Scotland

Young boys found two years after being tied together, thrown into quarry to drown by father

June 8, 1913
Winchburg, West Lothian, Scotland
The bodies of two boys tied together are retrieved from a rock quarry, later found to be two brothers aged 4 and 6

The bodies were not immediately recognizable as they were covered in adipocere, a waxy substance created by decomposing fat which encases the body, sometimes called “grave wax” or “corpse wax.” It was determined the bodies had been submerged in the quarry’s water for approximately 18 to 24 months which was the cause of the adipocere.

Through forensic science, the boys’ identities were revealed and led investigators to their father, Patrick Higgins. Before their murders, the boys had been taken from their father due to neglect. However, at that time, parents were still financially responsible for their children even if they were taken from them. When Higgins missed a payment, the boys’ foster mother immediately returned them to their father. Higgins told neighbors that two ladies from Edinburgh offered to take the boys in and that they would be safer in their new home. They were never seen alive again. It was suspected the father, impoverished and overwhelmed after the death of his wife the year before his sons’ murders, tied the boys together and threw them into the quarry to drown.

Higgins pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but neither judge nor jury agreed he was insane at the time of his children’s murders. The jury found him guilty but requested mercy: a life sentence instead of death. The judge deemed the crime worthy of execution and Higgins was hanged on October 2, 1913. The judge also placed some of the responsibility of the murders on the children’s foster mother and the foster system as a whole for failing the Higgins boys, though no legal action was taken.

It was later discovered that a forensic pathologist assigned to the case had kept some of the boys’ body parts to teach his students about adipocere. A woman related to the boys, believed to be their last living relative, heard of their remains still being housed in the University of Edinburgh and asked they be returned to her. At her request and in accordance to the their family’s faith, the remains were cremated and scattered in 2009, nearly a century after their murders.

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