Making a murderer: the face of the Cramond Killer

Putting a face to the ‘Cramond Murderer’, a new museum display in Edinburgh has used forensic techniques to picture John Howison for the first time.

Facial reconstruction by hayley
Facial reconstruction by Hayley Fisher

The life-like profile of the 19th Century killer is exhibited next to a replica of his skull in a free display, open now, at Cramond’s Maltings Interpretation Centre

John Howison’s crimes involved the brutal murder of a local woman, Ms Marta Geddes, on 21 January 1832. The widow was found dead with severe fracture wounds to her head – following an unprovoked attack by Howison with a sharp spade.

He was sentenced by Judge David Boyle (pictured) to execution by public hanging before his body was given to Dr Munro of the University of Edinburgh in the last criminal dissection to take place in the Capital.

Councillor Ian Campbell, Edinburgh’s Depute Culture and Communities Convener, said: “Edinburgh’s history never fails to amaze, shock and, in this case - scare. By putting a face to the Cramond Murderer, we have been able to piece together the story of the man behind the crimes. The project has combined the Council’s archaeological findings with forensic techniques; the University of Edinburgh’s scientific research and remains; and the brilliant local knowledge of the Cramond Heritage Trust. It is fantastic to see the city collaborate and the result is a fascinating new display in the heart of the Cramond community.”

John Dods from the Cramond Heritage Trust, said: “Cramond may be a small district but its history packs more incredible events and findings than many parts of Edinburgh. The trial of John Howison is one of the area’s lesser known tales, but it was an important event in scientific history. I hope our display at the Maltings educates and provides visitors with an insight into Cramond’s colourful and sometimes unsavoury past. I’m delighted we are able to host this display locally, and thank everyone involved for making it happen.”

As the Capital’s last criminal to be dissected before the Anatomy Act of 1832 abolished the practice, Howison is famed in the University of Edinburgh’s Anatomical Museum. His articulated skeleton is still displayed next to the remains of William Burke.

Dr Janet Philp from the University’s Deanery of Biomedical Sciences, explained: “It's fascinating to be able to link the Anatomical Museum to local stories, which in turn enables our history to become increasingly accessible to others. A reconstruction like this, even with a measure of artistic license, helps us to increasingly appreciate and understand our museum collection and the significant role it has played in our city's history.”

John Lawson, City of Edinburgh Council Archaeologist, added: “This has been a rare opportunity to put a face to one of Edinburgh’s lesser-known perpetrators. We often focus on the history of the city centre, but our communities are just as interesting. The story of John Howison, the Cramond Murderer, is especially captivating.”

The Maltings Interpretation Centreis a small museum outlining the history of Cramond. Run by volunteers, the space is free to visit between 2-5pm every Saturday and Sunday between April and September, but will be open every day during the Summer festivals. Discover the story of the Cramond Killer at the Centre now.

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