Gatton Murders - Medical Testimony

Gatton Murders

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Caroline Eames, a married woman, deposed to laying out the bodies with Elizabeth Selby, at Gilbertís Hotel on the 27th December. She described how she undressed the bodies, stating that all the clasps of both corsets were intact. She could not say in what condition the laces were.

Elizabeth Selby, a widow, who had assisted the previous witness, also gave evidence. She said the clothes taken from each body were tied up separately, and were not mixed. She handed them to Sergeant Arrell.


Dr. Von Lossberg, Government medical officer, of Ipswich, stated that on Tuesday, 27th December, he came to Gatton, and saw Messrs. Wilson and Wiggins, two justices of the peace. In consequence of an order given him by the justices, he went to see the three dead bodies at Gilbert's Hotel.

Two were women and one was a man.

Sergeant Arrell was present, and mentioned that the names of the three persons were Ellen, Norah and Michael Murphy witness proceeded to make post mortem examinations of the bodies.

He first examined the body of Ellen Murphy. He found that the skull had been driven from the left to the right side, and brain substance was protruding from the wound on the right parietal bone. All the main bones on the parietal and occipital frontal bones showed comminuted compound fractures. Shreds of membrane were hanging from the bones and the brain was in a state of pulp.

On the neck were several marks of fingernails and ants.

The hands were tied behind the back.

Witness untied the hands, which showed marks of fingernails and abrasions through the eating of ants.

Witness then described other matters of observation, showing that the girl had been outraged.

After this examination he asked one of the justices of the peace if anything further were required, and he said "No."

The fracture of the skull and the injury to the brain had been caused by violence, which was the cause of death.

He came to the conclusion that the girl had been dead from 14 to 16 hours- at any rate, less than 24 hours.

The injuries to the head must have been inflicted by a blunt instrument of considerable weight, probably while she was in an erect position.

She may have been standing or sitting up.

An instrument of considerable weight would be required to fracture the bones as they were fractured.

He was of opinion that the outrage had not been committed more than 12 or 14 hours before.

The appearance of Norah's head was much the same as her sister's, but with more blood about the skull. All the head bones were broken, and there was great congestion of blood vessels of the brain. The face was also in a congested state.

On the right side of the eye there was a cut 2 in. long penetrating almost to the bone.

The throat on the left side showed the impression of a hand, and above it a strap was tightly buckled around the neck.

The clothes from the neck to the waist were more or less torn down, and the skin showed marks of fingernails.

The hands were tied behind with a handkerchief.

They were very congested, and showed marks of fingernails.

The lower limbs were covered with bruises and abrasions.

He was of opinion that the cause of death was fracture of the skull and injury to the brain, caused by a blunt instrument used with great violence. He did not make any further examination, as he considered that the answer of the justices to him in Ellen Murphy's case was sufficient.

He also examined the body of Michael Murphy. The skull was broken into 14 or 16 small pieces, some quite detached from the membranes.

There was a large patch of blood about 4 in. by 3 in. behind the right ear, extending to the neck.

It was a thin layer, and quite dark. On cleaning this away he noticed a wound, which he thought had been caused by a bullet. On an internal examination he found a channel to the base of the skull, which in his opinion had been caused by a bullet.

He looked for the bullet for a considerable time, but was hindered by the bone splinters.

Witness felt the effects of blood poisoning, and desisted from examination.

He stated positively the bullet was in the head, as there was no exit. This was said to everyone in the room-Sergeant Arrell, Messrs. M'Neill, Wiggins and others.

The arms of the man had been bent backwards, but not tied.

A purse was loose in his hand, and, though there was a strap between the hands, there were no marks of tying on the hands.

The cause of death in Michael Murphy's case was a bullet wound in the head. He had that opinion at the time of the first examination, but did not mention it, though he wrote it down in the police magistrate's room at Ipswich on 28th December. On January 4, after the second post mortem examination, he expressed the same opinion.

Inspector Urquhart. - You kept it to spring it on us as a surprise.

Witness. -Oh, no: I regarded the matter as private, and kept my lips sealed. The fracture by a blunt instrument of Michael Murphy's skull had been done after death. That was his opinion from the first. It was the search for the bullet that witness injured his hand, and set up blood poisoning. He only used his finger to probe the wound, as he had no instrument to probe with. He did not know he would be required to make a post-mortem examination.

Inspector FC UrquhartInspector Urquhart. - Did you try to get a probe here?

Witness. -I was not acquainted with the blacksmith or others here.

Inspector Urquhart. - No; but you were acquainted with the chemist.

Witness. -He could not have got a probe. Had there been a medical man here I would have asked him for one.

Inspector Urquhart. - Did you ask the chemist for one?

Witness. -No.

Inspector Urquhart. - Do I understand, doctor that this is the first time you have publicly expressed the opinion as to the cause of Michael Murphy's death?

Witness. -I wrote it down on December 28, but never expressed it until January 4.


Mr. Alfred Robinson, a reporter from the Queensland Times of Ipswich, accompanied the doctor to Gatton.

Mr Robinson was the first reporter "on the ground" after the Gatton tragedy.

Dr Von Lossberg and Mr Robinson were met at Gatton by Sergeant Arrell and they went with him to the Brian Boru Hotel.

Mr Robinson wished to get an accurate description of the injuries sustained by the victims and he also wished to visit the scene of the murders. He arranged with Mr James, the chemist, who, he believed, was to assist at the post mortem examination, to give him a description of the injuries.

Mr Robinson then left for Moran's paddock. When he returned he received from Mr James written notes of the injuries, which, he understood, were dictated by Dr Von Lossberg.

These notes were read by Mr Robinson to the Commission.

A post mortem examination was carried out on each of the three bodies.

Dr Von Lossberg's findings are set out in detail in his evidence at the Magisterial Inquiry and before the Commission. Here briefly are some of the more salient features. The body of Ellen was carried out from the bedroom in which the three bodies had been lying to a back room of the hotel where a post mortem examination was carried out on each body in turn.

Ellen's body was inspected by the doctor "in a good light"; he found the face and upper portions of the body were smeared with blood and the brain was protruding on the right side through a fracture.

The doctor was of the opinion that Ellen had been dead about twelve to sixteen hours-certainly less than twenty-four hours.

The hands of the girl were tied with a hand≠kerchief behind her back.

The body showed marks of fingernails, and there were abrasions of the skin on both hands. The skull was fractured in all the principal bones-that is, the frontal bone, the parietal bone and the occipital bones were all fractured. They were all compound comminuted fractures.

The doctor then unloosed the hands, and saw that "they were greatly swelled. The nails were black."

The doctor was of the opinion that the swelling was due to "the tightness of the bandage".

Ellen's clothes were greatly spattered with blood, and the legs were "scratched with fingernails" and smeared with blood.

He was of the view that the injuries to the skull had been caused by a heavy blunt instrument.

He examined the dead girl internally and found she was not pregnant.

He saw what he believed to be fingernail scratches on the thighs, inside the thighs. He said he had not the least doubt about the girl having been violated. He said, in his view, the blood on her petticoat was caused by the outraging of the girl; it was the effect of resistance. The labia of the vagina was very swollen and scratched.

The finger marks went right through to the anus. The blood came from the scratches on the labia. "From her appearance he would have deduced that the girl had resisted violently and he would have expected to see, at the place where she was ravished, marks of a struggle. He said he could say with absolute certainty that she had not been shot. The doctor also mentioned that, when he withdrew his finger after internally examining Ellen, there were undoubtedly signs of semen. He almost certainly would not have had a microscope, but nevertheless was able to say that it was undoubtedly semen.

Dr Von Lossberg next examined Norah's body. Her hands were also tied with a handkerchief behind her back. He found in her case a very plethoric state of the face and body-so much so that, before doing anything else, he looked to the upper part of the body, and found a strap quite tight round the neck-so tight that it had stopped the circulation. At the same time he found on her face, near the right eye, a sharp cut-"one which turned out. This cut was about two inches [fifiy millimetres] long, dividing the true skin. It was made by some sharp instrument-very likely by a knife. It was a clean cut."

At the outset of the post mortem examinations he had been shown the big piece of timber, with blood and hair attached to it, which Arrell had taken possession of when it had been handed to him at the scene of the tragedy earlier that day.

The doctor was asked whether the injury near Norah's right eye could have been caused by that instrument and he replied "It could not possibly have been made by that." Nor did the doctor think that the injury could have been caused by a fist. Norah's clothes, the doctor found, were more disordered than Ellen's her clothes, in fact, were torn open from the neck right to the waist.

The breastbone, hands, and arms showed a number of fingernail marks, and there were also abrasions on the hands.

The injury to the head was about the same as in the case of Ellen, all the principal bones being fractured; but in Norah's case, all the blood-vessels were over≠filled with blood, and he took that to be caused by the strangulation.

The doctor said that the strap round Norah's neck had been put on before death. It had sunk into the flesh and could not be seen. Nobody had seen it until the doctor had made "a very minute examination. If I had not found it nobody would have known there was a strap round her neck at all."

The doctor said he could say that Norah had not been shot. Dr Von Lossberg then examined the lower region of Norah and he found, principally on the left thigh, "great numbers of fingernail marks, and they went to the privates and right to the anus ≠in fact, right to the constrictor anus. The marks were more plentiful than with the first girl. I examined her likewise internally, and found a swelling, but no blood of any kind. The hymen was ruptured. I gave the opinion that she was not in a pregnant state."

The doctor was asked whether he would say the girl had been ravished and he answered "Yes, I gave that opinion at the time, and I am still of the same opinion."

The examination of the doctor before the Commission then proceeded in the following way:

Q. She was a non-consenting party, struggling to prevent violation, and so received those injuries, in your opinion?

A. That is so.

Q. Would you say there must have been great struggling on her part?

A. I would.

Q. If she was lying on a rug, would you expect to see that rug all tossed about?

A. I would, but I would not expect she would keep on a rug. I would expect that the rug be all disordered, and that she would roll off.

Q. Would you expect the ground to be torn up with the movements of her feet and her struggles?

A. Certainly. She had on a pair of quite new, strong boots, with high heels, and those boots would have made an impression somehow on the ground.

Q. And if the ground was soft and strewn with leaves, would you expect to find it greatly disturbed?

A. I would.

Q. Did you inform Sergeant Arrell that she was outraged, and had struggled violently?

A. Yes; I said she must have struggled more violently than the other girl, because all her hands and face and everything were marked with fingernails. I forgot to say that on the left side of the throat there were the marks of three fingers of the hand just above the strap, a hames strap it was.

Q. Do you think it was possible for one man to have ravished both of those girls?

A. I do not think it was possible at all. I have said from the beginning that I did not think it possible for one man to have done it.

Q. Did you give your opinion to the police?

A. I did.

Q. To whom-do you recollect? Was it to Sergeant Arrell?

A. Yes. I said at the time to the gentleman who was present that it was not possible to outrage the girl, and at the same time to do this tying. If the tying was done after death it would have been another thing; but one man could not possibly tie the hands when alive, and at the same time outrage the girl.

Q. Do you think one man could have outraged both?

A. He could. A strong man could.

Q. Norah was a very strong girl, was she not?

A. Yes.

Q. A man struggling with her on the ground would knock about the ground a great deal?

A. He would; but the girls were not so strong as was represented.

Q. Were they not?

A. Not for farmers' daughters.

Q. Do you not consider from the resistance those girls must have offered, and the force used by the man, that the ground must have been knocked about a great deal?

A. I would certainly expect that.

Q. Were you on the ground at all?

A. No I was not.

The doctor went on to give his opinion that Norah received the cut to the region near her right eye when she was standing up. He con≠sidered the man must have been standing close to her-very close to her. He was of the view that it was a downward strike that caused that injury. He considered also that the girls were standing when they received the other injuries to their heads. He believed the girls were ravished before the injuries were inflicted. He was asked "You believe that these girls were ravished before the injuries you speak of were inflicted-the injuries to the head?" and he replied "Yes, I believe so."

Dr Von Lossberg then examined the body of Michael Murphy. He said that, when first looked at, Michael Murphy's body represented the same picture, except that his hands were only bent back and not tied. Nor was there any mark on either hand to show that they had been tied, but he had in one hand an empty purse. The doctor said "He had in one hand a quite loose purse, and between the two hands there was lying a strap." The doctor went on to say that, just behind the right ear, there was some blood that extended to the lower jaw and to the neck in a thin film and quite dark and dry. He cleared this blood away. It extended from three to three and a half inches [seventy-five to ninety millimetres]. He washed it carefully away, and he found a wound behind the right ear. In his evidence before the Commission Dr. Von Lossberg said that at the post mortem examination of Michael Murphy he said to the gentlemen present, "Hulloa, there is a bullet wound", and, according to him, nobody said anything to that. He went on to say that he then commenced directly to probe the bullet wound with his finger. He said he went on for a considerable time and "removed a few loose bones from the skull, and felt all at once a very sharp click on one of my nails. I went to a basin and washed my hands in a disinfectant fluid, after which I went on with the examination again.