Unsolved Murders

Robert Scotney

Age: 86

Sex: male

Date: 21 Feb 1902

Place: Blue Bell Farm, Thorney

Robert Scotney died from strychnine poisoning.

He was found dead by his bedside with a pistol by his side and a bottle on strychnine with a tumbler on a bed table.

The post-mortem stated that he had died from strychnine poisoning but that it was not possible to say whether it was self-administered or not.

His son said that he had been there for 32 years. He said that three of four years earlier his father had had influenza rather badly but that the attack didn't seem to have any lasting effect.

He also said that at the time his father died he had been trying to arrange with the agent for the Duke of Bedford's Thorney estate that he should take over the farm, marry his father's housekeeper and allow his father to remain with them as a lodger. The housekeeper had been with them for nearly seventeen years and had the entire management of the household. He said however that his father had just received a letter the previous Monday morning declining to grant his request for the tenancy to be transferred. He said that the letter had upset his father and that he kept talking about it and that on Thursday he went up to see the Estate Office but the agent was not there.

The son said that some years earlier his father had been worried about the farm and had said he would drown himself.

He said that on the Friday, 21 February his father was in his usual health and had some supper about eight or half-past eight. He said that he had some bread and butter and some gin and milk. He said that Robert Scotney fetched the gin and whisky and mixed it himself. He said that the housekeeper cut the bread and butter.

He said that he was in the room the whole time and stayed there until about 10pm. He said that Robert Scotney was in his usual spirits and they then retired to bed with his father going a upstairs just behind him with him carrying the lamp with which he saw his father go into his room. He then put the lamp on a chest of drawers and went back downstairs and talked to the housekeeper for half an hour and that they then both went upstairs to their respective rooms. The housekeeper had her room next to Robert Scotney's room whilst the son's room was further down the passage.

The next morning he said that he was called into his father's room at about 9am where he saw him lying on the floor.

He said that he had seen the bottle labelled strychnine before saying that his father had bought it some years before for destroying rats and which was usually kept in an iron safe for which his father had the key which itself was kept in his father’s room locked up in a drawer for which his father had the key. He also said that he had seen the pistol before which was normally kept in the bottom drawer in his father's room as protection against burglars and that he had bought it himself about twenty-five years earlier in Peterborough with some cartridges.

He said that he heard no one moving about in the house on the Friday night.

He also said that his father was not insured.

He said that Robert Scotney and the housekeeper had had words a couple of nights before and that as far as he knew she never went near the safe.

He also said that it was his father's idea to give up the farm.

The agent to the Duke of Bedford said that Robert Scotney had been a tenant on the Blue Bell Farm, which was 125 acres, since about 1870 and the Robert Scotney's son had lived with him all that time. He said that Robert Scotney had always been punctual with his rent and described him as a most satisfactory tenant. He said that he spoke to Robert Scotney around July 1901 about allowing Robert Scotney's son to take over the farm as his son was thinking of marrying the housekeeper, but the agent sais that he didn't think that it was altogether a desirable arrangement for him and asked him to reconsider it. He said that he remined Robert Scotney that he would then not be the master in his own house and might possibly have to leave it at some future date. However, he said that a few weeks later Robert Scotney saw him again and said that he had decided to remain on the farm.

However, the agent said that the subject was again referred to on the Monday, 10 February 1902, when Robert Scotney told him that he was practically penniless and that for some time he had been farming on his son's money. The agent said that Robert Scotney told him that he had decided to go and lodge in Thorney and said that what happened to him in the future was his own lookout. The agent said that the son was in the office at the time and that he asked him if he understood the application his father had made and said that the son said he did. He also confirmed with the son that it was his intention to marry the housekeeper which the son confirmed.

However, on 19 February 1902 the agent said that he wrote a letter declining the application saying that he didn’t think that the marriage between the son and the housekeeper was a desirable one and that he was doing his best to protect Robert Scotney. He added that as far as he knew Robert Scotney and his son had always been on very good terms.

The housekeeper said that she had been the housekeeper for sixteen years. She said that Robert Scotney was sometimes disagreeable with her but they always got on comfortably except when he was drunk. She confirmed that Robert Scotney had had supper on the Friday night and that when he had gone to bed he had seemed all right. She said that on the Saturday morning she breakfasted at 7am and when the son had returned from feeding the fowls at 9am she said to him 'Your father is not down yet, he is having a long sleep this morning'. She said then that she went upstairs and knocked at Robert Scotney's door but got no answer and so she went in and saw that the bed was unoccupied and then looked in further to see if Robert Scotney was dressing and said that she then saw him lying on the floor. She said that she thought he had slipped down whilst getting dressed. She said that he was lying flat on his back with his arms down by his sides. She said that she then called for a woman that was in the house and that the woman and the son then came up and they then called for the doctor.

When the Coroner questioned the doctor he asked how the thought Robert Scotney had died and the doctor said that he had died from heart failure brought about by the strychnine. The Coroner then said that as far as he was aware when a person died from strychnine they had convulsions and died from suffocation which the doctor agreed with. A juror then asked the doctor that if he had died of strychnine poisoning didn't it seem unnatural that he shouldn't have knocked about and the doctor replied that the first convulsion could have been so violent that there was no movement.

The doctor said that during the post-mortem he found that the blood in the body was fluid and of a darker colour than usual which was generally the case in strychnine poisoning.

He said that he examined the bottle that was found in the room along with a small tumbler that contained a white sediment which he discovered from tests contained strychnine. He said that he thought that the tumbler had had water in it but could not rule out that it had been milk. He said that strychnine didn't dissolve well in water and instead form a sort of emulsion.

The Coroner said that it was clear that he had died from strychnine poisoning but it could not be determined how he had come to take it or whether it had been forced on him but he thought not. He said that it was a complicated case and an open verdict was returned.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Peterborough Advertiser - Wednesday 26 February 1902