Poisoned at Day Dawn

Dressed in her best clothes and halfway through drinking her tea, Georgina Hussey doubled over in pain. Unable to bare it, she went to lie down. In bed, she proceeded to have a fit. Horton Sibley, the man she lived with, hovered nearby. He decided to find a doctor. Before doing so, he asked their neighbour, Ellen Clarke, to sit with her. Ellen tried giving Georgina water, but it did not help. After reviving a little, she had another fit. Frightened, Ellen told her younger sister, Janet, to fetch their older sister, Sarah Ann.

Sibley returned without a doctor but received some advice from the chemist, Andrew Taite. It was of no use. Georgina knew her condition was fatal. As Sibley sat beside her, she turned to him and said, “Kiss me Jack, and say goodbye.” On 16 September 1906, at about 7 pm, less than half an hour since the pain started, Georgina Hussey died.

Sibley left the house and told the chemist what had happened. Andrew called Dr David Blanchard at Cue, who immediately phoned the Day Dawn police. Constable Herbert Laslett first went to the chemist and then to Sibley’s home. He arrived after 7:30 pm, followed by Dr Blanchard and Dr Edward Haynes at 8 pm.

Georgina’s body was removed from the house and taken to the Cue Hospital. In the afternoon on Monday, 17 September, the coroner, Patrick Troy, opened an inquest before three jurors: Hubert Goss, John Blake, and Robert Barclay. After they viewed the body, he adjourned it for eight days.

Six days later, on 22 September, Messrs. De Mamiel and Co advertised four auctions taking place that day at the Railway Yard in Day Dawn. At Sibley’s request, at 2 pm, “a large quantity of useful household furniture,” including a piano, were to be sold. Once he had the proceeds, he intended to leave Day Dawn.

The inquest resumed on 24 September. Detective Henry Mann happened to be in the area investigating the murder of Michael Naughton. He opted to appear on behalf of the Crown, along with Sub Inspector Frederick Mitchell. Abelard Palfreyman represented Sibley.

Sibley was the first witness. He was a miner who lived at Day Dawn and knew Georgina as Georgina Lynch. He was also aware that she was sometimes known as Georgina Hussey. They lived together but were not married. They had been living together at his home on Reid Street for about three months. After her death, he went to the morgue and identified her body.

Despite getting underway, the evidence was not yet complete. Sub Inspector Mitchell requested an adjournment for 14 days, which the coroner granted.

Day Dawn, meanwhile, buzzed with speculation. Talk soon turned to the relationship between Sibley and Georgina. People gossiped that he was actually a married man, living apart from his wife and family. On 25 September, Sibley refuted that rumour by placing a notice in the Day Dawn Chronicle threatening to take legal action against anyone repeating “slanderous statements.

Harry Green, a storekeeper at Day Dawn, countered Sibley’s statement the next day. He recalled that months ago, Sibley visited his store to purchase furniture and mentioned that “his wife was coming to the district and he wished to prepare the house for her arrival.” Harry appears to have provided the furniture in credit, the same furniture that Sibley later sold. Harry printed his statement publicly, not, as he said, “in a spirit of vindictiveness” but to draw attention to “the sample of man whose actions prevent honest, industrious, men, from getting credit from business people…

The inquest resumed on 8 October, and Sibley continued with his evidence. Detective Mann questioned him for four and a half hours.

Sibley first met 30-year-old Georgina in February 1906 when she worked as a barmaid at the Dew Drop Inn in Day Dawn. Eight weeks later, at his suggestion, she went to live at his house on Reid Street. He stressed that, at first, they were not living together; she only slept there.

The Dew Drop Inn (left of centre) in Day Dawn circa 1904. Courtesy of State Library Victoria (H91.325/1931)

Georgina left in May and obtained employment at a hotel east of Mount Magnet. For several months, they corresponded with each other. At some point, Sibley suggested she return to Day Dawn. About three months before her death, she left her position at the hotel and went to live with him as his wife.

They continued to live together until Georgina’s death on 16 September. According to Sibley, they “got on very well,” with Georgina acting as a “well conducted woman…” On the 16th, he was home all morning and recalled that she seemed to be “in good health and spirits” while she carried out the household chores. They had lunch, and he remained home until sometime between 5:00 and 5:30 pm when he went to the Day Dawn Hotel for a drink. He was away for about 45 minutes.

When he returned at about 6:30 pm, Georgina was standing at the front door, talking to Robert Arnold. He went to lie down on a stretcher in the kitchen and was there until it was time for dinner. When he went inside after finishing his smoke, she had already poured out the tea. He joined her at the table. During the meal, she asked him again if he would take her to the band concert that evening. It was about 6:40 pm. She sipped her tea but did not eat anything, an act that was not unusual.

Georgina had not complained of feeling unwell throughout the day. About a minute after she started drinking her tea, she began to tremble. With Sibley’s help, she immediately went to bed, where she had a violent fit. Sibley watched in shock, and when she regained consciousness, she asked him for a cup of salt water, commenting that she had taken too much cascara.

Sibley got Georgina’s cup from the table, washed it out, and filled it with salt water. She was unable to drink it. He suggested getting the doctor, and she asked him to get a neighbour to sit with her while he was gone. He came back with Ellen Clarke. Unable to find the doctor, he went to see Andrew Taite, the chemist. Andrew recommended applying hot fomentations to her stomach to ease the symptoms arising from excess cascara.

Upon his return, there were three women in the house, and Georgina had another fit. When it stopped, she told him to send her brooches to her mother and asked him to kiss her, which he did. Shortly after, she died.

The police arrived, followed by the doctors. Sibley was present when they searched his house. In the bedroom, they found a bottle of cascara. In the dining room, they found a packet of Phoenix brand poisoned wheat as well as a teacup half full of moistened wheat. He did not know why there was wheat in the cup. The packet was purchased several weeks earlier to kill mice. The cascara (used as a laxative) was purchased at a similar time. He had also taken some but did not react to it.

The Laura Standard (SA) [29 July 1904]

Georgina’s brother, Theodore, was told of her death by a family friend, Fanny McGriskin. He telegraphed back, asking whether he should come to Day Dawn. The response simply said not to bother as everything was organised. Sibley admitted in the inquest that he had sent the telegram and signed Mrs McGriskin’s name. He had done so without her permission.

Sibley was asked about Georgina’s mental health and replied that she had not said or acted in a way to make him think that she would take her life. Police then brought up the letters they found in the house. After poring over the contents, they realised that he was corresponding with other women.

On 23 May, he sent £1 to a woman named Mabel Peters, who lived in Perth. The next day, he wrote to Georgina asking her to send him money. He had expected it in a previous letter and berated her for not having sent it. He said, “When I got your letter and no d[amned] money in it I did not know what to do, so I borrowed 5s, and started to batch til I get work.” Georgina was sure she had sent it to him. Sibley countered, “I do not know why you should say in your letter that you sent me £2, when you know d[amned] well you did not.” He called her a liar and ended the letter, “Don’t fool me anymore with that £2.

Accepting his version of events, Georgina obliged and sent him £2, which he acknowledged in a letter dated 29 May. Five days later, he sent £5 to Mabel. Again, Georgina sent him £1, and he acknowledged it on 8 June. Sibley admitted taking Georgina’s money as well as sending money to Mabel. He said the money sent to Mabel was to help her move to Day Dawn. He had wanted Mabel to come and live with him and “would not have bothered” with Georgina had she done so.

The relationships Sibley held with the women were “examined at considerable length.” One letter, in particular, addressed him as ‘My dearest husband.’ He denied he was married to the author. He was married under the name of Shipley in 1891 but was widowed years later. He could give no reason why he married under the name of Shipley in Tasmania but was using the name Sibley in Western Australia.

Another letter mentioned a future marriage between him and Georgina. Even though he said he had made arrangements for it to take place soon after she arrived, he had taken no steps whatsoever. Detective Mann questioned him about it. Why mention marriage if he had no intention of marrying her? According to Sibley, he only included it at Georgina’s suggestion so she could use it as an excuse to leave her position at the hotel.

The coroner questioned Sibley as to what he thought caused Georgina’s death. The only possibility Sibley could think of was that she had used too many drops of cascara. She was sober on the day of her death and he did not think jealousy would cause her to take her life. He believed she knew about the letters. The fact that the police had found them in her box was proof of that.

With Sibley’s evidence complete, the coroner adjourned the inquest to resume the next day.

The inquest continued on 9 October with evidence from various other witnesses. Janet Clarke was 12 years old and, contrary to Sibley’s evidence, testified that she had seen him leave the house twice after lunch. She was often in their home and never heard them fight. Georgina was “much attached” to him and did not believe he was “carrying on with other women.

Ellen Clarke gave evidence similar to Sibley’s version of events, but she offered a contradiction: she did not hear Georgina mention having taken cascara. When questioned about the cups on the table, she said that when she arrived, there were two cups containing tea.

Frederick Ridley was a miner at Day Dawn. He saw Sibley at about 5 pm for half an hour on 16 September on the verandah of the Day Dawn Hotel. When he saw him the following evening, Sibley asked whether he had heard about his bad luck. Frederick asked what had happened, and Sibley explained that Georgina had taken some medicine. Frederick had known Sibley for about six years and stated he was not vindictive or violent.

The Day Dawn Hotel circa 1904. Courtesy of State Library Victoria (H91.325/1931)

Maud Lipschutt was Georgina’s friend. She had known her for six years and regularly visited her when she was at Day Dawn. Maud recalled that on 5 September, she and Georgina visited a drapers’ store but did not go to the chemist. She described Georgina as “happy and contented, and was a good-tempered light-hearted woman.

Maud was there on the night of Georgina’s death. Like Ellen, she saw two cups on the dining room table when she arrived. She tried taking Georgina’s dress off but struggled because she was so stiff. She watched as her friend twitched with pain. She got some whiskey in a glass for her to drink, took one of the cups from the dining room table, tipped the tea out, and filled it with water. She transferred some of the water to the whiskey glass. She recalled that Sibley had told her that Georgina had taken too much cascara.

Chemist Andrew Taite rang Dr Blanchard on Sibley’s behalf and advised of temporary measures to help Georgina. He provided evidence of his sales register for 5 September. It confirmed that someone purchased a packet of Phoenix wheat and a bottle of cascara that day, but he could not specify who it was. According to his records, it was the only sale of the poison for about five or six months. Andrew could not recall seeing Sibley in his shop before the night of 16 September. He explained that cascara was a laxative, and it could cause severe cramps if a person took a large dosage. He did not think that anything worse would happen from using it.

Anthony Moore was the licensee of the hotel east of Mount Magnet. He had employed Georgina from May to July, and while she occasionally had ill health, it was never anything serious. Contradicting Sibley, he stated that Georgina had left the position without giving a reason.

Charles Gray had boarded at Sibley’s home with his father and heard talk of a woman (Sibley called her his wife) coming from Perth to live there. Georgina had lived there with them for two or three weeks before going to Anthony Moore’s hotel. He never saw them fighting. He was still there when she returned in July, and he and his father moved out.

Fanny McGriskin was a married woman who lived in Day Dawn. She first met Georgina in January 1906. Georgina stayed with her for several nights before going back to Mount Magnet. She stayed with her again in May, but when Fanny learned she was keeping company with Sibley, she asked her to leave. Georgina went to live with Sibley and later sent for her box.

When Fanny heard of Georgina’s death, she immediately sent a telegraph to Georgina’s brother, Theodore. At his request, she agreed to arrange the funeral. On her way to Cue, she saw Sibley and asked what had happened. Sibley told her Georgina had taken an overdose of cascara. Fanny retorted, “Oh, that wouldn’t kill her.” Sibley claimed that a doctor had told him that drinking a hot cup of tea with cascara could kill you if you had a weak heart.

Once Fanny reached Cue, she learned that Sibley had already paid for the funeral and the coffin. She also confirmed that she had not given him permission to telegraph Georgina’s brother on her behalf.

Theodore Lynch was Georgina’s brother. Georgina was a widow and went by her married name Hussey as well as her maiden name Lynch. When he heard she was living with Sibley, he offered to help her and arrange transport home if she would leave him. She never gave him an answer.

He confirmed receiving notice of Georgina’s death via a telegram from Mrs McGriskin. He requested that she organise the funeral. Upon asking if he should come to Day Dawn, he received a response stating that he was not needed. He later learned Sibley had sent it.

Constable Laslett went to Sibley’s house on the night of Georgina’s death. He recalled that Sibley told him she had trembled after drinking her tea and went to bed. He looked at the table. There was a plate with meat and beetroot on it (Sibley’s dinner) and a plate with no food on it. There were also scones, pickles, jam, and butter. There was a saucer next to Georgina’s plate but no cup. There was no cup and saucer next to Sibley’s plate. When asked where Georgina’s cup was, Sibley explained that he had emptied the contents and filled it with salt and water.

There were three women in the bedroom, Ellen Clarke, Maud Lipschutt, and Sarah Ann Bourne. Constable Laslett saw a bottle of cascara on the washstand. He was present when Dr Blanchard questioned Sibley. Sibley explained that Georgina had said she had taken too much cascara. He seized the bottle, along with other evidence, including a cup half full of moist wheat. There was no liquid in it; it appeared to have been poured out. When he asked Sibley what it was for, Sibley answered that he knew nothing about it.

Constable Laslett took samples of various other liquids found in the house. There was vinegar and water in one cup, whiskey and water in another, a teapot full of tea, and some milk. He also found the bundle of letters in Georgina’s effects.

A family stands outside their home at Day Dawn circa 1910. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (006042PD)

Dr Blanchard was the Government Medical Officer and stated that on the night of 16 September, Andrew Taite phoned to tell him Georgina was poisoned with cascara. Thinking it was not serious, he recommended she be given an emetic and stated that cascara “would hardly poison a person.” Fifteen minutes later, Andrew called again. Georgina had died.

After phoning the police, he and Dr Haynes (who was visiting from Perth) travelled from Cue to Day Dawn. When they arrived at the house at about 8 pm, the police were already there. He questioned Sibley, who said Georgina had taken an overdose of cascara. Sibley described her as having multiple fits and foaming a little at the mouth. In between the fits, she was “rational and sensible” and able to talk. She experienced pain when touched and was also thirsty but could not drink. Sibley told him he had tried giving her salt water in her cup.

He examined the body and found it rigid and extended at full length. Her arms were rigidly thrown across her chest, and her thumbs were rigid and flexed into her palms. Her head was bent backward, and her back was slightly arched. He accompanied Constable Laslett in searching the premises and helped him gather evidence for the inquest.

On a shelf in the dining room, he found a teacup containing poison wheat. The wheat was only slightly moist, and he surmised it had been soaking for an hour or two. Some of it was stuck to the side of the cup, and he assumed it ended up in that position after someone poured the water out.

Near the cup, he found an open packet of Phoenix brand poisoned wheat. He also saw some dry wheat scattered about on shelves and in other rooms. He asked Sibley what it was for and he said it was for poisoning mice. Once the search was complete, he instructed the removal of Georgina’s body to the morgue at Cue.

During the post-mortem, he analysed the contents of her stomach. There was no trace of cascara, but that did not mean she had not taken any. He found traces of vegetable matter and one-eighth of a grain of strychnine. A small amount of the same poison was in her liver.

He investigated the poisoned wheat. Compared to dry wheat, the wheat in the teacup had lost 6.7892 grains of strychnine. The poison that seeped into the water was enough to kill a person.

Dr Blanchard analysed each of the liquids found in the house. He found no trace of poison except in the wheat. It was his opinion that Georgina died from strychnine poisoning. He could not say how she consumed it, but she would have died in about 15 minutes.

After four days, the inquest concluded on 11 October. The coroner summed up the case and read out the details of the evidence. The jury retired to deliberate. After twenty minutes, they returned to court and gave their verdict: “That the deceased Georgina Hussey, née Lynch, came to her death at Day Dawn on September 16, 1906, by means of strychnine poisoning, but that there was no evidence to show how such poison had been administered.

A week later, the police arrested Sibley at Nannine and charged him with Georgina’s murder. They brought him to Cue in a state of collapse.

On 5 November, Sibley appeared before the Cue Police Court. Again, Detective Mann conducted the prosecution while Mr Palfreyman represented Sibley. While most of the evidence was similar to the inquest, there were some statements that were not printed in earlier newspaper articles.

Public buildings at Cue including the Courthouse

Constable Laslett recalled asking Sibley if there were any “poisonous drugs about the place.” Sibley pointed at the bottle of cascara on the washstand stating, “No, this is all there is in the house.”

The Phoenix brand packet of wheat was of particular interest to Mr Palfreyman. No one had hidden it in the house. It was on full display for anyone to see. When asked, Constable Laslett confirmed that a sentence on the back of the packet stated, “the wheat may be softened by soaking in water for a few hours.” It proved that its presence in a cup of water was not that unusual.

Most of the morning was spent on Constable Laslett’s evidence. He went through each exhibit and read out Sibley’s letters to Georgina. The Murchison Times and Day Dawn Gazette published four in their entirety.

In one, Sibley asked Georgina for money and scolded her when she sent a letter without it. He referred to his lack of employment and then becoming employed at the Rubicon mine. He signed several letters as being, “From your true love.” In a letter dated 9 July, he told her not to stop in at Mount Magnet and to go “straight up to your old man,” meaning himself. He reassured her that when she arrived on the 18th or 19th, she would find the house comfortably furnished with items he had purchased.

The Rubicon Gold Mine circa 1905. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (4372B/7B)

The suspicions police had about whether or not he planned to marry Georgina were apparent in two letters. In one, he signed off as, “Your ever loving husband.” In another, he wrote of having ordered a new suit to get married in, and promised that he made the arrangements for 20 July. He tacked on a postscript and asked her sentimentally, “Sign Mrs. Sibley to your wire when you send it.” Georgina travelled to Day Dawn with the expectation that they would marry not long after she arrived. The marriage never took place.

There were also discrepancies between Sibley’s explanations about what occurred on the night Georgina died. Dr Blanchard recalled that Sibley said (matching his inquest evidence) that they were sitting at the table, and Georgina was drinking tea when she felt unwell. At another point, he said he was in the kitchen while Georgina was in her bedroom and later joined him, complaining of having taken too much cascara. He then helped her to bed.

He went through the details of the post mortem and explained that it was possible that Georgina had taken more strychnine but that only one-eighth of a grain remained in her stomach. If she had taken the poison in liquid form, he predicted it would hasten the effects. He could not say when or how she consumed the poison.

Mr Palfreyman queried the time strychnine took effect. Dr Blanchard did not think symptoms would show in less than five minutes. He admitted, “It would be quite possible for a person who had taken strychnine to go about his or her business for the time being.” The first symptom was usually restlessness before the pain began. That meant Sibley’s contradicting statements may have been correct. Perhaps she was in the bedroom, felt unwell, and joined him in the kitchen.

Reporters only briefly mentioned Janet Clarke’s inquest evidence in the newspapers. They provided more detail during the hearing. Her evidence was crucial and gave an account of Georgina’s final day.

Janet lived with her parents on Reid Street, three doors from Sibley’s house. She knew Georgina and Sibley well and was frequently entering their house without an invitation.

On 16 September, she went to Sibley’s house after church at about lunchtime. She saw Sibley and Georgina sitting on the stretcher in the kitchen. Georgina was making cakes and scones, and she gave Janet a scone to eat. She stayed there until 1 pm, went home for an hour, and returned at 2 pm. They were still both in the kitchen, and Sibley left shortly after for a walk.

After he left, Georgina did her hair and changed into her best dress. Janet followed her, remarking that she might get it dirty while cooking. Georgina explained it was easier to put it on earlier rather than later and closer to the time of the band concert.

Sometime later, at about 4 pm, Janet was on the verandah while Georgina stood at the front door. When Robert Arnold passed by, Georgina asked him what he was holding. He showed her a photograph. They chatted at the front of the house until Sibley arrived. Sibley stood near Georgina for a few seconds. Janet did not think he said anything. Nevertheless, Georgina ended the conversation and went inside.

Homes at Day Dawn circa 1910. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (006044PD)

Sibley and Georgina went to the bedroom, and Janet followed. Georgina was lying on the bed reading a book, and Sibley was sitting on the foot of the bed. Sibley then went into the kitchen and (she thought) to the mantlepiece. He left the house via the back door. When Janet passed the bedroom door on her way out, she saw Georgina on the bed holding a hankie as though she was crying.

Janet went home and again returned to Sibley’s but found the front and back doors shut. She later came back and let herself in when she saw the back door open. Georgina had a teapot in her hand and filled it with tea leaves and hot water from the kettle. She put the teapot on the table and went back to the kitchen, complaining to Janet she had a headache.

Janet noticed that Georgina’s voice sounded different, and she asked if she had a cold. Georgina’s response was not recorded. Janet went home for dinner, and when she next heard Sibley, he was at her door asking if Ellen could go to the house. Janet followed. She saw Georgina in bed in pain. At Ellen’s request, she ran to fetch her sister, Sarah Ann, and then went back home.

Robert Arnold was a baker at Day Dawn and confirmed that he was talking to Georgina at about 4:15 pm on 16 September. It was not 6:30 pm, as per Sibley’s evidence. He showed her his photo and kept talking to her. She told him that she had spent the whole afternoon laughing. Sibley arrived. He stood there for a few seconds, said nothing, and went back inside. Georgina followed him, “making no explanation for breaking off the conversation when Sibley came to the door.

Frederick Ridley saw Sibley the night after Georgina’s death. When asked, Sibley explained what had happened. He said that when he got home after drinks, he found that the ‘missus’ had dinner ready for him. He went inside and sat at the table with her. Georgina was holding a cup of tea and was drinking it when she suddenly had a fit. He went to the Clarke house before leaving to find a doctor. When he returned, Georgina asked him to kiss her, and she died. While telling the story, Sibley did not appear excited, nor did he act strange when they were drinking on 16 September.

After Frederick’s evidence, Detective Mann requested a remand for eight days. It was made “in the interests of justice.” Resident Magistrate Troy granted his request. The adjournment would occur a second time, with the hearing not resuming until 24 November.

When the hearing resumed, they started with the evidence of Sarah Ann Bourne. Sarah was the sister of Ellen and Janet Clarke and remembered being called to the Sibley house on 16 September at about 6:30 pm. She saw Georgina having a fit. When she came to, Sarah asked her what was wrong. Georgina replied that she had taken too much of “that stuff” and told her that she never had fits, only headaches. Sibley later told her she had taken too much cascara.

Sarah could not remember giving Georgina a drink. She did not notice the cups on the table. She saw a glass of whiskey and water in the bedroom and admitted to accidentally breaking an empty glass at the tap. When questioned by Mr Palfreyman, she said she went to the house to pick up her daughter a few nights before Georgina’s death, but they were not close friends. They chatted, and Georgina mentioned that Sibley would soon be out of work. Rather than finding it an unhappy prospect, she considered it “a nice thing to look forward to.” Georgina did not comment about “the life she was leading,” did not mention going away, and did not act hysterical or peculiar.

In the time since the inquest, Ellen Clarke married Joseph Pereira. She gave her evidence under her married name. Ellen met Georgina for the first time on the night of 16 September. She went to the house after Sibley visited her parents’ home asking for someone to stay with Georgina while he went to the doctor. He said that she had fainted.

When Ellen went into the house, she saw Georgina on the bed. She asked her if she had fits and Georgina responded, “No; I think I am getting a paralytic stroke.” She appeared to be in terrible pain. She was trembling and shaking, had several fits, and could only speak in gasps. At one point, Sibley mentioned that she had taken an overdose of cascara.

Georgina asked her for a glass of water. In the bedroom, there was a cup on the washstand full of salt water – Sibley had told her what it contained. On the dining room table were scones, beetroot, and two cups, both containing different amounts of tea. There was another glass on the shelf in the dining room, three-quarters full of water. She took the glass to Georgina, and gave her a sip. She seemed to get worse.

Feeling frightened, Ellen sent for her sister, Sarah Ann. Georgina began asking for the priest. Sibley then returned without the doctor, and Georgina said to him, “Jack, I’m dying; you know what to do with my ring and brooch.” Three or four minutes later, she died.

Mr Palfreyman cross-examined her. Ellen was certain there were two cups on the table. She thought there were other items on the shelf aside from the glass of water, but she could not specifically recall the wheat or the cup. Later on, whiskey was brought to Georgina in a glass from a neighbour’s house. Water was added to it, but she could not remember where the water came from and if it came from the glass in the bedroom. She was unsure if there was water in a jug in the room. She looked while she was there, but she could not find any.

Charles Gray boarded at Sibley’s house before Georgina came to live there permanently. He had heard conversations about Mabel Peters leaving Perth and going to live with Sibley at Day Dawn. Sibley sent her money to help her move but she never arrived. She took the money and moved to Adelaide. After the inquest, Charles spoke to Sibley and said to him, “It’s all over now.” Sibley agreed and then commented, “It would have been better for me if the verdict had been one of suicide.” He then remarked that if fresh evidence arose, “they could not touch him.

Kathleen McGhie lived at Day Dawn with her husband and had known Georgina for about three years. They first met at Gullewa. In April 1906, Georgina stayed a few days at her house, left, and returned in July as Mrs Sibley. She usually saw her once a week. Five or six weeks before Georgina’s death, Kathleen was feeling unwell. When Georgina visited, she gave her some cascara, but it had no ill effect on her.

She recalled that the night before Georgina’s death, they made plans, and Georgina invited her to come over on Monday. Kathleen saw Sibley that day and asked him what had happened. He said she had taken an overdose of cascara, had not poisoned herself, and “It was no use people saying so.

Kathleen remembered Georgina as cheerful and in good health. After the inquest, she spoke to Sibley, and he commented that she must have sipped the poisoned water from the cup. He went on to say that if he had known she had drunk the water, “he would have known what to do.” He did not think she would take her life. He also offered her a proverb: “a guilty conscience wants no accuser.

During cross-examination by Mr Palfreyman, Kathleen confirmed she had only seen three cups in the house. She also said that Sibley and Georgina got on well together. While she saw Georgina cry a lot at Gullewa, she never saw her cry at Day Dawn.

Constable John Thomas recalled questioning Sibley about Mabel Peters. During their discussion, Sibley stated, “I don’t marry them, I only live with them, and when I get tired of one, I take another.” He did not believe in marriage. At one point, it seemed as though both Mabel and Georgina wanted to live with him at Day Dawn. Sibley said he would have been in a “bit of a fix” if they arrived at the same time.

The last witness was Dr Blanchard, who was recalled for one final question. He was asked whether he had ever told Sibley that drinking too much cascara with hot tea could cause death. He had not, nor did he think it would cause the symptoms Georgina experienced.

After four days of hearing evidence from witnesses, the Crown closed the case. Sibley reserved his defence. The bench retired to discuss and decided that the Crown had established a prima facie case. Sibley was committed to stand trial at the Criminal Court in Perth in December.

Sibley was brought to Perth by train. As the date approached, several people realised that holding the trial at Perth was costly and would inconvenience over 20 people who had to travel from the Murchison to the city. The judge granted permission to hold the trial at Geraldton.

Geraldton’s Government Buildings which includes the Court circa 1902. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (4372B/69B)

The trial got underway on 17 December 1906 before Chief Justice Stephen Parker, who had travelled from Perth to hear it. A jury of twelve men were sworn in. Sibley pleaded not guilty. George Wood conducted the case for the Crown while Abelard Palfreyman continued as Sibley’s solicitor.

Mr Wood opened his case by describing Sibley as “a man who had little respect for women’s honour.” He referred to both Georgina and Mabel, and how Sibley had manipulated Georgina in order to get what he wanted with Mabel. When Mabel “slipped him up,” he changed his mind about Georgina and instead asked her to live with him at Day Dawn.

There were only two people who could have administered the poison, and he immediately discounted Georgina from taking her own life. He believed the fact that she was making plans for that evening, as well as the following day, showed that she had no intention of suicide. He mentioned the evidence of the cups on the dining room table. Were there two, as Ellen and Maud stated? Or one, as per Sibley’s evidence? Coupled with his contradictory statement about what occurred when Georgina fell ill (was she at the table or walking out of her bedroom?), it was enough to raise questions of guilt.

Most of the evidence was a repetition of what was heard during the inquest and the hearing. When Mr Wood summed up for the jury, he stated the case was a question of suicide or murder. Only Georgina or Sibley had the means to administer the poison. It was possible one of the women gave it to her accidentally, but that would not explain why she was experiencing strychnine poisoning symptoms before they arrived.

Mr Palfreyman spoke strongly against the Crown’s case. They had “utterly failed to connect the prisoner with the crime.” Sibley’s conduct from the moment of Georgina’s death until the trial was “open and honest.” There was no motive; they lived happily, and if he wanted to get rid of her, he would have done so “without the necessity of murder.” It was more likely she was accidentally poisoned, perhaps when one of the women was trying to help her.

In summing up, Justice Parker was firmly on the side of the defence. He could not ignore the possibility that Georgina might have ingested the poison accidentally. Perhaps it had somehow wound up in her food or drink without her realising. Furthermore, Sibley did not act like a guilty person. He had done everything in his power to try to help Georgina. The Crown’s case was entirely circumstantial.

On 18 December, at about 2 pm, the jury retired to deliberate. They returned an hour later. They found Horton Sibley not guilty of murdering Georgina Hussey. Sibley was discharged and free to leave.

Two months later, Sibley was living at Ravensthorpe when he wrote a letter to the Sunday Times. He complained of his treatment by the police, and compared it to the favourable treatment a wealthier man received. His letter made no reference to the close acquaintance he once shared with Georgina at Day Dawn. No longer his “true love” as per his earlier letters to her, she was simply “a Mrs Hussey” who kept his house and died suddenly while living there.

Removing Sibley’s treatment of Georgina from consideration, there were still some discrepancies that were not easily explained. Janet saw him leave a few times during the day, yet Sibley claimed he was home until about 5 pm. He told two different stories about when Georgina first fell ill. Was she sitting at the table drinking tea when she felt sick? Or did she walk out of her bedroom stating she was sick, only to be taken back there and put to bed? The matter of the cups was also curious. Sibley stated in the inquest he used one of the cups to give her salt water, yet two women swore they saw both cups on the table when they arrived. Maud used one, and by the time the police came, the other had also gone.

Regardless of the strange anomalies in the stories, there was enough reasonable doubt in the case to warrant the acquittal. Much of what the police had was circumstantial, and, as the judge pointed out, perhaps Georgina accidentally drank the poison without realising what it was. There was no clear evidence that Sibley murdered her and no clear motive. He had acted out of pure self-interest with regards to their relationship, but those actions did not indicate guilt. His character and morals were not on trial.

Mirror (WA) [18 October 1952]

Nearly 50 years later, Detective Mann had long since retired and was recounting stories of his work for the police as part of a crime series written for the Mirror. The last story he wrote before his death on 4 October 1952 was about Georgina’s death from strychnine poisoning at Day Dawn. He questioned, “Was it accidental, suicide, or murder? What is the answer as to how the woman came to be poisoned?” The questions, after Sibley’s acquittal, led him to a “complete blank” and had puzzled him for 46 years.

He found cases where poison was involved as “irritatingly difficult to solve” and admitted the Day Dawn case was not a strong one. He noted, “Where murder is concerned, poisons kept in the house offer the killer a good alibi.” With household products containing lethal poison, their presence in the home was explainable, and it was entirely possible that a person ingested it either accidentally or purposefully. Detective Mann offered no personal opinion regarding Sibley’s case. There were no answers to the questions surrounding Georgina’s death. He had no option but to file it away as one of the many “unsolved mysteries of the West.

Sources:

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