Unsolved murder

Next year is the centenary of a murder in Ipswich, Queensland, for which no one has ever been charged. The murderer or murderers escaped justice amid what appears to be a possible conspiracy. The murder happened on the evening of Monday the 24th of April 1922 on a very dark night just two days before the new moon.

Benjamin Livingstone Cribb Foote was a well-connected forty-three year old in Ipswich. One uncle was a co-founder of the iconic Cribb & Foote department store where Benjamin worked as a shop walker. Another uncle and his father-in-law were both former mayors of Ipswich.

Benjamin Livingstone Cribb Foote

On this night, Foote finished his dinner at home on Glebe Road and walked to the Ulster Hotel on Brisbane Road. There he was joined by John Eccles. Eccles was a thirty-eight year old shunter with the Queensland Railways. He boarded with a widow on Whitehill Road after having previously worked with the woman’s late husband at the Bundamba station.

A third man joined the party and shortly afterwards Matthew Molloy arrived.

Molloy was in charge of the horses at the Blackheath Colliery. He was a fifty-eight year old father of six. That night he excused himself after having dinner at home at Lusitania Street. He told his wife that he was going back into town to post a letter. He was probably on his way home when he decided to stop at the Ulster.

Foote, Eccles and Molloy remained until closing time. At 11pm the three of them walked off together along Brisbane Road in the direction of their respective homes.

Molloy and Eccles, who was carrying a coat, walked ahead, while Foote fell behind. They went onto Glebe Road.

Witnesses living on the corner of Glebe and Whitehill roads were awoken by swearing and shouting. The commotion suddenly stopped and a man was heard running down Whitehill Road.

Foote later said that he couldn’t remember anything after leaving the pub. Witnesses saw him on Glebe Road and then join a small group on the corner of Whitehill Road where a body lay. Foote later admitted that he recognised the body as that of Molloy, but didn’t say anything at the time despite being asked who it was. Notably there was also a coat left at the scene, possibly the same one that Eccles was carrying when he left the pub a number of minutes earlier.

The Newtown, Ipswich, crime scene

Eccles, meanwhile, was nowhere to be seen. He later said that he’d left Molloy with an unidentified man on Glebe Road. Eccles said that he then walked down Whitehill Road to where he lived and went to bed. But there was no supporting evidence of this because no one had seen nor heard him get home. In other words, Eccles’ whereabouts in those few minutes could not be accounted for.

The mystery man who Eccles had claimed met Molloy on Glebe Road was also not corroborated by any other witness. The person’s existence may have been made up hoping to throw police off the scent.

First thing the next morning in what appears to have been an attempt to get their stories straight, Eccles went immediately to Cribb & Foote and met with Foote. It was only after that meeting did the two men go to police to give their statements.

At the subsequent inquiry before the police magistrate Stewart Berge at the Ipswich courthouse, crowds lined up to hear three days of hearings. It seems that the people of Ipswich were expecting to see or hear something sensational.

Detective senior sergeant James Farrell made his suspicions clear when he applied for both Foote and Eccles to be present throughout the proceedings. Foote sat alone among the public, while Eccles was accompanied by his lawyer.

At the end of the three days, Detective Farrell was confident when he asked police magistrate Berge to exercise his power and apprehend the suspected persons. Berge declined, however, saying only that he would forward the depositions to the Under Secretary for Justice in the usual way.

Foote and Eccles were free to go, despite damning circumstantial evidence.

They were the last to see the unfortunate Molloy alive. Witnesses placed them both with the victim up until minutes before the death. Foote’s behaviour at the scene was strange, the coat that Eccles carried was apparently left at the scene, and no one could corroborate Eccles’ story that he had simply gone home despite the commotion in his street. The meeting of Eccles and Foote first thing the next morning was the action of suspicious men.

But the circumstantial spectre of a conspiracy to free both Foote and Eccles is also apparent.

You see, not long after the murder, police magistrate Berge was relocated to Brisbane and away from Ipswich where he had been for a decade; detective Farrell was promoted and sent far away to Townsville; Eccles was posted by the Queensland Railways first to Mackay and then to a permanent position in Rockhampton. Only someone with influence could have achieved that fortunate trifecta of events. Foote, meanwhile, lived out his life in Ipswich before retiring to Cleveland by Moreton Bay.

To this day, no one has ever been charged for the 1922 murder of Matthew Molloy.

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Photo credits:
Cribb Foote Store staff in front of building on Bell Street Ipswich c1916 – Picture Ipswich
Benjamin Foote 1903 – State Library of Queensland
Newtown crime locations – Queensland Government 1944

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