Robert McGladdery, Ulster's final victim of the hangman
"Here is not a man in this court can say I killed Pearl Gamble, because I didn't, I am innocent of the crime!"
THAT was part of the dramatic speech from the dock by Robert Andrew McGladdery, who was found guilty of the wilful murder of a 19-year-old shop assistant. The speech came after a jury had returned a guilty verdict on the seventh day of his trial on October 16, 1961.
That was part of the dramatic speech from the dock by Robert Andrew McGladdery, who was found guilty of the wilful murder of a 19-year-old shop assistant. The speech came after a jury had returned a guilty verdict on the seventh day of his trial on October 16, 1961.
The trial captured the attention of the general public and Lord Justice Curran presided throughout.
Pearl Gamble was found strangled and stabbed in a field near her home on January 28 after attending a dance at Newry Orange Hall. Her dead body had been dragged or carried across three fields before it was left partially concealed in a clump of whin bushes at a place known as Weir's Rocks at Damolly.
McGladdery, who had danced twice with Pearl earlier that night, denied having any part in the killing. He claimed that after leaving the dance hall he walked home alone by the Belfast Road. He had been in the witness box for almost six and a half hours in an attempt to save himself from the hangman's noose. His defence was conducted by Mr James Brown QC and Turlough O'Donnell (instructed by Luke Curran of Newry). Their closing address took 100 minutes.
Afterwards, Mr Brown asked the jury to retire to their room, "weigh well all these grave matters" and bring in a verdict which the defence submitted would be the proper one - Not Guilty.
The Attorney General, WB Maginness, with CA Nicholson QC, and RJ Babington, appeared for the Crown. Their address took 80 minutes to deliver and they submitted that if the jury was satisfied, "that the man in the dock on that awful morning of January 28 killed that young girl in this ghoulish fashion, then as men and citizens, helping in the administration of justice, and satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt, you will do your duty and bring in a verdict of guilty."
There was a lot of circumstantial evidence and witnesses involved in the case, although no one actually saw the killing. The point of what clothes McGladdery had been wearing on the night of the murder was investigated in great detail during the trial - in particular, the articles of clothing which corresponded in description to those which witnesses claimed McGladdery had been wearing at the dance and were subsequently found hidden in a septic tank (close to the scene of the murder).
There were 13 witnesses and although some disagreed about the exact colour all agreed that it was a "light suit".
McGladdery denied he had ever owned a light suit and claimed he wore a blue suit at the dance. He later tried to implicate his pal, Will Copeland, by claiming that he had loaned him some clothes similar to those which were discovered in the septic tank.
Lord Justice Curran had taken two hours summing up. The courtroom was crowded and many more stood outside unable to gain admittance. The all-male jury brought in their verdict of guilty after being out for just 40 minutes. Lord Justice Curran stated that "the facts cry out that this was a brutal killing" before he donned the traditional black cap and fixed the date of the execution for November 7.
An appeal was immediately entered on McGladdery's behalf by the defence counsel and they were quite confident of gaining a reprieve.
While back in prison McGladdery wrote a 16-page autobiography which was submitted to the Cabinet as part of his appeal. But all his attempts at avoiding the hangman failed and his execution was re-scheduled to take place four days before Christmas, on December 21. Before eight o'clock came, McGladdery sat in the condemned cell and for the first time since his arrest, and after listening to the advice of clergy and, perhaps realising that he might soon be going before his Maker, he confessed to the murder of the poor unfortunate girl.
This execution not only ended the life of Robert McGladdery but also the trade of the hangman in Belfast's Crumlin Road Prison as it was the last to take place in that institution.