Andrew Nisbet Keith was born in 1877 in Viewfield, Parish of Beath, Fife, the son of a miner. In June 1897, at the age of 19 years, he traveled to Glasgow and joined the Northern Division of the City of Glasgow Police.
The first four years of his career as a constable was spent in the area around Garscube Road, which was regarded as one of the roughest areas of the city. He was involved in his first important case at this time when a number of thefts of horses and wagons had been reported. The descriptions of the suspects were circulated. A few days later, while along with another constable in Garscube Road, Andrew Keith saw two men answering the descriptions. The men ran off when approached but were caught by the officers. Twelve charges of theft were libeled against the two men and they received seven years imprisonment.
In 1901 he was promoted to the rank of sergeant and transferred to the Southern Division.
He had an uncanny skill of being able to recognize people, not only from photographs, but also from written descriptions. An attribute he would use time and again.
One notable case was in 1901 when the Glasgow Police were notified that a well-organized gang had been carrying out a series of violent burglaries in the north of England and Scotland. Descriptions were circulated throughout the country. While on duty along with another officer on Eglinton Street, Glasgow, Andrew Keith became suspicious of two men who were loitering in a close. Realising that they were similar to the circulated descriptions, Andrew Keith questioned them but received only evasive answers in return. The officers searched the two men in the close and found on them an assortment of valuables, including deposit receipts for £861 and jewellery. The men were taken to the Central Police Office where the property was identified as a having been stolen in a housebreaking in Fort Matilda that day.
Next day, Andrew Keith arrested another member of the gang whom he recognized from a photograph. He picked him out of a crowd of about forty people at Gorbals Cross. Another member of the gang was later apprehended and all four were sentenced to a total of 31 years imprisonment.
In 1903 Andrew Keith was promoted to Detective Inspector and in 1914 he attained the rank of Detective Lieutenant (equivalent to Detective Chief Inspector). However, it was for his success in solving the Queen’s Park Murder in 1920, which again proved his skills as a great detective, that he was promoted to Detective Superintendent.
The story of this murder began on a cold February evening in 1920, when a prostitute, Helen White, picked up a 35 years old ex-soldier, Henry Senior, in Glasgow’s Hope Street and took him to the Queen’s Park Recreation Ground by tramcar. Unknown to Senior, he was being lured there to be robbed by White’s boyfriend, Albert Fraser and another man, James Rollins. White and Senior went into the park and were sitting on the grass when Senior was attacked by the two men and, after refusing to hand over his money, beaten to death. The murderers also took the victim’s overcoat and boots, pawning them the next day for 17/6d (87p) and 8/6d (43p) respectively.
After the body was discovered by two boys playing football, newspapers reported the crime extensively and a witness came forward with information that two men had boarded a city-bound tram on the evening of the murder and one of them had a pair of boots sticking out of his pockets. Fraser and Rollins panicked and, along with their girlfriends, got the train to Ardrossan, heading for Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Information about the two couples leaving on the train, together with descriptions from passengers on the tram, interested Detective Superintendent Andrew Keith and his colleague, Detective Inspector Noble, and they too set off for Belfast.
On the Sunday night, four days after the murder, the two officers were walking in Alberbridge Road, Belfast, when they saw two men. They approached the men and told them they fitted the description of men they were looking for. They gave their names as Albert Fraser and James Rollins, but Andrew Keith was suspicious of their evasive answers to his questions and the two men were arrested and taken to a local police station. At the police station, the men were searched and it was noticed that the sleeves of a jacket worn by one of the men had been recently washed. Although no bloodstains were visible, Andrew Keith slit open the hem of the jacket and found traces of blood. Both men were detained and the officers went to an address written on a piece of paper found on one of the men. While they were interviewing the occupants of the house, there was a knock on the door and in walked the two women who had been with Fraser and Rollins. While interviewing the two women they began to cry and told the officers about the part the two men had played in the murder. Both men were found guilty of capital murder at Glasgow High Court on 6 May 1920 and executed at 8am on 26 May 1920.
Detective Superintendent Andrew Keith was also in charge of the investigation into the IRA attack on the prison-van on 4 May 1921. Inspector Robert Johnston was killed in the first volley of shots and the two armed detectives faced up to the thirteen armed terrorists and fought them off. During that enquiry Andrew Keith received a personal threat of assassination from the Glasgow Brigade of the IRA because of his successes in finding firearms, ammunition and explosives in houses of IRA sympathisers.
In 1922, Andrew Nisbet Keith was awarded the King’s Police Medal for Distinguished Service in the New Year’s Honours List. He was also appointed Assistant Chief Constable in charge of the Glasgow Criminal Investigation Department, a post he held until 1926 when he left Glasgow Police to take up the post of Chief Constable of Lanarkshire.
It was typical of Andrew Keith that he would not sit back in his new post. In 1929, while making a tour of inspection of the outlying Lanarkshire Constabulary offices in his car, he was informed that a car containing four armed men, wanted for a series of violent house breakings in Cambridge, was heading for Glasgow. Along with Sergeant Carnegie from Lesmahagow, he drove at break-neck speed to Blackwood where the local constable had arranged a lorry to be used a roadblock on the northbound carriageway. The criminals were forced to stop their vehicle and were immediately arrested by the Chief Constable and his two colleagues. Two of the men were found to be in possession of loaded revolvers and the car was full of stolen property.
He was honoured as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the King’s New Year’s Honours List on 1 January 1941.
After a very successful and somewhat eventful career, Andrew Nisbet Keith retired from the position of Chief Constable of Lanarkshire in 1945, with 48 years Police Service and went to live in Troon Ayrshire.
He died in Kilmarnock Infirmary on 4 October, 1965 at the age of 88 years.