SIXTY YEARS ago George Alexander Robertson had the doubtful honour of being the last person to be hanged in Edinburgh for the Tron Square murders.
Robertson was the first husband of Elizabeth McGarry – a thirty-nine-year-old single mother with two teenage children, George (18) and Jean (16), living at No. 57 Tron Square.
Elizabeth’s second marriage had finished after just a few months and Robertson came back into her life, nineteen years after they first married. Robertson was violent and aggressive, and, after a short time, Elizabeth had thrown him out of the family home. From then on the family took measures to ensure the house was secure. However, on the night of 28 February 1954 they had neighbours round for a party and forgot to take their normal precautions. Jean was the only person left alive to tell the story of what ensued to the High Court during Robertson’s murder trial. It seems that Robertson had managed to gain entry to the house. He first attacked George with a knife. He then stabbed Jean, but was disturbed by Elizabeth leaving the house to get help. Jean tried to escape through a window, but was too badly injured. Robertson then returned to the room with the body of his ex-wife.
Teenage George made an escape – throwing himself through the window of neighbours, where he begged for help. However, Robertson ran in after him and proceeded to stick a knife into his son’s head. Robertson then carried George’s body home leaving a bloody trail across Tron Square. Robertson stuck his head in the gas oven, but was still alive when the police arrived.
Four months later, Robertson appeared at the High Court in Edinburgh, his guilty pleas of murder and attempted murder were rejected and a two-day trial ensued which would hear the unsettling description of his brutality. It took the jury an hour to find him guilty of killing his wife and his son and of trying to murder Jean. They had heard he suffered some kind of mad turn. He did not appeal against his death sentence and three weeks later, on 23 June 1954, he was taken from his cell at Saughton Prison and made his way to meet his executioner Albert Pierrepoint at 8am.
Only four men would be hanged on the gallows at Saughton. George Alexander Robertson turned out to be the last.
This true story is an excerpt from Edinburgh in the 1950s: Ten Years that Changed a City (Amberley Publishing) which is out now.