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March 13th 1840

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John, James and the Bantam of Bovain

John Campbell owned the farm of Tulloch, about six miles from Killin in Glen Lochy. He was wealthy and a bachelor. For a number of years he had been courting Margaret Crerar who lived with her father at Bovain, about the same distance from Killin on the Auchlyne road. She was a small woman known locally as the Bantam of Bovain, and was by this time middle-aged and had already expressed a wish to remain unmarried. In spite of this both families were keen on the marriage and John Campbell believed that he had at last persuaded her to agree.

On January 15th 1840, he left his farm with a neighbour in his best suit, with a tartan plaid. When they reached Killin they had a few drinks and he talked about his hoped for forthcoming marriage. Later he visited his sister in Killin, hinting to her also that he was shortly to be married. He left her saying that he was going to the post office but instead went to Bovain. He was never seen alive again.

It was three days later before his friends began to be alarmed and searches were made for him. A number of men were placed on the hills at night to see if any light appeared, to denote where a body lay beneath the water, this being a popular superstition in the Highlands at this time. Nothing was seen and it was not until January 28th that Campbell’s plaid was found in the river Dochart at a place called Craignavie between Bovain and Killin. It had been torn, but not it was believed by the action of the water. The bed of the river at Craignavie was sandy but the plaid when opened contained mud, similar to the soil beside the river.

In spite of this there was still no sign of John Campbell and it was not until March 8th that the body was found in a pool at the junction of the Lochy and the Dochart. His pocket-book was also recovered with Ł21 in notes. Two doctors from Perth certified that death had been caused by violence and that “the wounds were inflicted during life and that Campbell was dead before he was put into the water.”  A couple who lived at Craignavie, where the plaid was found, spoke of hearing strange sounds coming from the road between 10 and 11pm on the night that Campbell disappeared. The woman described it as “that of a friend dying in the distance.”  Her husband said “that it was the ghost of some person dying, the moaning was so unearthly.”  He had offered to go out and investigate but his wife restrained him.

By this time suspicion had fallen on James McDougall, a large and handsome man of thirty who was keeper of the toll-bar at Lix on the Killin -Crianlarich road. His house was just across the river from Bovain but under normal circumstances it would be necessary to ride to Killin and then out on the Auchlyne road to reach Bovain, a distance of about seven miles altogether. Big James (Seamus More) was an obliging and popular man who had also been courting Margaret Crerar. No doubt her financial prospects were to some extent an attraction.

James had heard of John Campbell’s intention to have the marriage banns proclaimed and on January 14th, the day before the murder he had sent a message to Margaret requesting an interview with her. On the afternoon of January 15th, he rode “furiously”  from Lix to Killin and then out to Bovain almost riding down an old woman on the way. According to Margaret their interview only lasted about ten minutes. He asked her if it was true that the banns were to be called the following Sunday. No, she said. Then James said that she could get as good as Campbell any day. To which she replied that she had nothing against Campbell. “As little have I,”  said James. That appears to have been the sum total of their conversation. He had mounted his horse and rode back, again at breakneck speed, to Killin and then on to Lix.

It was a stormy, rainy evening but at times the moonlight shone through and when McDougall was questioned about his journey he claimed to have passed only one man whom he named. This was corroborated by the man concerned but McDougall had said that the man had a plaid over his head because of the weather. This was an interesting comment as the man was not wearing a plaid, though of course John Campbell was. Further, in McDougall’s house was found a great coat with certain suspicious rents in it though McDougall claimed that he had not worn that coat on the night of the murder.

The Fiscal and Sheriff-Substitute were in Killin in February and March and McDougall was arrested. Later a Depute-Advocate from Edinburgh joined the investigation and eventually the Sheriff-Principal arrived too. The problem was that the evidence did not add up. Campbell left Killin on the road to Bovain between 5 and 6pm. It would certainly have been possible for McDougall to have rode him down, murdered him and thrown him into the river but that would not have accounted for the moans heard between 10 and 11pm that night. It seemed to be agreed that McDougall was back at Lix by 7pm and there was no evidence that he was out again after that.

However there was a ford across the Dochart close to where McDougall lived. He could have crossed over later that evening, come back to Campbell still lying injured in the field, battered him to death, thus accounting for the moans heard at Craignavie, and then thrown him into the river. The trouble was that there were no witnesses and no hard evidence to connect McDougall with the death.

After being confined to prison for a considerable time he was released without charge. No one was ever charged with the murder.

Margaret Crerar lived to a ripe old age. She never married though she continued to receive offers. James McDougall himself later married but died soon afterwards.

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