The following is the editors’ introduction and the first few paragraphs to the case “The Ghost of Sergeant Davies” in volume 1 of Murder Most Criminous.
It is this odd fact that sets the trial of the murder of Sergeant Arthur Davies apart from all others.
In this article William Roughead recounts a trial that took place more than a century before he started attending and writing about trials. It takes the reader back to the times in the wild and barren Highlands of Scotland when rebellious and lawless men roamed the mountains and the lochs. Companies of the British army were stationed there to quell rebellions and to try to keep order.
Among that company of men was one Sergeant Davies, who left his home and his wife one morning and later his military companions and set out on his own, never to be seen again. At least, that’s how we in the real world would see it. One Scotsman, however, said that he was seen again – that it was his apparition.
That apparition became part of the trial of the men who were accused of killing Sergeant Davies. The outcome of the trial was surprising if not shocking, and it remains one of Scotland’s most important and infamous criminal cases even today.
Few judicial utterances are better known or more widely quoted than this immortal dictum of Mr. Justice Stareleigh. Yet there was precedent against his lordship’s ruling, for in the year 1754, the High Court of Justiciary had admitted as evidence what was said by “the soldier’s’ ghost!”
And so lately as I831, the testimony of a voice from the other world was accepted in the Assynt murder case by the same tribunal. But English practice was no stricter, and although only two instances of spectral evidence occur in the state trials, the research of Mr. Andrew Lang has disclosed similar cases. Both of the Scots spirits spoke in Gaelic, which would seem to be an appropriate medium of communication but for the fact that the soldier, an Englishman, while in the flesh had no knowledge of that tongue.
The case first mentioned arose out of the slaying of Sergeant Davies, and the trial of his murderers was privately printed for the Bannatyne Club at the instance of Sir Walter Scott. The time was some three years after the doleful day of Drummossie, the place a solitary hillside at the head of Glenclunie, in the heart of the Grampians. “A more waste tract of mountain and bog, rocks and ravines, extending from Dubrach to Glenshee, without habitations of any kind until you reach Glenclunie, is scarce to be met with in Scotland,” writes Sir Walter; “a more fit locality, therefore, for a deed of murder could hardly be pointed out, nor one which could tend more to agitate superstitious feelings.”
During March and April 2022, the first volume of this series is being offered to readers at a special ebook price of $1.99. It can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other ebook platforms. Paperback and hardback editions of this work are also available.
Volume 2 in this series, which will include the Oscar Slater case, is due out later this spring.
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