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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 January 2008, 06:45 GMT
Plea for return of stolen remains
Maureen Marella
Maureen Marella claims to be related to the boys
The remains of two boys killed by their father almost a century ago, then stolen for research in Edinburgh, could be returned to family members.

Edinburgh University said it was willing to return body parts of William and John Higgins if "relatives" could prove their relationships to the boys.

Maureen Marella, who claims to be the boys' cousin, believes they should receive a Christian burial.

William, seven, and John, four, were found dead in West Lothian in 1911.

The brothers were murdered by their father, Patrick, who drowned them in a flooded quarry near Winchburgh.

I think Sir Sidney Smith did a terrible thing taking the body parts and my message to Edinburgh University is to let them go
Maureen Marella

The bodies were well preserved in the icy water and scientists were able to give damning evidence against Higgins at his murder trial. He was convicted and hanged.

When the bodies were found, two forensic scientists decided to take some of the body parts for research without telling the family.

Sir Sidney Smith and Harvey Littlejohn removed limbs and internal organs before sealing up the rest of their remains in coffins for burial.

Parts of the boys' bodies have been held by Edinburgh University ever since.

Speaking to BBC Scotland from her home in Las Vegas, Ms Marella said: "I feel they need to be put to rest. I don't have a problem with scientific research whatsoever but I feel that what they are using their body parts for can come from other sources.

"I think Sir Sidney Smith did a terrible thing taking the body parts and my message to Edinburgh University is to let them go."

'Tragic illustration'

Chris Paton, a genealogist from Scotland's Greatest Story, said: "Higgins had been given custody of his two boys after his wife had died and had been unable to cope with looking after the two boys so they suddenly disappeared one night.

"It was 18 months later when their bodies were found in a quarry floating in the water."

An Edinburgh University spokeswoman said: "This case, which retains immense forensic significance, is a tragic illustration of how a single criminal act has consequences which cross the boundaries of both geography and time.

"With this in mind, the university is only too willing to return the remains, on the condition that proof can be provided of Maureen Marella's relationship to the two boys and, of course, that other surviving relatives are in agreement.

"Although at the time the case was in investigated by the local police and pathologists, the law was very difficult in these matters.

"The university is eager the situation be resolved as quickly as possible to the satisfaction of all surviving relatives."

Background to the 1911 murder of the boys

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