The murder of 15 year old Michael Swinton Brown, ‘Mickey’ as he was known locally in the quiet mining village of East Wemyss. On Saturday 20th February 1909, one national newspaper described his murder as “one of the most revolting that has ever occurred in Fifeshire.” The local ‘Wemyss Advertiser’ called it “a tragedy without parallel in the history of crime in this county of Fife.”
Michael Brown worked at Messrs Johnson’s linen factory in East Wemyss and it was their custom to send him into Buckhaven every Friday to the Royal Bank there to collect money for the staff wages. The bank was about a mile and a half away from the factory. East Wemyss and Buckhaven were connected by a tram line run by the Wemyss District Tramways Company (Limited). It was said that the fact that Michael Brown made the regular journey was well known amongst the villagers.
Michael Brown made the journey to Buckhaven on the tram on 19 February 1909, taking with him an ordinary brief bag into which he put the £85 that he collected. The money consisted of £25 in single notes, £20 in half sovereigns and £40 in silver.
On his way back, he met Alexander Edmundstone on the tram. They got off at the top of School Wynd, which was a steep thoroughfare which led directly onto main street of the village, and through which Michael Brown would have had to pass to get back to the factory.
However, within 30 minutes of him leaving the tram, he was found dead in a public lavatory on School Wynd.
For young Mickey Brown there was no quick end for his torment lasted over fifteen minutes before he died of a multitude of causes at the hands of his murderer, Alexander Edmondstone, a twenty three year old Carter, formerly from Edinburgh who resided in East Wemyss with his family.
He had been beaten about the head and face and had had his cap shoved down his throat and a handkerchief tied tightly about his neck. He was found in a pool of blood and the brief bag and money as well as his watch and chain were all missing.
It was noted that although School Wynd was closed to vehicular traffic, it was much frequented by pedestrians and the lavatory itself was overlooked on three sides by houses.
The bag was later found between 4pm and 5pm that evening about a mile away among the whins just below Macduff Castle, to the east of East Wemyss and towards Buckhaven and the Wemyss shore.
Alexander Edmundstone was soon identified as the man that he had been with on the tram and it was found that he had since gone missing.
He was described as 23 years of age, 5ft. 9in. in height with auburn hair, dark eyes, a full ruddy face and wearing a brown jacket suit, trousers with a patched seat, a sweater with a fall-down collar which he wore turned up and fastened with a safety pin, a green cap and black lacing boots. He was also wanting three teeth in his front upper jaw and had the letters A. E. tattooed on his forearm.
He was later arrested at a lodging house in Brunswick Street in Ardwick on 26 March 1909. He had been there for the previous two weeks and was identified after a fellow lodger went to the police station to apply for a pedlar’s certificate and saw his photograph. The lodger went back to the lodging house to scrutinise Alexander Edmundstone and then went to inform the police.
When he was arrested he said ‘I did not know what I was doing’. Police found a Gladstone bag in his possession which contained a sandbag, a long piece of rough canvas shaped like a stocking, that was thought to have been used to hit Michael Brown with as well as £35 in £1 bank notes, £17 10s in cash and a metal watch and chain which were thought to have belonged to Michael Brown. The three cash bags that had been carried by Michael Brown were also found in his Gladstone bag.
At his trial he pleaded insanity but was found to have been sane and was sentenced to death.
The Edmondstone family were forced to change their name and leave the village they had held in such high esteem through the burden of shame cast upon them.The village of Wemyss became a much visited place for the macabre and curious. Locals tried to put the tragedy behind them but it was never forgotten. Generations of children thereafter were brought up to be very careful of going into public places when strangers were about!