The Disappearance of Mollie Tipping

Mollie Tipping was smart, kind and well loved by those who knew her. She was born on 30 July 1901 in Brunswick, Victoria however she spent most of her youth growing up in Milton, Queensland. She attended Craigard School for Girls and studied music, spoke French, was a gymnast and actively participated in community activities.

At the age of 14 she competed in the beginners’ swimming race at her school’s annual swimming competition and came second. She continued with swimming lessons and performed well in the sport, often being listed as placing first or second for breaststroke.

Graduating from school, in 1919 she sat an Arts Matriculation exam for Queensland University and passed. She began studying a Bachelor of Arts and when her father obtained a new position with The West Australian in 1920, she transferred to the University of Western Australia.

Mollie continued in much the same way in Western Australia as she did in Queensland. She studied, made friends and participated in various social activities. She officially completed her degree on 15 May 1925 at age 23 and began working as a teacher.

She lived with her parents, Ivon and Ada Tipping, in Leederville and in 1928 she advertised her services as a University coach at Hartill’s Commercial College. By 1929 she obtained a position at the Presbyterian Ladies’ College in Ballarat and taught at the school until about 1932. She returned to Western Australia and in 1933 she holidayed for 10 months in England, Scotland and Southern India. The following year Mollie was appointed Mathematics Mistress at the Church of England Girls’ Grammar School in Moss Vale, New South Wales.

In 1935, at the age of 33, Mollie returned to Western Australia and began working as the Science Mistress at the Presbyterian Ladies College. She was still working at the school and was living with her parents at 104 Broome Street in Cottesloe when, early in the morning on 21 January 1937, she walked out of her home wearing cream silk pyjamas and disappeared.

When her parents noticed that her bed was empty, Ivon headed into Perth and reported that she was missing at the Roe Street Police Station. Questions were asked as to her state of mind and he advised that Mollie had lately been depressed due to her mother being sick.

That afternoon Chief Inspector Purdue sent police and Aboriginal trackers to Cottesloe. One group searched the scrub and sandhills along the coast to a point north of Swanbourne as well as the bush between Swanbourne and the Rifle Range. The other group searched north of Cottesloe Beach and Swanbourne and questioned employees at the Rifle Range, the Golf Club as well as campers and fishermen. Neither party had any success.

Mollie Tipping

Mollie was of slight build and stood at 5 feet 7 inches tall. Her hair was light brown, her eyes blue and she was said to have lately been experiencing indifferent health. She was wearing cream silk pyjamas and was not wearing a hat or shoes. The description helped members of the public and that evening reports began to trickle in.

The first person who saw her was the manager of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Office, Aretas Young. It was presumed that Mollie left her bed sometime after 12 am and wandered down to Marine Parade alongside the ocean. At 1:30 am Aretas drove past her and observed her standing motionless outside the Bangor Flats (134 Marine Parade). She was gazing out to sea and then crossed the road from the east side to the west. Realising she was wearing pyjamas and concerned for her welfare, Aretas turned the car around and offered her a lift home which she accepted.

Rather than take her straight home, he instead decided to drive to The White Spot American Cafe and found off-duty policeman, Constable Taylor, eating supper. Constable Taylor questioned Mollie and she gave him her name and address and stated, “I must have been walking in my sleep.

Aretas and Constable Taylor drove Mollie back home. When they arrived Constable Taylor got out of the car intending to speak to her parents however Mollie told him, “They are sleeping indoors, and my mother is a very sick woman.” She begged him not to wake them as she did not want to upset them and he agreed. Both Constable Taylor and Aretas watched Mollie walk through the front gate and enter the house. Constable Taylor particularly noticed (I suppose in contrast to her earlier words) that she slammed the door after her. There was nothing more to be done so they left and Aretas dropped the Constable home. Both believed she had been sleepwalking as “she appeared dazed and quiet.

Aretas Young gave his statement to Sergeant Flinders on 21 January at about 4:30 pm. He described the above events and mentioned that it looked as though Mollie was bleeding. He was the only person to do so.

He also noticed that she had blood on the front of her pyjamas, and a slight trickle of blood down the side of her mouth, and he thought her top teeth were missing.

State Records Office of Western Australia (AU WA S34- cons3403 1937/0887).

Even though Mollie was taken home, she again left her bed. She walked back towards the ocean and at about 2:45 am was seen walking on the footpath north of The White Spot American Cafe. Having walked along the promenade, she was observed standing on the landing. According to the proprietor, Gordon Balsom, she looked as though she was sleepwalking. He shone a light on her and after five minutes she eventually turned around and “slowly, almost mechanically” retraced her steps and walked back to John Street. Two women employed at the cafe decided to follow her however when they reached John Street she was gone.

Sometime after that Mollie appears to have walked from Cottesloe in a north easterly direction towards Claremont. At 6:30 am, she knocked on the door of 10 Shenton Road which was the home of the Gallop family. Mrs Mary Gallop answered the door and Mollie asked her for a cup of tea. She did not stay for the tea and was seen walking off in the direction of Davies Road. Both Mrs Gallop and her daughter later positively identified Mollie from a photograph. It was the last time anyone saw her.

On 22 January the police left at 6 am and searched the bush around Cottesloe, Swanbourne, Claremont, City Beach, the Claremont Mental Hospital, Karrakatta, the banks of the Swan River at Peppermint Grove and North Fremantle. On the following day they continued and included the Royal Show Grounds, Karrakatta Station, Wembley, Kings Park and the river bank at Dalkeith. They were joined by a dozen University students in cars as well as undergraduates on horseback.

On 24 January a wider search involving a larger group of people was organised. Boy Scouts, surf club members and extra University students all promised to take part. Other people wanting to help were to meet at the Cottesloe Police Station at 9:30 am or at Ivon and Ada Tipping’s home on Broome Street.

Details of the search were broadcast over the wireless and that additional publicity resulted in extra people assisting. About 60 people showed up and carried out the search according to specific plans.

One party proceeded to the North Mole through the sand hills, and then worked along the river; a party of mounted pushed through the sand hills to Scarborough and combed the country right to the rifle range, working back towards West Subiaco and the back of the swamps near which Miss Tipping was seen early on Thursday morning; and surf clubs patrolled the sea along the beaches from Leighton to City Beach.

The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950); 25 January 1937; Page 1; No Trace Yet of Missing Woman

Despite the extensive search it was unsuccessful. On the following day police horses were replaced and police also continued searching on foot. They investigated the area around Davies Road and Servetus Street near Butler’s Swamp (Lake Claremont) as well as the sandhills behind Claremont Mental Hospital. There was some hope that Mollie was still in Cottesloe so University students stayed behind and searched the area.

Ivon Tipping refused to give up. In order to help encourage members of the public to come forward with any information that could lead to Mollie’s whereabouts, he offered a £25 reward. Ads were printed in the newspapers and posters were created and displayed on trams, trains, buses, shop windows and other public spaces in the metropolitan area.

On 26 January, Mollie had been missing for six days. The previous day’s search had ended without success however plans were put in place for search parties consisting of friends, University students and Professors to scour Kings Park in the afternoon. Police continued searching around Claremont Mental Hospital, Karrakatta and Shenton Park.

Some of the search party in Kings Park.

No trace of Mollie was found in Kings Park. On the following day the same group began searching from Freshwater Bay to Nedlands which included Broadway, Dalkeith and the area surrounding the Old Men’s Home. Police searched the coast but relinquished the assistance of Aboriginal trackers. By that point there were too many tracks in the sand and it was becoming difficult to follow a particular course.

Helpful members of the public came forward with reports of sightings in various areas however upon investigation most of them were discounted. A week had passed and the hope and determination that Mollie would be found alive had waned. The Daily News reported that “grave fears are now entertained concerning her personal safety.

The search for Mollie Tipping was reported in newspapers around the country with the most interest in the story occurring in Queensland. Her previous connection to the State made the news of her disappearance all the more personal, especially for those who knew her. Mollie and her parents had maintained a regular correspondence with the Misses Senyard and when questioned by a reporter from The Telegraph, one sister said that she had last received a letter at Christmas. In the letter Mollie wrote about her work as the Science Mistress and it seemed as though she was hopeful with “a very bright outlook on life.

On 28 January Mollie had been missing for over a week and a decision was made by police to abandon the organised search. Friends and family however continued investigations. Ivon was hopeful she would be found alive and stated to The Daily News:

We are still hoping that she will turn up. She was a fair swimmer, if not a very strong swimmer, having studied swimming when she was young. I believe that she is still alive.

Knowing that Mollie regularly went swimming, the presumption was that she must have again returned to the beach, entered the water without anyone seeing her and was swept away.

On 1 February 1937, Mollie had been missing for 12 days. Indicating that hopes were fading, Ivon placed a notice in The Daily News stating that he withdrew the reward he had previously offered. On the following day one final search was carried out by a constable and an Aboriginal tracker however it was to be in vain. No trace of Mollie was found.

All searches and investigations ended. Accepting that there was nothing more that could be done, on 16 February Ivon wrote a letter to the editor of The West Australian (his employer) thanking them, the police and various members of the public for helping with the search. Mystified by what may have happened to Mollie, he ended the letter wistfully stating that, “Time may prove revealing.

On 30 January 1933, before she left for her holiday overseas, Mollie wrote her Will. In it she made her mother, Ada Tipping, sole Executor as well as sole Beneficiary. In the event that Ada predeceased her, all of Mollie’s property would be left to her second cousin, Ellen Doris Wood of Gosnells.

Eight months after Mollie disappeared Ada applied to the Court and received an order declaring that Mollie’s death had occurred on or about the 21 January 1937. Once that order was granted, she submitted an application to the Supreme Court for Probate. Included with the documents were various police reports as well as her Affidavit. They provide us with a little more detail as to Mollie’s state of health leading up to her disappearance.

It was noted in the newspapers that Mollie had been showing signs of stress and seemed to be mentally exhausted after a difficult year teaching in 1936. Ivon himself believed she was worried about her mother’s health. However, perhaps offering some kind of clue, four days before Mollie disappeared Ada found her dazed in the bottom of the bathtub. She said she was okay however on the following morning she complained of having bumped her head. She did not look ill and never mentioned it again. The day before she disappeared Mollie appeared to have made a complete recovery and went swimming at Cottesloe in the morning and in the afternoon. That night however her parents noticed she looked tired and she went to bed early at 9:15 pm. Aside from the bathtub incident, Ada believed Mollie was in perfect health and “had not attended a Doctor or obtained any Medical treatment for a number of years.

Ada further declared in her Affidavit that Mollie had a good relationship with both her and Ivon, seemed “cheerful and contented with her home life” and gave no indication that she intended to leave. No clothing, jewellery or money was missing and she made no withdrawals from her bank account.

Probate was granted on 16 October 1937 and Ada received £425 from Mollie’s Estate. Rather than keep the money for herself, she gave some of it to the Presbyterian Ladies College and established the Mollie Tipping Memorial Prize. The first prize was presented in December 1938 to Miss M. Moss.

What happened to Mollie Tipping remains a mystery. The general assumption seems to have been that she ended up in the ocean and drowned. For this to occur it would mean that sometime after 6:30 am she walked from Claremont (the last place she was seen) back to Cottesloe and entered the water. It would also mean that she did so in the morning light without anyone noticing her on the streets or at the beach.

The other common statement provided (including by Mollie herself) was that she was sleepwalking. Was she sleepwalking when she entered the water and was swept away? Was it something else entirely? Was she suffering from depression or some kind of mental illness that resulted in her deciding to end her life? Or, did the earlier fainting episode mean that she had an undiagnosed illness that could have resulted in a similar occurrence while swimming?

We should also not overlook that an accident or something sinister may have occurred. Aretas Young was the only person to make a statement about the blood and the fact that no one else mentioned it is curious in itself. Was he mistaken about what he saw? Focus was always placed on the ocean but it was possible, especially as she appeared to be wandering the streets, that she never made it back there at all.

Without answers, the questions and possibilities are endless. If I am pondering them then there is no doubt that Ivon and Ada Tipping likely spent the rest of their lives pondering them too.

Mollie’s body was never found. After the last sighting at Shenton Road, she vanished. On 20 April 1942 Ivon died in Mount Lawley at the age of 72. The Memorial Prize continued to be awarded until after Ada’s death on 9 September 1949. Sadly, for Ivon and Ada, time was not revealing. The mystery of Mollie’s disappearance remained unsolved and they died without ever knowing what had happened to their only child.

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15 thoughts on “The Disappearance of Mollie Tipping

  1. What a strange, sad story. She sounds as though she had a nervous breakdown of some sort. Even these days, wandering around the street in one’s pyjamas after midnight is odd.
    At 33, I wonder why she still lived with her parents?

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  2. Thanks for this story. Mollie was a cousin of my mother (Waveney Wansbrough), Doris Wood was another cousin. I remember Mum talking about this disappearance and helping in the search, but I was young and did not take in the details at the time.

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  3. I found this interesting as I have been reading Gideon Haigh’s book “A Scandal in Bohemia” about the savage murder of Mollie Dean in Melbourne in 1930. She was also a young schoolteacher. Her murder was never solved, however her “bohemian” friends, all painters, writers and musicians kept some semblance of her memory alive in various ways. Ninety years after her death she is still inspiring stories and songs. Your story is keeping alive the memory of Mollie Tipping, sad and unusual as the circumstances are surrounding her disappearance. What I find most disturbing is that Aretas Young noticed blood and possibly teeth missing! Surely that would have warranted some further police questioning at the time? Anyway, thanks Jessica for a most interesting story!

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