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The Gatton Tragedy Exposed At Last. An Examination Of The Secrets And Lies.
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At the conclusion of the enquiry into the Gatton Murders, the presiding Magistrate felt it his duty to say that he was greatly astonished at the extreme apathy of the blood relations of the victims during the enquiry.
Although there were four brothers of mature age, with the exception of Dan, who appears to have helped his brother-in-law, they did not assist the police.
Their evidence was most unsatisfactory. It had to be dragged out of them, and had been very contradictory, especially in regard to the horses in the vicinity of the house at the time of the murders.
The relations appeared to have treated the business as "kismet," and acted as if they wished it buried in oblivion.
It was on this, the closing day of the enquiry, that Dan Murphy, on being recalled, admitted that while at Roma-street Police Station (Brisbane) he remarked that "some one at home must have gone out of their minds and done it. He did not remember ever saying that it must have been one of the family who had done it, though he might have said it."
This sensational evidence was confirmed by Joseph Murphy, a Brisbane constable, but not related to the Murphy family of Tent Hill, who deposed that he travelled, from Brisbane in company with Daniel Murphy, of Tent Hill, on the 27th December. Daniel Murphy said to witness: "It must have been some member of the family; no one else would have done it, and we shall be the talk of Blackfellow's Creek, and everybody
will look down on us." Witness asked him if there was any member of the family who had gone wrong in the head at any time, or drank heavily. He said there was not.
This witness had served Mrs. Murphy, the mother of the family, with a subpoena on the previous day to attend the Court then sitting, and in doing so had apparently got a taste of that old lady's quality. She said; "What do you want me there for? I have been there often enough before. They nearly killed me last time I was there. The damned wretches want me to say something to bring it home to M'Neill, who worked hard to help
them. They are a damned lot of traitors. May God grant they may have some trouble themselves before they die. (She had prayed for God's mercy on the murderers when she first heard of the death of her children, and their father at the same time expressed satisfaction that they had gone to church on the previous Sunday) They think I am keeping something back: I believe they want me to tell a lie, they are a lot of damned wretches all through."
The above evidence transpired on the 23rd ult., and we will now go back to the beginning of the testimony of the Murphy family, and as briefly as possible with reasonable regard to continuity review it.
First, however, it is important that the reader should bear in mind that Michael Murphy, and his sisters Norah and Ellen, left home apparently about 7.30 p.m., arrived at Gatton at ten minutes past 9, started back immediately on the homeward journey, and were last seen near Moran's sliprails, where they immediately after, no doubt, turned off into the paddock before 10 o'clock. These times are of the highest importance in relation
to the possible movements of M'Neill, who, according to the testimony of the Murphy family, could not have been the man seen at the "rails," or the man whom Sergt. Arrell saw speaking to the Murphy party before their arrival at the fatal "turn off."
If then, the Murphys are not all conspiring to mislead the police, M'Neill and the man at the rails are not identical, and, therefore, if it is to be contended that M'Neill was concerned in the tragedy it would seem that it was carefully planned, and that at least two men were engaged in it.
But there is no evidence against M'Neill, and there would have been less suspicion had not the attitude of his wife's family been so remarkable throughout.
According to the statement of Murphy, senr., he went to bed between 10 and 11 o'clock on the night of Boxing Day.
Up to that time, and after the departure of the party for Gatton, no one else had arrived at or left the house. The only one he left sitting up was his wife. About an hour after retiring he heard M'Neill’s child cry, and the father speak to it. He did not see M'Neill going to his bedroom that night.
The Magistrate: "You tell us the only person up when you went to bed was your wife, and you say you heard M'Neill going to his room when you were saying your prayers." Witness: "I don't go to bed until a long time after I have said my prayers."
Was there any one else in the house? Yes, my son Will.
How do you know they were not his footsteps? I know it was M'Neill! — You heard footsteps, but you don't know whose they were? I know they were M'Neill's! — Continuing the witness said the last time he saw M'Neill that night was when the dog cart left (which took the party into Gatton), but he heard him walking about. He would swear this was M'Neill.
Now, as the police were so obviously intent upon determining whether M'Neill was, or was not, during the night of the murders, absent from the house of his father-in-law, where, with his invalid wife, he was a guest, we will for the present continue along that line of evidence, taking other salient points later.
Mrs. Murphy deposed that after the party left home for the dance, M'Neill returned to the house, and went to his own room between 9 and half-past 9. M'Neill had previously taken his boots off. She went to her room about a quarter of an hour before she heard the clock strike 10. No one came out of any of the rooms. She did not go to sleep until after 12 o'clock. She heard Mrs. M'Neill ask the little girl to kiss her, but she said,
"No; kiss dada," and Mrs. M'Neill laughed.
Katie Murphy, the youngest of the family, stated that Norah did not wish to go to the dance, as one of the children of her sister (Mrs. M'Neill) would cry after her (Mrs. Murphy had previously asked the girls to stay at home that night), but M'Neill told her to go, and that he would look after the little girl. Towards 9 o'clock witness saw M'Neill go to his room, and heard him moving about afterwards. She could not say if M'Neill
was in the house the whole of that night.
William Murphy, the youngest brother of the family, and he was at home on the night of the murders, said that M'Neill was in the house after the party went to Gatton. A little after 9 o'clock, witness went to the yard and turned all the horses into a grass paddock, containing about 100 acres. None of the horses were shod. Coming in after wards he saw his father and mother and M'Neill in the sitting room. M'Neill went to his
bedroom at 9 o'clock, and the witness went to the kitchen to assist Katie., From where he was he could see anyone leaving the front door. He certainly heard no one. Witness went to bed about ten minutes to 10 o'clock. His bed lay along the partition on the opposite side of which was a bed occupied by M'Neill. During the night he heard nothing but M'Neill's snores before he (witness) went to sleep He did not see who it was snoring, but hi thought it was
M'Neill. He could not swear positively.
John Murphy, another of the brothers who was at home at the time, did not see the party depart for the dance. He went away to Tent Hill, ant returned about 10.30. He did not notice that the dogs barked. He went to bed.
Inspector Urquhart — Where was M'Neill? Witness— In his room. I would not be sure he was there. He was supposed to be.
Who supposed him to be there? I did.
Did you think about him on that occasion? No I Continuing, witness said he went to sleep almost immediately, and did not hear a snore, a laugh, or any one speaking.
The remaining evidence as to M'Neill's whereabouts on the night of the murders is that of his wife, and it is the most important. Assuming it to be credible, it would seem that M'Neill was in his bed on the night of the murders, and if the testimony reproduced in this article is to be relied upon, it is clear that M'Neill could not have been in the vicinity of Moran's paddock at the time the mysterious man at the “slip-rails
" was seen.
Moreover, it should be noted that, though it was a moonlight night, this man was not recognised by any of the local residents who passed him.
Mrs. M'Neill's evidence is lengthy and important, and is to the effect that her husband shared her room during the night in question, and that he could not have absented himself without her being aware of it. After dealing with Mrs. M'Neill's examination, we propose to group the evidence that points to the possibility of some member of the Murphy household having been absent during the night with out the knowledge of the others at
the time of such absence.
It is of a very slender kind, and, as we have said, would appear less but for the curiously unknowing attitude of the whole of the Murphy family, as to which there is yet more of interest to be written. And even behind all this mystery there is no clue to motive worthy of the name, and this it is that most of all makes rational speculation of the causes of these dreadful crimes seemingly impossible.