Henry John Burnett
(5 January 1942 – executed 15
August 1963) was the last man to be hanged
first in Aberdeen
He was tried at the high court in Aberdeen between 23 and 25 July
1963 for the murder of merchant seaman Thomas Guyan. His execution, at
Prison in Aberdeen, was carried
out by the hangman Harry
On 2 February 1957, Thomas Guyan married Margaret May, and a year
later they moved into a first floor flat at 14 Jackson Terrace,
Aberdeen, a house owned by Margaret's grandmother Annie
A son was born in September 1958 followed by a second in February,
1961; however, the father of this second child was not Thomas. This
led to marital problems which came to a head in 1962 when Margaret
consulted a solicitor about the possibility of a divorce which her
husband refused. Then, in December of that same year she went to
work at John R. Stephen Fish Curers where she met a new admirer,
A relationship soon developed and by May 1963, Margaret had moved
out of Jackson Terrace with her younger son Keith to share a new
address in Skene Terrace with Burnett.
31 May 1963
Henry Burnett came to believe that, given the chance, Margaret
would leave him so he took to locking her in the house whenever he
went out. This was not a state of affairs which Margaret relished
so when she by chance met her estranged husband again on 31 May,
she agreed to go back to him.
Margaret Guyan arrived at 40 Skene Terrace at 4.00pm, to collect
her son Keith. A family friend, Georgina Cattanagh, went with her
for moral support. As soon as Margaret announced her intention to
go back to her husband Burnett cried "Margaret, Margaret, you are
not going to leave me!" He then drew a knife to Margaret's throat,
closing the door behind them.
Fearful of what was happening inside, Mrs Cattanagh banged
repeatedly on the front door and demanded the release of Margaret.
Minutes later Burnett threw open the door and ran off down the
street. Margaret was shaken but relatively unhurt. The two women
made their way back to Jackson Terrace.
Burnett went to his brother Frank's workplace and told him what had
happened; his brother urged him to go to the police. But Burnett,
still set on revenge, instead went to Frank's house in the city's
Bridge of Don area to borrow his brother's shotgun
. Although Frank's wife had been told never
to lend the gun to anyone, Burnett forced the cabinet open and
stole the gun along with cartridges. He then boarded a bus to take
him to 14 Jackson Terrace.
He arrived at the Guyans' flat and forced his way in. Mrs Cattanagh
screamed "You can't come in here!", Thomas Guyan jumped to his feet
to see what the problem was. As he opened the kitchen door he was
met by Burnett, carrying the gun. A shot rang out and Guyan fell
dead, having been shot in the face at close range. Burnett then
took Margaret out of the flat at gun point and on the way down the
stairs he threatened a young boy from a neighbouring flat.
Burnett dragged Margaret down a lane and as far as a garage on
Seaforth Road, on the main route north out of Aberdeen. There John
Innes Irvine was filling his car with petrol when Burnett demanded
his car. Irvine tried to stop Burnett stealing the car but was
threatened with the shotgun. The police were soon notified and began
following the car which was driving North towards Peterhead. After driving for about 15 miles Burnett
pulled the car over near the town of Ellon, and offered no resistance as he was arrested by
Constable James G.
Raeper and Constable Mitchell.
At his trial, Burnett's defence was that at the time of the crime
he was insane
or alternatively, that this was
a case of diminished
. Both defences failed after the jury had
considered the evidence for 25 minutes. The court heard about
Burnett's mental state and it was revealed he had been violent in
the past and had attempted suicide
mother and father both appeared in the witness box and his mother
broke down in the court.
After he was sentenced to death, both his own family and that of
the victim petitioned for his reprieve.
There was, however, no appeal from Burnett, and on the morning of
15 August 1963 the 21-year old was executed as a crowd of 200
people gathered outside the jail.
Wood, Norman (2003); Blood on the Granite
; Black and White
Publishing; ISBN 1-902927-64-8