Gatton Murders - Journalists' Guess

Gatton Murders

!!! Finally After Years Of Research, Albeit Still Only A Theory.

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The Gatton Tragedy Exposed At Last. An Examination Of The Secrets And Lies.

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Journalists' Guess

28/03/1899

The Gatton (Queensland) horror is still a mystery, for the official enquiry just closed has failed to penetrate it; but there are signs that the police have now — if they have not had from the beginning— a theory as to the commission of the crimes.

That theory points at the least to members of the Murphy family as being material witnesses could they be induced to give evidence without reserve, but so far the official enquiry not only discloses that they cannot remember anything material that occurred at the time, but by their own admission have not from the first made the slightest effort to assist the police to track the murderers.

It is not reasonable to suppose that these people were indifferent, and there is nothing in what has been disclosed to warrant such an assumption.

What then?
Do they believe they know the murderers, and are they afraid they may do further murder if the family of the victims are not silent, or is it that behind the first horror there is an inner tragedy that is too terrible to bring to light?

To us it has seemed from the beginning, knowing the quality of the men engaged upon the enquiry, that the police authorities, while directing public attention to Burgess, as the possible perpetrator of these crimes, have been making their real investigation in quite a different direction.

Anyway it is clear from the course of the enquiry, so far as the reports have come to hand, that the police desired to have account of all the sayings and doings of the members of the Murphy family on the night of the murders and immediately thereafter, particularly in relation to what they said or did in the direction of discovery of the murderers.

How curiously little the Murphy family said or did upon such dreadful occasion will be gathered from the evidence we shall publish later.

Apart from the mystery of the attitude of the Murphy’s, the most notable evidence adduced at the enquiry concerned the past relations of a local resident named Ryan with that family. Ryan, according to his own statement, had been "keeping company" with or "courting" Polly Murphy (now Mrs. M'Neill) for some years prior to her marriage.

Mrs. Murphy, however, objected to these attentions and quarrelled with Ryan, who is said to have harboured a bitter feeling of hostility to the mother because of the rejection of his suit.

One of the most curious aspects of the case is that the police seemed to have devoted an immense amount of pains to prove precisely the whereabouts of these two men on the night of the murders, one being the rejected lover of a sister of the murdered young women, and the other being the successful suitor and husband.

Nothing transpired apparently to show that these men had anything in common, though it would seem that Ryan, notwithstanding his quarrel with Mrs. Murphy, still maintained friendly, though not intimate, relations with the younger members of the family.

What then is the hypothesis of the police?

The trend of their enquiry seems to involve suspicion of both men, yet there has apparently been no evidence to warrant arrest of either of them.

On the contrary, the testimony that they were both at their homes on the night of the murder so far remains unshaken.

That M'Neill was an object of suspicion to many persons in the district immediately after the commission of the crimes was made known to the general public by his complaint made to the police, and published by the special correspondent of the Brisbane Courier, that in a place of public entertainment he was treated with disfavour, and the women servants of the establishment would not speak to him.

M'Neill who at that time, unlike the Murphy family, was busy apparently in assisting the police to run down the murderers, concluded by declaring that if the police had anything against him he was there to be arrested.

The police, however, knew nothing then to justify any such proceeding, and it would seem they knew nothing now to bring M'Neill or Ryan or anyone- else within reach of the long arm of the law for one of the most atrocious crimes known to Australians of the present generation.

Now, without imputing any knowledge of these crimes to either or both of these men, other than is contained in their evidence, it is of interest to speculate upon the attitude of the police toward them.

There seems no reason to suppose that they would be likely to act in concert in anything.

Did, then, the police suspect they might have acted independently, or rather that one only was concerned, while the conduct of both at the time and on the occasion was fair subject for enquiry?

And at this point we are confronted with another extraordinary aspect of this remarkable tragedy.

Was it possible for one man to have successfully, and without discovery, decoyed from a well frequented bush road at an early hour of the night, and murdered three young adults, who, from the very nature of their upbringing and environment, were strong, alert, self-reliant persons, thoroughly familiar with their surroundings?

And apart from the murders, there were the preceding atrocities.

To the ordinary mind the "one man" theory seems incredible, and yet no less an authority than the Commissioner of Police is reported to have said that in his opinion it is quite possible that the crimes were the act of one man.

Upon this hypothesis it is reasonable to suppose that the murderer must have been actuated by an over mustering passion of revenge, the offspring of repulsed desire, personal indignity, or private wrong, or a criminal lunatic seized with an uncontrollable desire for outrage and murder.

Was there any person liable to such a passion of murderous hate among the immediate friends or acquaintances of these young Murphy’s?

The evidence fails to disclose any such motive.

And yet there is strong presumption, it would seem, that if one man compassed these crimes, he not only knew the Murphy’s, but had their confidence.

Only such a one could have induced them to drive off the road, while on their way home, into a bush paddock that led to nowhere.

Now on this point there is fairly conclusive evidence that Michael Murphy purposed driving into Moran's paddock before he got there.

There is no question of the party being "bailed up" at the sliprails and compelled to leave the road, for the evidence made it clear that the track of the vehicle was continuous from along the road through the "slip panel" into the paddock.

This seems to show that the slip-rails, that should have been up, had been taken down in expectancy of their coming.

Further, the attentive reader of the evidence we will later append will note that the buggy track as it passed in over the rails had not on the following day, according to one witness, been disturbed, which meant, if true, that the rails had never been replaced, and yet another and more material witness had said that when he entered the paddock at an earlier hour in the morning the rails were up.

But who induced the party to enter the paddock?

Various witnesses deposed to seeing a single man, whom in the dark or semi-darkness of the night they did not recognise, near to the slip panels of Moran's paddock.

The Sergeant of Police, returning later from a district race meeting to his station at Gatton, saw the Murphy’s at some distance on the Gatton side of the entrance to Moran's paddock pulled up and talking to presumably this same man.

Presently they parted and it would seem that conversation resulted in Michael Murphy driving with his sisters to sudden and awful death at the hands, wholly or in part, of the man whom they met on the road, and who it is fair to suppose knew them well enough to be able to lure them to the spot where a little later they were done to death.

Who, then, was that man on the road?

That is what the best police officers of Queensland without regard to expense have for many weeks been vainly trying to determine, and now they have closed a protracted enquiry, the evidence in which will probably cover a thousand foolscap pages, and in all of it there is not apparently discovery enough to warrant a single arrest.

For our part we cannot find sufficient warrant for the supposition that these murders were the act of one man, even though we can conceive of such a man adopting means to induce a medical opinion that two men were concerned in the outrage.

It may be that the police, as sometimes happens, have built up an elaborate theory on the "one man" basis, and now are at a loss to find the "one man" to fit.

Later, when we come to publish certain of the evidence, the reader may be able to discern the impression of the official mind.

Meanwhile the exigencies of space will not permit of completion of our review of this appallingly tragic story in the present issue.

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