A Puzzling Case

Having worked hard as a teamster in the Government boring party near Mingenew, William Ernest Ellison was due for a holiday. Intending to return after the New Year, he left his portmanteau containing his work clothes and other possessions with Coorow storekeeper, Mr Todd, and on 15 September 1912, he travelled on the Midland railway line to Perth.

Grand Central Coffee Palace circa 1906

He arrived on the same day and took a room at the Grand Central Coffee Palace on Wellington Street. He was designated room 19 and a workmate named Charles Henry Spargo occupied the room across the hallway. Throughout his time in Perth, William was seen on the streets, at the Coffee Palace and around the racecourse, often in company with Spargo. He withdrew various amounts from his bank account on the 21st and 28th September and on the 1st, 5th, 19th and 22nd October. There was nothing unusual about these withdrawals and it was thought a large amount of the money was spent betting at the races.

William was originally from South Australia and kept in regular contact with his parents who remained there. He also had three brothers in Western Australia. On 24 October, a man named Cameron Arthur delivered him a message from his brother, Frank. In the message Frank asked him to go to Gunyidi and then to Nugadong for work. At the time William was seeking employment and was pleased to hear from him. He planned to leave on Saturday, 26 October 1912.

Despite agreeing to meet his brother, William never arrived. On 28 October his accommodation (paid a week in advance) ceased and the proprietor of the Coffee Palace simply assumed that he had left. Correspondence to his family stopped and 18 months passed by. During that time Spargo was tried, convicted and hanged for the murder of Gilbert Jones in Broome. The mangrove murder was the talk of the town and speculation was rife as to whether Spargo had killed other men. On 14 January 1914, George O’Hern of Watheroo contacted the Criminal Investigation Branch (C.I.B.) on the brothers’ behalf. William had vanished and they suspected foul play.

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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.

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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.

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I – Murder at Mount Magnet

The following blog post contains descriptions which may be distressing to some people. Readers are advised to proceed with caution.

Note: many different names were used to identify the mine featured in this blog post. For continuity, I have opted to use what appeared to be the most commonly used name, the Rose Pearl.

For six months the mine known as the Rose Pearl sat dormant on the outskirts of the town of Mount Magnet. The company that owned it was being restructured and more time was needed to arrange for work to begin again. Until that happened the mine shafts were covered to prevent accidents and the Rose Pearl was essentially abandoned.

Map
The Rose Pearl Mine in comparison to the location of Mount Magnet. Courtesy of Google Earth. With thanks to the Department of Mines and Petroleum for details with regards to the location.

John Pringle had been the mining manager before the closure and as time lapsed on the exemption granted to the owners it became apparent that the likelihood of the mine operating again was slim. By mid-November Mr Malcolm Reid was interested in taking over a couple of the leases and lodged an application to do so. Wanting to view the mine for himself, he approached Mr Pringle asking if he would be willing to show him over the lease.

Early in the morning on Sunday, 27 November 1898, Mr Pringle and Mr Reid travelled north from Mount Magnet to the Rose Pearl mine and descended the ladder of the shaft known as ‘Big Ben’. They were about halfway when Mr Reid noticed a terrible smell. It intensified¬†as they continued down the ladder to the bottom of the shaft (110 feet). Finding it overwhelming, Mr Reid lit his pipe.

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