Witness for the Prosecution

Searching old newspapers has uncovered three family members who were either mentioned or were witnesses at three separate murder trials.  They were my ggg grandmother, a cousin and to my surprise, my grandfather.

The earliest of these was known at the time as the “Casterton Murders” . My ggg grandmother Margaret Ann Turner, (Mrs Diwell)  was mentioned at an inquest in February 1860, which ended with Casterton man, George Waines, being placed on trial for the murder of Robert and Mary Hunt, also of Casterton.

The Hunts had not been seen since 1858, with many believing they had left the colony.  George Waines claimed he had brought furniture off them, but rumours  spread around the town that George may have been responsible for their disappearance.  The local police investigated and where unable to find the Hunts in the other colonies or New Zealand.

Margaret was mentioned in evidence by Dugald Campbell -

THE CASTERTON MURDER. (1860, February 3). Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser (Vic. : 1842 - 1876), p. 2 Edition: EVENINGS.. Retrieved August 11, 2011, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article64513414

This was a gruesome murder, but it captured the attention of people around Australia.  I found 60 articles from four states.  Many are detailed, including  forensic evidence, a letter to the editor from the autopsy surgeon and George’s confession.  He was eventually hung at Melbourne Gaol.

The second murder trial had it all.  Small country town, married Methodist preacher, a young, single,  grazier’s daughter and arsenic.  A search at Trove for “Omeo 1928″ brings up hundreds of articles.  There is also a Western District connection.

Ronald Griggs moved to Omeo to take up the role of Methodist minister, moving into the residence with wife Ethel.  Originally from Tasmania,  Ronald and Ethel were welcomed into the community by the elders of the church including John Condon and his wife Frances.

OMEO MURDER CASE. (1928, March 8). The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929), p. 9. Retrieved August 11, 2011, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article57042062

GRIGGS NOT GUILTY. (1928, April 21). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1954), p. 1. Retrieved August 11, 2011, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1228707

After meeting John and Frances’ daughter Lottie, Ronald (right) was a regular visitor to the Condon property.  Ethel was pushed to the outer and after giving birth to their first child, she returned to Tasmania  spend time with her parents.

Ronald and Lottie’s “meetings’ became more frequent, but Ethel (left), inconveniently for Ronald, returned to Omeo.  Only days later, she fell ill and died after several days of severe pain.  Thanks to a suspicious local policeman, the case was taken further and Ethel’s body was exhumed for an autopsy.  Arsenic was present in her body.  Ronald was charged with murder.

Henry Harman was the son of Walt Harman and grandson of Joseph Harman.  He was a well known Ensay grazier and Omeo Methodist church elder.  He was called to give evidence against Ronald Griggs, described as a friend.

OMEO WOMAN'S DEATH. (1928, February 29). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 24. Retrieved August 11, 2011, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3914287

I  found a photo of Henry, along with some of the other key witnesses, in the Barrier Miner, a NSW paper which continues to reward me with articles about my Western Victorian family.  It is becoming a reliable but most unlikely source.

S. (1928, March 2). Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved August 8, 2011, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article46008416″%5D

WITNESSES AT THE OMEO INQUIRY INTO THE DEATH OF MRS. ETHEL CONSTANCE GRIGGS

After two trials, the jury retired to decide its verdict.  According to the Canberra Times, thousands waited on the street outside the court to hear the decision.  Ronald Griggs was acquitted, however his infamy dogged him.  He changed his name and continued to preach, but as his photo had been seen around the country, he was found out.  He struggled to find work and the newspapers followed him for months after.

The Western District connection? Henry was born in Byaduk in 1880 as was his sister Susannah Nash Harman.  She  married  William Condon, cousin of Lottie’s father John.  The Condons first settled in the Portland area, before some of the family moved to Omeo.  Lottie’s mother Frances Ethel Huggins was born at Macarthur in 1883 and her family moved to the Omeo area around 1888.  This  is around the time Henry’s father Walt Harman took his family to the High Country

For more reading about the case there is a book by Reg Egan,  Lottie: A love affair with a man of God and the cruel death that shocked Australia with Henry Harman a key character.  Murder case aside, it offers an insight into life in a small Victorian town in the 1920s.  I have also a public list of newspaper articles at Trove on the case under the heading “Griggs murder

Finally, the “Body under the staircase” trial of fish monger Thomas Garrity, charged with the murder of widow Rose Harvey on April 28, 1931.  Rose had met up with Garrity for a few drinks at a local hotel and they returned by tram to the residence adjoining Garrity’s shop in Port Melbourne.  Police later found Rose’s body stuffed in a cupboard under the stairs of the residence.

Percy Riddiford was a 27 year old, single man from Ballarat,  boarding at his brother’s home in Port Melbourne.  He worked on the trams, based at the Camberwell depot and happened to be working the day Thomas Garrity  and Rose Harvey travelled his route.  As a result, he was required to appear as a witness to assist in determining the movements of Garrity on that day.

BODY UNDER STAIRCASE. (1931, May 20). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 9. Retrieved August 10, 2011, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4400320

Garrity claimed that unknown men had visited his home on that night, proceeded to get him drunk then robbed his till.  He claimed that they must have killed Rose.  The judge considered that Garrity could not have put her body under the stairs without help and reduced his charge to manslaughter.  He received 18 months jail with hard labour.  Garrity pleaded his innocence after sentencing.

This was an event in my grandfather’s life that he kept to himself.  The first my father and uncles had heard of it was when I told them of the articles I had found.  He was one to keep things to himself,  so it was good to find out something of his early life.


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