Unsolved Murders

Phyllis Elizabeth Merritt

Age: 8

Sex: female

Date: 12 Jul 1945

Place: Holyrood Road, Canongate, Edinburgh

Phyllis Elizabeth Merritt was found dead in an air-raid shelter between St John's Hill and Holyrood Road in Canongate, Edinburgh on 12 July 1945.

She had received extensive head injuries and was found lying in a pool of blood. The walls of the air-raid shelter were also found to have been bloodstained.

Her uncle, an 18-year-old youth, was tried for her murder but found not guilty on Tuesday 2 October 1945 after his statement to the police was ruled inadmissible in court. At the trial, it was pleaded on behalf of the youth that on the date of the murder, that he had been insane or alternatively in such a state of mental weakness as to make him irresponsible for his actions.

The charge against the youth was that on July 11, in an air raid shelter in St John's Hill, Edinburgh, the youth assaulted the girl, seized her by the neck, compressed her throat, struck her head against the wall and a bench in the shelter, dragged her to the ground, struck her head against a stone, struck her on the head and shoulders with stones, and murdered her.

During the trial the judge sustained an objection by the defending council to the reading of the statement that the youth had made voluntarily to the police. It was said that at the time he had made the statement he had been assisting the police in their inquiry and had not at that time been cautioned and charged. It was said that such a dramatic end caused gasps of surprise in the crowded courtroom. The ruling that the statement could not be used led to the murder charge being withdrawn and the youth acquitted.

During the initial investigation into Phyllis Merritt's murder, the youth that was tried for her murder had volunteered to help the police with their search and was quoted as saying that he would stay with the police 'night and day' to trace the person responsible for her murder. He had earlier been to a restaurant with Phyllis Merritt and had later found her in the air raid shelter and had then given an account of his movements for the day but denied murdering her. It was noted that the youth then stayed with the police at the police station and when asked at the trial why he had been kept there, a policeman said that he had not and that the youth had volunteered to stay there all night.

The policeman that was leading the investigation said that he made other inquiries and then later returned to the police station and told the youth that he was rather stumped in his inquiries and then later told the youth that there were one or two other points that he wanted to clear up, at which point he said that the youth said, 'Take this, I'll tell you what happened'. The policeman said that when the youth told him that that he definitely thought right away that the youth was going to give him some information of importance and that might incriminate him and so warned him that he need not make a statement that would incriminate himself, but said that the youth nonetheless said that he wanted to make a statement.

However, at the trial, as the policeman that took the statement was about to read the statement the defence council objected and the judge then asked the jury to retire whilst they looked into the legal aspect of the objection and the inclusion of the statement. After consideration the judge said that holding that the primary consideration as fairness to the youth accused of the murder, that the statement could not be accepted as evidence. He said, 'To my mind, it is incredible that such a statement should have been taken from a person as a spontaneous and voluntary statement'.

The jury were then recalled, and the prosecution withdrew their charge and the youth was discharged from the dock.

Phyllis Merritt had been missing from her home since Wednesday 11 July 1945, having been reported missing that night, and was found the following afternoon. The air raid shelter was opposite her grandmother's house and could be seen from the windows.

Phyllis Merritt had been staying with her grandmother at 8 St John's Hill on holiday at the time. Her father was serving with the navy in the Pacific on an aircraft carrier at the time and her mother had been living at St Jame’s Place.

She had left her grandmothers earlier in the day in order to go to her aunt's house in Brown Street and it was thought that she had later gone to the children's swings in Kings Park before returning to her aunt’s house at around midday. She then left her aunt's house at 1pm on Wednesday 11 July 1945 and was not seen again.

Phyllis Merritt's mother said that Phyllis Merritt and the youth had gone out together to a restaurant for their lunch.

Her grandmother said that she first thought that Phyllis Merritt had gone off to her mother's house in St Jame's Place.

Nothing more was known about what she had done after she had left her aunt's house and the time, she was found dead.

When the youth was later questioned, he said that he had left Phyllis Merritt at the foot of the stair. Later during the search for Phyllis Merritt after she was found to be missing the youth told his mother that he had found Phyllis Merritt in the air raid shelter and went off to inform the police and then returned to his house with them and then went to the air raid shelter with them.

It was noted that the lights in the shelter had been recently removed which had had the additional effect of making the police examination of the shelter and the taking of photographs difficult. The police later ran a cable from an adjoining brewery building into the shelter to provide light.

It was also reported that when they went in, they found a dead cat lying inside the door wrapped up in paper.

The area, St Johns Hill, was described as a working-class district of Edinburgh.

The youth that was acquitted had worked in a picture house.

Phyllis Merritt was described as a bright and intelligent girl and had been a pupil of East London Street School.

*map pointers are rough estimates based on known location details as per Place field above.

see www.dailyrecord.co.uk

see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Wednesday 03 October 1945

see Gloucestershire Echo - Friday 13 July 1945

see Daily Record - Friday 13 July 1945

see The Scotsman - Wednesday 03 October 1945

see Dundee Evening Telegraph - Tuesday 02 October 1945

see Daily Record - Friday 13 July 1945

see Aberdeen Press and Journal - Friday 13 July 1945

see Daily Record - Wednesday 03 October 1945

see Dundee Courier - Wednesday 03 October 1945