The following is the editors’ introduction and the first few paragraphs to the case “The Parson of Spott” in volume 1 of Murder Most Criminous.
Clerics, we expect, should be the prime examples of rectitude. When they are not, we are surprised. When they become criminals, we are shocked.
Here William Roughead tells the story of a cleric in the 17th century in a small village of Scotland. He commits the ultimate act violence against his wife. He does this early on a Sunday morning. Then he goes off to conduct worship services for his parish.
Roughead manages to tell us all of this and much more using his special gifts of language and expression. The following is both an entertaining and an instructive section, an excellent example of the great man’s writing. The gentle reader will be confronted with a bit of old Scottish vernacular, but marching through (or around) that thicket will have its rewards.
The criminous clerk is a character but seldom impersonated by what may be called the stock company of the Justiciary Opera. The part has been long a popular one on the Continent, and France especially has produced many eminent players.
“From the consummate Riembauer, so graphically described by Feuerbach, through Mingrat and Contrafatto, down to the Abbés Boudes and Bruneau of our own day, the crimes of priests have possessed an atrocity all their own.” Thus Mr. H. B. Irving, in his admirable Studies of French Criminals of the Nineteenth Century. But the Roman Catholic clergy do not possess the exclusive right of representation. Protestant England, for instance, is secure in the supremacy of Dr. Titus Oates in the role, and very capable performers have been furnished from time to time by a variety of sects. In Scotland, however, we must go back more than three centuries to find an actor of outstanding merit.
So remote is the period that only a glimpse of this old-time tragedy is now obtainable from a brief entry in the official record, and from certain scanty notices by contemporary historians of the Kirk, who, as is their wont in dealing with such scandals, devote more space to the culprit’s contrition than to the particulars of his crime. The murderer’s own confession, fortunately, has been preserved. “The Confessione of Mr. Johnne Kello, minister of Spott; together with his earnest repentance made upon the scaffald before his suffering, the fourth day of October 1570,” was “imprinted at Edinburgh be Robert Leckprivicke” in that year. It is reprinted with some variations both in the Journal and Memorials of Richard Bannatyne, secretary to John Knox, and also in Calderwood’s History of the Kirk of Seotland. Though doubtless edited for behoof of the godly, it remains a human document of rare interest, and such facts of the case as have survived sufficiently prove that the Reverend John Kello was no whit inferior to his clerical rivals of other days and climes.
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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