According to the story, John McNaghten (spelled various other ways, including McNaughton, McNaghtan and McNaughten) was from a privileged background but had got embroiled in gambling debt. He was also a childhood friend of Andrew Knox, owner of the Prehen House and Estate in County Derry in the mid 1700s
- McNaghten was kindly taken in by his friend Andrew Knox, who wanted to help him with his gambling addiction, which had left him penniless
- Working as a tax collector for the Crown, McNaughton had gambled away 800 pounds of the King's money -- the equivalent of around $150,000 USD in today's money
- Andrew's daughter, Mary Ann, became besotted by Mc Naughton -- although she was only 15
- McNaghten convinced Mary Ann to marry him secretly
- Andrew Knox found out their plan and forbid it -- he believed Mc Naughton only wanted her considerable dowry, to continue his gambling.
When Mary Ann was travelling to Dublin with her father on November 10, 1761, Mc Naughton held up the carriage to try and elope with the girl. The shoot-out went wrong and McNaghten accidentally killed Mary Ann.
The Botched Hanging
Mc Naughton was convicted of the killing and sentenced to death.
- During the first attempt, the hanging rope broke,
- Local legend says he was offer the opportunity to escape but declined, as he did not want to be remembered as a half-hanged man.
Despite sone versions of the legend, historians records that no such offer was made -- the execution proceeded despite the protests of the crowd, who were favourable to McNaghten, after the initial rope broke.
Many paranormal events have reportedly been recorded at Prehen House down through the years, and these have been attributed, in accordance with the old legend, to the spirit of "Half-Hung Mc Naughton". Many people still visit Prehen House (a popular attraction in its own right) to try and detect the presence of the spirit!