Juan Ignacio Blanco  


  MALE murderers

index by country

index by name   A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

  FEMALE murderers

index by country

index by name   A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z




Murderpedia has thousands of hours of work behind it. To keep creating new content, we kindly appreciate any donation you can give to help the Murderpedia project stay alive. We have many
plans and enthusiasm to keep expanding and making Murderpedia a better site, but we really
need your help for this. Thank you very much in advance.




Margaret DICKSON






A.K.A.: "Half Hangit Maggie"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Infanticide
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: 1724
Date of birth: 1702
Victim profile: Her newborn baby
Method of murder: ????
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Status: Executed by hanging at Edinburgh on September 2, 1724. Survived and she was given a full pardon

Margaret Dickson was hanged on the 2 September 1724 at Edinburgh.  Her crime was that of infanticide, namely that she had murdered her newborn baby.  She worked as a domestic and it was her story that she had become pregnant by one of the sons of the household, a common enough occurance.  So that she would not lose her job she concealed the fact she was pregnant and gave birth in secret.

According to her the child was born dead and so she had disposed of the body on the banks of the local river Tweed.  The small body was discovered later that same day.  Investigations led back to Margaret Dickson and when questioned she admitted the baby had been hers but maintained that it had already been dead and her only crime was in the way in which she tried to conceal the body.

She was tried at Edinburgh and although the evidence was weak was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.  As was usual in those days a large crowd gathered to witness the passing of Margaret Dickson and were not disapointed.  She was hanged and her body left suspended for the customary 30 minutes.  Her body was cut down and taken away in a coffin on a cart to be buried several miles away.  At one stage the driver of the cart had stopped for a break and thought he heard noises coming from the coffin.  He was right, for some unknown reason Margaret was not dead and had revived and was now trying to get out of the coffin.

This was perhaps seen as devine intervention and she was given a full pardon, she went on to live another 25 years.


The Hanging of Margaret Dickson

The true tale of a womn who survived a public hanging

By Alison J. Butler

In an age when women are expected to know their place, be submissive, dutiful and chaste, Maggie Dickson, a Musselburgh fishwife, is often in trouble. She’s outspoken, promiscuous and vituperative. While her husband’s at sea she sells her fish, sleeps with men for pleasure or money, and looks after her two bairns’. In time, her husband abandons her. Maggie quits Musselburgh and heads for Newcastle to stay with relatives.

During the winter of 1723, a fisherman finds the dead body of a naked, baby boy. Fingers are soon pointing in the direction of a stranger working in a local tavern, a woman recently estranged from her mariner husband. It is rumoured that she’s been having a passionate affair with the innkeeper’s young son, William Bell, and that he is the father of the dead child.

Maggie is arrested and taken to Edinburgh tollbooth to await trial, she is found guilty and sentenced to death. The news spreads like wildfire, and as Maggie languishes in jail the whole city speculates whether or not she killed her child. Will she take her secret to her grave? The Hanging of Maggie Dickson is a heartrending tale of sexual obsession, and unrequited love. Synopsis Maggie Dickson is a free spirit, with a love of life and a love of men, in particular, young, handsome men. There are two obstacles. The year is 1723, and Maggie is a married mother of two children.

The Hanging of Margaret Dickson is based on the true story of a hanging gone wrong in Edinburgh, Scotland on September 2nd 1724. It highlights the plight of peasant fisherwomen and their admirable ability to survive. Tough, resourceful, indisputably feminine, Maggie’s voice speaks to us across the centuries with shocking familiarity. Coastal Scotland and the bleak life of fishery folks are the cultural setting for this incredible tale. Maggie Dickson, a flawed character of great drama, courage and lustful heart, is born to an alcoholic, philandering father and a disillusioned mother. On her wedding day she swears that she will be mastered by no man, not even her husband.

Her fisherman husband goes to sea and leaves her alone with two children to a starving subsistence. Maggie has no option but to use her considerable charms and looks to survive. One day when she is selling her fish at market, she discovers a new and licentious source of secret income in nearby Edinburgh, and embarks on a career of vice and debauchery. When her husband is press- ganged into the navy she abandons her children to a friend and begins her calamitous journey. She heads from Musselburgh to relatives in Newcastle to find her husband.

With an adventurous spirit she discovers a new feeling of freedom and seeks her decadent destiny. After almost freezing to death along the way she ends up in a tavern in Kelso. The landlady likes her and asks Maggie to work there for board and lodgings. The life of a tavern wench suits her well and Maggie thrives for months until she develops a sexual obsession for innkeeper’s son, William Bell. She is swept away into to a deep and all-consuming love by the tall and attractive young man, yearns for him and finally begs for his attention. In the heat of the moment there is one passionate interlude that tears her world apart. The young man walks away knowing she is married and off limits. Her forbidden love festers to the point where Maggie completely loses her mind.

She finds herself pregnant with William's child and contrives to conceal her condition. Risking her own life she delivers the secret child prematurely. After a few days, hidden under her bed, the baby dies. Heartbroken, Maggie determines to throw the baby in the river Tweed, to avoid implicating William, but loses her nerve and places it at the water’s edge. A local fisherman discovers the body and notifies the magistrate.

Maggie is arrested and taken to Edinburgh for trial, found guilty and sentenced to death. She dwindles away in the most horrible prison conditions, common to the time, chained to a rail with the dead and dying. After her dramatic trial, Maggie is hanged by executioner, John Dalgliesh, and death is pronounced by the attending doctor. Her body is cut down and placed in a coffin.

The funeral party in charge of the corpse stop at a tavern for refreshments, leaving the coffin and cart outside. Meanwhile, two passing joiners hear noises coming from inside the coffin and inform the father and friends. When the lid is taken off the corpse rises, alive! Spectators run for their lives but her father, Duncan, holds her in his arms. She is taken to Musselburgh and recovers full health where she is reunited with her husband. He forgives her and marries her for second time. They have a son, James Spence, ten months after her trial. True to form, the infamous and shameless Margaret Dickson remains unrepentant and runs an alehouse in Berwick, Scotland where she lives until as late as 1753.

The novel is now published and tells the true story of her remarkable life:


1724: Half-Hangit Maggie Dickson

Allegedly on this date in 1724, a young woman was hanged at Edinburgh’s Grassmarket for concealing her pregnancy.

Any number of details in this horrible/wonderful story are shaky, including the date: some sources make it 1728, a few say 1723, and only a handful attest a specific calendar date. Nobody seems to doubt the tale in the main, however — and it’s certainly excellent enough lore to deserve even a heavily asterisked entry.

Deserted by her husband, young Maggie Dickson took lodgings at an inn in exchange for work, and became pregnant by either the innkeeper or his son. (Again — details in the various sources available read like a game of telephone.) Since single pregnant working-class women had about as many employment options as birth control options, Maggie kept quiet about her condition in the interest of keeping her job.

And since male parliamentarians figured their job was to keep young lasses of loose character and modest means on the straight and narrow by criminalizing their options, Maggie’s sleight-of-womb put her in violation of a law against concealing a pregnancy. (The same situation was playing out elsewhere in the British sphere at this time.)

When the resulting infant turned up dead, the trail led straight to Dickson … but the concealment of the pregnancy and birth were capital crimes on their own, making it immaterial whether it had been a miscarried pregnancy, an act of infanticide, or simply one of the many early 18th century babies to die in the cradle. The law was an indiscriminate instrument to prevent women terminating their pregnancies.

Nothing noteworthy about the hanging itself is recorded; it seems to have been one of the routine public stranglings of the age, and even the scuffle over the body between family and medical students hunting dissection-ready cadavers was a normal occurrence.

The family won. And en route to Musselburgh for burial, Maggie started banging on the inside of the coffin, and was forthwith revived. Officials decided the sentence of hanging had already been carried out … and her awestruck neighbors suddenly started seeing Maggie sympathetically

And they all lived happily ever after. This day’s principal, at any rate, gained a foothold in adequate prosperity, bore more children, and answered to the nickname “Half-Hangit Maggie Dickson” all the many more years of her life.


The story of Maggie Dickson

Maggie Dickson lived in the Early Eighteenth century as a fish hawker and would certainly have remained an anonymous figure had she not been the subject of a public hanging.

Her misfortune began when her husband deserted her in 1723 forcing her to leave the city and move further south to Kelso near the Scottish Borders. Here, she worked for an inkeeper in return for basic lodgings.

Soon after she started an affair with the Innkeeper’s son which led to her becoming pregnant, not wanting the innkeeper to discover this as it would surely lead to her instant dismissal she concealed her pregnancy as long as possible. However the baby was born prematurely and died within a few days of being born. Still hiding the baby's existance she planned to put the baby into the River Tweed, but couldn't bring herself to and finally left it on the riverbank.

The same day the baby was discovered and traced to Maggie. She was charged under the contravention of the Concealment of Pregnancy Act and she was taken back to Edinburgh for Trial and execution – the latter taking place in public in the Grasssmarket on the 2nd September 1724.

After the hanging she was pronounced dead and her body was bound for Musselburgh where she was to be buried, however the journey was interrupted by a knocking and banging from within the wooden coffin.

The lid was lifted to the sight of Maggie, quite alive. The law saw it as God's will and she was freed to live for a further forty years. She became something of a local celebrity and the locals gave her the nickname 'Half Hangit' Maggie.'

Some said that she had seduced and manipulated the ropemaker, to engineer a weaker noose.

A pub in the Grassmarket is named Maggie Dickson's after her memory, which means her name and story will be remembered for some time yet.


Particulars of the Life, Trial, Character, and Behaviour of MARGARET DICKSON, AGED 22, Who was executed at Edinburgh, on Monday, Feb. 1, 1813, For the MURDER of her Bastard Child.

MARGARET DICKSON was born at Mugsleburgh, about five miles from Edinburgh, and brought up by parents in a strict attendance on the worship of God, and taught early the duties of that station, in which was most probable Providence would place her, namely, a laborious one.

It is necessary to observe, that the people in the town, where she lived, are either fishermen, gardeners, or those who are employed in making salt; and as Edinburgh is supplied with those articles from that place, most of the mens wives are employed to get their living, by carrying the different articles thither, which they cry about the streets.

When Margaret Dickson grew up, she was married to a fisherman, but there being a demand for seamen he was impressed on board one of the ships of war.

During the time he was abroad, she became acquainted with a man in the same neighbourhood, who seduced her, and the consequence was, that she became with child, in
Scotland every woman who was guilty of fornication, was obliged to sit on a seat in the most conspicuous place in the church, three different Sundays, when she received a public rebuke from the minister, and so much were the women intimidated at the disgrace, that many of them destroyed the fruits of their amours, rather than be made a spectacle to all the inhabitants of a parish ; for nothing was more common than for these, who would not come to church to hear a a sermon in seven years, would go to hear the shame of one of her own sex.

Margaret Dickson was accused by some of her neighbours with being pregnant, but the fear of shame induced her to deny it, although the symptoms were very plain.

As the time of her delivery drew near, she endeavoured to conceal it the more, and at last the child was born, but whether alive or not, cannot be certainly known ; only that she was apprehended on suspicion, and committed to Edinburgh Gaol. The surgeon, who examined the body of the child, made the usual experiments, by putting the lungs into water, but according to the opinion of some eminent physicians, that experiment is not always to be depended upon, it is impossible for men to know every thing; and it often happens, that gentlemen, who have made the law their study, and obtained seats on the bench, are obliged, in taking evidence, to abide by the opinion of a surgeon. Indeed, where cases are plain, such as a wound with a weapon, that must of course prove mortal, no doubt can remain ; but then, when the life of a person depends upon the opinion of two or three surgeons concerning a disputed point, we think that both the court and the jury ought to lean to mercy. In the course of the evidence produced against Margaret Dickson, it appeared from the depositions of several witnesses, that she had been apparently pregnant, although she continued to deny it. It also appeared, that a child was found dead near the place where she lived, and there were to be seen about her all the appearances of a delivery.

The surgeon deposed, that when the lungs of the child were put into water they swimmed, so that it was their opinion that it had breathed ; for as they said, unless a child has breathed, so as air could be drawn into the lungs those parts of the body will not swim. Upon the whole the evidence was believed by the jury, who found her guilty, and she received sentence of death.

While she lay in confinement she was extremely penitent, and acknowledged that she had in many instances, neglected her duty, and likewise that she had been guilty of fornication ; but to the last denied murdering the child, or that she had the least intention of so doing. Her reason for concealing the birth of the child was for fear of being made a public example in the church, and a laughing-stock to all her neighbours. She said she was suddenly taken in labour, sooner than she expected, and her agonies not only prevented her from getting assistance, but also left her in a state of insensibility, so that what became of her child she could not say.

When she was brought to the gallows she behaved in the most penitent manner, but still denied her guilt, after which she was turned off, and hung the usual time.

When cut down her body was given to her friends, who put her into a coffin, in order to carry it to Musselburgh, for interment; but the men who had charge of the corpse stopped at a village, called Pepper Mill, about two miles from Edinburgh, in order to get some refreshment, leaving the cart with the body near the door. While they were drinking one of the men thought he saw the lid of the coffin move, and going towards the cart, uncovered it, when he could perceive the woman to move, and she arose upright in her coffin; upon which he and others took to their heels, almost killed with fear. A gardener who was drinking in the house went up to the coffin, and had the presence of mind to open a vein, and within an hour afterwards she was so well recovered as to be able to go to bed. Next morning she walked home to Mussleburgh. It is necessary to observe that much of the Scottish law is built on Roman Pandects, and according to them every person upon whom the judgment of the court has been executed, has no more to suffer, but must be for ever discharged. Another maxim in the same institution is, that the executed person is dead law, so that the marriage is dissolved. This was the case with M. Dickson, for the King's advocate could not pursue her any further, but filed a bill in the High Court of Justicary against the Sheriff, for not seeing the judgment executed, and her husband being a good-natured man, was married to her a few days after. She still continued to deny that she had committed the crime. From her example, and the uncertainly of her guilt, it is to be hoped that juries will be cautious how they find a verdict where the case may appear doubtful.

This remarkable affair happened at Edinburgh.
Wilkins, Printer, Derby.


Margaret Dickson


Margaret Dickson




home last updates contact