Trial – The West Australian – Day 1

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The Trial as Reported by The West Australian Newspaper

Day 1

Chief Justice: Sir Alexander Onslow

Attorney General: Alfred Peach Hensman

Counsel for the defence: Mr Stevens appearing for Charles Warburton

Counsel for the defence: Mr Julian Harper appearing for Frederick Warburton and San Qui

SUPREME COURT-CRIMINAL SITTINGS.

(Before His Honor the Chief Justice and a Common Jury.)

WEDNESDAY, JULY 1st.

The Court opened at 10.30 a.m., with a calendar of four cases, including the Roebourne murder case.

The Roebourne Murder.

Charles Warburton, Frederick Bevan, and San Qui, (a Chinaman) were charged with the wilful murder of Thomas Anketell, on the 13th January last. Warburton is a tall slim young fellow, of fair complexion and rather prepossessing appearance. Bevan, is an older man, and more  truculent looking ; the other prisoner, San Qui, is a comparatively young man, thick set, and of somewhat savage appearance, who seemed quite unconcerned.

Mr. Stevens appeared for Warburton, and Mr. Julian Harper for the other two prisoners.  Several jurors were challenged for the defense. The Court was crowded during the hearing.

The Attorney General, in opening the case for the Crown, said they were met to inquire into  the circumstances a tending the commission of an atrocious crime, which, as they had heard,  took place in January last. That crime was committed in apparently so deliberate and  cold-blooded a manner, and the unfortunate persons who met with their death were so well  known and respected that the facts, or the supposed facts, of the case, had come to the ears  of everyone in the colony ; and no doubt all the circumstances connected with the crime had  been thoroughly discussed by the jury. But he need hardly remind them that their duty Was,  as far as they possibly could, to put entirely from their minds any ideas they might have formed on the case from reading the newspapers or in conversation, and to attend only to  the evidence that would be put before them, on oath, upon the trial.

As they were aware, the Union Bank had a branch at Roebourne, and in January last Mr.  Anketell was the manager of this branch bank, and Mr. Burrup, the other murdered man, was  the clerk. The bank premises were situated about the centre of the town-a very small place,  as they were aware, containing, he believed, not more than about a hundred inhabitants. The  bank consisted of four rooms, with a detached kitchen or office a little way off. Two of  the principal rooms, facing Sholl street, were used as offices for the purposes of the  bank, and the two rooms at the back were respectively the sleeping rooms of Mr. Anketell  and Mr. Burrup. There was also a verandah, running along the front of the bank, and  extending along two sides, backwards, a certain distance ; and there was another verandah  between the two sleeping rooms.

In the front office there was a safe, which they would hear more of presently. On the night  of Monday, January 12, Mr. Anketell was seen in his usual health, and a witness would be  called before them who had seen him late that evening. Mr. Burrup was also known to have  been alive and well that night. The weather at the time was hot, and it seemed that on the  night in question Mr. Anketell slept on a stretcher in the front verandah, facing the  street. Early on the morning of Tuesday, January 13, both Mr. Anketell and Mr. Burrup were  found dead, one on the verandah, and the other in his bed room at the back, and both in  such a condition that it must be obvious to anyone that they had been murdered, and  murdered in almost brutal and determined manner. Their heads were found battered in with  various instruments, and it was pretty clear that they had both been surprised in their  sleep and there killed.

He should call before them Mr. Roderick McRae, who seemed to have been the last person who  saw Mr. Anketell the night before, having spent the evening with him, and who also appeared  to have been the first person who saw his murdered remains next morning. Mr. McRae would  tell them that he parted with Mr. Anketell, a little before midnight, and that about twenty  minutes to six o’clock next morning he saw the body lying, not on the stretcher where he  had slept, but on the floor of the verandah, close to the front boarding of the house (a  wooden one), at a distance of three or four feet from the stretcher. Of course is was  impossible for anyone to say what happened that night, but the suggestion he had to make  was that the body, after death, had been lifted from the stretcher, and conveyed to the  spot where it was found. The door of Mr. Burrup’s bedroom had been entered, and he also was  found dead on his stretcher, having evidently been brutally murdered. It did not appear  that anything had been removed from either of the bodies. Each of them had a key of the  safe in his possession, the safe being one of those that can only be opened by two keys  acting in combination ; and it would appear that the murderers were unable to find the  second key, or, if they did find it, that they did not know the proper use of it. The key  which Mr. Anketell carried about with him was found upon his body, and Mr. Burrup’s key was  found in his waistcoat pocket, hanging up on the wall in his bedroom. A window which opened  into one of the offices-not the office where the safe was, but the office adjoining, and  communicating by a door was found to have been broken, so that the person who broke it  could put his hand in and draw the latch, so as to open the bank door. The offices of the  bank had evidently been entered into, because matches partly burnt were found about, and  some papers on the floor had evidently been disturbed. There were also signs of a candle  having been carried about, apparently for the purpose of search in the office ; and,  judging from appearances, an attempt had been made to burn down the promises, in order, as  the murderers no doubt supposed, that they might conceal all traces of their crime, for, in  all probability they were disturbed, as the jury would hear, while they were in the bank ;  or, at all events, that day-light came in before they were able to complete their purpose  of robbery. A certain quantity of papers were found lying inside, on the floor, (opposite  where Mr. Anketell’s body had been placed, on the verandah); and it was suggested that the  murderers had attempted to set fire to these papers, in the hope probably that the whole of  the premises would be burnt down before their crime was discovered, but that in their hurry  this attempt was frustrated. It would be clear, from what he had stated, that the crime was  committed by some person or persons on the night in question, or early next morning ; and  in this case, as in most other crimes of this nature, the evidence was circumstantial-that  was to say, no witnesses could be brought forward who could say that they saw the murder  committed by these man or by anybody else. This was not a case of sudden killing, in the  open, upon provocation, but a case in which the murderers had made their plans ; and, for carrying out those plans, they selected an unusually dark night, for that time of the year.  Therefore, it was not to be wondered at that the conclusions which the jury had to come to  must be drawn from the surrounding circumstances, and not from the direct evidence of  witnesses.

The prisoner Warburton at this time was quarrying stone, at a place about two and a half  miles from Roebourne, on the eastern side of the town. When he was not at his camp,  quarrying, he lodged at a place called the Victoria Inn, kept by a person named Noonan,  which was a very short distance from the bank. The prisoner, Bevan, was at this time also engaged with Warburton in quarrying stone, the two working alone by themselves. Bevan lived  with his wife in Roebourne, at a house a little further from the bank than where Warburton lodged, but still only a few yards off. The third prisoner, the Chinaman, was engaged at  this time as assistant to a butcher named Eaton, at Roebourne, and lived with two or three  other Chinamen in a hut close to the shop, in the vicinity of the bank promises. The three prisoners were known to be very intimate and close friends, and it would be shown  that they were constantly in each other’s company. At one time Bevan and Warburton had  lived together, but, at the time of the murder, as already said, they were not residing in  the same house but were known to be bosom friends. A short time before the murder they had  both been engaged together in sinking a well, about a hundred yards behind the bank  premises, and they therefore had every opportunity of observing the habits of those who  lived in the bank, and to observe the construction of the premises ; and, it might be that while they were at work this well, the idea came to their head that they would break into  the bank for the purpose of robbery. A witness named Harrison, an expiree, would be called,  and he would tell them that, one day, when passing the spot where Bevan and Warburton were engaged in sinking this well, the latter spoke to his mate of an ” affair” that was “coming off,” telling him that it was an “affair” that was “as good as gold.” He should  state that Bevan also was an expiree, and that Harrison understood him to refer to a  robbery-an “affair,” in the language of these people meaning a robbery, or some crime of  that kind. Harrison was again passing this well, a short time afterwards, when he heard  another conversation which appeared to bear upon the same intended crime, Warburton telling  Bevan about some man he was expecting to come in from the bush, and one of them made use of  the expression ” Can we trust him ?” He now passed on to the morning of the murder!

There was a Mrs. Platt who lived very near to Noonan’s public-house, where Warburton  lodged, and Mrs. Platt would tell them that about two or three o’clock on the morning  of the murder she had her attention directed to footsteps passing apparently up and down  Noonan’s yard, and that about 4 o’clock, it being then just daylight, she heard her dogs barking violently. This induced her to get out of bed, and, on looking through the window,  she saw three objects, one of which she at first thought was a quadruped going on all  fours, but she afterwards found that it was a man. The three men were going in different  directions, one of them going up a hill at the back of the bank, and the footsteps of this  person were afterwards traced. Another went up towards the church, and the third went to  the right, at the back of the premises of a person named Thompson. Of course at this time  Mrs. Platt had no knowledge whatever that a murder had been committed, and nothing was done by her at that time.

With regard to the footprints, he should state that the main street of Roebourne, where the  bank was situated, ran from north to south, and Mrs. Platt’s house faced towards the west,  at the back of the bank. It would be shown to them that the footsteps of the man whom she  saw going up the hill were those of Warburton’s footsteps, though, as a matter of fact, they were not traced until the 16th-three days after the  murder. But it would be proved that they went round in a very suspicious manner,” first up  the hill, then round about in a circuitous way, back to Roebourne, until they were finally  lost in McRae’s paddock, at the back of the bank. Owing to the nature of the ground, which  in some parts was rocky, the tracks were entirely lost, but at other points they remained  visible. Two or three days afterwards certain other tracks were discovered and followed up,  and they led towards the east side of the town, and it was alleged that they were the  tracks of Bevan. They went in the direction of a pool, which was a part of the river that flowed at the side of the town, and for about half a mile past a place that was called the  “Back-wash” of the river, following a route that was seldom used by the people of the town,  and then up to McRae’s paddock, where there was a well, and back to the prisoners’ camp.  The character of these tracks alone was rather suspicious. Then again as to the boots. It  would be given in evidence that the tracks on the west side, which were said to be those of  Warburton, were not made by the same boots as the tracks that were found about the  prisoners’ camp, but the prosecution alleged that the tracks were made by the same person,  and it was suggested that Warburton, after the murder was committed, went off in the way  already described, and, in the meantime, changed his boots probably at Noonan’s, where a  pair of boots belonging to him were afterwards found, with spots of blood upon them. With  regard to Bevan, his tracks were somewhat peculiar ; he had a habit, according to the  witnesses, of turning out his left foot considerably, when he walked, with the result that  the leather on the sole of one side of his boot was made to project over the sole. In addition to that, the boots he was wearing when arrested had this further peculiarity, that one  of them had got the heel and the toe tipped, while the other had not.

Several witnesses would be called, including one or two natives, who would say that these  tracks were the tracks of Bevan and of Warburton. But there was something further with  regard to these tracks which he must mention. When the prisoners had been arrested and had  a hearing before the magistrate at Roebourne, Bevan’s wife went to see him, and a  conversation was over-heard between her and Bevan,-they would hear the exact words from the  witnesses, but they were to this effect. Bevan said: “I expect I shall have to suffer for  it, but there is nothing against us, so far, but the tracks.” Of course that was not  conclusive evidence that he admitted the tracks to be theirs ; he may have meant that there  was nothing against them but tracks, which did not belong to them. But it was for the jury  to say, whether a far more probable deduction to make was the construction put upon the  words by the prosecution,-that what he meant was that up to that time there was nothing  against them but their tracks.

There was another point that he must refer to. As he had already said, they had no direct  evidence of eye-witnesses who saw the deed committed, and they had to draw their inferences  as reasonable men from a number of facts, small in themselves-although here there were one  or two very important and cogent facts-and insufficient by themselves, but which all put  together formed a weight of evidence from which the Crown suggested they might fairly draw the conclusion that these men were guilty of this crime. The point he was going to refer to  was this : something was said to the prisoners about these tracks, by the sergeant of  police, and; the direction they had followed, but the prisoners denied ever going in that  direction. That was another important fact for their consideration. Why should they have  denied it ? And, again, why should they deny, as they had done, that they had not been in town at all that evening, when it would be shown that not only were the three prisoners  seen together in Roebourne on the night of the murder, close to Bevan’s house, but it would  also be proved in evidence that Bevan was seen at Noonan’s house where Warburton lodged  early on the following morning (Tuesday). Not only was he seen at Noonan’s house, but they  would be informed by witnesses who would be called before them that he (Bevan) was then  told of the murder which had been committed. This was another point, the importance of which would presently be seen. The murder, as they had been already told, was discovered  early in the morning, and it was soon afterwards that the witnesses referred to mentioned  the matter to Bevan. About 12 o’clock that morning a teamster in the service of the  gentleman who was employing Bevan and Warburton in quarrying stone (Mr. Lockyer), took out  a team for the purpose of carrying away some of the stone, and he found both the prisoners  then out the camp at the quarry. He first spoke to Bevan, and told him that there had been a fearful murder committed at the bank, but Bevan made no answer, nor did he say anything  about it to Warburton, who was standing some distance off. A little time afterwards the  teamster spoke again about the murders and again received no reply, but he would tell them  that, after some conversation took place with reference to the murder, Bevan looked scared  and frightened. Both he and Warburton affected to be ignorant of the fact that a crime had  been committed until the teamster went out-although it would be shown that Bevan had been told of it when in town early that morning. Both prisoners had stated over and over again,  since the murder, that they went out to the camp on Monday morning, and that they did not  leave it up to the time the teamster came there, about dinner time on Tuesday. If the witnesses were to be believed this was absolutely false, for, as he had already said both  Bevan and Warburton were seen in town on Monday night, and Bevan was seen there early next  morning, between 7 and 8 o’clock.

There were several other points which he must refer to. There was a sock found, with blood upon it, in the pool in the river, already referred to, about fifty yards from where the  tracks were seen. Again, a shirt tied up tight, was also found in this pool, at the nearest  point from Bevan’s house. That shirt had been in the water-assuming it was put in early on  the morning or the murder-two days or so. It had marks upon it, but they had not been able to discover distinct traces of blood. Of course, fresh blood stains on a garment which had  been saturated over and over again with water, would naturally disappear. Moreover, it did  not necessarily follow that the shirt worn by either or any of the murderers would have  blood upon it. They would gather from the doctor’s evidence and the way in which the blows  were inflicted that they were inflicted from outside and that the blood would spurt  inwards. But there was another fact connected with that shirt which he must mention. In the neck of the shirt-which was apparently a good one, and there was no reason why it  should have been thrown away-was a bone stud, which was the only stud about it; but,   afterwards, the police got a shirt from Bevan’s house, which they searched-in fact, it was  given to them by Bevan’s wife-which shirt corresponded exactly in size and measurement with  the shirt found in the pool.

There was also this farther fact ; in the front of the shirt found in Bevan’s house were  two bone studs exactly the same as the stud found in the neck of the shirt discovered in  the pool. This, by itself, might appear a small matter, but he would ask them to put all  these facts together, and, as reasonable men, say whether that shirt found in the pool was  not placed there for concealment, and whether there was not strong presumptive evidence  that it was Bevan’s shirt ? But there was something else connected with these shirts. On  the Tuesday morning after the murder Bevan went and bought two new shirts, and it would be  shown that Warburton took an interest in the purchase of these shirts. It would also be  proved that at this time Warburton’s manner became changed ; he became silent, moody, and  depressed. On the glass of the window broken at the bank was found a small quantity of  blood, as if the person who sought to open the latch had caught his hand, and it would be  proved that Warburton’s hand, when he was arrested, had a recent cut on the back of it.  Warburton said it was done with a knife, but there was the fact. On March 1st. several  weeks after the murder, Warburton’s lodgings, at the Victoria public house, were more  carefully searched than they had been before, and, in the roof of a room which was his, and concealed in the rafters, was found a hat, which it would be proved was Warburton’s hat; and  upon that hat there were stains of blood. When he said stains of blood-and he was speaking  now with reference to the stains generally–it was right he should say that the blood of a  human being could not be distinguished, at all events not with anything like certainty,  from the blood of any mammalian animal, say a cow or a sheep ; it was distinguishable from  the blood of birds, but not from the blood of animals of the group to which man belonged.  Still the fact remained that on the boot, on the hat, and, as he would show them shortly,  on a knife, were to be found signs of blood which corresponded with the blood of a human  being, So far he had dealt only with the case of Bevan and Warburton.

He must now come to San Qui, the other prisoner. He had already said that on the night of  the murder these three men were seen together in town, and it would be shown that on the  day after the murder San Qui was very agitated, and told the people where he lived that ”  he supposed they would all get something ;” and, again (referring to the murder) he said it  was not done with a gun but with a pick, adding, however, after a pause, ” So I’ve heard.” It would be shown from the medical evidence that the weapons used by the murderers were  different weapons, one being a sharp instrument like a knife, the other being a blunt  instrument, like an axe or a tomahawk; and the wounds showed that more than one person had dealt the blows. San Qui, as he had already said, was a butcher’s assistant, and, at the  time of the murder, Mr. Eaton, his master, was away, and did not return until the following  Wednesday. When he came back he found in the shop a pick-or rather the metal part of a  pick, the wooden handle being missing- which pick was not there when he left ; and this pick would be proved to have been the property of Mr. Zeddie, who would tell them that he  lent San Qui a pick a short time before, but that the pick found by Mr. Eaton-although this also was Zeddie’s pick-was not that which he had lent to San Qui. It would be for the jury  to say whether that pick was not one of the weapons used in the committal of the murder.  There was found in San Qui’s hut a bundle of clothes, and in the bundle a sheathed knife,  on which there were blood stains. When Eaton returned on Wednesday he also found in the  butcher’s shop two axes, particularly bright and clean, and the suggestion would be made  that, if San Qui took part in the murder, he took care afterwards to clean up those  weapons, although there was no necessity, in the ordinary course of business, for him to  have cleaned and polished them up as he did. A conversation passed between San Qui and  another Chinaman, when the latter said to San Qui, ” If you know anything about the murder  say so ; ” to which the prisoner said, ” I no kill him.” Afterwards, when he was arrested,  and was in the lock-up with the other two prisoners and a man named Gilroy (who was  afterwards discharged), San Qui said to a witness who would be called: ” I want five good  witnesses to come forward to get me out. Four we have in the lock up now, but we’ve got to get another one yet.” Again, later on, San Qui was overheard by the warder, one night  talking to Warburton, and saying : ” If I tell them, I no stop in the lock-up; but, no, me  no tell them, me keep it to myself.” What was it he would not tell? Or what was it, if he  did tell, would get him out of the lock-up ? Was not that evidence that he knew something of this affair, and that, if he liked, he might give evidence that would tell against  someone ?

He had now gone through the principal part of the evidence that would be brought before them. As he said before, their judgment in this case would depend upon inferences, which  they would have to draw from a number of facts, that would be submitted for their consideration. The crime committed was committed in so determined, in so thoroughly  unscrupulous a manner, that the very ferocity which actuated the murderers would to a  certain extent help to conceal their guilt ; and it was only by carefully considering all the circumstances, and the suspicious actions and statements of the prisoners themselves,  that the jury could arrive at a just verdict. It was sufficient in a charge of this kind if  the prisoners were either the persons who actually dealt the blows, or were lying near at  hand, jointly engaged with the persons who dealt the blows; or even if they were not  present at all, but had a previous knowledge and were in league with the actual murderers, that would make them accessories before the fact, and the jury could find them equally  guilty upon the information. He was certain that although the inquiry Would probably extend over some days (there being thirty witnesses for the Crown), the jury would devote their  undivided attention to the evidence, which, with the assistance of the Crown Solicitor, he  would now proceed to lay before them.

The evidence for the prosecution was then commenced, the first witness of importance  examined being Mr. Roderick McRae, who deposed to finding the bodies of the murdered men,  as already described. Dr. O’Meehan also gave evidence as to the nature of the wounds,  (which have already been described in our columns), and the kind of weapons that must have been used by the murderers-one, he said, being evidently a sharp instrument, and the others  blunt instruments. The man Harrison, who said he heard the conversation between Bevan and  Warburton when digging the well, as mentioned by the Attorney General in his opening, was also called and subjected to a severe cross-examination, with a view to throw discredit  upon his story-the antecedents of the witnesses being anything but reputable.

No other witnesses were called yesterday, and the Court, on rising, adjourned until this  morning (Thursday) at 10 o’clock, the jury mean while being left in charge of the Sheriff.