Mysteries, WA History

II – A Suspect Emerges

This blog post follows on from Part I – Murder at Mount Magnet

While we are not privy to the inner workings of John Ward’s mind, it appears he had been doing a lot of thinking. He saw and heard something in early November 1898 and had been mulling on it ever since the dismembered body parts were found in the Rose Pearl. He probably always intended to keep what he knew to himself however during a visit to Pierce’s Miners Club at 10pm on 9 January 1899 (and likely after a few drinks) he soon loosened his tongue. In the presence of Mr Pierce, Mrs Pierce, Miss Pierce, a boy named Pierce, Donald Hay and Henry Baldwin, John Ward commenced talking about the Mount Magnet murder.

Mount Magnet circa 1900. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia.

At 1am on Saturday, 5 November 1898 John Ward was in Mount Magnet and was at his camp near the Railway Station when he heard a noise. He went to his door and looked across the road to see two men fighting in front of a French brothel. One was going through the fence while the other was leaning against it. John then heard three groans and all was quiet.

His mate, Louis Maddalena, was sharing his camp. Louis became curious as to what was going on however John told him not to bother getting up as “it was usual to hear rows at that place.” They both went back to sleep and John stated that during the day he went across the road to the spot where the fight had taken place and saw blood both inside and outside the fence.

Henry Baldwin told Corporal Pilkington that he remarked to John, “Was it not where the police found the remains that the body was taken,” and John replied:

No the Police were on the wrong tracks the body was taken up to the Railway cattle Yards & cut up.

Henry then asked him how they managed to transport the body parts without being seen. John also had an answer for that question.

The man could take it on a bicycle about two or three trips.

It is not known how John had such intimate knowledge of the crime. There was still a lot of talking and rumours about the murder and John may have been filling in the gaps and making assumptions which was further fueled by the consumption of alcohol.

According to Henry, Mr Pierce then asked John whether he would go to the police with what he knew. John responded that he did not want to become involved.

Having heard the statement from Henry Baldwin and considering the possible importance to the investigation, Corporal Pilkington and Constable Alliss visited John Ward on 11 January to interview him. The information, though useful, needed to be confirmed by the person who had originally stated it. When approached, John denied nearly everything. He stated that the only thing he had said in the presence of the aforementioned people was that it was Louis who had woken up and remarked to him that there was a fight outside. John told him to go back to sleep and to not fetch the police as there were always fights at the brothel. According to John, he did not hear the fight nor the groans.

Camped nearby was Louis’s brother, William Maddalena. In the morning John heard the brothers talking about the fight. William speculated that if anything came of it there would likely only be a caution. He wandered over to where the fight had taken place and inspected the area. He saw nothing to cause concern.

William was only spending a brief amount of time in Mount Magnet. He was planning to travel to Sydney and was visiting his brother in order to say goodbye. On Monday morning he left for Perth and on 12 November he sailed for the eastern states on board the S.S. Adelaide.

Louis remained in Mount Magnet for just over a month and was still there when the body parts were found on 27 November. He had known John through their work on the railway where he was employed by the Western Australian Government Railways as a repairer. On 21 December 1898 (four months after he entered service) he resigned and left Mount Magnet for Perth.

Perth circa 1895-1900. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia.

Corporal Pilkington immediately sent a telegram to the Detective Office in Perth asking that Louis be kept under surveillance so that he could be interviewed about the fight outside the brothel. He also wrote a report for Sub Inspector Orme at Cue. His final statement shows the direction in which his thoughts had turned.

In my oppinion [sic] the murder occurred in the vicinity of the French Brothel Mt Magnet & I believe if a good reward was offered it may be traced.

The Detective Office followed up on Corporal Pilkington’s request and made inquiries with boarding houses and hotels in Perth. By February 1899 they reported back that they were unsuccessful.

The records indicate that at this point the request to find Louis Maddalena as well as the general investigation relating to the murder fell away for several months. Despite a vague confirmation from John that something had occurred outside the brothel, there are no documents indicating that the police actually questioned the occupants.

Three months had passed since the remains were found. Never letting up for even a moment, the Murchison Advocate continued to print strongly worded articles which illustrated the contempt they felt towards the Western Australian Police Force and the Government for not having offered a reward.

Criminal Neglect

On 1 March 1899 the Mount Magnet Council met to discuss and resolve issues pertaining to the town. Brought up in the meeting by Councillor Malcolm Reid (one of the two men who found the remains) was the fact that no reward had yet been offered to catch the perpetrator. He moved that they write a letter to the Chief Secretary’s Department asking for an explanation. The motion was carried.

These various forms of pressure finally had an effect. On 12 April 1899 a reward of £125 was offered; £100 for information which would lead to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator and £25 for information which would establish the identity of the deceased.

Reward Poster
The original reward poster dated 12 April 1899. Courtesy of the State Records Office of Western Australia.

The Murchison Advocate was having none of it. On full attack and critical of the time taken to offer a reward, the writer harshly referred to the Commissioner of Police as a “senile dotard“.

Commissioner Phillips

While they probably had a point with regards to the reward, what they failed to acknowledge were the difficulties the Western Australian Police Force were operating under at the time. They were undermanned, lacking in resources and dealing with an increase in crime that stemmed from an influx of people pouring into Western Australia for the gold rush. Coupled with this were procedures which did not really work effectively for those in remote areas. Ultimately they were doing the best they could with what they had.


The reward had the desired effect on the public and several people came forward with suggestions as to who the deceased could be. Beatrix Wilson wrote a letter stating that she had not seen her friend, John Peterson, for some time and wondered if it was him. The identifying particulars however did not really match the remains and Peterson was eventually found at Coolgardie.

William Connolly also made a statement with regards to Alfred Anderson. For a while Anderson had been in Mount Magnet working a mine with his mate Charles Woollen. Having sold the mine, he left in June 1898 with £200 in his pocket and was never heard of again. William was of the opinion that it was Anderson who was murdered and suspected a man by the name of Louie Trait who lived at Lennonville. Trait was described as being “on bad terms” with Anderson.

The police put in quite a lot of effort trying to uncover where Anderson was and interviewed Woollen who said that he thought Anderson was at Kanowna. Not finding him there they sent search requests to the police at Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie, Bulong and Kurnalpi without success.

A statement from a man named William Gordon indicated that he had been on the same ship as Anderson however Anderson had gone by the name ‘Alfred Anderson Hard’. Where he was in 1899 is not known however research indicates that Alfred Anderson Hard was not deceased. He was living in Western Australia during the early 1900s and died in 1919.

At the end of April 1899 Inspector Farley seemingly looked over the documents relating to the Mount Magnet murder and realised that the investigation to locate the Maddalena brothers was a loose end that had not really been tied up. He instigated another search which throughout the year saw police making inquiries in various districts. Later on, a report by Detective Stephen Condon stated that Louis was in Tasmania. Latching on to that piece of information, a request was sent to the Tasmanian Police Force in the hope that he would be found there.

Missing Friends
The Missing Friends notice found within the Tasmanian Police Gazette.

The search in Tasmania was unsuccessful. Remarkably, no one recalled several pieces of evidence indicating that William Maddalena went to Sydney and that Louis may have followed him. It was most likely that this was where they were. No search request was sent to the New South Wales Police Force and thus the police in Western Australia never found the Maddalena brothers.

In July 1899 an Italian miner by the name of Victor de Cosson approached Corporal Pilkington in Mount Magnet. He said that in September 1898 he was camped about a mile from the Rose Pearl and while there was visited by an acquaintance; a French man by the name of Jean or Johut (he could not remember his surname). Towards the end of September, Jean disappeared.

Mount Magnet
The country north of Mount Magnet. Courtesy of Chris Lewis.

Worried about what had happened to him, Victor asked Pierre Fontain (also an acquaintance of Jean’s) if he knew where he was. Fontain told him that Jean had gone to Sydney. Victor continued asking around but could find no trace of his friend. He began to suspect that Jean was the murdered man and Fontain the murderer.

…he has suspicions on Peter Fonton who had let a house to some French Girls which was supposed to be a Brothel & he believes that there was jealousy over one of the girls called sweet Marie.

Victor was understandably nervous and requested “that this matter be kept strictly from any of the French men as he would consider his life in danger if any of them knew he was giving this information.” He further stated that Sweet Marie was in Perth and that, if the Government paid his expenses and offered protection, he would do everything in his power to try and uncover more information. He considered it pointless for the police to try and interview the French people.

Corporal Pilkington completed a Missing Friend request which noted at the bottom that Jean was supposed to have kept a refreshment room at Cue prior to September 1898. Constable Henry Smith investigated and stated that the only man matching the description who had a restaurant was James John Cumini. He left in September 1898 and gave his postal address as the Post Office at Mount Magnet. James had not been seen since and a report that he was working on The Mainland (Lake Austin) was unfounded.

Countering the above, in September 1899 Constable John Blain spoke to Fontain who said that Jean’s name was actually Louis Grattepin and that he had moved to Sydney and was working in a laundry for a French man. He was apparently well-known to Detective Rochaix in Sydney.

N.B. Detective Jules Rochaix was French and had an impeccable memory of criminals from France. He often identified and captured many escaped convicts from New Caledonia (once a French penal colony). It seems Fontain was implying something about Grattepin’s past by associating him with Detective Rochaix.

On 1 September 1899 Sergeant Hugh McIntyre of Cue wrote a letter to Inspector Farley in Perth. He too referred to Victor de Cosson however he had come to the conclusion that Victor was the murderer. Four days later he explained everything in a memo.

…on the 31st August 1899 I heard from Mr Malcolm Reid J.P. that he believed Mr A. W. Palfreyman, Solicitor of Cue could give me some information…

Sergeant McIntyre went to Mr Abelard Palfreyman’s office in Cue and Mr Palfreyman stated that on 10 August 1899 he caught the train from Cue to Mount Magnet to attend the Warden’s Court. He got off at the Lennonville Station to stretch his legs and when he went back to his carriage, he was stopped by Victor who expressed a desire to speak to him. Victor was described as being in an excited state and told Mr Palfreyman “that he knew the person who committed the murder” and that he “could not keep it on his mind any longer.

De Cossen did not mention the name of the person committing the murder but all at once said do not tell anyone and when the train was almost in motion, he came to the window of carriage and whispered to me “don’t say anything.”

Mr Palfreyman was of the opinion that Victor was the murderer or (if he was speaking the truth) knew who the murderer was. He was shaken by the encounter and wanted to remain anonymous. He referred to Victor as a good client but, curiously, could not remember his first name.

In spite of Mr Palfreyman’s assertions and Sergeant McIntyre’s memo, the Detective Office did not pay close attention to the possibility of Victor being the perpetrator. Each little piece of evidence was adding up. They focused solely on Fontain and Sweet Marie.

On Tuesday, 12 September Detective Frederick Eggleston reported that he had made inquiries in Perth and established that Marie Fontain (alias Sweet Marie) had been living on Mounts Bay Road with Pierre Fontain. In April 1899 she had left for Peak Hill and on 11 September Fontain left for Kalgoorlie.

He described Fontain as a French man aged between 30 and 35; six feet tall; slight build; long thin facial features; dark complexion; dark eyes and hair; sported a long thin moustache but was otherwise clean shaven and spoke good English. He was considered a “good looking man” and would have looked fashionable in his grey sack coat and vest, dark trousers and grey felt hat.

Sweet Marie was described as being aged 25 to 30; very small and thin; had dark hair and eyes with very slight eyelashes; was a French woman who spoke good English and worked as a prostitute.

Sweet Marie
Marie Fontain alias Sweet Marie in 1903. Courtesy of the State Records Office of Western Australia.

The search to find them was on. Inspector Farley wired Peak Hill on 12 September asking Constable John Byrne to interview Sweet Marie about Jean. Constable Byrne wired back the next day. She had been there in April 1898 but had not returned since. Fontain was also there in March 1898 but left in April “driving a pony attached to an ice cream cart.” He thought Sweet Marie was in Mount Magnet.

Instructions were sent to Cue and as Sweet Marie and Fontain were not in Mount Magnet, Sergeant McIntyre decided to wire the Lawlers and Leonora police stations asking if they were there. Sergeant James Duncan at Lawlers advised that they had left for Leonora in the middle of April. Constable Charles James then confirmed that Sweet Marie and Fontain were living on Tower Street in Leonora.

Tower Street
Tower Street in Leonora circa 1905.

Days passed as the police slowly forwarded the request to the Leonora station to have Sweet Marie interviewed. They were too late. Sweet Marie and Fontain were one step ahead. They left Leonora on 29 September 1899 and headed towards Kalgoorlie.

Despite the assumption that they were going to Kalgoorlie, at the start of October it was recorded that they were in Menzies. While in Menzies they found both police and press attention when a man by the name of Ernest Salvator shot at Fontain from the doorway of Fontain’s house. Fontain immediately grabbed his gun, leaned out of his window and returned fire at the fleeing man. Police soon arrived and the sound of another gunshot resulted in a search where they found Ernest sitting slumped over on the Carbine Hotel’s toilet with a gun on the floor between his feet.

Menzies circa 1904.

All the proper procedures were followed and an inquest conducted which recorded that Ernest had committed suicide. Fontain, Sweet Marie and another French woman named Emilie Greiss gave evidence. Sweet Marie and Emilie left soon after the inquest and travelled north west back to Cue. Fontain remained in Menzies until 19 October, stating he was going to Greenbushes.

With Sweet Marie back in Cue (without Fontain) Sub Inspector Orme suggested to Sergeant Michael O’Halloran that it may be a good opportunity to talk to her. Constable Alexander Pitman was dispatched and reported on 12 October that Marie Guedeney (presumably her birth name) did not know Louis Maddalena but did however know Louie Trait (accused by Connolly of murdering Anderson). Trait was said to have continually borrowed money from Fontain and also owed money to Sweet Marie as well as other business people in Mount Magnet.

She does not remember anyone named Anderson nor does she know any person of the name of Jean or Johut, she knows an Italian named Camini & saw him in Mt Magnet 7 or 8 months ago [about March 1899].

Sweet Marie knew Victor de Cosson who was mining at Lennonville and also said that Fontain was at Mount Malcolm. When questioned about Ernest Salvator, she thought that he shot at Fontain and then committed suicide because Fontain knew that he was an escaped convict from New Caledonia.

Around the same time it was suggested that Victor might finally be able to talk to Sweet Marie to try and obtain information. Sub Inspector Orme sent the request to Corporal Pilkington who then forwarded it to Constable Blain for a report. During the month it took for Constable Blain to take action, Fontain arrived in Lennonville and most likely spoke to Victor.

…Peter Fonton was seen at Lennonville on the 20th October 1899 by PC Alliss… he has been at Lennonville & Mt Magnet ever since. PC Alliss seen him last on the 4th inst leaving by train for cue.

Constable Alliss was told that Fontain was going to open an oyster saloon at Cue and it was noted that he had shaved off his moustache which made him look quite different.

On 10 November 1899 Constable Blain finally visited Victor at Lennonville and found him working a mine which he had half an interest in. Victor refused to leave without his expenses being paid for by the Government as he was short of money and could not afford to employ someone to take his place. If he did go, he also wanted the police in Cue to see him each day but not talk to him publicly as he was afraid of Fontain.

Victor Won't Talk
“Forwarded for your Information. I have interviewed Victor De Causin several times but he kept on promising to see me later & would get information for me now he states he cannot get the information without his expenses being Paid.” Courtesy of the State Records Office of Western Australia.

On 15 November Inspector Farley wrote a stern letter to Sub Inspector Orme with regards to the inquiry into the whereabouts of Jean or Johut. He was incredulous that no one in Mount Magnet remembered anything about him and was fuming that he had to continually follow up.

This matter should have been closely investigated by your police, and not be left as it appears to have been, subject to queries from this office.

The request was sent to Corporal Pilkington to make a concerted effort to find information about Jean. He wrote back to Sub Inspector Orme on 14 December and provided a substantial amount of detail for all matters. He began by stating that he interviewed Victor again who said that he recalled there was a French man who used to be a partner of Jean’s and that he might have more information. All he knew was that the man had committed a crime at Cue and was an inmate at Geraldton Gaol.

Victor further told Corporal Pilkington that Fontain had said to him that Jean’s real name was Louis Grattepin and that he had moved to Sydney. This confirmed Fontain’s original statement to Constable Blain in September however Victor did not think Jean was Grattepin.

Corporal Pilkington also reported on Fontain and Sweet Marie’s whereabouts and noted that they often travelled between Mount Magnet, Lennonville and Cue. He told Victor this fact in the hope that he would talk to Sweet Marie without needing his expenses paid. Victor said he would try but reiterated that he wanted to wait until Fontain was gone as he was afraid of him finding out that he was asking questions. His demeanor had changed in the three months since he first approached the police. He was no longer enthusiastic about helping them.

Victor De Causin do not seem so eager to see Sweet Marie now as he was when he first made statements although he has visited Lennonville a few times this last week watching for sweet Marie to Return there.

Victor and Fontain were noted to be on friendly terms and by all appearances conversed when they saw each other. Indicating that Fontain was well aware of the police interest in him, he told Victor of the precautions he had taken to prevent attracting attention.

Fonton stated to him that he shaved off his moustache so as they would not know him meaning the Police. he also said he was using a Bicycle a good deal between Lennonville & Mt Magnet so as he would not been seen arriving by train.

Contradicting the ‘friendly terms’ statement, Corporal Pilkington noted that on 5 December 1899 Victor and Fontain were seen talking in French at Lennonville and looking as though they were arguing. It was not known what they were discussing.

The police followed up on Victor’s statement with regards to Jean’s old business partner. The man referred to was Henry Leyoul and when interviewed at Geraldton Gaol he stated that he never knew a man by the name of Jean or Johut. He only knew three French men in Cue: Fontain, Louie Castelli (whereabouts unknown) and Louis Grattepin who left for Sydney about the middle of 1898. Henry’s answer also substantiated Fontain’s previous statements given to Constable Blain and Victor. Research further shows that there was indeed a Louis Grattepin living in New South Wales and working as a laundryman. Of course this does not mean that Jean and Grattepin were one and the same person.

Geraldton Gaol circa 1926. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia.

The records for the end of 1899 indicate that Fontain and Sweet Marie were not questioned further by the police. There is no doubt however that the Western Australian Police Force remained focused in their direction. Unable to charge Fontain with anything relating to the Mount Magnet murder they instead brought a different charge against him.

On 1 June 1900 Fontain was arrested and charged with having no lawful visible means of support. At the time of his arrest it was noted in a Mount Magnet newspaper that he was in possession of objects which were more suited to a war zone “than in a peaceful place like Mt. Magnet.

He was defended by Mr Palfreyman (the Solicitor Victor approached at Lennonville) and Sergeant O’Halloran prosecuted. The case itself was highly circumstantial.

Corporal Pilkington and Constable Alliss testified that they had known Fontain for about two years and throughout that time they had never seen him do any work. Both knew he had a house at Mount Magnet near the train station, that he lived there with two French women and was “a frequenter of a house of prostitution.

Mr H Mayer was called and stated that he had known Fontain for two years and that Fontain often had meals at his premises when in Cue. He was questioned by Sergeant O’Halloran about a woman said to have been sold by Fontain at Kalgoorlie however he mostly responded that “he did not know.” Indicating that he had previously said something else to the police, Sergeant O’Halloran asked him to repeat it. Mr Mayer simply said that he did not understand what was asked.

Sergeant O’Halloran stated that he had known Fontain for six months, that Fontain lived at a brothel in Cue and that he had never seen him do any work. In summing up he admitted that a prima facie case had been made but it was up to Fontain to show that he was an honest man.

Mr Palfreyman responded for the defence and stated that “Corporal Pilkington was merely trying to harass the accused, but could allege nothing definite.” He went to great pains to illustrate that Fontain was perfectly secure financially and provided a statement to the Court showing he had £700 (over $100,000) in the bank.

Fontain also testified although much of what he said were lies. He stated that he arrived in Mount Magnet in 1898 and worked as the travelling representative of Messrs. G. T. Taylor, wine merchants in Perth (no such company appears to have existed). He sold wine by the case and received a commission.

He confirmed that he bought land in Mount Magnet and subsequently built a house which he let to some women but never French women. He had houses at Lennonville and Nannine but these were let to German women. He admitted that he knew Sweet Marie and that she kept a brothel at Cue but (ludicrously) said he had absolutely nothing to do with her and that she gave him no money.

Examples of his violence and temper were put forward by Sergeant O’Halloran. He had threatened to shoot a man named Jean Martin. Fontain denied it and said the revolver was unloaded. He had also shot at a woman in Cue because she threatened to leave him. Fontain denied it.

Finally, the death of Ernest Salvator was brought up. Fontain admitted he was involved however he said it occurred at Mount Malcolm (a lie). Despite the fact that Sweet Marie clearly gave evidence during the inquest, he said she was not there (another lie) and was living at Menzies – the place where the shooting had actually taken place.

The police were unable to prove their case and Fontain was dismissed. Perhaps considering it a close call and realising the police were not going away, Fontain kept a low profile for the rest of the year and throughout 1901. Nothing more would come of the investigation until 1902 when the missing part of the man’s body was finally discovered in a mine shaft at Mount Magnet.

Be sure to ‘Sign Up’ via email on this site or like The Dusty Box on Facebook to receive a notification for Part III of the Mount Magnet murder story.


  • State Records Office of Western Australia; Western Australian Police Department; Crown Law – remains found in abandoned shaft, Mount Magnet; Reference: AU WA S76- cons430 1902/5032.
  • Photo of Marie Fontain alias Sweet Marie courtesy of the State Records Office of Western Australia; Fremantle Prison; Register – Female Prisoners 1 – 388; AU WA S678- cons4186 1.
  • Image of Mount Magnet in 1900 courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia; Call Number: 090659PD.
  • Image of Perth circa 1895-1900 courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia; Call Number: 090743PD.
  • Image of Geraldton Gaol circa 1926 courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia; Call Number: 012669D.
  • 1898 ‘SHIPPING.’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 14 November, p. 2. , viewed 22 Feb 2018,
  • 1899 ‘BLOOD MONEY.’, Murchison Advocate (WA : 1898 – 1912), 18 February, p. 2. , viewed 25 Feb 2018,
  • 1899 ‘Mount Magnet Council.’, Mount Magnet Miner and Lennonville Leader (WA : 1896 – 1926), 4 March, p. 3. , viewed 25 Feb 2018,
  • 1899 ‘Local and General.’, Murchison Advocate (WA : 1898 – 1912), 22 April, p. 2. , viewed 25 Feb 2018,
  • 1899 ‘FOR REFORM.’, The Evening Star (Boulder, WA : 1898 – 1921), 5 June, p. 2. , viewed 27 Feb 2018,
  • Western Australia, Railway Records, 1879-1986; State Records Office of Western Australia, Australia; Register; Reference Number: ACC 1754/5-6. Accessed via Ancestry.
  • Tasmania, Australia, Police Gazettes, 1884-1933; Tasmania Police Gazette Indexes, 1884-1933. Ridgehaven, South Australia: Gould Genealogy and History, 2009. Accessed via Ancestry.
  • 1904 ‘No Title’, Kalgoorlie Western Argus (WA : 1896 – 1916), 22 November, p. 34. , viewed 05 Mar 2018,
  • 1900 ‘General News.’, Mount Magnet Miner and Lennonville Leader (WA : 1896 – 1926), 2 June, p. 2. , viewed 05 Mar 2018,
  • 1900 ‘Police Court.’, Mount Magnet Miner and Lennonville Leader (WA : 1896 – 1926), 9 June, p. 2. , viewed 05 Mar 2018,
  • 1905 ‘No Title’, Kalgoorlie Western Argus (WA : 1896 – 1916), 6 June, p. 22. , viewed 06 Mar 2018,

10 thoughts on “II – A Suspect Emerges”

      1. Hi Hamish,

        Yes, there is a part III; the final part of the story. It’s currently a work in progress but hopefully it’ll be finished in the next couple of weeks.

        Glad you enjoyed the story. 😊


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