Plea to university to return bodies of murder victims

THE cousin of two brothers killed by their father almost a century ago has asked Edinburgh University to return their body parts so they can have a Christian burial.

The university has promised to grant Maureen Marella her wish if she can prove she is their relative.

The bodies of William and John Higgins were stolen for research following their murder in West Lothian in 1911.

They were killed by their father, Patrick, who drowned them in a flooded quarry near Winchburgh.

The bodies were preserved in the icy water and as a result scientists were able to give damning evidence against Higgins at his murder trial.

He was convicted and hanged in a case covered in the Evening News on October 2, 1913.

When the bodies were found, two forensic scientists decided to take some of the body parts for research without telling the family.

Sir Sidney Smith and Harvey Little-John removed limbs and internal organs before sealing up the rest of their remains in coffins for burial.

Parts of the boys' bodies have been held by Edinburgh University ever since.

Speaking to BBC Scotland from her home in Las Vegas, Ms Marella said: "I feel they need to be put to rest. I don't have a problem with scientific research whatsoever but I feel that what they are using their body parts for can come from other sources.

"I think Sir Sidney Smith did a terrible thing taking the body parts and my message to Edinburgh University is to let them go."

Chris Paton, a genealogist from Scotland's Greatest Story, added: "Higgins had been given custody of his two boys after his wife had died and had been unable to cope so they suddenly disappeared one night.

"It was 18 months later when their bodies were found in a quarry floating in the water."

An Edinburgh University spokeswoman said: "This case, which retains immense forensic significance, is a tragic illustration of how a single criminal act has consequences which cross the boundaries of both geography and time.

"With this in mind, the university is only too willing to return the remains, on the condition that proof can be provided of Maureen Marella's relationship to the two boys and, of course, that other surviving relatives are in agreement."

The Evening News article at the time said: "Patrick Higgins, the Wynchbrugh labourer, paid the full price of the law in Calton Prison, Edinburgh, this morning, for as callous and unnatural a crime as there is in the whole grim catalogue of murder.

"What could be more cruel or revolting than that a father could lead his two little, innocent motherless boys from their miserable home on a wet and stormy night to a desolate spot, there in the darkness bind the children together, and deliberately throw them to their death in an unused quarry?

"As Lord Johnston characterised the act, it was a "heinous crime against God, against man, and against nature", and in stinging words the Lord Advocate described Higgins as "a cold callous, morally depraved creature, who preferred his own selfish indulgence to discharging his obligations as a parent."