This is the fourth and final part of my investigation on the Gatton murders.
Who did it?
When I began my research into the Gatton murders I told myself that I would not try to solve the case or much less offer a theory. I figured that any theory might be as good as another. It became clear to me however, quite early on, that the murder is far from a mystery. While it is impossible to prove, I believe the murder seems to point to one man. Occam’s Razor tells us, find the hypothesis that makes the fewest assumptions. Thomas Day as the killer makes the fewest assumptions. He came to Gatton as a mysterious stranger, he left never to be heard of again, he was identified as the man on the sliprails, he had a jumper with blood splattered on it, he washed the jumper and possibly even boiled it, he bought a razor to shave his moustache the day after the murders and he lived right next to Moran’s paddock were the murders were committed. Yet ten days after the murders he left Gatton claiming he didn’t like Clarke’s food (if he had left immediately after the murders it would have aroused more suspicion). The question then is why did the police not pursue Thomas Day more vigorously and how did they let him slip away so easily?
Police Incompetence & Cover Up
The police were so determined to implicate Richard Burgess on the murders that they did not seem interested in anyone else. While I believe Burgess to be innocent of these crimes, there is no doubt that the man was of particularly bad character. He was in jail for beating an elderly man and had been known to frequently beat women. He also held the police in content and didn’t hesitate to show it (Gibney 1971, pp.118-120). When Sergeant Toomey, Inspector Urquhart, Sub Inspector Galbraith and Sub Inspector Durham found out that Burgess had been released from prison and was in the proximity of Gatton at the time of the murders, they thought they had their man. To them it was obvious. Only a man of Burgess’ character could commit such a serious crime. Sub Inspector Urquhart was tipped off early on in the investigation. Three aboriginal trackers had come to Gatton to make what they could of the remaining crime scene. All three were pretty clear as to who committed the murders. One of them, a Mr Meston, said at the Royal Commission ‘I pointed out to Urquhart that he was starting in a wrong direction altogether. When I went there on Friday I asked him where was so and so and at the time of the murders, and he said that they had all proved alibis’ (1899). The police also failed to see that Burgess was prone to only attack people who were almost defenceless. Why would he risk attacking a man of Michael Murphy’s stature? He also had no prior convictions or even signs of being a sexual deviant. The police didn’t see this. They were so sure that Burgess was guilty they dismissed all talk of Thomas Day. The fact that Thomas Day seemed responsive to the police was proof to them he wasn’t involved.
By the time that Richard Burgess was acquitted of any wrong doing, Thomas Day had disappeared. He enlisted in the army only to be discharged shortly after joining and unsurprisingly was never heard of again. No public record exists for the Thomas Day that arrived in Gatton on the 15th December 1898. The man is a phantom and it seems likely that Thomas Day was just a mere alias.
Of course realising their blunder, the police had to maintain the staunch stance that Thomas Day was checked extensively and was cleared of any wrong doing. Toomey and co. did this to protect themselves. They surely seen the huge mistake they made and knew that their reputations would be ruined if word on this got out, thus they continued to push Burgess as a prime suspect and dismiss any claims as to Day being involved. Not until the Royal Commission into these murders and police incompetence does it come out that Sergeant Arrell was bullied and threatened with his job if he continued his line of pushing Day as the murderer. Urquhart couldn’t believe the nerve of Arrell who was ‘criticising the work of better men!’ (Royal Commission1899). Detective Robert Christie himself did not hand in his report which implicated Thomas Day as the murderer because he was fearful as to what would become of him. Mary Murphy, after the Royal Commission was sure that it was Thomas Day. Gatton seemed sure. Everyone was sure. But the police would not hear of it, for acknowledgement as Thomas Day as the probable murderer would also acknowledge error on the investigation. Those in charge of the investigation were nearing retirement and they didn’t want any negative press that might affect their immediate jobs (subsequently most would receive rewards for their service!). That is why they kept the firm line that Thomas Day was innocent of all wrong doing.
The Gatton murders remain to this day, a hugely debated crime that captures the imaginations of anyone who looks into it. The murders were gruesome and the fact that they happened in a small town and involved people generally liked and respected in the community shocked not only Queensland but all of Australia. Merv Lilley even proposes that it was his own father, Bill who committed the crimes under the alias of Thomas Day (1995). Something about the Gatton murders spurs interest and intrigue. Unfortunately with this comes rumours and outlandish theories, but to me it seems quite clear as to who was the culprit. Of course we can never be fully certain if Day was involved, but the police at the time made sure we would never even have the opportunity to find out.