ONE of the most famous arrests in the history of policing in Glasgow was down in part to the assassination of the American President Abraham Lincoln.

A master forger called John Henry Greatrex was being hunted across Scotland and had fled to New York with his mistress, having abandoned his wife and children.

When Detective Superintendent Alexander McCall from the City of Glasgow Police arrived there to arrest him in 1866, he had to get special authorisation from the new President Andrew Johnson.

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Glasgow Times:

He had recently been sworn in as Lincoln successor’s following his death the previous year at the hands of gunman John Wilkes Booth at the Ford Theatre in Washington.

McCall even travelled to Washington itself to arrange for the missive to be signed.

It would be the culmination of a Transatlantic manhunt that saw its origins in a humble photograph studio in Hope Street.

To say Greatrex was a colourful character was an understatement.

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Glasgow Times:

He cut a distinctive figure in Victorian Glasgow with his long flowing beard and immaculate dress sense.

Born in England, he had been transported to Australia for theft at the age of 18 years.

He returned to England after more convictions for dishonesty and is said to have served in the army served as a captain in the army before finally moving to Glasgow and setting up the photography studio where he also lived with his wife Jessie and three daughters.

He was also a preacher for the Plymouth Brethren and often gave well-attended orations in public.

On one occasion he was seen preaching among the crowd in Glasgow, on July 29, 1865, as Dr Edward Pritchard was being hanged for murder, the last public execution in Glasgow.

At the time, Greatrex was experimenting with new processes in photographic techniques.

These include photographing £1 notes, especially those issued by the then Union Bank of Scotland.

It was no surprise with his background in dishonesty that he came round to the idea of forging the bank’s notes on an industrial scale.

However, the early results using cameras and photographic paper were poor.

He then turned for help to an expert engraver he knew, called Sewell Grimshaw.

Grimshaw said he could forge the notes using new engraving techniques and by the use of litho printing.

But they needed money to get the project off the ground and approached Grimshaw’s brother Tom.

Tom Grimshaw had the necessary funds and had no hesitation in joining the forgers.

Early in 1866, Greatrex moved his business to Sauchiehall Street, where the experiments were continued.

It was about this time that he began an affair with 22-year-old Jane Weir, one of his assistants, despite his wife and children living in the same building.

In June 1866, the forgers succeeded in producing what they believed to be a perfect replica of a £1 Union Banknote and printed more than 1300 – worth around £160,000 today.

At first, it was a great success with dozens being passed in small shops in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Greenock, Hamilton and Stirling.

However they were soon rumbled after shopkeepers realised they had been duped and informed the police. Warnings were also published in the newspapers.

However, Greatrex and his gang continued undeterred.

On October 1866, Sewall and Tom Grimshaw were in Dalkeith, near Edinburgh, with a quantity of forged banknotes.

They left their luggage at a railway station and split up, to pass as many of the notes as possible.

They were successful in exchanging the forged £1 banknotes for two glasses of brandy, a handkerchief, two shirts, a silk umbrella and even received £55 in gold from a bank.

However, a sales assistant, who had read the newspaper reports, became suspicious.

The police were informed and the Grimshaw brothers were caught in a shop passing the notes.

Their luggage was seized from the railway station, and around 1300 forged £1 notes were found (worth £165,000 today).

The two men were later remanded to prison in Edinburgh to await trial.

Greatrex and Jane Weir, who had read of the arrests in Dalkeith, decided to flee to the USA.

They travelled to London by different trains, and then met in a hotel.

From London, they travelled to Southampton, where they got separate ships to New York.

Greatrex and Weir obtained lodgings in the city under the name Parker.

Meanwhile, in Glasgow, Superintendent McCall had also been investigating the forgery.

He searched Greatrex’s Sauchiehall Street premises and found samples of the engravings used to print the fake notes and banknote paper.

From there, McCall traced Greatrex to Southampton and learned he had fled to New York.

Armed with an arrest warrant sailed for New York, taking with him Union Bank official, Andrew Neilson, who knew Greatrex and could identify him.

On his arrival, Superintendent McCall then had to take the train to Washington to have President Andrew Johnston sign the papers that would allow him to make an arrest.

On returning to New York, the Glasgow detective began the most difficult part of his investigation – finding Greatrex.

Assuming that he and Jane Weir would be looking for work, he had a brainwave.

He placed an advert in the New York Herald for an experienced female assistant to work in a photographic studio.

A reply was received from an ‘H. Parker’, which was the name Greatrex and Weir had used to travel from Southampton to New York.

On the top of the letter was their address Renwick Street in New York.

On November 26, the warrant for Greatrex arrived from Washington and the following morning, Superintendent McCall, accompanied by Neilson and a detective from the New York Police went to Renwick Street

Coincidentally, a Military Band marched past at the same time.

A window was opened and Greatrex, and Jane Weir both looked out and watched. Neilson confirmed it was their man.

A short time later Greatrex left the flat and to his astonishment was arrested by both men.

Greatrex was then locked up in the headquarters of the New York Police.

McCall went back to Renwick Street where he found Jane Weir. who was unaware of her lover’s arrest.

A large amount of evidence was uncovered in their love nest, including clothing that had been bought with the forged banknotes.

Weir agreed to return to Glasgow as a witness for the prosecution.

Five days after his arrest, McCall got the necessary signed papers, also from the US President, authorising the extradition.

Superintendent McCall returned to the UK with Greatrex and Weir by boat, arriving in Liverpool on Christmas Day, 1866. They then got the train back to Glasgow.

Greatrex was taken to the Central Police Office in Albion Street where he was locked up to await trial.

Greatrex and the Grimshaw were tried at the High Court in Edinburgh on May 9, 1867.

All three were found guilty of forgery in a trial that gripped the public imagination.

Then the idea of printing fake money was new particularly as it involved the new art of photography.

The relationship between Greatrex and Weir also fired the public imagination as did their escape to and subsequent arrest in New York.

As the brains behind the forgery scam, Greatrex was sentenced to 20 years in prison, while the Grimshaw brothers were each jailed for 15 years.

Greatrex would die in prison in Woking, Surrey, on October 16 1876, aged 49, almost exactly 10 years after his forgery scam had unravelled.

Three years later Superintendent Alexander McCall, now one of the most famous detectives in Glasgow, was appointed Chief Constable of Glasgow.

McCall would carry out major changes to the force, introducing photography, training for new recruits and river patrols.

He also died in office on March 29, 1888, and is buried in the Glasgow Necropolis.

A monument for his grave was erected under the supervision of his colleague Superintendent William Mackintosh, which had been designed by his youngest son, Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

It was said to be the young architect’s first-ever commission before he went on to greater fame and fortune.