An army deserter named Miller was suspected when 70-year-old Mrs. Margaret McFadden was found beaten to death on MAY 25th, 1917, in her cottage in Falcarragh, County Donegal. Then another soldier came into the picture. Private John Greer, 20, had deserted from the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on May 17th and had been seen in Falcarragh the next day.
By May 28th he was in Scotland, but on his return to Northern Ireland he was identified by a little girl as the man she had seen leaving Mrs. McFadden’s cottage on May 25th. A cap found under the victim’s body was identified as his, and on December 7th, 1917, he appeared before Mr. Justice Dodd at Belfast Assizes, charged with murder.
He pleaded not guilty, his counsel arguing that Greer would not have returned to Northern Ireland if he had committed the murder. The defence also claimed that the girl’s evidence was unreliable and the cap found at the scene was a common one which could have been anybody’s.
But the jury thought otherwise, and Greer was convicted and sentenced to death. Then on January 1st, 1918, two days before he was due to be hanged at Derry Prison, he was reprieved and his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. His release followed 13 years later, in December 1930.