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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?

The tenements in Urquhart Street as they are today.

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 didn’t 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, hadn’t 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 hours’ rest.  One of the neighbours, an Alexander Parker, promised he’d 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 child’s 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 child’s upper thighs and sexual organs which meant that in all likelihood the motive had been sexual.

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