Trial – The West Australian – Day 2

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The Trial as Reported by The West Australian Newspaper

Day 2

SUPREME COURT-CRIMINAL SITTINGS.

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

THURSDAY, JULY 2.

The Court resumed at 10 o’clock, when the examination of witnesses for the Crown, in the Roebourne murder case was continued. Mrs. Platt was the first witness called. She said she was the wife of a builder living at Roebourne, and that their house -the back part of it-looked on the bank. It was about 150 yards from the bank, and next door to Noonan’s public house, where the prisoner Warburton lodged.

On the night or morning of the murder, between one and two o’clock, she heard footsteps in Noonan’s yard, passing up and down half a dozen times, at an interval of about five minutes; It sounded as if there were more that one person moving about. She heard no voices. It was a very dark, still night. Later on, about four o’clock in the morning, she heard her own and some neighbors’ dogs barking furiously, and, it being now day-break, she looked through the window facing the bank, and called out to the dog. They came from the direction of Osborne’s blacksmith’s shop, between her house and the bank. On looking through the window she saw an object crawling on all-fours up the hill towards Mount Welcome, behind the bank. She also noticed another man going towards Thompson’s house, in another direction, about twenty yards from the bank ; and a third man going in the direction of the church, on the left hand side going from the bank. While watching the object that was crawling on all-fours, she saw it assume an erect position, and saw at once that it was a man He went over the top of the hill towards the cemetery. The man who was going in the direction of the church went towards the left, and she then lost sight of him. It was not light enough for her to distinguish the men, even if she had known them.

She had known the prisoner Bevan for about two years, and, she saw him crossing Noonan’s yard on the morning of the murder ; shortly after seven o’clock. She was sure of this. She also saw him again, a few minutes afterwards, going from Noonan’s public house towards Osborne’s black smith’s shop, and saw him a third time going towards his own house. She was standing at her back door all this time.

On March 12, at the request of the police, she went and stood at the window from which she had seen the object crawling up the hill on the morning of the murder ; and while she stood there Sergt. O’connell walked up the hill. The track the sergeant took was a little more to the right than that of the  “object,” but it followed the same direction ; and, if the sergeant had continued going up the hill, he would have reached the spot where the ” object” assumed an erect position.

To Mr. Harper : It was not an unusual thing at Roebourne to hear dogs barking at night, nor was there anything very wonderful in hearing footsteps, at almost all hours of the evening, moving about Noonan’s public house, or back yard, but she had never before heard steps at so late an hour as she did on the night of the murder.

Mrs. Hall, wife of Mr. Anderton Hall, said they held a gallon-license at Roebourne, and that on the 13th of January (the morning of the murder) she saw the prisoner Bevan, between 7 and 8 o’clock in the morning, at her house. He came for a gallon of beer. Witness mentioned the murder to him, and he made the remark that it might be the work of Chinamen or some of the “old hands”.

David O’Connell, sergeant of police at Roebourne, said that in January last there was a constable named Laurence serving under him, but that Laurence had since died. He was present when Laurence gave his evidence at the hearing of the charge. [The depositions of the deceased constable were then put in and read. They were to the effect that he had been engaged in searching for tracks, and that at the back of the bank he found the track of a rather long boot and a bare foot track alongside ; the former seemed to have been the track of a man running. He followed this track for about half a mile, in a round about way, until it returned the Roebourne, where he lost it. On Friday afterwards, he went out again searching for tracks, and found two boot tracks on the other side of the town. He followed these tracks, until he came to McRae’s paddock, and he found that one of them went to the camp where the prisoners Bevan and Warburton were at work quarrying. He also deposed to arresting Warburton, and, that when he asked him what had scratched his hand, he said it had been done with a knife. After the prisoners were locked up, he went to look at the footprints again, and tracked them to the river by the Back wash ; but he could only make out the tracks where the ground was not stony. He was present when certain boots were compared with the tracks on the plain, and he noticed a peculiarity about the left foot track which corresponded with one of the boots. Also noticed that the heel and toe of one of the boots were tipped, whereas the heel and toe of the other was not tipped. The prisoner Bevan told him that he and Warburton always came in and out of town by the road, and never by the Backwash, and that they had never heard of the murder until Mr. Lockyer’s teamster came to the camp on Tuesday as neither of them had been in town since Monday morning.

The examination of the witness was then resumed. He described the position in which the bodies of the murdered men were found, and the state of the premises. There was blood on a pane of glass that had been broken, as if the person who had broken it had cut his hand in the act of smashing the glass. There were several burnt matches about the floor, and spots of candle grease. He also noticed a heap of papers collected together near the wooden partition or wall of the front office, nearly opposite where the body of Mr. Anketell was placed on the verandah. These papers bore indications of an attempt having been made to fire them. The edges of them were charred, and there was a good deal of candle-grease about this place. The bank safe did not appear to have been disturbed. Witness then described his efforts to discover the tracks of the murderers.

About one o’clock that day he picked up a track, about a quarter of a mile from the bank, after crossing Mount Welcome; it was the fresh track of a large boot, as of a man going fast. He followed the track to a tree, where apparently the party had sat down; and afterwards got up and gone round the tree, some three or four times *……………, San Qui’s hut near *………… (*newspaper torn away) butcher, where he was employed. In a bundle of clothing that was tied up in San Qui’s hut was a sheathed knife, with stains of blood on it. San Qui, when it was shown to him, said it was not his knife, but Ah Pang’s’ (another Chinaman). Ah Pang, who was present, said the knife was his, and he subsequently made a communication to witness with reference to it. There were also blood marks on San Qui’s blouse and trousers, which he said was sheep’s blood.

Witness then went into the butcher’s shop, where San Qui was employed. Here he found a pick, with two marks of blood on it ; also a tomahawk and an axe. The two latter were quite bright and clean, and very sharp, as if they had been recently polished. He asked San Qui who owned the pick, and he said it was Zeddie’s, that he had borrowed it from him to sink holes. He then arrested him for being concerned in the murder, but he denied all knowledge of the murder.

On the following Friday witness renewed his search for tracks, on the east side of the town. He first went to the backwash where he picked up two tracks, which he followed for about two miles to McKay’s paddock. The larger of the two tracks went up the paddock a short distance, and then returned towards the well in the paddock, while the smaller one went in an opposite direction. The two tracks were followed by the natives who were employed for that purpose, and the smaller one was traced to the prisoners’ camp, about half a mile distant. Witness went to the camp, and found the two prisoners (Bevan and Warburton) there. He asked if either of them had been down to the well lately ; and Bevan replied that he was down there on Monday for water. Witness asked if either of them had gone into town by the Back wash; and Warburton said no, that they always went in and out by the road. He then charged them with breaking into the Union Bank, on the previous Monday night.

Warburton said that neither he nor Bevan had left the camp since they returned to it from town on Monday morning, and that the first they had heard of the murder was from Lockyer’s teamster about dinner time on Tuesday. Bevan said the same thing.

After their arrest witness searched Bevan’s house, and Mrs. Bevan handed him a white shirt of her husband’s (referred to hereafter). He then went to Warburton’s room at Noonan’s public house, where he found a pair of boots, which he took possession of. He found nothing else in the room but an old portmanteau and a carpet bag, which he left there. It was destitute of furniture. The boots found at Warburton’s lodgings corresponded with the tracks seen on Mount Welcome side of the town. With the aid of these boots the natives back-tracked the track *to [sic] (*from?) McKay’s paddock, to within 58 yards of the bank. These were not the boots worn by Warburton when he was arrested. Witness then described the peculiarity of the track found at the Backwash, said to correspond with Bevan’s habit of turning out his left foot when walking. Bevan’s boots (those found on him when arrested) were compared with this track, and witness said that the peculiarity of the curve referred tow as clearly distinguish able.

The day before he searched Bevan’s house (already mentioned), a shirt was handed to him by con stable Thomas, which had been found in a pool in the river, near the Backwash. There was a bone stud in the neck of this shirt ; a common bone stud, with nothing peculiar about it, but, in the breast of the shirt found at Bevan’s house were two other studs, which corresponded exactly with this stud. The two shirts were also of the same measurement. (These two shirts were then produced, and, upon the neck bands being measured, there was a difference of nearly an inch between them. There was also a like discrepancy in the length of the body of the shirts. The wristbands, too, were shown by Mr. Julian Harper to be of an entirely different make, which elicited from the Chief Justice a some what severe remark as to the statement of the witness that the two shirts corresponded exactly in measurement.) Reverting to the boots found in Warburton’s room, witness said there was a blood stain on each of them, which Sub-inspector Rowe subsequently cut out, for the purpose of analysis.

To Mr. Stevens : Was not able to swear to the tracks himself ; he rested his statement on the tracks mainly upon the skill of the native experts. At that time of the year (the middle of summer) tracking was not easy work. As far as he knew, no notice was taken of the stains on Warburton’s boots-although they were produced at the magisterial investigation-until Sub-inspector Rowe came to Roebourne, some weeks afterwards.

The witness Harrison’s statement was given after a reward was offered by the settlers for information leading to the discovery of the murderers. The settlers offered a reward of £200, and when the bank authorities arrived they offered a further reward of £500. As a matter of fact it was after the publication of both rewards that Harrison made his statement ; and this was some weeks after the murder. It was only after the reward was offered that the witness Mrs. Platt also made a statement. She never said a word about it to the police until the rewards were announced.

The Chief Justice : Is it possible is this really true, that Mrs. Platt never said anything to you about the evidence she has given today until after the reward of £500 was offered ?

Witness : That is correct, your Honor.

The Chief Justice: That was a month after the murder. This is dreadful. Do you mean to say that you never heard about the “object” seen crawling up the hill, about the men going towards the church, and the other man, all at three o’clock on the morning of the murder, going from the direction of the bank; do you mean to tell the Court that you never heard a word from Mrs. Plat about this, for several weeks after the murder, when the reward was offered ?

Witness : Not a word.

The Chief Justice: That shows how dangerous rewards are. I will say no more.

Witness (to Mr. Harper) : The only track found about the bank itself on the morning of the murder, was a woman’s track, which I covered up. This was believed to be the track of the milk-woman (Mrs. Law) who used to call every morning early at the bank with milk, leaving it on the bank verandah, before the occupiers of the bank were up. Mrs. Law said she did not see anything of the murdered remains, although the murder must undoubtedly have been committed before she was there. She only went on the back verandah. There were no other tracks whatever observable about the bank that morning. I went out in the direction I did to look for tracks, in consequence of information I had received. The nearest track picked up was sixty yards distant from the bank. I arrested San Qui because of the stains of blood on the knife found in his hut, and the blood on his clothes, and the pick.

Mr. Harper: Would you not have been surprised, very much surprised, to have found a working butcher without stains of blood on his knife, or on his blouse, or on his trousers?

Witness: I don’t know that I would be surprised ; but putting everything together, I thought I was justified in arresting him.

Mr. Harper : A point was made by the Attorney General, in his opening yesterday *………………………. (*newspaper torn away) you noticed arresting the prisoners Bevan and Warburton that they had new shirts on?

Witness : I did not. Very few people wear shirts at all up there, in the middle of summer, only singlets.

Re-examined by the Attorney General ; The witness Harrison (who did not make his statement for some weeks after the murder) lived 24 miles out of Roebourne, and he made his statement when he first came into town. The reason why no tracks could be seen in the immediate vicinity of the bank was because of the hardness of the ground. Mrs. Law was not brought down as a witness simply because she could throw no light whatever on the murder.

The Chief Justice : She was the first person on the premises after the murder was committed. There was poor Anketell lying dead on the verandah, with the mattress thrown over about eight or nine yards only from where she must have crossed going from her house to the back verandah,-did you not get her to show you how she went, and how it was that she saw nothing to attract her attention?

Witness : She told me that when she got to the back verandah a horse in the stable neighed, and she was startled.

The Chief Justice : Startled at what?

Witness : I never could make out what startled her.

The Chief Justice : Wonderful.

A Juror to witness : What made you suspect the Chinaman in the first instance?

Witness : Because when I questioned him as to where he was on the night of the murder he turned all colours, and shook life a leaf.

Mrs. Platt (recalled by the Attorney General) said she first mentioned about seeing the three figures moving about on the morning of the murder to her husband that morning, and afterwards to her brother, the same morning.

His Honor: What did you tell your brother?

Witness. That I saw a man going along at the back of Thompson’s, and that I had thought that man was out of town. I thought it was young Pontt.

His Honor : You told us in your examination in chief it was not light enough for you to recognise the men, even if you knew them.

Witness : I thought it was Pontt from his figure.

His Honor : Now let us have what you said to your husband.

Witness : I said I thought there were a good many strangers about the town, and that some of them must have been on the spree.

His Honor : And you never said any thing, even to your own husband, about that strange object, crawling up the hill, in the gloaming of the morning, when this dreadful murder was committed?

Witness said her brother told her not to mention anything about the matter, as the young man whom she had mentioned was in town, and that possibly it was only somebody who had been drinking over night.

Mr. Stevens: You knew the police were making investigation, and you never told them a word about these people, nor about the footsteps in Noonan’s yard, until after the reward was offered ?

Witness : My husband did not wish me to have anything to say in the matter ; so I thought no more about it.

Mr. Stevens : Was it not the reward that sharpened your faculties?

Witness : Not at all. I did not hear of the reward-the bank reward; because I very seldom go out, or speak to very few people.

Mr. Stevens : Where was your husband working at the time?

Witness : At the police quarters.

Mr. Stevens : And he never told you about the reward?

Witness : No ; my husband is not in the habit of talking about such things. I first told the Magistrate about it on the 10th of March (the date of the depositions),

His Honor : That will do, Mrs. Platt, you may stand down.

Sergeant O’connell (recalled by the Attorney General) said that Mrs. Platt was first examined before the magistrate in February. The depositions then taken were afterwards destroyed (he believed).

His Honor : They are not here at any rate.

The Attorney General said he was informed that in consequence of certain facts that afterwards transpired, the magistrate decided to take the depositions de novo.

The Chief Justice; The original de positions ought to he here undoubtedly. The witness herself says she did not give any evidence until March, and you now bring a witness who says she did, but that the depositions then taken were destroyed. This is very curious evidence.

The Attorney General said there was no committal on the first depositions.

His Honor : True, but for all we know she may have given very different evidence on the first occasion from what she did on the second occasion.

Witness said that, from what he remembered of Mrs. Platt’s evidence, her evidence was substantially the same on both occasions : but that when he first spoke to her about the matter she said she knew nothing at all about it.

His Honor : A most extraordinary woman.

The Court rose at 5.30, and adjourned until 10 o’clock this morning (Friday).