expr:class='"loading" + data:blog.mobileClass'>
Knowledge of our past is our inheritance. What we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Crime Tidbit: the Gatton Murders

Mr. & Mrs. Murphy and 8 of their 10 children.
Michael not pictured, but Ellen and Nora are 2nd and 3rd
from the right, respectively.
Do you know...what the Gatton murders are?

Michael, Nora, and Ellen Murphy were three of ten siblings in the Murphy family. Their parents worked a farm on Blackfellow's Creek nearly the rural Australian town of Gatton, Queensland. In 1898, Michael had moved out of his parents' house, and was working another farm in a nearby town, but had returned home for the holidays. On the evening of December 26, took his two sisters to a dance that was to be held in Gatton. The three siblings left together in a borrowed sulky.

They left home at 8 pm and arrived at Gatton Hall at 9 pm to find that the dance had been cancelled. So, they turned their sulky (small horse cart) around to return home, but never made it there. When they hadn't returned by morning, Mrs. Murphy asked her son-in-law William M'Neil to go look for them. M'Neil drove toward Gatton and soon found familiar tracks. Michael had borrowed the sulky from him, and it had a wobbly wheel which made a distinctive track. Eventually M'Neil came to a point where the sulky tracks turned off the main road. He followed them for 3/4 of a mile and found the bodies of his kin.

Only a little over a mile from Gaton, the bodies were posed in a field. Michael and Ellen lay back to back, only a few feet apart. Ellen lay in the same east-west orientation but on a spread out rug, the three bodies forming a triangle. Both women had their hands tied with handkerchiefs. Michael's may have been tied at one time, though he was found unbound. In his hands were an empty purse which should have contained 15 shillings (about $100 today) and a handkerchief. It's believed he was untied to get out his purse.

Michael Murphy, 1898
The cart stood just a few feet away, the horse shot in the head, lying between the rails. This signature has never been seen anywhere else in criminal history, and the crime has never been solved.

Faulty police work, small-town curiosity stomping all over the evidence, and the fact that it was 1898 all contributed to a less-than-thorough investigation. The bodies were buried after an incomplete investigation but were later exhumed when the case became the subject of a Royal Commission in 1899. Numerous faults, deficiencies, contradictions, and sometimes all-out indifference were uncovered in the investigation and highly publicized in the media.

The only viable suspect that was ever put forward was Thomas Day, an itinerant worker. Day lived in a hut only 900 feet from the murder site. A witness saw him chasing the sulky when the Murphy siblings first went into town, but couldn't identify him positively. He was often seen along that road, blocking access to the town. He was never charged, however, and later joined the military. The only other record we have of this man is that he deserted in May 1899 and was never heard from again.

Nothing as bizarre as the Gatton crime scene has ever been repeated in Australia or anywhere in the world, and the case remains open today.

What are your thoughts on this case? Who do you think killed the three Murphy siblings?

1 comment:

  1. I love stuff like this-- really captures my imagination with all the "what ifs" and "who were they, really?" Very fun read.