Robert Andrew McGladdery - Northern Ireland’s last hanging.


Background and murder.

19 year old Pearl Gamble (photo) was a shop assistant who she lived at home with her parents and three sisters lived in Upper Damolly near Newry, Northern Ireland. 

On Friday the 27th of January 1961, she went to a dance in the Henry Thompson Memorial Orange Hall in Newry with two other girls and her boyfriend Joe Clydesdale. Her distant cousin, 25 year old Robert Andrew McGladdery also went and she danced with him twice that evening.  Click here for photo of him.  She and her friends left the dancehall at 2.30 am. on the Saturday morning and one of her male friends gave her a lift and dropped her off at a crossroads near her home.

Pearl’s mum, Margaret, noticed that her bed had not been slept in but assumed that she had stayed at one of her friend’s houses. 

On the morning of Saturday the 28th of January, Robert McCulloch who was out working on a fence when 16 year old Charles Ashe came up to him and told him that there was some clothing near the crossroads.  He went to look at this and discovered that the clothes were blood stained.  The nearest house was the Gamble’s so McCulloch walked there to use the phone and report his find to the police.  Pearl’s mother was able to identify the clothes.  The body was finally found at 4.50 pm. that afternoon, naked except for her stockings.  Pearl had not been raped, but this may have been the original motive.  The stolen bicycle was also found nearby.



Unemployed labourer, Robert McGladdery was soon a suspect.  He told the police that he had left the dancehall at 1.50 am. and was wearing a dark suit.  Witnesses said he left at 1.30 am. and according to P.C. Adams, who had looked in to see that everyone was behaving, he was wearing a light suit.  He had stolen a bicycle belonging to John McClenachan and ridden to Damolly crossroads to ambush Pearl.  As soon as her friend’s car drove off, McGladdery attacked.  He punched Pearl in the face, breaking her nose and then dragged her into a field where he stabbed her in the heart with the tang of a file and strangled her with a scarf. 


When interviewed he stated he had worn a dark blue suit but other people at the dance, including Constable Adams, said he wore a light coloured one. There was insufficient evidence to charge McGladdery at this stage so he was released.  However he was put under discreet surveillance and was seen to go to some undergrowth close by his house on the 10th of February. The following day, the police discovered, hidden inside a pillow case, his light coloured overcoat and waistcoat plus a handkerchief, all of which were heavily bloodstained. McGladdery was now arrested and charged with Pearl’s murder.

Trial and execution.
He was tried at Downpatrick between the 9th and 16th of October before Lord Justice Curran.  The Attorney General, W. B. Maginess led for the prosecution with James Brown defending.  13 witnesses were called to tell the jury what McGladdery was wearing on the night of the murder. 
In his closing statement Mr. Maginess told the jury “The Crown suggests the sum total of the evidence points in one direction only. We suggest that McGladdery foully and deliberately murdered this young girl. "The removal of the clothes suggests a sexual motive and you may come to the conclusion that passion started this affair. Unrequited passion leading to hate and anger.”  On that lonely road this man made that vicious attack; dragged her up Primrose Hill, stripped her and murdered her, then threw her dead body into a clump of bushes.”  Lord Justice Curran took two hours to deliver his summing up, after which the all male jury retired for just 40 minutes to reach their verdict.  When asked if he had anything to say, before sentencing, McGladdery replied: “Well my Lord, there are a lot of things I could say, but I don’t think it would make any difference now.” “But I would say one thing. There is no man in the court that can say I killed Pearl Gamble because I didn’t. I am innocent of that crime. That is all I have to say.”  Initially he was to have been hanged on November the 7th.  However he appealed his conviction which was dismissed after five hours of discussion.  He further appealed for clemency to Brian Faulkner, the Home Affairs minister and this too was rejected on the 5th of December.

On the night before his execution he made a full confession to the Presbyterian chaplain the Rev. William Vance and asked for it to be made public.  (Vance would not have been able to do this without McGladdery’s permission) 
McGladdery was hanged by Harry Allen at Belfast’s Crumlin Road prison, at 8 am. on the morning of Wednesday the 20th of December 1961.  Prison surgeon, Dr Girvan, certified that life was extinct.  Some thirty people had congregated outside the prison to see the death notices posted.  McGladdery was the 12th and last man hanged at Crumlin Road in the 20th century.  Here is a photo of the gallows beam at Crumlin Road prison as McGladdery would have seen it.


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