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This is the third part of a four part series looking at the Gatton Murders

It was established fairly early on in the investigations that there was a man loitering around the sliprails of Moran’s paddock on the night of the murders. The police could not clearly identify who this man was. The Tent Hill road was quite busy that night as it is the only road leading back to Gatton from Mt Silvia. It must be remembered that there was a race meet at Mt Silvia earlier that day. In total five witnesses came forth claiming to see a mysterious man. The man seemed elusive and did not speak to any of the passers by. He was strongly built, had a dark coat on and a hat pulled down to obscure his face (The Queenslander, 1899). It must be noted that although many more people passed through the area, he was only spotted four times, the first being at 7.45pm and the final time at 9.15pm (Gibney p74). Why was this man so elusive? And what was his business there?


Of the five witnesses, only one identified the man. Mrs Margaret Carroll and her son John were on their way back from Mt. Silvia where they were selling fruit at the races. They passed the man at the sliprails to Moran’s paddock around 8.30pm. They passed Michael and his sisters who were on their way to the dance in Gatton (which would be ultimately cancelled). On the left hand side of the sliprails they saw the man. Mrs Carroll was unsure as to who it was but John seemed a little more sure. Speaking at the commission, Mrs Carroll claims that they both saw the man on foot at which point John said ‘That is Clarke’s man’ (Carroll, 1899, Royal Commission). Clarke’s man, of course refers to Thomas Day, who had started working with Mr Clarke the butcher only weeks earlier. John collaborated this story. Although when grilled at the royal commission, Inspector Tooney seemed to pressure the fourteen year old boy to the point that he was no longer sure that it was Day. Tooney even mentioned Richard Burgess again. Who, must be noted, at this point had been acquitted on any wrong doing in regards to the murders. The young John relented somewhat and said the man that was at the sliprails resembled Burgess (Carroll J, 1899, Royal Commission).

At this point it is obvious that the police were relentless in their pursuit of Richard Burgess. Even after it was established he was innocent of the murders, Sergeant Tooney and co seemed to want to make him seem the perfect suspect. But more on that later, let us look further into Day and some more peculiar circumstances that were not investigated thoroughly enough.

Sergeant Tooney when questioning Day after the murders found a blue jumper with blood stains on it. Day’s response was that those stains had belonged to animals as after all he was working with the butcher. This seemed to suffice Tooney and he left it at that. Thomas Day then proceeded to wash and boil this blood stained jumper despite Clarke’s wishes to leave the jumper as it might come in handy. Clarke at the royal commission said ‘I cautioned him against washing his clothes. I told him to leave the stain in,  that he should not wash anything of that kind, because they might be of service. I thought the blood would have been analysed. In face of that he washed them’ (1899). When quizzed further about the nature of the stains, Clarke claims that the stains could not have been caused by any work Day did for him. He was a labourer, merely transporting the meat around and not involved with the actual cutting of the meat. The only possible blood stains would have been from a smudge and not the splatter that was on Thomas Day’s blue jumper. Of course any further investigation on this jumper was futile as the jumper had been washed.
On the contrary, Richard Burgess’ clothes upon his arrest were immediately sent away to be analysed.

All the witnesses of the man at the sliprails had claimed that the man they saw had a moustache. The very next morning Thomas Day went into Gatton and bought a razor to shave his moustache off. This detail was almost completely ignored by police.

The police did however pick up Day after the murders and brought him down the station for a statement. Tooney when questioned at the Royal Commission said of Day when  brought in, he was not in the least bit flustered as he ‘conversed all the way’ (1899). This on the surface would seem to offer some evidence as to the man’s innocence. But as the Gibbney brothers pointed out, Thomas Day’s character was that of a man most uncommunicative. He was aloof and unsociable, but yet talkative on the way to the police station. This detail again escaped Sergeant Tooney’s

Detective Robert Christie arrived from New South Wales to Gatton in March to assist Inspector Urquhart in the murder investigations. After a few days he had written a report ready to hand in. He had his view as to who committed these murders. Thomas Day. Christie went even further, claiming that if Day did indeed come from New South Wales as he claimed, he would have more than likely passed through Oxley around the time that another sinister murder was committed (1899). Alfred Stephen Hill went missing on the tenth of December. His body was found one month later brutally murdered. Edward Wilson was charged with the murder. His son said he had seen his father hand something over to a swagman near the Oxley hotel. It therefore might be of more than coincidence that Michael Murphy, Alfred Hill and their horses were shot with the same calibre gun (Mathews, 2001). Of course this is all speculative still and in the end Christie did not hand his report in. Why? He had the answer that the police did not want to hear. Thomas Day had disappeared from Gatton on January 10th never to be seen and thus never be questioned again.

Sergeant Arrell, the lone policeman at Gatton prior to the murders was also of the opinion that it was Thomas Day. It was his treatment that made sure that Christie did not show his letter until the Royal Commission. Christie claimed that Arrell was of the same opinion of him and that he had heard Arrell being threatened with his job if he continued pursuing this line of thought that Thomas Day had anything to do with the murders (1899).
It must be noted that while Arrell made some crucial mistakes in the opening stages of the investigation (e.g. failure to secure the crime scene), this was due to Arrell simply being out of his depth. Nothing as gruesome had happened in Gatton prior to the murders and nothing even close in the hundred and seventeen years since.

At this point I would like to take some time away from the immediate events to go back to the ongoing victims, the Murphy’s. In the century or so since the murders the Murphy name has been tarnished with sinister claims of incest and murder. There is not even the slightest bit of evidence to implicate the Murphy’s in any way. While new theories should always be put forth, they should be held up by evidence. When evidence doesn’t exist, some researches have a tendency to make outlandish claims . In one theory put forth claims that Michael was involved in incest with his sisters. This results in a family murder and cover up by the Murphy’s. Richards says that this is ‘cruel, irresponsible and unnecessary’ (2005). What flimsy evidence is offered by I found very easy to debunk.


Father! Father! – Two women, Louisa Theuerkauf and Catherine Byrne heard screams from Moran’s paddock at approximately 10pm on Boxing Day night. One of the women Louisa, claims that she heard a woman scream ‘father’. According to some this is attributed to the father being the murderer. Unlikely. Daniel Murphy was the family’s protector. He was a strong and staunch man who cared deeply for his family. It is much more likely that these calls were for her father to save them from this imminent horror. Another possible explanation is that the woman was screaming for her father in heaven. Jesus Christ. The Murphy’s were Irish immigrants and thus quite religious. Also it must be remembered that in the climate of 1898 Australia, religion played a prominent part.

Michael Murphy’s body – Semen was found on the bodies of both Norah and Ellen Murphy. There is no debate about that but what was more peculiar was that semen was found on the tip of Michael’s penis, evidence of incest? Possibly but probably not. Rigor Mortis is a condition in which the body stiffens immediately after death. In a sudden death there are even more implications. Excrement of bowels and penis fluids. That includes urine and semen. It is common in hangings and a little less so in shootings. It is however quite prominent in sudden deaths of any kind. (American Medical Association 2003).
It is much more likely that Michael was shot prior to the secual assault of his sisters. Of course, DNA testing today would solve a crime and mystery like this one rather quickly.

Next, in the final part of The Gatton Murders, we will look at who was most likely responsible and the fallout of these gruesome  murders.