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Poor bad and sad Jessie King, the perhaps wrongly-condemned baby farmer, the last woman hanged in Edinburgh, executed under what is now the seat of the Scottish government, St Andrew's House, and still buried in their car-park. A young woman of the 1870s and 80s, ricocheting through institutions and hospitals for prostitutes from her teenage years, she was suggestible, perhaps mentally subnormal ( perhaps poisoned by large doses of mercury for VD), and fell into the clutches of a scheming controlling much older male alcoholic - Thomas Pearson. It was Pearson who came up with a scheme: to write letters to obtain babies advertised for adoption and promise a rosy future for the illegitimate infants of single mothers, if they would pay him to take the child off their hands. Money and babies were handed over - but the rosy future turned out to be the baby being strangled and hidden in their coal closet. It's Jessie, over-awed into this scheme, who was eventually caught holding a dead baby. She naively took all the blame on herself to spare Pearson and he promptly turned Crown evidence and saw her convicted and hanged while he got off clean. For the first time we unearth Jessie's tragic background and find out what happened to Thomas Pearson.

Comedian and history enthusiast Susan Morrison teams up with historians Louise Yeoman, Louise Settle and Eric Graham and law lecturer Clare Connolly to delve into the case.

Release date:

28 minutes

Last on

Mon 19 Nov 2012 00:02

BBC History: Baby killer? The last woman hanged in Edinburgh