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Haigh Hall


Dunecht outrage ILN 1882
Dunecht outrage ILN 1882
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Item #: 35133
A celebrated case was that of Charles Souter, sentenced in 1882 to five years penal servitude, whose romantic career was recently recalled by his death. He was found guilty of complicity in the theft of the body of the twenty-fifth Earl of Crawford from the family vault at Dunecht (near Aberdeen). The mystery was never completely solved. The family tomb of the Balcarres' family was of massive granite, built under the private chapel adjoining Dunecht House. The last Earl died in Florence in 1881; his body was embalmed and taken to Scotland, where it was interred: three coffins were used--a leaden shell, an inner case of wood, and the outer coffin of carved wood, richly mounted in silver. Some time after the funeral, a visitor to the chapel noticed that the slab sealing the entrance to the vault had been tampered with, but no importance was attached to this at the time. Later, an anonymous letter was received, stating that the vault had been entered and the body removed. This letter was also treated as a hoax. Some months later, part of the railing surrounding the tomb was found removed, and the entrance slab now lifted away and placed against the wall. The police were then summoned and the vault entered.

They found that the coffin had been removed from the shelf on which it had rested, the outer case unscrewed, the inner coffin forced open and the lead shell had the end cut away, from which the body had been pulled out by the feet. The fact that the valuable silver fittings remained intact showed that this was not the work of a common thief, and it was decided that the object of the outrage was to obtain a sum of money as ransom. Any hopes of this sort that the despoilers may have cherished were dispelled by a public announcement made by the family, that in no circumstances would they offer a reward for the recovery of the body.

Meanwhile, many clues were followed by the police without success; even "psychic" means were tried. Some spiritualists from London visited the place and declared that they had "seen" the body carried from the vault to a house on the estate, from whence it was afterwards removed to a "field that slopes towards a wood." Less vague was the light thrown upon the matter four months later by the man Souter, who in a drunken confidence offered to show his companions where the body of the Earl was concealed; when sober, he appeared to be frightened bv his indiscretion, and on his arrest he made a statement to which he stoutly adhered. He swore that whilst poaching on the estate at night, he was detected by a gang of men engaged in burying some object, and that he only escaped with his life on swearing that he would keep their secret.

He was presently taken to the spot he indicated, where the body was found wrapped in a blanket, five hundred yards from the mansion, and covered with a few inches of soil. If he had accomplices, he never divulged their names and he died protesting his innocence.

There is a Grave/Monument there surrounded by railings where the body was found in the woods.
I know where it is, but it is very spooky a night.
I don't know why that is as I have been to other graves at night and they don't give the feeling that you get here.
Not that you feel as if you will be harmed or anything, but it gives you the feeling of being watched!
The fact that sheep are often going around and coughing (ever heard a sheep cough, sounds like a human) nearby.
There is a longer and more legal sounding document on the web that goes more into detail, but it is very long so I posted this shortened version.

I did hear (though it may not be correct, you know how local rumours get around) that the estate could not be sold or change hands whilst the body was interned within Dunecht House. Is this the real reason the body was removed? It might explain a lot as to why there was no ransom or that it was not used for medical science (I can't see how it would have been of any use anyway after such a long time, even if it had been embalmed) but it is as good a reason as any. If this was the case, then the court didn't hear about it. It might have been, as the owner would have had to keep the estate and run it instead of getting his inheritance and benefiting from it,
It may have been a set up job to remove the body so as the estate could be sold (this would need research) as it did change ownership though I am not sure when this came about.
If you are interested in the longer version of the story I can post a link when I find it again.
I can say that the description of where it was found is close to where the gravestone with the railings are and there used to be a sand extraction pit there (Now has been covered with rubbish) though there is not much signs of it being there now.
I would like to know how they managed to remove the body with so heavy a lid on the tomb without making so much noise as to get noticed.

Comment by: Helen of Troy on 26th May 2024 at 07:21

An interesting & creepy tale Ron....Dunecht caught my eye as my Mother's Aunt & Uncle owned The Cowdray Arms Hotel in Echt. Will have to look at a map to see where Dunecht was in relation to Echt. As children we used to go to Echt for holidays....the village then was just a few cottages & the hotel set on a crossroads. Thats a bit of useless information but the tale sparked the memory !

Comment by: Colin Traynor on 26th May 2024 at 09:07

Fascinating story Ron, one I have heard of before.

Comment by: Veronica on 26th May 2024 at 12:45

I-had to read it twice to get my head around this story and from it I have a tendency to believe Charles Souter was innocent. They had no proof he was a member of the gang. I think his sentence was for withholding evidence. He had no choice really in the matter. It was either 5 years of penal servitude or to be killed by the gang.. In one sense he was lucky because not many years before he could have been sent to the colonies. I wonder how long he survived afterwards. Another thing that puzzles me is the thought that the estate couldn’t be sold with the last Earl’s body interred but there must have been other family members interred in the vault. What would happen regarding those? Thank you for sharing a ghoulish episode in the 1880’s Ron. Reminds me of when Charlie Chaplin’s body was stolen from his grave in Switzerland. He went missing for quite a while in the seventies. Although I have forgotten what happened later, I think the body was recovered, by that I mean found.

Comment by: Christine Bennett on 26th May 2024 at 13:26

The body would still have included a skeleton but there must have been easier graves to get into, so some of the other suggestions seem more likely. Very interesting story.

Comment by: Pete Barker on 30th May 2024 at 13:56

Veronica, I recall the Charlie Chaplin body removal in 1977 in Switzerland. The body removal was due to someone/people, wanting Chaplin to be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

Comment by: Veronica on 30th May 2024 at 15:04

I never knew he was Jewish Pete. ( if he was.) It was a terrible thing to do anyway.
Thank you for the info.

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