The Unsolved Appin Murder

On 14th May 1752 Colin Campbell of Glenure was murdered and the subsequent capture of his killer is a story full of intrigue and one of Scotland’s most famous unsolved murders.

The Campbell’s were supporters of the Government and, following the defeat of the Jacobites and the end of the ’45 Rising, were not popular with those who had taken up arms to fight with Prince Charles Edward Stuart. There was also said to be anti-Campbell sentiments from the scenes of the Glencoe massacre in 1692 when the Campbell’s, on Government orders, killed members of the MacDonald clan.

On the 14th May Colin Campbell, along with a few other men, had just crossed Loch Leven and were on the road through Lettermore wood when a musket shot rang out. Campbell was hit and killed but there was no sign of the shooter.

The local Stewart clan had suffered evictions at the hand of the Campbells and were prime suspects. Less the two days later an arrest was made. James Stewart, or James of the Glen, was arrested for Campbell’s murder. He was taken to Inveraray Castle, a Campbell stronghold where he was placed on trial. The trial was seemingly rigged from the start. On the jury eleven out of the fifteen men were Campbells and the presiding judge was the Duke of Argyll, the Campbell clan chief. Stewart was found guilty and sentenced to death.

It is widely held that Stewart went to the gallows as an innocent man. He is said to have had an alibi for the time of the shooting and no real evidence appears to have been present to put him in the frame for the murder. The Stewart family apparently knew who the true killer was but refused to give him up and Stewart was hanged by the ferry crossing. His body was left hanging for some eighteen months and it is said as the body deteriorated that his skeleton was held together by wires to remain as a stark warning to others.

The true killer still is not known, however, in 2001 a descendent of the Stewart clan claimed that the secret had been passed down through the generations. They named the real killer as Donald Stewart of Ballachulish. They claimed four young Stewarts had planned the murder and they had chosen their best marksman to take the infamous shot, Donald Stewart.

James Stewarts body was eventually buried. It is said a local man, known as ‘Daft MacPhee’ couldn’t take seeing Stewarts remains every day and tore up the gallows, throwing them into Loch Linnhe. The remains floated south before becoming caught. Here they were carefully gathered and buried by none other than Donald Stewart of Ballachulish.

The tale of the Appin murder inspired Robert Louis Stevensons book Kidnapped and to this day remains one of Scotlands great mysteries. We hope you found this post interesting and as always please share, like, tweet, and comment.

All the best, K & D

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