Gatton’s murders come alive


An icy shiver tingled my spine as I walked through the Brisbane General Cemetery at Toowong yesterday, not due to winter or cold marble headstones, but the murder story I was hearing was getting pretty close to home.

The Gatton Murders in 1898 is the most sensational and horrific unsolved crime in Australian history. Michael Murphy, his sisters Norah and Ellen, along with their horse, were brutally killed in a country paddock as they returned home on the night of Boxing Day. The family remained silent amid swirling rumours, the police investigation was bungled, and so hundreds of unofficial investigations, theories, clairvoyants, and publications, were spawned. Even today an episode of ‘Australian Story’ on ABC television espouses a view.

The photograph here, courtesy of the Queensland Police Museum, shows Moran’s Paddock being searched by the victims’ brother, who was a police constable, with police trackers, and the sulky driven there by the siblings on that fateful night. The paddock looks much the same today.

Yesterday was a beautifully sunny Queensland winter’s day when I went to the Toowong cemetery for a tour. It was actually the 140th anniversary of the opening of the cemetery, but the walk was spent recounting the story of the Gatton Murders, while visiting the graves of the lead investigators and medical examiners. What dominated my thoughts was not the revulsion of the stories, but rather how much did the locals know those 117 years ago, and that many of those locals have concerned relatives today. Including my own extended family.

My uncle’s great-grandfather, Steve Welch, and the Murphy family were local farmers both advertising horses at stud. My brother-in-law’s great-granduncle was the district auctioneer who bought and sold the livestock. Welch’s farm was just six miles from the murders, and his daughter was married into the Moran family, which owned the paddock where the bodies were found.

Click here to see Australian Story – When Blood Runs Cold


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