Gatton Murders - Apathy Or Fear

Gatton Murders

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Apathy Or Fear

13/04/1899

The murders of Norah, Ellen, and Michael Murphy took place on the night of the 26th December last (Boxing Day), and probably shortly after 10 p.m.

Judging from the time that the local sergeant of Police, on his way to Gatton from the Mount Sylvia races, saw the Murphy’s speaking to a man on horseback a short distance, on the Gatton side from the "slip-rails," where they turned off into Moran's paddock to meet with sudden death. We have described, according to the evidence, what passed in the house of the Murphys on that night, which, as to M'Neill, goes to show that he was in the house all night according to the belief of the witnesses, but does not conclusively prove that he could not have been absent without their knowledge after he had gone to his own room, and after his wife had gone to sleep.

But supposing he did leave the house before the Murphys — a little after 9 o'clock — started on the homeward journey from Gatton, how could he (M'Neill) suppose that he could meet them at such an hour? He could not know that the dance had fallen through, but would know that the party might be expected home sometime about daylight.

However, we will now follow the proceedings of the Murphy family on the day following the murders.

The father of the family deposed that on the morning of the 27th he was the first up in the house. "The next up in the morning after Will (the youngest son) was M'Neill; that was after 6 o'clock. He noticed that the trap was not in the yard, and informed his wife, who looked into the girls' room and found they were not there. While he was having breakfast M'Neill asked him if it was the usual thing for them to stop out like that. He said no. There was no talk of anything serious happening to them."

(It may be here recalled that the mother did not want them to go out that night, that Norah expressed a wish to remain at home, and that M'Neill urged her to go to the dance. Still, all these things may have fallen out in a perfectly natural way.)

Witness thought they might have remained at Chadwick's, or the trap might have broken down.

It was at breakfast that it was first suggested that someone should look for them.

M'Neill said he would go and get a horse to go and meet them and see if the trap had broken down.

He did not hear Mrs. Murphy urge M'Neill to go. After breakfast witness went to work and M'Neill passed him on the way.

About 10 o'clock his son Will came and informed him that the three children had been murdered.

Witness asked if they were shot, and he said he did not know. His son further said M'Neill came out and told him.

Witness and his son went home. Mrs. Murphy, in the course of her evidence, said "her husband came in about half-past 6 in the morning, and informed her that Michael and the girls were not then home.

When she came out to the kitchen she said the cart might have broken down. M'Neill said: It might not be too safe.

After about an hour M'Neill said: If one of them had walked from Gatton they could be here by this time.

Various surmises were made, and then M'Neill said it was time some one went to look for them.

She agreed, and M'Neill got a horse and rode away. The reason he went was that he was the only one not at work.

Inspector Urquhart — Are you sure you did not ask M'Neill to go? Did you ever say, "For God's sake M'Neill, go and look for my children?" No, I am sure I didn't say it! Continuing, witness said— "M'Neill left about 8 o'clock, and returned a little after 10 o'clock. She met him at the door, and asked him if he had seen the children, and if they were coming. He said no. She asked him why, and he said, "They are dead and murdered in a paddock up at Gatton, with their hands tied behind their backs, and their beads bashed in."

William Murphy, one of the brothers, "did not remember," or was "not certain," or "could not be sure," all through his testimony, and whether it arose from apathy, stupidity, fear, or predetermined reticence, the whole family proved unsatisfactory witnesses.

After this witness had been questioned about what M'Neill said when he returned from Gatton, Inspector Urquhart addressed him, saying, "Don't treat this in such a casual way; be careful to tell exactly what was said."

The Police Magistrate — I cannot understand why you people don't recognise the gravity, of the matter. You give answers in a haphazard way, and sometimes give, the answers before the questions are put. Witness, continuing, said, when M’Neill came up after discovering the bodies he was much excited. "Witness asked if all were dead, and he replied) 'Yes; it is something terrible.' Witness went in to his mother; but he could not remember what she said when she was told." Continuing, after repeated questioning, "he remembered his mother saying, 'Oh my God, my poor children!'

Arrangements were made to proceed to the scene of the tragedy. He (witness) went in the meantime to fetch his father, who was at the farm, and who asked what was the matter.

Witness replied that Norah, Helen, and Mike had been murdered. Murphy senior then asked if they had, been shot, and when told the facts he said he was glad they had attended their Church on the Sunday. He also asked if Bill (meaning M'Neill) had brought the news.

Did your father know that M'Neill had gone to look for the children? — Yes.

You said M'Neill arranged with your mother to go after your father had gone.

As a matter of fact, you really don't know whether your father knew M'Neill had gone to look for them or not? — I could not be certain.

Do you know whether he knew or not? — I could not be certain.

Then you don't know? Try to make us clear. — I could not be certain. Witness, continuing, said that "neither he nor his father on the way home spoke of the probable culprit. He (witness) tried to pacify Mrs. M'Neill. She was calling out the names of the three deceased, but no other. He and others proceeded to the scene of the tragedy. M'Neill was there, but witness could not remember anything he said."

At this point we may digress to give examples from the evidence of this witness of the apathy or panic of the Murphy family in regard to these crimes: — Have you Murphys gone about the country and made any attempt by yourselves to find out who committed these murders? — No.

M'Neill did, didn't he?— Yes.

Did he ever ask any of you to join him? — No.

Did your father ever try to urge you to see what you, could do? — No.

At the first did you ever offer to lend the police any horses or help them?— No.

Did you ever hear we were hiring horses?— I believe I did on one occasion.

How many horses had you on the place? — About 20 horses, of which seven are draughts.

The next witness was John Murphy, brother of the deceased, and he evinced the same curious lack of memory as the previous witness. Early in the examination the Inspector was impelled to say, "It is absurd the way in which we have to get things out of you," to which the witness made answer, "I cannot remember things so long ago."

[This was on 9th March, and the murders occurred on the night of Boxing Day. It might be fairly supposed, that the most trivial incidents of that eventful day would have been recalled by the family immediately after the tragedy by persistent and continuous effort of memory, and yet for value in tracking the murderers these people could remember nothing that was of the slightest aid to the police.]

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