Newspaper articles – The West Australian – 15th May 1886

The West Australian


To the Editor.

Sir, It is now some fifteen months since the perpetration of the Roebourne murder, and still the murderers are at large, and as far as the public have any means of judging, the problem as to who committed the deed is as far from solution as ever. This, no doubt, is in itself a lamentable state of affairs, but there is another and far more serious aspect of the case.

Shortly after the trial in the Supreme Court certain individuals residing in this district gave out to their friends, and it soon became public gossip, that they were in the secret service of the police authorities for the purpose of eliciting information that might lead to the conviction of the murderers.

If the statements of these gentlemen were true, the course they adopted in letting their business be known was, to say no worse,  highly injudicious, and calculated to entirely defeat the ends they had in view, and their motive for so doing (unless for the morbid desire of notoriety), is hard to conceive, and I would remind them that the fact of their being selected for such a duty, in the estimation of many, would be taken for the reverse of complimentary to them.

I have little doubt that the view the authorities took of the case was that possibly there was yet some information obtainable in the district and, that by appointing men of this class, men whose presence in the public house bars would excite no suspicion, who could mix in the lowest of society without comment, some information, some hint would be let slip by some of the murderers in their cups.

If on the other hand, the men referred to are acting on their own authority, simply doing a little in an amateur way, then does the matter call for strict investigation.

By these means and others, the most audacious and scandalous reports are flying about in all directions. Already to my knowledge about twenty names have been directly associated with this the blackest of crimes that has ever disgraced the annals of our district. At least fifteen of these men must be entirely innocent ; many of them are gentlemen whom I am proud to reckon among my personal friends ; men of position and hitherto unquestioned probity. Not a few of the accusations, or more correctly speaking cowardly insinuations, are based on the most frivolous of grounds; for instance a man’s name for no conceivable cause is mentioned  connection with the murder ; it is bruited about from one to the other until at last the victim himself hears of it, and then the cry. is: “See so and so ; see how he is “altered; he is this that and the other,  ” his whole demeanour is changed, etc.”

Now sir, I put it to your readers individually, what man amongst us could preserve his demeanour unchanged, however innocent he might be, knowing his name to be associated  with such a foul assassination as the Roebourne murder. People living at a distance hear these reports; they don’t know the character of the men concerned ; and credence to a more or less extent is given ; the report spreads, and as customary grows as it spreads, and meanwhile the victim is helpless.

These reports by no means confine themselves to one or two; as I said before at least twenty names have been associated with them. For some time I was unwilling, by writing to you, to give undue importance to these slanders ; but endurance has its limits ; the evil grows and where it will end we know not. At present no one is safe ; no matter what his social position or character may be, the only sine qua non the traducers ask is that the victim should have been within fifty miles of Roebourne on the night of the murder.
I write strongly because I feel strongly. Those contemptible articles that appeared in the Fremantle Herald, on the subject of the murder have sowed the seed-to reap the fruit is ours.

In my opinion the police authorities are mistaken if they imagine that any information is concealed or withheld in this district, unless by the actual perpetrators of the crime. There are no sympathisers, and I fervently believe there is not an individual here but would make some considerable personal sacrifice to clear the mystery up, that lies as it were as a stigma on the whole community.

The general opinion is that the Government have made a mistake in not offering a free pardon to anyone (whether the actual perpetrator or not) who should give information that may lead to the conviction of the others. Time with its effacing hand has done away with all local traces of the crime, and without confession urged by hope of gain and free pardon or the confession of an uneasy conscience, I am afraid the matter will be difficult to clear up.

This is no paltry grievance, but a real and crying evil. If the authorities know anything against anyone and can prove it, let them do so ; let us have justice, let the guilty be  punished if it be the highest in the land, but if, on the other hand, all they know is mere idle tattle and hearsay, for God’s sake let us have no more of it ; remembering that : ” He that filches my good name takes that which not enriching him, leaves me but poor indeed.”

In conclusion, Sir, I would once more ask the aid of your powerful pen to protect us against the vile aspersions of these mushroom hordes of amateur detectives, and subscribe myself,

Yours etc.  S. B. L. ELLIOTT.