The Pollokshields Railway Murders – 1945

For three railway workers, Monday 10 December 1945 was just like any other working day. They were on the late shift on that cold December evening at Pollokshields East Railway Station, just off Albert Road, Glasgow,

Clerkess Annie Withers

but they had a roaring fire to keep them warm between train arrivals. Clerkess Annie Withers, clerk-porter William Wright and junior porter Robert Gough had had a busy day, but as evening fell, the station became quiet.

About 10 pm that evening, all three members of staff were in the stationmaster’s office, seated around the fire, when the office door burst open and a man with a gun appeared in the doorway. All three jumped up and backed towards a nearby desk and Annie Withers began screaming. The gunman immediately fired at Annie Withers and she fell to the floor, he shot her again as she lay writhing in agony on the floor. He then turned towards 15 year old Robert Gough and shot him through his right wrist and then in his stomach, he too fell to the floor.

William Wright (42) managed to turn away as the gunman fired at him and the bullet just grazed his body. He lay silently on the floor while the gunman went to the open safe, removed two tin boxes and left the office. After the gunman had gone, Mr. Wright telephoned the nearby Pollokshields East signal box and alerted the signalmen there. At that point, a train pulled into the station, but when Wright told the guard what had happened, the guard did not believe him and signalled the train to leave. Despite this setback, it was not long before the police and ambulance crews were on the scene.

Detectives at Pollokshields East Railway Station

Annie Withers who was gravely wounded was carried out of the station to an ambulance, but died on her way to the Victoria Infirmary. Young Robert Gough, with a serious stomach wound, was conscious when he was removed to the hospital and would later to give a dying deposition to the detectives before he died two days later, on the 12th.December. William Wright was taken to Glasgow Police Headquarters where he gave a statement and a description of the murderer to detectives. He described the man as being about 33 years of age, medium height and build, with a thin pale face. He was wearing a light coloured ‘demob’ raincoat and brown felt hat.

Det. Ch. Supt. Ewing

Detective Chief Superintendent William Ewing, in charge of the investigation, told newspapers that the crime was one of the most callous and cold-blooded that had ever been perpetrated in Glasgow. He directed detectives and uniformed officers to make a search of the railway line and surrounding streets, in an effort to find clues as to the murderer’s route of escape and possibly recover the firearm. Unfortunately, the remote location of the railway station and the dark misty night meant that there were no eyewitnesses to his escape.

The 9mm Lugar Pistol

Detective Lieutenant George MacLean, who headed the forensic team at the scene, announced that from the discarded cartridge cases from the gun, six shots had been fired and it was established that it was a 9mm German Luger semi-automatic pistol (see right).

A number of fingerprints were also lifted from the stationmaster’s office for comparison purposes. It was later established that a wage packet with £4. 3. 8d (£4.19p) was all that had been stolen.

Despite having an eyewitness to the murders and a vast amount of forensic evidence, the Glasgow C.I.D. were not successful in effecting an early arrest in this crime. Over several months, details of the crime disappeared from the newspapers and the public forgot about it.

In October 1946, anonymous information came into the Southern Division at Craigie Street Police Office to the

Charles T. Brown

effect that a man, Charles Templeman Brown, aged 20, of 19 Brisbane Street, Glasgow, had possession of a gun. Detective Lieutenant Frank Dow and Detective Inspector McCartney called at his house but his mother told them that he worked as a railway fireman and was away on a train between Glasgow and Carlisle. The detectives then left after leaving a message with his mother.

On Wednesday 9 October, when Brown returned to his house and learned of the detectives’ visit, he flew into a panic. Thinking that the police had discovered his part in the murders, he took the pistol from his bedroom and went out, intending to commit suicide. He tried twice to shoot himself but the gun did not fire. He had previously taken the gun to pieces and thought he could rebuild it, but it jammed and would not fire.

Filled with panic and not knowing what to do, he saw a policeman on point duty at the junction of Newlands Road and Clarkston Road. He approached the policeman, Constable John Byrne, and said ‘Will you phone the Central for me – I did a murder”. When the policeman asked what murder he meant, Brown replied “The Pollokshields job”. Constable Byrne who knew of the murder and the description circulated at the time realised the seriousness of the situation and cautioned Brown. He took him to the nearby police signal box in Spean Street at Holmlea Road. When Constable Byrne told Brown that he was going to search him, Brown said, “You might as well have it” and produced the Luger pistol and box of ammunition, handing them to the officer.

From the police signal box, Constable Byrne telephoned the Southern Police office and they arranged for some detectives to attend. At that point Constable George Tytler joined Constable Byrne and before Brown started to talk again, Constable Byrne cautioned him again. This was vitally important as, while waiting for the detectives, Brown wrote a letter to a friend on the message pad in the police box, which was to be damning evidence against him at his subsequent trial. A few moments later, Detective Lieutenant McDougall and Detective Sergeant Murdo McKenzie arrived and formally arrested Brown.

Det. Lieutenant MacLean

Brown went on trial at Glasgow High Court on 10 December 1946, before Lord Carmont, one year to the day of the murder. William Wright, the surviving railway porter, identified Brown as the man who shot and killed his two colleagues that fateful night. Detective Lieutenant MacLean presented the police forensic evidence including Brown’s fingerprints on the handle of the safe and the ballistic evidence from the Luger pistol that Brown had used to murderous effect on the night of the murders. The main point of legal debate was Brown’s letter admitting to the murders, which he had written on a piece of paper in the police signal box. The defence asserted that it was private correspondence between Brown and his friend William MacKenzie, but the Advocate Depute, John Wheatly (later Lord Wheatly), was able to refute this to Lord Carmont’s satisfaction, due to Constable Byrne having cautioned Brown before he wrote it.

Evidence was also presented as to Brown’s character and apparent ‘Walter Mitty’ frame of mind. He was said to live in a dream world. He idolised Frank Sinatra to the extent that he had gone to London for the sole purpose of buying the same style of camel haired coat worn by Sinatra. His hero worship of Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler was also alluded to, as was his replacing their photographs in his bedroom with that of Joe Loss the bandleader, during one of his frequent changes of mind. In short, Brown was an immature young man, prone to bravado, and had once told a friend “What’s the good of buying a gun if you are not going to use it”.

On 13 December 1946, Charles Templeman Brown was found guilty at Glasgow High Court of the double murder and Lord Carmont sentenced him to death by hanging. The sentence was scheduled to be carried out in Barlinnie Prison on Friday, 3 January 1947. However, on Monday 30 December, a petition for his reprieve from the death penalty was successful and the sentence was commuted to that of life imprisonment.

The story was not to end there and eleven years later, in 1957, Charles Templeman Brown was released from prison. By all accounts, he became a model son to his mother, sang in the church choir and picked up the threads of his life again. His life ended eighteen months later on the Stirling to Dunblane Road when he crashed the car he was driving whilst attempting to avoid another vehicle.

Brown never gave any reason why he had needlessly murdered the two railway clerks that cold December evening. One theory was that the immature, introspective youth had wanted to be a ‘big man’ like his pals in the Army, who, in their own bravado, had spoken of the ‘thrill of the kill’ in their wartime reminiscences. Whatever the reason, Brown died as he had lived – violently.

© GPHS 2005