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Jeannie DONALD





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: The child had been injured to make it appear as though she had been sexually assaulted - Jeannie Donald never explained how and why Helen Priestly was killed
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: April 20, 1934
Date of birth: July 8, 1895
Victim profile: Helen Priestly, 8
Method of murder: Asphyxiation
Location: Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom
Status: Sentenced to death in 1934. Commuted to penal servitude for life. Released on June 24, 1944. Died in 1976
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Jeannie Donald

Scottish homicide; on trial in July 1934 for the murder of Helen Priestly, age eight when her body was found in a sack under the stairs of the Aberdeen tenement where she lived, 4/21/1934. The child had gone to the store the prior afternoon to buy a loaf of bread for her mom, and never returned. She had dyed of asphyxiation and it was a suspected rape, which was later disproven.

The neighbors were investigated, in particular, the Donald family. Helen had persisted in called Mrs. Donald "Coconut" until Jeannie Donald had hit Helen. The two families had maintained enmity since, not speaking. Human hairs were found in the sack with Helen which proved to be those of Mrs. Donald, and a part of a loaf of bread was found in her kitchen, the brand that Mrs. Priestly used.

Jeannie Donald was arrested and went to trial in July 1934. It was concluded that she decided to teach Helen a lesson for her impertinence and had jumped out from under the stairs. Helen could have vomited in fright and choked to death. Mrs. Donald could then have simulated rape with some blunt instrument to deflect suspicion from herself before putting the child's body in the sack.

Jeannie Donald was found guilty and given the death sentence, but this was later commuted to life. She was released in 1944 and disappeared from the public eye, dying in 1976.


Jeannie Donald

A tragic case involving a child that was more likely to have been manslaughter than murder.

Eight-year-old Helen Priestly vanished on 20th April 1934. At 1.30pm she had left the first-floor Aberdeen tenement in Urquhart Road, where her family lived, to fetch a loaf of bread from the local Co-op bakery and had not returned. Her body was found at 5am the next day, concealed in a sack, in a lavatory of the tenement where she lived, by Alex Porter, a friend of Helen's father. The cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation and there appeared to be signs of rape. The sack containing her body was dry, this was despite the fact that there had been heavy rain a couple of hours earlier. This indicated that the body had been stored somewhere local and the hunt, and ensuing commotion, had made the killer dump the body in a hurry.

Further forensic tests determined that the child had not been raped but had been injured to make it appear as though she had been sexually assaulted. Suspicion fell upon the Donalds. The Priestly's refused to talk to the Donalds after Mrs Donald had hit Helen when the girl had been cheeky to her. When the Donald home was examined stains were found and the Donalds were arrested, though the stains later turned out to be unconnected. Mr Donald was soon released, he had been at work when Helen disappeared, but Jeannie Donald was charged with Helen's murder. Human hairs were found in the sack and these proved to belong to Donald. Coal-ash and cinders matched similar found in the Donald's home.

She was tried at Edinburgh on 16th July 1934. The defence contended that the child's injuries were consistent with rape that, of course, would have cleared Mrs Donald. The most damning evidence came from Jeannie's daughter who testified that the Co-op loaf, that had been found in the Donald house, was not theirs. Jeannie Donald did not testify, was found guilty and sentenced to death. This was commuted to penal servitude for life and she was released in 1944.

It was speculated that what actually happened was that Helen Priestly had been ringing the Donald's doorbell and running away. Jeannie Donald had hidden under the stairs and when the child did it again, Jeannie had leapt out and frightened the child so much she had caused the child to choke on her own vomit. Helen had suffered from an enlarged thymus gland and this would have made her more prone to fainting. A frightened Jeannie then molested the child to make it look like a rape killing.


Bad blood and the vile death of little Helen

Forensic experts prove 'sex killer' was woman If the lynch mob had got hold of Jeannie's husband they'd have killed wrong person

By Reg McKay -

October 19, 2007

MISSING. What an anxious time for those who are left. Especially when the missing one is your eight-year-old daughter.

Little Helen Priestly had been sent to the shops by her mum at lunchtime to buy a loaf of bread, as she was most days. Except that day, April 21, 1934, she never returned.

The shop was near to her ho me at 61 Urquhart Street, Aberdeen.

Tall, fair-haired, bright Helen was well known in the neighbourhood and while she was a wee bit quiet, she was a confident girl. How could she have gone missing?

Helen's mother, father, friends and neighbours all feared the worst. Helen hadn't wandered off- she had been taken.

Within a few hours, the police had been notified and hundreds of local people volunteered to search every nook and cranny of the area. The biggest search in Aberdeen's history went on all night.

At 2am, Helen's exhausted father was eventually persuaded to go home for a few hours' sleep. A neighbour, Alexander Parker, promised that he'd go to his house and waken him again at 5am to resume the search.

On his word, Parker entered the Priestlys' close around 5am and was surprised to see a large, blue hessian bag lying there against a wall.

Curious, he pulled the bag open and promptly dropped it again, acid disgust rushing into his gullet. Helen Priestly's dead eyes looked up at him.

Searchers, friends, family and the police had been up and down that close repeatedly since Helen had gone missing. Her father had walked wearily in at 2am and there had been no bag.

Someone, the killer, had placed Helen there between 2am and 5am.

Why? Why there? They were the first of many questions that needed to be answered in the search for Helen Priestly's murderer. Helen Priestly had been murdered all right. Strangled.

But there was more. The wee lassie had deep bruises on her upper thighs and her sexual organs had been mutilated. A sex killer was on the loose.

Word of Helen's injuries leaked to the public. Soon, those who had been searching for her were joined by even more folk in vigilante groups patrolling the area with pick shaft handles and hand-made clubs.

Police were fast losing control of Aberdeen's streets and prayed they found the murderer before the mobs did.

On the other hand, such groups milling around night and day were likely to ensure the killer didn't strike again.

The police carried out door-to-door interviews in one of the biggest operations the city had ever seen.

One neighbour reported hearing a high-pitched scream from a house in the Priestly close around lunchtime.

Later, a slater from outside the area but who had been working in the back close that day, also reported hearing a "screech" around the same time.

Then there was the blue hessian bag. It bore distinctive marks and a fading Canadian export stamp. With a few inquiries, the cops ascertained that it was used for transporting flour and there weren't many outlets in Scotland, let alone Aberdeen. But there was one - a bakery close to Helen's house.

There, a baker remembered that a woman had come in asking for a bag some time before and he'd given her one of the blue Canadian bags. He provided a rough description of her but not enough to pinpoint the person.

The police looked closer to home.

The Priestlys and Helen were popular with everyone. Well, almost everyone.

There was bad blood between them and a family in the same close, the Donalds. It had all started over such trivial, piffling matters that the Priestlys couldn't remember what they were. But they did describe how Jeannie Donald in particular seemed to keep the bad blood flowing.

Jeannie Donald was the woman of her house and had even picked on young Helen by scowling at her on the street and chasing her from playing in the close. Her husband was a barber and they had a daughter, also Jeannie, around Helen's age. A child who was to prove her mother's downfall.

Young Jeannie Donald told the cops how on the day Helen went missing, she noticed that the bread in her home was different from the type they usually had. Sure enough, the local baker confirmed that the loaf young Jeannie described was the very type Helen bought for her mother every day.

That was enough for cops desperate to get a result. Jeannie Donald and her husband were arrested.

But, before the police could escort them down the stairs to the waiting van, an angry crowd had surrounded the building baying for blood.

Cops eventually battled their way through but when they arrived at the station, another mob were waiting.

The whole city was united in fury at the killers of Helen Priestly. So much so that the wee victim had to be buried in a secret ceremony.

If the lynch mobs had got hold of Jeannie Donald's man that night, they would have been making a mistake.

Within a day, colleagues and customers at the barbershop where he worked confirmed he had been there throughout the key day. He was released.

But even then, the man had to take his daughter and move out of the area in fear of their lives. Jeannie Donald went to trial at Edinburgh High Court on Monday 16 July 1934.

It wasn't just in Aberdeen that the death of wee Helen had moved people. The cobbled yard outside the court thronged with angry people from dawn. Lines of uniformed police were brought in to keep them back as the mob swelled.

The folk outside calling for Jeannie Donald's blood saw her as a callous sex killer. Now, inside the court, it was the Crown's job to prove it. They intended to use 164 witnesses and hundreds of productions.

Jeannie Donald pleaded not guilty but she had no witnesses, no productions, no alibi. Nothing.

The Crown were about to make some Scottish legal history by their reliance on forensic evidence.

Key to this was Professor John Glaister, of Glasgow University. He had been studying hair and could prove that hairs found on Helen's corpse matched hair found on a brush used by the accused in jail. Hair inside the blue hessian sack was Jeannie Donald's as well.

Other forensic bods found fibres from the sack in the Donalds' home and bacterial growth inside the sack matched that in their house. All damning expert evidence but their trump card was yet to be played.

Jeannie Donald's defence was entirely reliant on discrediting the Crown's case. They'd argue how could she, as a woman, have raped Helen as the injuries showed. Not so, said three pathologists who had all independently examined Helen's body.

The injuries were caused by the shaft of a hammer or broom handle to appear as if the girl had been raped and killed by a man.

It was the most damning evidence of all. It took the jury 18 minutes to find Jeannie Donald guilty of murder. She was one of the first people in the world to be convicted on forensic evidence.

Her trial set a precedent that was soon to become the norm. Outside, an angry mob howled for Jeannie Donald's blood.

Inside was a different scene. Judge Lord Aitchison was reduced to tears. He had never worn the black cap and here he was sentencing a woman to death.

Jeannie Donald was driven off through the screaming crowds to Craiginches Prison, Aberdeen, to wait out her last few days.

On August 3, 1934, her lawyers lodged an appeal but in truth couldn't have been hopeful. The next day, the Lord Provost of Aberdeen had his summer holiday interrupted by a letter from the Secretary of State. He rushed to Craiginches Prison to break the news.

Jeannie Donald was not to hang but serve life in jail.

She was secretly transferred to the women's jail in Duke Street, Glasgow. It's not recorded how Helen Priestly's parents felt about the reprieve of a woman the Scottish public wanted to lynch. Nor how they felt when, only 10 years later, Jeannie Donald was set free.

Jeannie Donald died in obscurity never admitting her guilt or explaining how and why Helen Priestly was killed.


Murder By Mistake? Helen Priestly and Jeannie Donald

By all accounts Helen Priestly was a rather unpleasant child, rude, naughty and impertinent. The eight year old girl lived with her father, John, and mother Agnes on the second floor of a drab and overcrowded tenement block, number 61 Urquhart Street in the Scottish Town of Aberdeen. The imposing if dilapidated four story building had been divided into eight two room flats, providing squalid and cramped living conditions for the working class folk who were resigned to living out their lives in the oppressive surroundings.

On Saturday the 21st of April 1934 Agnes Priestly realised she was running short on bread, and so sent precocious little Helen out to by some from the Co-Op, a local bakers that was just around the corner from their home. Helen dutifully made her way there and bought the bread, the baker noting the time of the sale in his log book as being at 1.30 p.m. After purchasing the bread, something went very wrong indeed for Helen never returned home, quickly the community rallied round the family and a search was organised for the missing girl, dozens of locals, men, women and children began to scour the streets and alleyways for any sign of the missing girl. Sometime later that afternoon as word spread about the disappearance Dick Sutton a nine year old friend of Helen's came forward with information which changed the entire shape of the investigation. Dick stated that as he played in the street earlier that day he saw Helen being dragged down the street by a disreputable looking middle-aged man in a dark overcoat, he'd been forcibly taking a perturbed and frightened Helen onto a local tram. The police responded to the information by circulating a description of the child snatcher and widening the search to the outer suburbs of Aberdeen. The police acted quickly, the description of the kidnapper and Helen were given in radio announcements and flashed up on the screens at local cinemas, this remember were the days when the majority of people would spend their evenings crowded round the family wireless or in their local cinema, it was the 1930ís equivalent of receiving blanket news coverage, all within a few short hours of the childís disappearance.

At 2.00 a.m. John Priestly and his friend and neighbour Alexander Parker, who lived in the flat opposite the Priestlyís, returned to 61 Urquhart Street after searching the city, John was shattered physically and emotionally and Mr Parker had persuaded him that he would be useless helping carry on with the search whilst he was so exhausted. Mr Parker and John parted company with Mr Parker giving some words of comfort to Agnes Priestly before adjourning to his own flat. At 5.00 a.m. Alexander awoke and made his way downstairs, thinking that he would leave the nervously exhausted John Priestly to have a few more hours sleep as he carried on with the search, as Mr Parker crept down the stairs and reached the hallway his attention was drawn to a detail he had not noticed those few short hours before, there was now a large blue hessian bag under the stairs.

Normally such things would go unnoticed by the young man, but in the high adrenaline state of a search for a missing child he felt that there was something instinctively wrong about the bag. Mr Parker approached the bundle and unwrapped it, peering inside he felt sick to his stomach. Helen Priestly was stuffed into the bag, she had been strangled, her knickers were missing and bruises on her thighs and on her genitals indicated that she had been raped.

The police were horrified, Alexander Parker was certain that the bag had not been under the stairway at 2.00 a.m. that must have meant that the killer had chillingly gone to Helen's home between 2.00 a.m. and 5.00 a.m. and left her body for one of her family or neighbours to find. What kind of sexual psychopath would do such a cold hearted thing? The police realised something was deeply amiss, the bag was bone dry and outside that night there had been a heavy down pouring of rain, how had the bag been transported and stayed so dry? Further why and how had no one seen a man lugging a bright blue sack containing the leaden body of the dead child through the city street? It just obviously didnít make sense so the police re-interviewed young Dick Cotton to see if he could remember any further details about the man he had seen taking Helen, under the pressure from the police who were desperate to find the sadistic madman Dick finally confessed that he had made the whole story up, there had been no child snatcher, he had not seen Helen being kidnapped, leading the police on a futile search which had taken their eyes off the real area of interest, Helen's home.

The police rethought the situation, maybe the killer hadn't returned to 61 Urquhart Street, maybe the killer had never left. The police began to interview the residents of number sixty-one, had the Priestly's argued? Had John or Agnes ever been seen mistreating little Helen, no...but there was someone in the building who might have had cause to want to harm the little girl... It was well known that there was no love loss between the Donald family who occupied the flat on the ground floor and the Priestly's who lived immediately above them.

Jeannie Donald had been seen shouting at Helen Priestly on a number of occasions for Helen's bad behaviour. Helen had been known to torment the Donald family, Helen had been known to bully the Donald's little girl, she was known to have kicked at the Donald's front door, she was known to have rattled the banister outside their house to annoy the family, she was known to have shouted abuse at Mrs Donald. Another curious occurrence was that the Donald family where they only residents of 61 Urquhart Street who had not participated in the search for Helen Priestly, curious. The police began to look a little bit closer at the Donald family, and interview its members, Alexander Donald was a barber he didnít own his own business of course but he worked hard and was good at his job. Jeannie Donald was a thirty-eight year old housewife who filled her day with household chores and looking after their daughter, also called Jeannie.

As the police interviewed the Donald family and pondered if they were connected to the events, the investigation also turned to the other leads in the investigation such as that hessian bag the body had been bundled into, the bag had been stamped with a Canadian export mark, and examination revealed two things, it had once contained flour and it also contained traces of washed cinders, an unusual cleaning habit that was even then rather out of vogue, the bag also contained saucepan parks where it had been used a makeshift tablecloth.

The police decided to trace the bags origins, there weren't many places in the city that imported flour from Canada, bizarrely enough one of the only outlets to do so was a bakery close to Urquhart Road. The police went and spoke with the owner and he confirmed that he had received a shipment of flour in just such bags, he also confirmed that a customer had asked if she could have some of the bags and he had dutifully given her a handful, the description the baker gave of the customer fitted Jeannie Donald down to a tee. One of the residents at 61 Urquhart Road reported hearing a child scream at about 1.30 p.m. on the day of Helen's disappearance, this report was confirmed by a Slater who had been working in the alleyway behind the tenement block, who also heard the searing screech. The police started to wonder if Helen had made it back to number sixty-one after all, perhaps she'd made it into the building, but not up to the single flight of stairs to her home. Helen would have to have passed the Donald family homestead, perhaps tempers had finally boiled over. The police searched the Donald's flat; and oh dear if they didn't find evidence upon evidence that something terrible had happened to Helen Priestly inside those walls. The police found nine more identical bags to the one the body had been stuff in, each with similar saucepan stains. Blood stains of the same blood group belonging to Helen were discovered on a packet soapflakes, a scrubbing brush and some cleaning cloths, just the type of equipment you might need and get bloody if you were cleaning up after a murder. Sir Sydney Smith regius professor of forensic medicine at Edinburgh University was brought in, he examined the flat in minute detail and discovered something a damn site more damning, Helen Priestly had suffered from a rare condition which enlarged her thalamus and caused her to produce an extremely rare bacterium, this in turn caused her to be prone to fainting. Microbiological tests showed that this bacterium was covering the Donald household, over the floor, cleaning rags and on counter tops. Sir Sydney examined the dust fibres in the bag they contained cotton, wool, silk, cat hair, rabbit hair and some human hair that showed indications of been badly permed, just like Jeannie Donaldís. Sir Sidney took a sample of household dust from the Donaldís flat and wonder upon wonders if it didnít exactly match the detritus in the bottom of the sack in its composition complete with strands of badly permed hair.

Alexander Donald was arrested and interviewed, if he had finally snapped and murdered the naughty little girl the police could at least have some understanding of the murder, but it didnít explain why he had to rape her? The answer was perfectly simply and a whole lot more chilling, he hadn't. Alexander Donald had dozens of witnesses all of whom were willing to state that at the time of Helen's murder he had been miles away at the barber shop cutting hair, that left just one suspect, Jeannie Donald senior. Samples of Mrs Donald's hair was taken and analysed by Professor John Glaister of Glasgow University he could say beyond doubt that Jeannie Donald's hair perfectly matched hair found on the body and in the blue hessian sack. The police were dumbfounded, the evidence seemed incontrovertible Jeannie Donald had murdered little Helen Priestly.

Charged with murder Jeannie Donald's trial commenced at Edinburgh High Court on Monday the 16th of July 1934 before Judge Lord Craige Mason Aitchison. The defence was simple, Jeannie couldn't have committed the murder as she had been physically incapable of raping the young girl, the motive for the murder being so obviously sexual, the prosecution however had carried out further tests upon Helen Priestlyís body. One of the facts that had worried Sir Sydney Smith was the complete lack of seamen in or near the body, when he examined the bruises and abrasions more closely he came to the conclusion that they had not been committed during a rape but by the shaft of a hammer or a broom handle, something which to my mind seems vastly more unsettling, the reason for doing this, well to make it look like the motive of the attack was sexual in nature.

The forensic evidence was damning and overwhelming the defence blown out of the water, in the end it took the jury just eighteen minutes to return a guilty verdict. Lord Aitchison had never passed down a death sentence to a woman before, doing so brought the old boy to tears. On Friday the 3rd of August 1934 an appeal was lodged against Jeannie's death sentence, it was a formality, not even Jeannie held out hope that she would receive a last minute reprieve, especially with her crime being a particularly brutal one against a child.

However Henry Alexander the Lord Provost of Aberdeen (a public office equivalent to being a mayor) received a letter from the Secretary of State ordering that Jeannie have her death sentence commuted to one of life imprisonment. One can only imagine how Jeannie Donald felt as she sat in the condemned sell at Craiginches Prison and heard the news.

Jeannie was a model prisoner, so much so that when Alexander Donald fell terminally ill with cancer in June 1944 Jeannie was granted compassionate leave to care for her dying husband. When he passed away Jeannie was allowed to remain a free woman. She lived the rest of her life under an assumed name and died thirty-two years later in 1976 at the age of eighty-one, never having publicly spoken about her reasons for murdering Helen Priestly.

Now we reach the nub of the matter, just why did Jeannie Donald murder a defenceless little girl? There are three theories as to why Jeannie Donald did the deed, the first is that the feud with the Priestly family reached boiling point and Jeannie decided to take the ultimate form of revenge upon the Priestly family, by depriving them of their most precious possession, their wayward but loved daughter. The second theory is that Jeannie Donald had become bored with her marriage and murdered Helen in such a way as to put the blame on her husband consequently putting him permanently out of her life. I don't believe these theories for a second, many people over the years have spoken about the Donald family and all concurred that Jeannie Donald appeared to be a loving, friendly family orientated woman who loved her husband and who under normal circumstances wouldn't have hurt a fly. This leaves the second theory, Jeannie had been pushed to the end of her tether by the persecuting schoolgirl upstairs, perhaps Helen did one last act of defiance against the Donald family, Jeannie snapped and shouted and possibly even grabbed hold of and shook the child the child, the child was scared witless and due to her medical condition fainted. Jeannie believing she had killed the child and fearing it would end with her neck in a noose decided to make it look like the child had been interfered with by a man, perhaps the child recovered consciousness as Jeannie did this, the Helen screamed and as Jeannie Donald tried to shush the child she strangled her, perhaps accidently or perhaps purposefully when the child revived and in a panic fearing reprisals for her assault on the child. I think this fits in more with what we know of Jeannie Donald and I think the police and the prosecution thought so to, as before the trial they secretly offered Jeannie a plea bargain, she could plead guilty to manslaughter and spend a few short years in prison for the little girlís death. As we know Jeannie didnít take the prosecution up on the deal and it nearly cost her life.

The case of Helen Priestly and Jeannie Donald leaves a sad and bitter taste in the mouth, it was a murder that perverted all normal doctrines of a child killing, it helped to show the world that women could be just as cold, calculating and to a degree as sadistic as a man when it came to the disposal of child, it also highlighted how cramped and unfit living conditions where one cannot escape from the little mounting actions of a person that annoy and vex us can lead to a flaring of emotion and actions that are regretted forever more. Finally like all classics there is a moral to the tale we should be kind and considerate to our neighbours, we never know when they may have had a bad day, and our little joke could end in our bloody demise.


The Murder of Eight Year Old Helen Priestly. Aberdeen 1934

Did Jeannie Donald murder Helen Priestly back in 1934? Was the forensic evidence available at the time sufficient to convict Jeannie of the crime? Had it been purely an accident?

On 21 April 1934, 8 year old Helen Priestly was sent from her home in Urquhart Street, Aberdeen, to the corner shop by her mother to buy a loaf of bread. It was one of the things that most children throughout the United Kingdom at that time were asked to do and the children seldom came to harm but on this particular occasion a trip to the corner shop proved fatal for Helen.

When Helen didnít return home with the bread within a reasonable length of time, her mother and father naturally became concerned. The concern was subsequently shared by the Priestlys friends and neighbours.

When, after initial investigations by Mr and Mrs Priestly together with their friends and neighbours, hadnít borne fruit, the matter was reported to the police who began one of the largest searches in Aberdeen.

The police, aided by volunteers from the local area, searched all night and by the early hours of the morning it was suggested that Mr Priestly, who was completely exhausted should go home and get a couple of hoursí rest. One of the neighbours, an Alexander Parker, promised heíd go to the Priestlys home at around 5.00 am (about 3 hours later) to wake him, and true to his word, Mr Parker headed to Urquhart Street, but as he turned into the close, he discovered a blue hessian bag lying against the wall. His curiosity being piqued, he opened up the bag and, to his horror, was confronted with the dead body of Helen Priestly.

The police and various volunteers had been up and down the street numerous times since Helen had gone missing and, of course, Mr Priestly would have passed that way at around 2.00 am when he went home to rest and no bag had been seen there so someone had, unseen, managed to put the bag there some time in the intervening three hours.

It seemed strange that somebody had risked returning the body almost to the childís home and so close to the area that was being searched by the police. From an examination of the body it seemed the child had been strangled so it was unlikely to have been an accident of any kind, but was considered most certainly to have been murder. Examination also revealed bruising on the childís upper thighs and sexual organs which meant that in all likelihood the motive had been sexual.

When news of Helenís gruesome murder broke in the neighbourhood, vigilante groups began taking to the streets, armed with clubs and other weapons and the police, feeling that this wasnít good for the community and hindered the ongoing police investigations, considered the sooner the murderer was brought to justice the better. The police initially started with door to door enquiries and discovered that one neighbour had heard a scream from a house close to the Priestlys home at about lunchtime and this was confirmed by the occupant of a property in a close near to Helenís home.

An inspection of the hessian bag had revealed distinctive markings of a Canadian export stamp and, from that, the police discovered that this particular type of bag was used for flour transportation which, in turn led them to a nearby bakery.

The baker stated that he had recalled a woman who had gone into the bakery some time before the murder took place and asked if she could have one of the bags. Unfortunately he wasnít able to give a clear description of the woman.

The police then pursued further enquiries of the local community and discovered that the Priestlys were popular with almost all their neighbours but one neighbour in particular wasnít on the best of terms with them. These were the Donalds. The Priestlys couldnít remember what the initial argument had been about but the Donalds, for some reason, still bore a grudge. Jeannie Donald had even taken out her wrath on little Helen and had taken to scowling at her and chasing her away when she was playing on the street. It was strange that the woman would have vented her spleen on a small child as the Donalds had a daughter of their own (also called Jeannie), about the same age as Helen.

Unfortunately, Jeannie Junior inadvertently pointed the finger of suspicion in the direction of her parents by telling the police that she could remember the day that Helen went missing as sheíd noticed that the bread they had was different to what they normally ate. The police checked with the local baker who said that the Priestlys always had that particular type of bread, so the police hastily went to the Donalds and took both parents into custody.

Tempers were running high and the police had problems in escorting the couple down the stairs to the waiting police van as the building was surrounded by an angry crowd and, by the time the police reached the police station, they found another crowd. It seemed the whole of Aberdeen had made up their minds that the Donalds were guilty even though no trial had taken place. Fortunately, the police were able to keep both of the suspects safe as, within 24 hours, witnesses had come forward stating that during the day in question, Mr Donald had in fact been working at a local barberís shop, so there was no way he was connected with the murder and he was subsequently released. But even then, he and Jeannie Junior constantly came under threat and had to move out of the area.

Jeannie Donald Senior was convicted of the crime and by the time of her trial, word of the murder had spread nationwide and the Court was surrounded by crowds of people who believed Mrs Donald was a callous sex fiend which created a mammoth task for the police to keep her safe.

Once the trial eventually got under way, Jeannie pleaded not guilty. The prosecution stated that they wished to rely on 184 witnesses and hundreds of exhibits. The trial became of nationwide interest and also made Scottish history on the strength of the forensic evidence put forward.

One of the key experts to present evidence was one Professor John Glaister of Glasgow University who had made a study of hair. He maintained he could prove that samples of hair found on Helenís corpse matched hair found on a hairbrush which had been used by Jeannie Donald while in custody and also with that inside the blue hessian sack.

Fibres which had been taken from the sack matched those in the Donalds home

Other forensic bods found fibres from the sack in the Donalds home, and bacterial growth inside the sack matched that in their house. There was no doubt that the expert evidence was damning, but their trump card was yet to be played.

Jeannie Donaldís defence was entirely reliant on discrediting of the Crownís case and they put forward that Jeannie, as a woman, would have been unable to have raped Helen as the injuries showed to have been the case. Not so, said three pathologists who had all independently examined Helenís body. According to them, the injuries were caused by the shaft of a hammer or broom handle to make it appear as if the girl had been raped and thereby killed by a man.

It was the most damning evidence of all. It took the jury just 18 minutes to return their verdict of guilty of murder. So, Jeannie Donald went down in history as one of the first people in the world to be convicted on forensic evidence.

Jeannie Donald was subsequently taken to Craiginches Prison, Aberdeen, to await execution by hanging. However, on 3 August 1934 Jeannieís lawyers lodged an appeal and the next day the Lord Provost of Aberdeen had a letter from the Secretary of State, whereupon he rushed to Craiginches to deliver the news that Jeannieís execution had been commuted to life imprisonment.

Jeannie was transferred to the womenís jail in Duke Street, Glasgow but served just 10 years of the term. She died in obscurity and never admitted the crime nor explained how or why she would have murdered Helen Priestly. Even if the child had been annoying, it seemed illogical that a woman who had a child of her own and about the same age as Helen, would even consider murder. And why would Jeannie put the body so close to home? Most murderers would tend to take the body as far away from the scene of the crime as possible. It was obvious that, with the police search going on and being in such close proximity to the childís home, she was lucky not to have been seen. So was Jeannie Donald responsible for the death of little Helen Priestly; maybe it was an accident made to look like murder? Unfortunately I suspect weíll never know the true story behind this heinous crime.



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