empty by a man walking past on the platform. It was assumed the murderer had got off at Morpeth with the money. The bag, minus the money, was later found hidden in countryside a short walk from Morpeth.

One of the men on the train also said that he had seen a friend, John Dickman, on the train but that Dickman had ignored him, which he thought odd. The police called on Dickman who confirmed that he had been on the train. Dickman said that he had been reading a newspaper and so had missed his stop, Stannington, and had got off at Morpeth where he waited for the next train back to Stannington. Dickman resembled the description of the wanted man and had admitted getting off at Morpeth. He was arrested.

It soon transpired that Dickman was heavily in debt, had owned a revolver in the past and blood was found on his gloves. On the other hand, none of the stolen money was found on Dickman, he had sold his gun some time earlier and the bloodstains might be his own from a cut that he had suffered. When the people who had seen Nisbet with the stranger were brought forwards they were not entirely certain that Dickman was the right man. He looked like the man with Nisbet, but none of them could state that they were absolutely sure.

Despite the flimsy evidence, Dickman was found guilty. He was hanged on 10 August 1910. That leaves the question of whether or not Dickman was guilty. At the time opinions were sharply divided in Northumberland on the matter. It is quite clear that, today, it is unlikely that a jury would convict Dickman on the evidence available, and if it did the Court of Appeal would probably overturn the conviction.

On the other hand, it has since been revealed that Dickman’s record was not entirely unblemished. He had never been convicted of any crime, but he had been arrested three times. The first arrest was for fraud, but the two other arrests were both for murder. And both of those murders had involved the theft of considerable sums of money. Dickman had not been convicted of any of these crimes, and even if he were guilty of them that would not prove that he had killed Nisbet.

The mystery remains.

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