William Richardson – 1787

By | November 12, 2016

Richardson’s alibi seemed solid until his companions recalled that he had visited the blacksmith alone


William Richardson was the first murderer to be executed after being trapped by “scientific detection”. In 1787 he murdered his 19-year-old girlfriend Elizabeth Hughan by cutting her throat. To add to the horror of the crime, she was seven months’ pregnant at the time. Doctors ruled out suicide and concluded that since the cut was from the right to the left, the murderer must have been left-handed. Although it was midsummer and the ground hard, a trail of footprints was found in boggy ground near the cottage where Elizabeth lived with her parents. The tracks revealed that the person had been running and had at one point slipped and been immersed up to his knee. Blood was also found on a stile. Plaster casts of the footprints were taken, revealing that the shoes were shod with iron nails and had recently been repaired.

Police measured the footwear of all the men who attended the funeral; not only did Richardson’s shoe match the impression but he was also found to be left-handed. His alibi seemed solid until his companions recalled that he had visited the blacksmith alone, was gone much longer than anticipated, and had returned with muddy stockings and a scratch on his cheek. A search of his cottage turned up the muddied stockings hidden in the thatch, and the clincher was that the mud on the stockings contained sand found only in the bog near Hughan’s cottage.


Dumfries, Scotland




Richardson confessed and was hanged on 30 June 1787. His body was donated for medical research.

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