Unsolved Murders

Robert Drennan McMillan

Age: 39

Sex: male

Date: 6 Jan 1940

Place: Oxgang Farm, Kirkintilloch, Dunbartonshire

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Robert Drennan McMillan died from arsenic poisoning on 6 January 1940.

He had 11.06 grains of arsenic in his stomach from the previous 24 hours and had been suffering for months.

His 43-year-old wife was tried for his murder and attempted murder, but the case was found not proven.

The defence said that there had never been a case in which there were so many trivial incidents heaped together in an attempt to create a mountain of suspicion. It was also said that there was no evidence to suggest a shred of a motive and that every witness that had appeared in the box had said that Robert McMillan and his wife were a happy devoted couple who had lived and worked in harmony.

The murder charge against his wife stated that she had been poisoning Robert McMillan over a period of six months between 1 July 1939 and 6 January 1940 by giving him repeated doses of arsenic

The attempted murder charge against her stated that she had attempted to poison Robert McMillan over a period between March and May 1937 by similarly giving him repeated doses of arsenic.

His post-mortem stated that he had 11.06 grains of arsenic in his stomach and intestines which was described as 'a massive dose' and that that dose had been administered in the previous 24-hours.

The prosecution stated that a large quantity of arsenic had been delivered to Oxgang Farm in March 1937 for use as rat poison and said that there was also evidence of a second delivery in December 1937. It was stated that in both cases, the poison had been supplied by a glass maker who was employed by a company that used about a hundredweight of arsenic a day in various manufacturing processes. He said that on the first occasion he had given Robert McMillan about 2lbs of arsenic because of rats. However, he said that Robert McMillan's wife came back to him and said that the rats were back and asked for more arsenic, which he gave her.

The glass maker said that when he visited the farm after Robert McMillan's death and told his wife that he was very worried as he had to visit the police headquarters, he said that she replied, 'Would you imagine Robert doing a thing like that?' and told him that he had nothing to worry about. He said that at that point he had not told Robert McMillan's wife that it was a case of poisoning. He said that when he asked Robert McMillan's wife what she had done with the poison she said, 'Robert put it down the sink as he thought it was soda'.

The prosecution then went on to state that the arsenic had not been self-inflicted and that he had been absorbing arsenic in repeated doses over a considerable period of time, and certainly for the previous six months.

The prosecution noted that it was difficult to believe that a man might commit suicide by self-administering arsenic in small doses over a long period of time and in so doing suffering months of agony before death.

As such, the Crown put it to the jury that once both accident and suicide were ruled out that that left only murder as the remaining alternative.

However, when the judge summed up he said, 'If you look at it in abstract logic, it seems very simple and convincing to say, 'Well, there are your alternatives, suicide, accident, murder. We rule suicide out, and you are left with two. And you rule accident out, and you are left with one, and that is murder'. I suppose, suppose, logically, there is no answer to that. Then I wonder if it is really sound. Is there not another alternative? Is there not this alternative, that the thing is unexplained? Now, I must emphasize that to you. When you are dealing with a grave criminal case of this kind, you must never leave out of account what I will call the fourth alternative, that the thing is unexplained. I have got this feeling about it, that if you don't apply the method of exclusion with very great care when you are dealing with a serious charge, you may run a very grave risk of putting upon he accused the burden of explaining things. Now, the burden of proof is never on the accused in a criminal case, and if you simply proceed by a process of exclusion and say 'We rule suicide out and accident out, and therefore the only thing left is murder', that is coming very near to saying it is for the accused to explain something that may be inexplicable'.

Robert McMillan's father said that when Robert McMillan married in 1934, he was 'very strong' and added that 'He made money, and his wife got it to look after'. His mother added that on occasion when Robert McMillan became ill, his wife became very annoyed when she advocated expert medical advice.

The mother said that on one occasion, Robert McMillan's wife had told her that a professor had examined Robert McMillan and had found arsenic in his hair, but none in his blood.

She also said that Robert McMillan had told her on one occasion, 'from my throat down to my stomach is raw flesh'.

When the issue of Robert McMillan's exposure to arsenic was addressed it was heard that in June 1937 when he had been ill, it was put down to the fact that he might not have been over-particular about washing his hands after putting down rat poison and that he had in that way absorbed a certain amount of arsenic. However, it was noted that only upon assumption of a whole series of such incidents could Robert McMillan's death be put down to such things as the medical evidence indicated that he had been receiving arsenic doses over six months prior to his death.

The jury's verdict of 'not proven' was unanimous after 25-minutes deliberation.

Robert McMillan had been a pig farmer. After his wife was acquitted, she said that she planned to visit friends in the east of Scotland and to then return to the farm and continue her husband's business. After her acquittal at the Edinburgh High Court, precautions were made to prevent Robert McMillan's wife from being seen as she left the building and she left by a private entrance to a street below the courthouse level where a car was waiting.


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


see A CompanionTo Murder by E Spencer Shew 1960, p176

see The Power Of Poison by John Glaister 1954

see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Friday 07 June 1940

see Daily Mirror - Saturday 08 June 1940

see Lincolnshire Echo - Monday 03 June 1940

see Liverpool Evening Express - Friday 07 June 1940

see Birmingham Mail - Friday 07 June 1940, p7

see Gloucester Citizen - Saturday 08 June 1940

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Monday 03 June 1940

see Manchester Evening News - Friday 07 June 1940

see Evening Despatch - Monday 03 June 1940

see Birmingham Mail - Monday 03 June 1940