Gatton Murders - Acting-Sergeant William Arrell

Gatton Murders

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Acting-Sergeant William Arrell

Sergeant of Police in Gatton.

Constable W. Arrell, Acting C.P.S. To be Sergeant at Gatton.

As From the 1st November, 1898.

Acting Sergeant William Arrell, Reg. No. 480.

Joined the force in October, 1877

1887-NERANG

Harrisville in 1892

18/01/1898. Acting Sergeant Arrell, of Harrisville, who has been promoted to the charge of the Gatton station, arrived in Gatton on Saturday last, accompanied by his, wife and family.

Left Gatton in February 1901, and was retired from the police force on medical grounds on 1 May 1908.

He died in Brisbane 5 June 1932.

16/03/1899

EVIDENCE WILLIAM ARRELL

Acting-Sergeant William 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 sliprails 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 called out "Good night." Witness asked who they were. Connolly replied, "They are the Murphy’s."

They had previously passed Florrie Lowe on Clark's Hill. Witness 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 Murphy’s 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 the Tent Hill road." Witness said, "What Murphy’s?" 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 inquiries 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 Murphy’s. 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 Murphy’s 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 then 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 tracks 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.

Inspector Urquhart: Are you quite sure you recollect the circumstances of this matter? -Yes.
Are you sure? -Yes.

Do you recollect them better than a month ago? -Yes.

Why?-Because I have been thinking over them.

Then if you said in your statement that you saw an unbroken continuation of wheel tracks through the rails that is wrong? -Yes. Continuing, witness said that he followed the wheel tracks back towards Gatton to see if he could find traces of a struggle or fight, but the trap appeared to have been driven without stoppage to the rails. He had no conversation with M’Neill all this time, nor with any of those who had arrived in the buggy. They followed the tracks through the paddock, and noticed that the trap had grazed trees in several places.

He only saw the tracks of one horse. They followed the tracks to the scene of the murder. When they came up to the first body M'Neill said, "This is Norah."
Inspector Urquhart: Was the face plainly visible at the time? -Yes.

How much of the face? -The left side and one eye.

Do you think anybody who knew her could recognise her at a glance? -Yes, I do. Continuing, witness said that M'Neill pointed out the other two. Witness then described the positions and condition of the bodies. There were evidences of assault upon Norah. Helen's clothes were pulled up to her knees, and there were blood and other stains on her underclothing. He took no notes at the time, but he did afterwards. He could not now find them.

The bench said he could not understand witness losing them. He should have religiously kept them.
Continuing, witness said that Helen also had finger-nail scratches. He did not compare those on the two bodies to see if they were done by different persons, as he did not think it necessary at the time. M'Neill was present at the examination of Norah, but made no observation.

M'Neill only stayed for a portion of the time. Witness went to Michael's body, round which others were walking.

Inspector Urquhart: Did you not take any precaution to keep people away from the body?
Witness: There were only four persons there, Wilson, Gilbert, Devitt, and James.
Inspector Urquhart: How did you know the murderer was not there?

The Bench: Did you not know that those persons would obliterate any tracks of the murderers?

Witness, continuing, stated that a strap was lying a short distance away from Michael's feet. He did not know that Gilbert said that a strap was lying across Michael's right thigh.

He did not notice tracks, but the ground was slightly disturbed. The mark could have been made by something trailing on the ground. The mark might also be made by a kick from a heel on the ground. There was some loose earth on Norah's shoulder, and he formed the opinion that she was killed where she lay. He held the same opinion of the others. He believed that, because when the bodies were lifted up there was an indentation in the ground under each, and thus that the heads were on the ground when the blows were received.

Witness thought the bodies had been dead for about twelve hours. He next examined the trap, which was about six yards away. He found no blood on it. He searched for tracks or weapons, and between the bodies and the trap he found a blue cloak, on which there was no blood.

After looking for some time, witness said, "As far as I can see, there is no trace left here; but if there is a real good black tracker he may be able to pick up some trace or track that we have been unable to find. I will ride into Gatton, and wire to the Commissioner of the occurrence, and ask him to send a black tracker." He asked the others to remain and protect the bodies. Gilbert and James said they could not, as they had to return to town. Wilson and Devitt agreed to remain. Witness before leaving, instructed Wilson and Devitt to stay until he returned, and to allow no one near the bodies or the spot. Wilson was a magistrate.

Inspector Urquhart: Did you act before you left in the same manner that you told Wilson to act, There were only four there.

Did you tell them to keep away? –No.

Why not? -Because I did not think of it at the time.

What were they doing while you were examining the place? -Walking round.

That was to give the black trackers a chance? Witness, continuing, said M'Neill only remained about five minutes after they first came to the scene. He did not ask him where he was when he first saw the bodies, or to point out which way he had come.

It did not at the time strike him as peculiar that there was no appearance of M'Neill's tracks along between the wheel tracks. If the tracks were there between the wheel tracks he would have seen them; but there were none except those of the horse that drew the trap.

Inspector Urquhart: If you noticed that, it is peculiar you did not question M'Neill. Did you see any footprints about the bodies as if a man had walked up and looked at them? -No.

Are you in a position to say there was no track? Was your examination sufficient to enable you to say so? -I believe it was.

Have you ever had any experience of tracking? -Yes; I was three or four months after a black bushranger with four black trackers.

Do you swear there were no tracks? -All I can say is I carefully examined, and I believe there were no tracks. I saw none.

Didn't it strike you as peculiar, knowing M'Neill had been there before, according to his own statement? -Well, yes, it did.

Did you take any steps to test the accuracy of M'Neill's statement? -No.

Did you question him to see if he was telling the truth? -No.

It is difficult to believe you rode from this station to the scene with M'Neill without saying something to him. Didn't you ask him for any particulars?- No. Continuing, witness said he got back to the scene of the murder about a-quarter to 12.

He had no police constable in Gatton, and no assistance whatever.

Did the Murphy family offer any assistance? -No.

Did they at any time? -No.

Did anyone else?-No, except when the bodies were being removed.

Did any magistrate in Gatton come to offer any help? -No. Continuing, witness said there were about thirty or forty people close up to the bodies on his arrival. These he requested to go out of the paddock. They retired a little, but came back again repeatedly, though he remonstrated with them.

No one then offered to help him. Mrs. Murphy asked him to have the bodies removed. Witness replied that he would like to allow the bodies to remain where they were until a doctor, for whom he had wired, had arrived.
Father Walsh, who was standing near, said it would be as well to leave the bodies until the doctor arrived.

Later, Mrs. Murphy again asked for the removal of the bodies.

Mr. James (chemist), who was there then, said the bodies should be removed on account of the sun and the ants. Messrs. Ballantyne and Wiggins urged the same course. The latter said, "Have you not taken a description of the position of the bodies when you found them." He said he had. He could not find that description. He put it in his drawer, and could not imagine where it had gone. He then had the bodies removed.

Inspector Urquhart: Did you consider you were instructed by these two magistrates, Mr. Wiggins and Mr. Ballantyne, to remove the bodies? -No, I did not. Continuing, witness said a number of men, including M'Neill, helped to remove the bodies. Just as Michael's body was to be taken up, Mrs. Murphy, who was at the head, lifted the mackintosh that had been placed over the face, and said, "Who does this belong to." M'Neill said, "It belongs to Bob Smith; it was thrown into the trap up at the races yesterday afternoon." Witness lifted up a portion of the rug under Norah, and noticed dark stains on the underneath part, with dirt about the spot. The bodies were taken to the Brian Boru Hotel, placed in a room, and the door locked.

Dr. Von Lossberg arrived and made an examination of the bodies. It was at this time that he found the hames-strap had been put round Norah’s neck, drawn tightly, and fastened with a half hitch. The clothes were taken off the bodies and handed over to witness. At the scene of the murder in the afternoon a man named Andrew Smith handed him a piece of the dead limb of a tree, about 4ft. long and 4in. through. One end was smaller than the other; at the larger end it was knotty, and at that place there were stains of blood.

He fitted it into an indentation discovered in the ground near Norah's head, which it fitted exactly. He concluded it had previously been lying in that hole, and on account of blood and some hair upon it, that it was the weapon with which the wounds were inflicted. It was a solid, heavy stick of hardwood, but he could lift it with both hands and strike a blow with it.

22/04/1899

Inspector Urquhart — Are you quite sure you recollect the circumstances of this matter? — Yes.

Are you sure? — Yes.

Do you recollect them better than a month ago? — Yes.

Why? — Because I have been thinking over them.

Then if you said in your statement that you saw an unbroken continuation of wheel tracks through the rails that is wrong? — Yes. Continuing, witness said that he followed the wheel tracks back towards Gatton to see if he could find traces of a struggle or fight, but the trap appeared to have been driven without stoppage to the rails.

He had no conversation with M'Neill all this time, nor with any of those who had arrived in the buggy.

They followed the tracks through the paddock, and noticed that the trap had grazed trees in several places.

He only saw the tracks of one horse.

They followed the tracks to the scene of the murder.

When they came up to the first body M'Neill said, "This is Norah."

Inspector Urquhart — Was the face plainly visible at the time? — Yes.
How much of the face? — The left side and one eye.

Do you think anyone who knew her could recognise her at a glance? — Yes, I do.

Continuing, witness said that M'Neill pointed out the other two.

Witness then described the positions and condition of the bodies.

There were evidences of assault upon Norah.

Helen's clothes were pulled up to her knees, and there were blood and other stains on her underclothing.

He took no notes at the time, but he did afterwards.

He could not now find them.
The Bench said he could not understand witness losing them.

He should have religiously kept them.

Continuing, witness said that Helen also had finger-nail scratches.

He did not compare those on the two bodies to see if, they were done by different persons, as he did not think it necessary at the time.

M'Neill was present at the examination of Norah, but made no observation.

M'Neill only stayed for a portion of the time.

Witness went to Michael's body, round which others were walking.

Inspector Urquhart — Did you not take any precaution to keep people away from the body? Witness — There were only four persons there, Wilson, Gilbert, Devitt, and James.

Inspector Urquhart — How did you know the murderer was not there?

The Bench — Did you not know that those persons would obliterate any tracks of the murderers?

Witness, continuing, stated that a strap was lying a short distance away from Michael's feet.

He did not know that Gilbert said that a strap was lying across Michael's right thigh.

He did not notice tracks, but the ground was slightly disturbed.

The mark could have been made by something trailing on the ground.

The mark might also be made by a kick from a heel on the ground.

There was some loose earth on Norah's shoulder, and he formed the opinion that she was killed where she lay.

He held the same opinion of the, others.

He believed that, because when the bodies were lifted up there was an indentation in the ground under each, and thus that the heads were on the ground when the blows were received.

Witness thought the bodies had been dead for about; twelve hours.

He next examined the trap, which was about six yards away.

He found no blood on it.

He searched for tracks or weapons, and between the bodies and the trap he found a blue cloak, on which there was no blood.

After looking for some time witness said, "As far as I can see, there is no trace left here; but if there is a real good black tracker he may be able to pick up some trace or track that we have been unable to find.

I will ride into Gatton and wire to the Commissioner of the occurrence, and ask him to send a black tracker." He asked the others to remain and protect the bodies. Gilbert and James said they could not, as they had to return to town. Wilson and Devitt agreed to remain.

Witness, before leaving, instructed Wilson and Devitt to stay until he returned, and to allow no one near the bodies or the spot. Wilson was a magistrate.

Inspector Urquhart— Did you act before you left in the same manner that you told Wilson to act? — There were only four there.

Did you tell them to keep away? — No.

Why not? — Because I did not think of it at the time.

What were they doing while you were examining the place? — Walking round.

That was to give the black trackers a chance? Witness, continuing, said M'Neill only remained about five minutes after they first came to the scene.

He did not ask him where he was when he first saw the bodies, or to point out which way he had come.

It did not at the time strike him as peculiar that there was no appearance of M'Neill's tracks along between the wheel tracks.

If the tracks were there between the wheel tracks he would have seen them; but there were none except those of the horse that drew the trap.

Inspector Urquhart— lf you noticed that it is peculiar you did not question M'Neill.

Did you see any footprints about the bodies as if a man had walked up and looked at them? — No.

Are you in a position to say there was no track? Was your examination sufficient to enable you to say to? — I believe it was.

Have you ever had any experience of tracking? — Yes; I was three or four months after a black bushranger with four black trackers.

Do you swear there were no tracks? — All I can say is I carefully examined, and. I believe there were no tracks. I saw none.

Didn't it strike you as peculiar, knowing M'Neill had been there before, according to his own statement? — Well; yes, it did.

Did you take any steps to test the accuracy of M'Neill's statements? — No.

Did you question him to see if he was telling the truth? — No.

It is difficult to believe you rode from this station to the scene with M'Neill without saying something to him.

Didn't you ask him for any particulars? — No. Continuing, witness said he got back to the scene of the murder about a quarter to 12. He had no police constable in Gatton, and no assistance whatever.

Did the Murphy family offer any assistance? — No.

Did they at any time? — No.

Did any one else? — No; except when the bodies were being removed.

Did any magistrate in Gatton come to offer any help? — No. Continuing, witness said there were about 30 or 40 people close up to the bodies on his arrival. These he requested to go out of the paddock. They retired a little, but came back again repeatedly, though he remonstrated with them.

No one then offered, to help him.

Mrs. Murphy asked him to have the bodies' removed.

Witness replied that he would like to allow the bodies to remain where they were until a doctor, for whom, he had wired, had arrived.

Father Walsh, who was standing near, said it would be as, well to leave the bodies until the doctor arrived.

Later, Mrs. Murphy again asked for tho removal of the bodies.

Mr. James (chemist), who was there then, said the bodies should be removed on account of the sun and the ants.

Messrs. Ballantine and Wiggins urged the same course. - The latter said — "Have you not taken a description of the position of the bodies when you found them?" He said he had.

He could not find that description.

He put it in his drawer, and could not imagine where it had gone.

He then had the bodies removed.

Inspector, Urquhart — Did you consider you were instructed by these two magistrates, Mr. Wiggins and Mr. Ballantine, to remove the bodies? — No; I did not. Continuing, witness said a number of men, including M'Neill, helped to remove the bodies.

Just as Michael's body was to be taken up, Mrs. Murphy, who was at the head, lifted the mackintosh that had been placed over the face, and said, "Who does this belong to?" M'Neill said, "It belongs to Bob Smith; it was thrown into the trap up at the races yesterday afternoon."

Witness lifted up portion of the rug under Norah, and noticed dark stains on the underneath part, with dirt about the spot.

The bodies were taken to the Brian Boru Hotel, placed in a room and the door locked.

Dr. Von Lossberg arrived, and made an examination of the bodies.

It was at this time that he found the hames-strap had been put round Norah's neck, drawn tightly, and fastened with a half-hitch.

The clothes were taken off the bodies and handed over to witness.

At the scene of the murder in the afternoon, a man named Andrew Smith handed him a piece of the dead limb of a tree, about 4ft long and 4in through.

One end was smaller than the other. At the larger end it was knotty, and at that place there were stains of blood.

He fitted it into an indentation discovered in the ground, near Norah's head, which it fitted exactly.

He concluded it had previously been lying in that hole, and on account of blood and some hair upon it, that it was the weapon with which the wounds were inflicted.

29/09/1899

The Police Commission resumed the inquiry into the action of the police in connection with the Gatton murders yesterday.

Sergeant Arrell, stationed at Gatton, stated that he joined the force in October, 1877 and had been in Gatton for about twelve months before the murders (committed on 27th December last).

He received the first intimation of the crime at about a quarter past 9 on the morning of 27th December from M'Neill.

The latter told him he had already informed some people at Gilbert's hotel.

He got ready as quickly as possible, and M'Neill and he went at once to the scene of the tragedy.

Men named Chas. Gilbert, Thomas Wilson, J.P., Duggett, and James came soon afterwards.

Witness examined the spot for signs of a struggle, but he could see none, or any traces whatever.

He took no notes of the position of the bodies.

As he had to return to Gatton after remaining about twenty minutes, he asked the four persons to watch the bodies; but two of them said they could not stay.

Witness returned to the telegraph office, and at 10.55 he sent a wire to the Commissioner.

He did not know of rule 6, or he would have sent it "urgent."

He was told by the station master (who is also the telegraph master) that he could get the wire through at once and just as quickly as if it was "urgent."

He thought he would get an answer in ten or fifteen minutes; but after waiting twenty minutes he found he got no reply.

He had also wired to Sub-inspector Galbraith, who was over his district, and received an answer from Rosewood that Galbraith would arrive in Gatton about 5 o'clock that afternoon.

Witness returned to the scene of the tragedy, and took notes of the positions of the bodies and surroundings.

This would be about half-past 12. (Stated earlier 11:45)

There were a number of people there at this time.

They had followed the tracks of the buggy through the paddock, and were walking all about.

He ordered them to go back; but though they went away a little, they crowded round again.

Witness did not know what authority he had to keep the people back.

If any person had laid a hand upon the bodies to disarrange them, he (witness) would have taken action.

Mr. Wilson, who was a J.P, returned to Gatton as soon as he (Arrell) rearrived at the scene.

He did not remain in the first instance to watch the bodies, and sent the J.P. in to wire, because he thought he was taking the best course.

The Chairman: Were you afraid to act except in a red-tape way? -At the time I considered it my duty to go and send the wire.

But why? Didn't you think it of the greatest importance to protect the bodies? -The men I left I thought would look after the bodies.

But they would not have the authority you would have. Is that not so? -Yes.
Speak out.

Were you afraid to act in any way except in a red-tape manner? -I was not afraid in the least.

Why did you think it necessary to go in and send that wire when you could have got a justice of the peace to do it? -I did not think there was any likelihood of people going into the paddock. It never struck me then.

By Mr. Dickson: M'Neill, when he came, said, "I have come to report to you that the three Murphy’s are lying dead in the paddock up there."

Witness said, " What paddock?"

He said, "I do not know what paddock or whom it belongs to; but it is about two miles on the Tent Hill road."

M'Neill said, "They were lying dead."

He did not suggest they had been murdered.

Witness thought at that time that it was an accident, and acted accordingly.

He did not form any conclusion at the time; but in thinking over the matter since he thought it quite possible that one man could commit the murders.

He found no tracks, though he made careful search.

The bodies were kept in the paddock till about 2 o'clock, when they were removed to Gilbert's hotel, and locked up until Dr. von Lossberg arrived at 4 o'clock.

By the Chairman: After removing the bodies he went to the telegraph office to see if there were any wires.

He spoke to Mr. Ballantyne and several others, and asked them if they had any idea who committed the crime.

By Mr. Dickson: He did not send another wire, because he thought some officials would come in the afternoon train.

By the Chairman: He did not go out to make any inquiries outside the town because he did not like to leave the bodies.

The Chairman: You left the bodies at a most important time; but you could not leave them later, but sat about in the hotel.

Witness: I did not sit about in the hotel.

The Chairman: What did you do? - I asked several persons who they thought did it.

The Chairman: What is the good of that?

Were you afraid to be absent when your superior officer arrived? -Yes.

The Chairman: Well, -why not say so?

Witness explained that he heard a suggestion that one particular man had committed the murder, and made inquiries concerning it.

Mr. Garvin: He did not make inquiries at Clark's place about the report of a revolver heard during the night.

By Mr. Sadleir: The first suggestion of Day being concerned in the murder was made to him about two months after the murder.

By Mr. Dickson: He was informed by a man named Smith that he had informed the detectives about Day having boiled a jumper with blood on it next day.

He informed Inspector Urquhart, but was told that the report had been heard, but that the man had been cleared.

By the Chairman: Witness at the first glance at the bodies thought murder had been committed, and he could not account for M'Neill not forming the same conclusion as soon as he saw them.

He asked M'Neill if he had any idea who committed the murder; but he answered no.

M'Neill appeared much distressed.

He could see no heel tracks round about the bodies, though he searched a circle of about 200 yards.

By Mr. Dickson: Efforts were made to keep the ground undisturbed, because he asked the men not to allow any one near the bodies.

By Mr. Garvin: He did not know that they had done it.

The Chairman: Were you afraid that unless you personally sent the wire you would be "hauled over the coals”? -I considered it.

Were you afraid? -No, I was not: but I considered it my duty.

Mr. Sadleir: You thought the wire would miscarry? -Yes.

The Chairman: It would be just as likely to miscarry if you sent it.

Did you try to keep people out of the paddock by putting some one at the sliprails? -I did not think people would be there.

You have a prior idea of people's morbidity.

Do you not know it is a common device for murderers to get a crowd to collect so as to stamp out traces? -I have had no experience with murders.

But do you not know from general reading? -No.

By Mr. Dickson: The first time he went to Clark's, to make inquiries about the murder was about two months afterwards.

He learned that Day, who was in Clark's employ, did not associate with any one. He sometimes walked along the road, he heard.

The Chairman: This was two months afterwards. We will question other officers who made the inquiries there.

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