WAS there ever a more loathsome villain than Dr Edward Pritchard?

The infamous ‘Glasgow Poisoner’ was hanged 155 years ago – the last public hanging in the city - after being found guilty of murdering his wife and mother-in-law.

Records include macabre details of the murders and trial – that he had the coffin lid unscrewed to kiss the lips of the wife he had killed by slow poisoning; that he got his servant pregnant then induced a miscarriage; and the mysterious death of another servant, burned to death in her room, which left observers at the time wondering whether she had been drugged or was already dead before the fire started.

Dr Pritchard, who was born in Hampshire in England in 1825, moved to Glasgow in 1860 with his wife Mary Jane Taylor and five children.

Read more: City police records reveal grisly murder and the miscarriage of justice which followed

Jack House, in his book Square Mile of Murder, explained: “In 1857 [Pritchard] became a Doctor of Medicine by the simple means of buying the diplomas in absentia from the University of Erlangen.”

Doctors in Glasgow treated Pritchard with suspicion and his tales of travels around the world were dismissed by listeners who believed he was talking nonsense. He had affairs, with patients and others, and in 1863, a sinister fire left many wondering exactly what was going on behind the scenes.

The Herald of May 6, 1863, reported that a fire in Pritchard’s home had killed a young servant called Elizabeth McGirn.

Glasgow Times:

“It is said the poor girl, who has met such an untimely death, was in the habit of reading in bed and the supposition is that after she had fallen asleep the gas-jet which was close to the head of the bed had ignited the bed-hangings and the decesased had been suffocated by smoke,” said the report.

However, some details aroused suspicion in the aftermath – why did Pritchard submit an insurance claim for jewels which were never found in the debris? Was Elizabeth pregnant? Why did Pritchard answer the door to police fully dressed when he said he had been woken by his sons’ cries just moments earlier?

The fact that Elizabeth had made no move to escape led some to believe she may have been drugged before the fire started. Nothing came of it, however, and in 1864, the Pritchards moved to 131 Sauchiehall Street.

That summer, Mary Jane caught her husband kissing their new servant, Mary McLeod. The young woman became pregnant and Pritchard induced a miscarriage. A few months later, around the time Pritchard bought an ounce each of the deadly poisons tartarised antimony and tincture of aconite, his wife fell seriously ill.

Read more: The famous people who lived at Glasgow addresses revealed

A spell at her parents’ home in Edinburgh reinvigorated Mary Jane and she returned to Glasgow. Within a few weeks, she was sick and weak once more.

When her mother came to stay to look after her, she too fell ill and by the middle of March, both women were dead. After a doctor who had seen both women raised the alarm – and despite attempts to implicate Mary McLeod in the deaths - Pritchard was arrested and the bodies of his wife and mother-in-law exhumed. Both were full of antimony. Pritchard was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death.

Jack House writes: “When a great crowd gathered outside the High Court to see Pritchard taken to Calton Jail, he came out, took off his hat and bowed to them also.”

He was hanged in Jail Square, in front of South Prison, and a crowd of almost 100,000 turned out to see it.

There is one more eerie fact attached to this horrible case.

Glasgow Times:

Legend has it that when Glasgow plumbers were laying the pipes for the new High Court (which replaced the South Prison and its murderers’ graveyard) they found Pritchard’s skeleton under a stone marked ‘P’.

The leather boots he had worn to the scaffold had not decomposed. They were stolen and sold on, to some poor soul, unaware he was walking around Glasgow in the shoes of a murderer….