Gatton Murders - Paper Summing Up

Gatton Murders

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Paper Summing Up

22/04/1899

In order to disentangle the voluminous evidence taken at the official enquiry into the possible causes and perpetrators of these terrifying crimes, we have adopted the course of following his movements and evidence of the principal figures associated with the tragedy, in order to present a connected story, with one individual for the time being as the central personage.

The police have throughout been so persistent in their efforts to make certain the whereabouts of M'Neill on the night of the murder; and have made it so clear that the Murphy family were unwilling witnesses, that in the mist of dreadful mystery enveloping the crimes the figure of this man has naturally loomed largely into view.

We shall now give the material points of his evidence, which we may here say was given with plain directness throughout, and such testimony as was advanced by other witnesses calculated to weaken it.

The reader has been made familiar with the events leading up to the departure of M'Neill from the Murphy’s' house in quest of the persons who had gone to the Gatton dance on the previous evening.

We will follow M'Neill's statement of what followed.

Four miles from the Murphys' home he reached the "slip-rail," at Moran's paddock.

There he noticed wheel-tracks turning into the paddock like those of his cart. One of the wheels of his trap wobbled.

Examination of the track satisfied him that it was that of the trap driven by -Michael Murphy.

The slip-rails- were up, and witness dismounted and "took them down." (Here it may be mentioned that M'Neill, as an experienced bushman, could hardly fail to notice on an unmetaled bush road the, deviation of these wheel tracks into an unfrequented paddock.

Also, it is to be noticed that while he said the rails were up another witness who a little later examined them lying on the ground declared that the wheels of the trap must have passed over them, as the ground spaces -between the rails where they lay in the track of the vehicle that had passed into the paddock on the previous night did not show any marks or imprint of the wheel. (A remarkable contradiction here.)

Continuing his evidence, M'Neill said he went into the paddock and got on his horse again and followed the direction of the tracks, but did not actually follow them.

He left the tracks, as he expected to see a house, he had never been in the paddock before.

There was no sign of a road to make him think of going up to a house.

He went up the paddock about a quarter of a mile, up the ridge and down the other side.

He bore then to the right, and struck the fence between Moran's and the next paddock, and returned to the rails, as he could not see any signs of a house.

He examined the wheel marks again on the road outside the paddock, and felt confident that they were made by his trap.

He undertook to follow the wheel tracks on foot, having dismounted for that purpose, and leading his horse.

He saw tracks of the wheels and the horse drawing the trap, he did not see any human foot tracks.

He had been many years in the bush, and had frequently followed stock by tracks.

He could not form any opinion from horse's tracks as to the pace it was going.

They were bearing to the right all the way after going fifteen yards from the sliprails.

He could show the tracks on a plan.

After following the track for three-quarters of a mile he saw three heaps of clothes on the ground and the cart and the horse; the latter was lying down.

Witness was about 50 yards away when he first saw them.

He went to the spot, right up to the heaps of clothes or within two yards of them, and he then saw Norah was there, and that she was dead.

Some ants were on her face.

Her jacket was pulled up to her shoulders, and her stays were exposed.

Her skirts were on her, but they were undone at the back and pulled slightly up at the back.

He did not touch her, but knew she was dead by the ants on her face.

She was lying on her right cheek.

Witness came up on the left side of her.

She was lying with her feet westerly.

He did not walk round her body.

He did not then notice the position of Norah's limbs.

He saw the other two bodies eight or ten yards further on.

He did not go up to them.

He was within two yards of Norah, but did not notice anything but what he had mentioned.

In further evidence, M'Neill stated that he had always been on excellent terms with the Murphy family, excepting as to a difference with the mother as to his marriage, which had been amicably settled.

He did not know of any young fellows paying particular attention to the girls, nor was he aware that Michael Murphy had any enemies or any complications with young women.

Asked why he did not examine the tracks more closely when he first saw them, the witness replied, "I cannot give you any reason specially, and did not stop, but got on my horse and galloped in.

I really cannot state my reason for not stopping.”

In the township of Gatton on the morning following Boxing Day there was but one policeman, Sergeant Arrell, a man with a good record of bush, service and with experience of working black trackers.

Yet this officer from first to last, apparently by lack of judgment, decision, and insight, made detection of the murderers— as latter events proved— an almost hopeless task; but we are anticipating.

We will now take note of the Sergeant's evidence, which largely relates to M'Neill's conduct after he arrived at Gatton to give information to the police.

Wm. Arrell, stationed at Gatton, deposed that on Boxing Night he came home from the Mount Sylvia races along the Tent Hill-road, accompanied by Michael Connolly.

He passed Moran's slip-rails about 9 o'clock, but noticed no one there.

A man was riding about a chain in front.

When they reached O'Leary's this man had stopped, and was speaking to three persons in a trap.

On passing, Connolly said "Good night."

Witness asked who they were. Connolly replied, "They are the Murphys."

They had previously passed Florrie Lowe on Clark's Hill.

Witnessed noticed there were two females and one male in the trap.

 The spot where he saw the sulky would be about a mile from Moran's sliprails.

Witness came on to Gatton, and in Railway-street Patrick Murphy passed them.

Witness reached home at 9.30.

On the following morning a man came to the barracks and said, "My name is William M'Neill. I have come to tell you that the three Murphys are lying dead in a paddock out there." Witness said, "What paddock?" He said, "I don't know the name of the paddock. It is about two miles out on Tent Hill-rd."

Witness said, "What Murphys?" He replied "Michael, Norah, and Helen."

He said further "They left their home at Tent Hill last night about 8 o'clock to go to a dance at Gatton. They did not return last night, nor had they returned this morning. We got uneasy about them, and I started off on horseback for Gatton to make enquiries about them.

I came on towards Gatton, and when about a mile and a-half or two miles along the Tent Hill-road I noticed wheel tracks on the road, and these tracks I recognised as those of my trap that I had lent to the Murphys.

The tracks were turning off the road through the sliprails into the paddock.

The sliprails were up, and I could see where the tracks had gone through.

I went into the paddock a short distance over a ridge, expecting to see a house that they had gone to, but saw none.

I then came back to the rails, followed the wheel tracks through the paddock some distance, and came upon the trap, with the horse lying dead, and the three Murphys lying dead a short distance from the trap.

I did not go close up to them, nor did I stop to look at them, but rode straight away to report the matter to you." M'Neill appeared excited and was pale-looking.

Witness I asked, “What do you, think has happened? Do you think the horse bolted and smashed them up?" He replied, “I don't think so, because the horse was a quiet old horse.''

Witness then saddled his horse and rode away with him.

When witness and M'Neill got to O'Leary's the latter said, "Do you see these wheel tracks here?" Witness said, "Yes." M'Neill then said, "These tracks were made by my trap. Do you see that one of those tracks does not run straight?"

Witness saw that in every 10ft or 12ft the track of the left wheel made a slight turn, and a wobbly track was made.

Witness and M'Neill got off their horses at the rails, and plainly noticed the wheel tracks on the ground, also the horse track in the centre of the wheel tracks.

They also saw other horse tracks inside and outside the wheel tracks made by an unshod horse going in and out of the sliprails.

The bottom rail was up, and the other two rails were lying across the entrance.

Witness put the third down.

The wheel tracks where the rails were lying were disconnected, as if, the trap wheels had passed over the rails on the ground.

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