Tag Archives: north dumfries

Simpering Murdering Jim Allison of North Dumfries


from Memoirs of a great detective: incidents in the life of John Wilson Murray (1904)  compiled by Victor Speer

Over the hill from Galt, in the county of Waterloo, lies North Dumfries. The road that climbs the hill sweeps round in a big curve on the other side, as it enters the alley. Up a lane, leading from this valley road, stood a little white farmhouse, with a big unpainted barn nearby. It was screened from the main road by a clump of trees, although the house stood in open ground with its door fronting on an orchard, its kitchen window opening on a cornfield. The woodpile loomed up at the end of the house nearest the barn. Rain-barrels stood in a row against the house. Milking pans shone in the sunlight. A dog dozed in the lane. Chickens scratched and pecked, and lazily fluffed their feathers and settled in the dust. It was a hot morning — August 9th, 1897. Out of the house stepped a woman. She was a beauty. The freshness of girlhood had been supplanted by the charm of full womanhood. Her complexion was pale pink and white. Her big eyes were laughing and merry. A tot toddled after her, yawning drowsily, then turned back indoors. The woman shaded her eyes and looked toward the barn.

The shrill squeals of an angry pig rang out. A man’s gruff voice sounded, and then around the corner of the barn came Anthony Orr, the farmer, with a big sow in his wagon.

“Going, Tony?” called the woman.

“Yep!” shouted Tony Orr. “Back in a couple of hours.”

He drove away with his nine-year-old son, Norman. A moment later the hired boy, Jim Allison, appeared with two cows, and started them down the lane. They were to go to the Barrie farm near by. The woman watched her husband until the bend in the road hid him from view. She saw the Allison boy in the lane with the cows. She began to sing softly, so as not to disturb her two children — Maggie, aged ten, and a-year-old baby, still asleep upstairs. Half an hour passed.

Two days before, a buggy, with an easy-going horse, had come up the lane. A stout, jolly-faced man had alighted, and had hitched his horse and had sat chatting and laughing with the handsome woman. They seemed to know and understand one another well. The man had entered his buggy and gone away, as he had come, alone. He was nowhere in sight on this morning, although he was half expected. The woman had been sitting with dreamy eyes and gentle smile, her hands clasped and lying idly in her lap. She was a pretty picture in the sunlight. Tony Orr had reason to be proud of his wife. There had been gossip of her fondness for travel and for clever companions. There even had been a tale of an elopement and a penitent return to Tony’s arms and forgiveness. Neighbours had known of men callers at the white farmhouse. But Tony said all was well, and on the Orr farm that meant all was well. The woman sat still in the sunlight.

Two hours later Tony Orr returned. The farm boy, Jim Allison, was standing at the side gate of the house fence, laughing.

“What’s the matter?” asked Orr.

“Oh, nothing,” said Allison, laughing all the louder.

“What’s the matter?” demanded Orr.

“Oh, nothing,” laughed Allison.

“What’s up?” roared Orr.

“Your wife’s gone,” said Allison.

The baby was lying on the front steps. The little girl, Maggie, was sitting on the porch. Orr hurried to the kitchen. The breakfast dishes had not been touched. Orr ran out of the house, and saw Harry Blair, an agricultural implement dealer from Galt, just getting. out of his buggy. Harry Blair was stout and jolly faced.

“My wife’s gone!” shouted Orr.

“Gone! Gone where?” exclaimed the disappointed Blair.

Orr and Blair searched for her, and then got into Blair’s buggy and drove to Galt, thinking she might have gone with Weldon Sidney Trevelyan, a medical student who was spending the summer in Galt, and who had been calling on her. They found Trevelyan, and he knew nothing of the woman. Orr returned home, and organised a search for his wife. The authorities were notified.

“Many believed there had been an elopement,” says Murray. “Mrs. Orr was good-looking, a great favourite with men, but had a reputation. Her maiden name was Emma Borland. Her parents were well-to-do and lived at Bright. She was thirty-seven years old, and was born in Innerkip. She was first married to John Arnott, of Innerkip, who died when she was twenty-two, and three years later she married Anthony Orr, to whom she bore three children. To her children she was a loving, careful mother. To her husband she was said to be an indifferent wife. About two years previous to this she had run away with a hired man named Mulholland, but her husband caught her and her two children at Niagara Falls, and took them home again. Tony Orr was a nervous, excitable man, who had trouble with other men on account of their frequent calls on his wife. A week passed, with no trace of the wife’s whereabouts.

“At first, before traces of blood were found, the elopement theory vied with the suicide theory. On the day before Mrs. Orr disappeared, Tony Orr’s father was buried. Mrs. Orr attended the funeral, and some of the Orr family treated her coldly. The Orrs were an old family of good standing. On the way home from the funeral Mrs. Orr remarked that ‘she was no use and guessed she’d get out of here.’ This remark was the basis for the suicide talk.

“I went to the Orr farm. The boy Allison and the medical student Trevelyan had been held in Galt, and Harry Blair, the agricultural implement agent, was under surveillance. I looked the house over, a one and a half story white brick house with a frame kitchen. It was situated in a tract of country that, owing to the swamps and marshes in which it abounds, is most desolate. About two hundred yards from the house was a swamp or marsh of about one hundred acres, and above the wet and rank grass and weeds and thick soil grew almost impenetrable shrubs and trees. In this swamp was an excavation eighteen inches wide and six feet long and eighteen inches deep. It was newly dug, and clearly was an unfinished grave. I visited it in the night, and carefully took from the upturned surface the print of a man’s foot, a precise clue to the digger of the grave. In order to get this, I turned back the overturned earth after digging under it so as not to break its surface and destroy the footprint I knew must be there. I took this to my hotel in Galt, unknown to anyone in the affair.

“I returned to the Orr house. A picket fence separated the patch of garden from the corn patch adjoining the house. One of the pickets of this fence was gone. The paling mark was not of long exposure. I saw this was on a line between the house and the swamp, with the corn patch lying between. One of the furrows in this corn patch was raised slightly. John Orr, Tony’s brother, poked it with his stick. Six inches beneath the surface lay Mrs. Orr, face down, buried amid the corn within thirty feet of her house. That put an end to elopement or suicide theories. When I saw the half-dug grave in the swamp I knew there had been murder. The grave in the corn patch was but temporary. The murderer intended to hide the body for ever in the swamp.

“Back to Galt I went. Trevelyan proved an absolute alibi. Harry Blair, agitated over the whole affair, was not at the farmhouse when the deed was done, and had nothing to do with it. Tony Orr was five miles away at a neighbour’s, with his son and the sow. Allison — I went to see this boy. I had his old shoe, and it fitted the footprint by the grave in the swamp. He looked almost a freak. He was about seventeen years old, big for his age, and tremendously stocky in his build. His bow legs were big and muscular. His hands and feet were enormous. His shoulders were broad, his neck was thick, his arms were long and powerful. His features reminded me of the features of a frog. The forehead was low and retreating, and the face was very full at the sides. The hair was brown, cut close, and thc eyes were a greenish brown — large, watery eyes, uneasy, shifting, catlike. The mouth was very large, and the lips were full and seemed to simper, giving the face a cat’s expression. He walked with a peculiar, rolling motion, as if he would have preferred to be on all fours. He wore heavy, clod shoes, blue jeans, a calico shirt, and a faded, slouch hat pulled well over his eyes.

“I sat down and faced this boy.

“‘What do you know of this murder?’ I said.

“‘Nothing,’ he answered, with a grin.

“‘Tell me where you were on that morning,’ said I.

“‘I left Orr’s, with two cows, about 7.20,’ he said. ‘I got to Barrie’s farm about eight o’clock, and I left there about 8.50 and got back to Orr’s about 9.40. When I got back Mrs. Orr was gone.’

“‘How did you know she was gone?’

“‘She was not anywhere around,’ said the boy.

“‘Where is your shot gun?’ I asked.

“‘Just before I left with the cows, Mrs. Orr asked me to show her the gun, and she asked me how it was used, and I explained it, and then put it back and went on with the cows,’ he lied glibly.

“His gun, which always was kept in the house, was found hidden in the hay-mow in the barn. It had been discharged. There were blood-stains on it.

“‘Allison,’ I said slowly, ‘you killed Mrs. Orr.’

“He started up, white as flour, shaking like a man with ague. I waited for his confession. He mumbled, hesitated, and — sat down and grinned. For four hours I worked with him. He grinned and lied.

“An idea previously had occurred to me. Allison’s father, Alex Allison, was city scavenger of Galt. The father had seen the boy alone. That night the father was followed. It was before the finding of the body was generally known. The father had gone to the swamp to finish, for his son, the half-dug grave. The boy had told him of it.

“‘Allison,’ I said to the boy, ‘your father says you dropped your knife at the grave in the swamp.’

“‘No I didn’t, for I left it when I went ——’

“He stopped. It was on the tip of his tongue trembling, quivering, almost out.

“‘That’s enough,’ I said.

“Some newspapers declaimed against my examination of this boy, and talked of a sweat-box system, and asserted the boy’s innocence. In due time their mistake was revealed.

“The evidence was overwhelming when it all was collected. There was no need to use the footprint by the grave. Allison was proved by neighbours and folk on the road to have the exclusive opportunity to do the deed. His blood-stained gun had been fired, and the empty cartridge found in it was one he had taken from a box in the house. John Orr and his family on the next farm had heard a gunshot after Tony left with the sow. Allison had called out Mrs. Orr from the house, shot at her, clubbed her to death, then buried her temporarily in the cornfield, and at night dug the grave in the swamp. He had importuned her, and she refused him, and the murder followed.

“The grand jury found a true bill on November 29th, and Allison’s trial followed at once. Chief Justice Meredith presided. H.P. O’Connor, K.C., prosecuted, and J.R. Blake and J.J.H. Weir defended. On Friday, December 3rd, 1897, this seventeen-year-old murderer was found guilty, and was sentenced to be hanged in Berlin gaolyard on Friday, February 4th, 1898. His father fell in an epileptic fit when he heard the verdict.

“Smiling serenely, Jim Allison went up to his death. He mounted the scaffold unaided at eight o’clock on a raw, snowy morning. He shook hands politely with the guards, the hangman, and the minister, waited quietly while the black cap and noose were adjusted, stepped on to the trap at 8, and dropped into eternity.

“Allison had learned to read and write a little in his six months in a cell, and he had scrawled laboriously the following on a piece of paper:

“‘I am sorry for my crime. I did it out of ill-will. I hope those whom I wronged will forgive me, and that no one will turn this up to my people. My sentence is just, and I hope God will have mercy on me.’

“He signed this, and read it to them when they came to take him out and hang him.”


From the first part of his book


In a tangled swamp on a farm near Galt, in the county of Waterloo, Province of Ontario, Canada, in August 1897, searchers were hunting for the body of a farmer’s wife. She had disappeared, and blood by the wood pile and near the house told of a crime and the hiding of the body. One of the party beating the swamp came upon a half-dug grave. He kept silence as to his discovery, and, when night fell, he secreted himself in the thick brush near the grave and waited, in the faint hope that the murderer would return and finish his task, perchance bringing the body with him.


It was bright moonlight overhead. In the thicket of the swamp all was gloom, save for a broken filtering of pale light where the underbrush and tall briar had been thinned out. It was a lonely, dismal place. An owl’s wailing and the swamp-frog’s croaking were the only sounds. The hours passed. Midnight came and went. Not even a lizard appeared by the grave. The watcher was about to creep closer and ease his limbs, when a rustle sounded in the brush, a noise like the wind swishing a bush. It ceased, then came again, then all was still. Suddenly, on the side of the grave farthest from the watcher, a figure crept swiftly out of the thicket and stood erect.


The moon shone full upon him. He was tall and broad- shouldered, with a pose like that in the old-fashioned prints of heroic figures of the ancient wars. He wore knee-boots, with a long, loose coat reaching to their tops, and buttoned to the chin. A slouch hat, pulled well down on the forehead, shaded his face. In his left hand he held a spade. He paused by the grave, thrust his spade into the earth, and left it upright like a headstone, then shoved back the hat, and knelt on all fours, with his face close to the ground, for all the world like a bloodhood sniffing for a scent. On hands and knees he crept around and around the grave. Finally, from a pocket of the long coat, he produced a tiny lamp, and turning its light full upon the ground, he resumed his circling of the grave, his face not five inches from the earth, his eyes searching every foot of ground.


For half an hour this creeping around the grave continued. Then the figure squatted by the mound of earth and sat motionless. Suddenly he arose, seized the spade, and swiftly tossed away the mound of earth dug from the grave. All was done so noiselessly, so deftly, that it seemed unreal, phantom-like, the antics of a ghost. As he neared the bottom of the pile of earth his care redoubled. At length, he began to dig around the remnant of the pile as if making a second grave, beside the first. He had left about four inches of the earth from the first grave lying undisturbed on the site of the second grave. It was thick, sticky soil, that held together firmly, being less watery than elsewhere in the swamp, yet being full of heaviness and moisture.


He dug cautiously, sinking the spade about four inches in the soil, then driving it under, as would a man in cutting sod. When he thus had cut under the entire remnant of earth from the first grave he cleared a space on the ground beside it, and as one would turn a pancake on the griddle, he flipped the earth out and turned it on to the cleared space, so that the remnant of soil from the first grave was underneath. He then painstakingly lifted away the upper layer, and thus exposed to view the soil from the first grave, precisely as it had formed the surface or top of the earth before the digging of the grave began. He knelt over this earth as a mother over her child. He turned the light of the little lamp full upon it. Then he grunted, a subdued, deep, satisfied grunt. With the spade he carefully cut out a piece of the earth about a foot long and half as wide. He produced a measuring rule, and for half an hour worked over the piece of earth. Then he took the earth in his arms as tenderly as if it were a babe, picked up the spade, and vanished in the thicket.


Like a flash it dawned on the watcher that this mysterious figure had been searching for footprints. He had found no clear footprint around the grave. The marks there had been trampled by those of the watcher. But on the surface of the earth, where the grave had been dug, the footprints of the digger were certain to appear. So the figure in the long coat had reclaimed this surface undisturbed, and, judging from the one sound he made, the grunt of joy, he had found what he sought.


The watcher trailed after him, ignorant of who he was or whence he came. The grey dawn was creeping into the sky as he entered his hotel at Gait A sleepy porter was lolling on a table. Footsteps sounded in the hall, and past the office door on his way upstairs went the figure of the long coat. The coat was in his arms, borne carefully, for it concealed the precious piece of earth.


” Who is that ? ” asked the watcher.


“That!” said the porter, with a yawn. “That’s Old Never-let-go.”


” Who ? ” asked the watcher.


” Old Never-let-go,” answered the porter. ” Murray, John Murray, Old Never-let-go, the greatest genuine detective that this here or any other bloomin’ country can produce. He’s snoopin’ around now a gettin’ ready to fix a hangin’ for whoever killed Mrs. Orr.”


The figure of the long coat was in his room before the porter finished. He had laid the piece of earth on a table and turned the light full on it. A footprint showed, distinct in every detail of the shoe’s outline. He remeasured it carefully, noting the measurements on a slip of paper. When he finished he compared this slip with another slip. Then he went to a closet, and drew forth an old shoe, earth-stained and worn. He gently lowered this shoe into the imprint on the piece of earth. It matched. The clue held true.


After locking the piece of earth in an iron box, he went straight to the gaol or lockup, where a suspect was under guard. He entered the cell, and slammed the door. An hour later he returned to his room at the hotel, glanced, longingly at the bed, then at his watch, shook his head, and five minutes later was in a cold bath. When he appeared in the hotel office shortly after, the newspaper men and others including the watcher in the swamp, crowded around him.


” Any news ? ” they asked eagerly.


” The murderer’s locked up,” was the reply.


” Who is he ? ”


“Jim Allison, the chore boy. He’ll confess before he’s hanged.”


Allison was tried and convicted, and he confessed before he was hanged. At the trial there was no inkling of the all- night labours in the swamp or of the fatal footprint. The case was complete, without a revelation of the methods of the man who ran down the necessary evidence. If it had been necessary, the piece of earth with the tell-tale tread, a plaster cast of it to make it still plainer, would have been in evidence at the trial. It was not needed, and hence it did not appear. In a somewhat similar case a few years before, proof of footprints was needed, and it did appear.


” You’re sure Allison did it ? ” asked the newspaper men at the Gait hotel.


” Sure,” said Murray, and he went to breakfast.