A Cue Tragedy

At 9 pm on 23 May 1899, the sound of the bell ringing alarmed the people of Cue. Smoke billowing north-west of the town confirmed their fears: fire.

People rushed towards the origin, and, as they drew closer, many realised that the camp burning belonged to Charles Litchfield, who was the Government surveyor and draughtsman.

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Caught by His Prints

At 7:30 pm on 12 August 1906, the Bradbury family left their home on Thomas Street in West Perth and attended the Congregational Church service. Frank Bradbury (aged 12) was last to leave and shut the door behind him without locking it. At 9 pm the family returned to find the door wide open and the rooms and furniture ransacked. Missing from the premises was a silver chain and locket, a silver watch, a silver matchbox and one shilling and five pence.

Henry Plant in 1901. Courtesy of Prisoners of the Past and the State Records Office of Western Australia.

On the following afternoon Siegfried Bremer, a pawnbroker on Barrack Street in Perth, was working in his shop when he was approached by Henry Plant. Henry (giving a false name) had a silver chain and locket he wanted to sell. Siegfried asked the relevant questions and, finding the answers suspicious, decided to call the police.

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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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The Elvira Mystery

Two years before the murder at Mount Magnet, the Elvira mine, located north east of Coolgardie and near the Red Bluff, had been sitting abandoned for over a year. On 9 June 1896, Joseph Sorensen lodged an application and was granted a lease over the site.

Red Bluff at Coolgardie circa 1901. Courtesy of State Library of Western Australia.

Work began immediately. Joseph started clearing the mine out and on 11 August he was working on the north shaft. Having sent up dozens of buckets during the course of the work, he moved a slab of wood and came across earth mixed with stones. He began picking it away and as he did so, a skull rolled out.

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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.

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Frank Fogarty Escapes

Frank Fogarty’s rap sheet read like an ode to burglary. He was first convicted of breaking and entering and stealing and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in 1897. In subsequent years he was found in possession of skeleton keys and housebreaking implements; was unlawfully on premises; and gave a false name. By 1903 he was the known leader of a group of “crib-crackers, safe dynamiters and bold bad burglars” known to the police as the Fogarty gang.

He was considered to be one of the “cleverest safe openers in Australia” and had no qualms about regularly putting that skill to use.

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Police Court Habitué

…there are some who have the leisure and the inclination to make the police court their drama, their comedy, their pulpit.

Mirror (Perth, WA : 1921 – 1956); 31 May 1924; Page 3; Just “Ginger”
Ginger

Long retired and seeking something of interest to do, Ginger started attending the Perth Police Court. In contrast to other people who regularly sat in the public gallery and were regarded as “dead-beats, hoboes and beer sparers” he was considered “different from the usual type.” He was short, stocky, middle aged and sported a walrus moustache that “covers his mouth and sends out lobster-like tentacles…” He was going bald but what remained of his hair was red. No one knew his real name and thus the nickname, ‘Ginger’ stuck.

Whether indulging a morbid taste in amusement, or an interest in human nature, warped by circumstance or crime, “Ginger’s” unchanging expression does not reveal, but he has seen innumerable unfortunate citizens, and the dregs of humanity caught in the toils of the law, and has watched many faces turned from freedom towards the temporary oblivion of the prison.

The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954); 15 December 1924; Page 8; News and Notes
The Perth Police Court circa 1911
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Murder of Ah Yet

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following blog post may contain images and names of deceased persons.

A well-known face in Donnybrook, 25 year old Ah Yet regularly loaded up his cart with vegetables from his garden and on Fridays and Saturdays he travelled from house to house offering them for sale. On 21 and 22 March 1902, he did not show up.

Knowing that his absence was out of the ordinary, John Vennell went to look for him at 3 pm on the 22nd. He first peered through the open door of Ah Yet’s hut but found it deserted. He then walked through the garden, passing cabbages, radishes and other vegetables growing profusely. As he came to the well on the property, he found him. Ah Yet was dead.

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Goodbye Chaps, I’m Off

Having already escaped from Coolgardie Gaol in January, police kept a close watch on George Thompson when they loaded him onto a train on 17 March 1897. He was to serve three sentences at Fremantle Prison; 12 months for stealing, four months for breaking out of gaol and three months for giving a false name to the police. Thompson was one of 14 prisoners being transported from Coolgardie to Fremantle on the midday train.

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The Drummer’s Death

The regular jazz drummer who played in the orchestra at the Empire Dance Hall couldn’t make it to the flannel dance held on 9 December 1932. A call was made to Edward Cassey asking if he could fill in. Despite having never played at the hall and not knowing its location, he said yes.

Edward Cassey
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