True Australian crime stories from newspaper reports and historic crime records.
CARNAGE IN BOTANIC GARDENS
Thursday 24th January 1924:
MANIAC RUNS AMOK
PEOPLE INDISCRIMINATELY SHOT
THREE KILLED: TWO WOUNDED
MURDERER STILL AT LARGE
One of the most sensational tragedies ever known in Melbourne occured about half-past 6 o'clock last evening.
A madman, armed with a rifle, shot 5 persons who were walking or sitting in the Botanic Gardens near Anderson street.
Two women and a man were shot dead, and a man and a woman are in hospital in a grave condition.
A strong force of armed police at once surrounded the gardens and searched for the maniac, but he had not been seen up to an early hour this morning.
It is believed that the lunatic has abandoned his rifle, as a man resembling him was seen, unarmed, walking down Anderson street. The main lake in the Botanic Gardens is to be drained this morning in an endeavour to find it.
One of the most horrible and terrible tragedies in the history of Melbourne was enacted soon after 6 o'clock last night, when 5 persons who were resting quietly in the Botanic Gardens, were shot by a madman. Three of the victims, two women and a man, were killed instantly, and a man and woman are lying in hospital in a critical condition.
PODBURY, MIRIAM, single, aged 35 years, employed as companion by Mr. G. Swinburne, Kinkora road, Hawthorn. STROHAKER, EUGENE, married, aged 39 years, of Harvey street, South Yarra. McILWAYNE, F.W., aged 45 years, St. Ives, Toorak road, South Yarra: recent arrival from Ireland.
MOXHAM, JOHN, accountant, aged 37 years, Lincoln road, Essendon. PARRY, MARIE, married, aged 42 years, Coventry street, South Melbourne.
The outrage occured without the slightest warning, and it was not until after several shots had been fired that anybody learned that a shocking crime had been committed. Several people in the gardens heard the shots, but the murderer was sheltered from the view of those in other parts of the gardens by trees and shrubberies. Apparently only one person--apart from some small children who saw their mother brutally slain as she sat near them on the lawn--saw any of the shooting, and the man concerned saw only the last shot fired. The maniac then disappeared behind some bushes, and escaped--according to other observers--into Anderson street, South Yarra. He is said to have run in the direction of Domain road.
Practically the whole of the police force and the special constabulary was engaged last night and this morning searching for him.
Immediately a hue and cry was raised, and gardeners and the head attendant rushed to the spot from which the shots were first heard. The scene there was a pitiable one. A man seriously wounded was lying on the ground, surrounded by his horror-stricken children. Some distance away a man and a woman, apparently dead, were lying with their faces buried in the grass. They were surrounded with blood. Farther away, two other women, who also appeared to be victims of the madman's act, were seen. One was apparently knitting when she was attacked and she was found dead with her work still in her hand. The other was lying outstretched on the lawn.
One of the most distressing aspects of the tragedy was the pitiful plight of the children who were present with their parents at the time of the outrage. One woman who was seriously wounded exclaimed, "Oh my baby! Oh, my baby!" apparently referring to an infant aged about two years, who was playing on the lawn not far from her mother. This child was taken to the Botanical Hotel, at the corner of Domain road and Park street, where it was cared for until its identity was established. Another child, aged about eight years, when she saw her mother lying on the ground cried out "Are you sick mummy?" A stranger, who had rushed up when news of the tragedy had travelled, took charge of the little girl, who would not be comforted, declaring that she would not go home without her mother. Fortunately some of the other children were too young to realise what had occured.
News of the shooting was communicated quickly to the detective office, the civil ambulance service, and the metropolitan hospitals, the exact number of casualties not being known at first. Excitement was caused in the city when a number of ambulances were seen hurrying towards South Yarra, persons in the street apparently sensing that something untoward had occured. These were followed almost immediately by a number of police motor-cars. Attracted by the unusual number of police and detectives who appeared to be hurrying towards the city, many persons in motor-cars followed, and shortly there was a scene of unusual activity in the Botanic Gardens. Hundreds of men and women rushed through the gates at the eastern and north-eastern approaches, but as soon as it was learned that the madman was still at large, the police took charge and cleared the gardens of strangers. Under the directions of the senior detectives and police on duty, an organised search was made of every likely hiding place in the gardens and the surrounding reserves, but without success. A detachment of special constables was hurried to the gardens, and they co-operated with the police and detectives. According to statements made by several witnesses, it was thought that the murderer had left the gardens by a gate abutting on to Anderson street, and that he had taken a southerly course along that thorough-fare towards Fawkner Park. From two sources false alarms were raised--one from Caroline street and one from Martin street--that a man had been seen hurrying towards St. Kilda road. A motor-car load of police and detectives was hurried towards the locality, and, after searching the neighbourhood for some time, returned to the gardens without having found the murderer, although many persons were questioned by the police concerning their movements at the time of the tragedy. It is the intention of the police to continue the search throughout the night, and, it is confidently expected that the madman will not escape capture for long. False Alarm raised
At half-past 8 o'clock two women excitedly informed Detective Holden, who was in charge of a search party near the main Botanic Gardens gates, that they had seen a middle-aged man behaving in a suspicious manner near the corner of Caroline street and Toorak road, South Yarra, about half a mile from the scene of the shooting. By his actions, they said, he showed a great desire to remain unseen, and entered a partially constructed house. Boarding a tramcar with all possible haste, the women went to the gardens with their information. Detective Holden immediately organised a force of 12 detectives, who rushed to the spot in several motor-cars, and thoroughly searched the whole locality. No trace of the man seen by the two women could be found. Scene of the Tragedy
The scene of the shooting was on what is known as the eastern lawn, in the south-east portion of the gardens, close to Anderson street. The vicinity is thickly wooded, and a number of extensive shrubberies and rockeries provided ample cover for the maniac. With the exception of the last shot, it is not known whether he fired from the open or behind trees or bushes. No sounds other than the firing were heard from him, and evidently he carried out his terrible work calmly and deliberately, without attracting attention by shouting, as he moved from one place to the other. The lawn rises from a main path towards Anderson street in a gentle slope, on which are placed a number of garden seats. Some of these are under large, shady trees.
The locality is one which would be readily chosen as a cool and pleasnt place to spend the quiet of the evening. Two paths lead into Anderson street near the lawn, and another path to one of the main gates, facing Park Street, South Yarra. Possibly the lunatic knew that a fairly large number of people would be in the vicinity, and purposely chose it as the scene of his mad act.
To reach the bank of the reservoir and then jump from the Anderson street fence, the man must have run through a rockery, jumped an iron fence about 4ft. high, ascended a bank, leapt over the fence on the other side of the reservoir, and scaled an iron fence about 5ft. 6in. high, with two strands of barbed wire on the top.
Ghastly Scene in Gardens
Mr. Richard Badger, attendant at the Melbourne Grammar School, saw the maiac fire his last shot, and then run away and disappear behind some bushes. Mr. Badger said that he finished tea at the Grammar School shortly before 6 o'clock, and left for the gardens, where he sat on a seat reading his newspaper. He heard several shots, and as each one was fired it seemed to be nearer. He thought at first that the shots were fired by a gardener at cormorants. After four shots had been fired he saw a man lie at length on the lawn and deliberately fire, but at what object he could not see. Immediately the shot was fired he heard screams, and rushing to the spot from which they came he saw a man lying on the lawn, surrounded by children crying bitterly. The man was wounded in the back and the right arm, and was bleeding profusely. He was alive. Some distance away Mr. Badger saw another man lying on the lawn with a gaping wound in his chest. Shortly after several other people ran up and stayed with the man until the ambulance arrived. The man who fired the shot was at the time about 70 yards away from Mr. Badger, and he could not describe him with any detail. He said that he seemed to be middle-aged, and was, he thought, wearing a grey coat. The weapon was either a shotgun or a service rifle, but he could not say definately. "There is a Man with a Gun"
Constable Thomas Gibson, of Russell street, who was off duty, was in the gardens about 6 o'clock with his wife and children. He heard shots, and presently a man rushed towards him shouting, "There is a man with a gun." Constable Gibson ran some distance, and saw a woman lying on the lawn badly wounded in the left jaw. Almost next to her was a woman lying dead. Shortly afterwards a young man told him that he had seen another man in a blue suit climbing the fence from the gardens into Anderson street. He thought that he ran towards the Domain road, and he did not have a gun.
Passengers on a cable tram to Prahran were startled about 20 minutes past 6 o'clock by a woman who clambered excitedly on to the car, sobbing hysterically. SHe told the conductor (H. Doyle of Prahran) that a "lot of people had been shot." She said that she was sitting on the lawn in the gardens when she was frightened by a loud report. She investigated the cause, and saw a man rushing about excitedly waving a gun. Fearing for her life she rushed from the gardens. She was unable to give any coherent account of what happened and her name and address is unknown. Dead and Wounded on Lawn
Graphic details of the occurence were given by the head gardener of the Botanic Gardens (Mr. St. Johs), who was in his back yard when he heard the shots. He said that he guessed at once that something was amiss, and, as the shots seemed to come from the direction of Anderson street, he rushed there at once. "Lying on the eastern lawn under a tree," said Mr. St. John, "I found a woman with a gaping wound in her neck. Almost along-side her was another woman, lying full length on the lawn, dead, with blood streaming from her. In her hands were clasped a crochet needle and a garment which she had evidently been working when she was killed. Both victims of the ghastly tragedy were lying in pools of blood. Near by were several large shrubberies, and it is probable that their assailant had hidden in the bushes and taken aim at them. Further along the lawn, on a rise, a woman was sitting dead with her head thrown backwards. She had a huge wound in her neck. Her legs were crossed, and a book was lying beside her on the seat. Evidently this had fallen from their hands, and it and the seat were saturated in blood. About 50 yards away a white-haired man was lying face downwards on the lawn, dead. Blood was streaming from a large wound in his chest. Judging from the position of his body it is probable that he had been sitting sideways towards where the first shooting occurred, and, turning to see what was the matter, had received a full charge in his chest. As I was standing by him a woman rushed up, calling excitedly, 'A man round the corner has been shot.' She was horrified to see another dead man lying on the lawn. I ran around to where the woman directed, and found a man lying seriously injured. At that moment a constable in uniform rushed up and cried 'For God's sake, get a gun. There is a madman in the garden.' The five shots must have been fired within three minutes." Murderer Jumps the Fence
Mr. St. John rushed back to his house and obtained a double-barrelled gun and a rifle, and he and his son, Eugene, went in search of the lunatic. They thoroughly scoured all of the shrubberies and undergrowth iin the vicinity, including the rockery surrounding the reservoir near the corner of Anderson street and Domain road. They were unable to find any trace of him. Until long after nightfall Mr. St. John and his son courageously searched all parts of the gardens in which it was likely that the assailant would be hidden. Later they learned that a young man had seen the supposed criminal jump from a fence near the reservoir into Domain road. This statement was confirmed by another man. Both eye witnesses said that the man wore a blue suit and a dark hat. He did not carry a gun, and it is thought that he threw it into the reservoir, which will be drained tomorrow.
Mr. St. John said that the sight of the dead and wounded was the most moving he had ever seen. Close to where one of the dead women were lying were a number of children, the oldest of which was a girl aged 10 or 12 years. All of the children were crying biterly, "My poor mammy." The sight was one which he would never forget.
Thursday 24th January 1924:
MRS. MOXHAM'S STORY.
Just Missed Being Shot.
"Had it not been for the fact," said Mrs. Moxham, "that I looked round when I heard the shot and saw my husband lying stretched on the lawn, most probably I would have been killed. We were picnicking in the gardens with our two little children, and my husband was standing some distance away from me; the children were with him. Immediately I heard the shot I looked towards the direction from which it came, and saw a man pointing a gun. I screamed and ran behind a tree. No sooner had I found shelter than the man fired, and the shot, which was most certainly intended for me, struck and killed an elderly man, who fell dead not many yards from the spot on which I had been standing.
Although Mrs. Moxham did not have a very clear view of her husband's assailant, she told the police that he appeared to be aged about 25 years. He was dressed in a dark coloured suit, with a dark felt hat.
MRS. STROHHAKER and her two other children, Margaret, aged 5½ years, and Julia, aged 8 years.
It was not long before residents in the vicinity of the gardens learnt of what had occurred. Numerous offers of assistance in tracing the criminal were made to the police; but it was not in all cases considered advisable to allow too large a number of persons, who of necessity would be un- armed, to enter the gardens.
Drawing their revolvers, police and detectives joined with the gardeners, who had armed themselves with shotguns and pea rifles, in searching the shrubberies. Other assistants who could not obtain firearms, seized stout sticks and followed the searchers. As dusk fell it was realised it was useless to continue the pursuit of the fugitive so far as the gardens were concerned. About that time, too, news reached the police that a man-believed to have been the murderer-was seen hurrying in the direction of Fawkner Park.
The attention of the police was then turned to that locality, but they were hampered and baulked by darkness, and the search resolved itself into a task for the det and plain-clothes police. Early News of Tragedy. Among the first to hear of the tragedy were Mr. L. W. Martin, of South Yarra and Mr. Percy Shingles, of Domain road.
The former was about to leave for his home by motor-car when a man hurried out of the gardens and asked him to go for a doctor. Messrs. Martin and Shingles went to Park street in search of a doctor, but failed to find one. They then went to the gardens, and near the duck pond, saw two women one of whom was dead, and the other seriously wounded through the neck.
The two men did what they could, and returned to Domain road and sent news of the tragedy to the authorities in the city. Gardens Guarded. At midnight nearly every detective in Melbourne and more than 200 constables and special constables were scattered through the garden. They were all armed with service revolvers, and the signal arranged for a concentration was two shots fired in the air. For their own protection the police were admitted to the gardens through only one heavily-guarded gate. Although the police knew that the madman had left the gardens, these precautions were taken in the event of his return to obtain his gun, which he was reckoned to have abandoned but might have hidden. Almost every tree concealed a fully armed policeman, and these men were kept busy warning couples of the risk they ran in walking through the shrubberies. The police will remain on duty until daybreak.
After the police had searched the lawns and returned to the spot at which one of the victims had been killed, they found on the grass a flattened bullet which is be- lieved to have been discharged from a service rifle. Independent Search Parties. In all the streets surrounding the gardens alarmed and excited residents remained outside of their homes until an early hour this morning. Distorted stories and wildest rumours spread like wildfire. Many young men through the night formed independent search parties and there was great excitement at mid- night when a man was found lying at the foot of a tree in Fawkner Park. A party of police surrounded the spot and found a harmless "drunk," who was thus spending a holiday from the country. MAN DISCARDS GUN.
Lake to be Drained. When last seen the madman, a shabbily-dressed young man, was walking down Anderson street from the gardens. He was not then carrying his gun and when this information reached the police they immediately made arrangements to have the lake in the gardens drained at day-break. Careful search was made for the weapon, without success, however. Police who examined the bodies of the victims said that the madman was an accurate shot. One of the women victims was shot in the middle of the throat, and a man was shot in the middle of the chest. VICTIIMS OF SHOOTING.
Geelong Girl Killed. Miss Miriam Podbury, who was killed, was a single woman, aged 30 years, and was employed by Mr. G. Swinburne of Kinkora road, Hawthorn, as a parlourmaid. She has been with Mr. Swinburne since July last, when she came to Melbourne from Geelong. Yesterday being her afternoon off, she left the house early, and was not again seen alive. News of the tragedy was not received by Mr. Swinburne until about 10 o'clock last night. He immediately went to the Morgue, where he identified the body. Miss Podbury's parents who live at Geelong, were at once comminicated with by the police, and informed of the tragic occurrence. Miss Podbury was a quiet young woman, and was held in high esteem by those associated with her.
Miss Miriam Podbury was the third daughter of the late Mr. Fred Podbury, formerly a well-known baker, carrying on business in Little Ryrie street, Geelong. She was employed as companion by Mrs. George Swinburne, of Kinkora road, Hawthorn. Miss Podbury was aged 35 years. Her two sisters are married. Mrs. J. Dickeson lives at Geelong, and Mrs. L. Stephenson at Ballarat. Her brother, Lionel, is at present in Canada. Her mother is livng in Cumberland street, Geelong. Recent Arrival from Ireland. Mr. F. W. McIlwaine of St. Ives, Toorak road, South Yarra, who was one of the persons killed, arrived recently from Ireland on a visit to his sister-in-law, Mrs. McIlwaine, of Toorak, the wife of a former well-known squatter. Mr. McIlwaine was aged about 65 years.
Motherless Child Heard "Bombs." Mrs. Strohhaker resided with her husband, Adolph Strokhaker, at 29 Hardy street, Prahran-a narrow thoroughfare leading from Commercial road to Argyle street. She has left three young children- Julia, aged 2 years; Margaret, aged 5½ years; and Henry, aged 11 months. Her father, Adolph Kirchner, resides in Ger- many, and is a cabinet-maker. MRS. PARRY. Neighbours related that Mrs. Perry, wheeling her child in a perambulator, called at Mrs. Stohhaker's house between 11 and 12 o'clock yesterday. The women decided to have an early luncheon and take the children to the gardens for a picnic. Apparently, food sufficient for the afternoon and evening was taken with the party. At the time of the tragedy the children were washing at a tap some distance front their mothers. Mrs. Strohhaker was sewing.
In her childish tones, Julia Strokhaker last night briefly but graphically described what happened so far as she was concerned. "I was washing my feet," she said. "I heard the bombs, and turned around to see my mother lying on the ground. A man was holding our baby, Henry." Too young to realise the significance of the terrible affair, the child passed rapidly to references to the darkness of the house-which her father had left in order to communicate the sad news to a friend in Windsor-and to the dog which was howling behind the side gate.
Mrs. Strokhaker and her husband spoke English imperfectly. The dead woman was highly respected by her neighbours, one of whom, speaking for a number gathered near the house, said:-She was a fine type of woman, and of splendid physique. above all, she was a good mother. Her trips to the gardens and elsewhere were rare. In fact, because she suffered from deafness, she remained in her home as much as possible."
It was said that the Strokhaker family had no relatives in Victoria. Strokhaker is a pastry-cook employed by Plisch Ltd. in Greville street, Prahran.
Neighbours have taken the children into their care for the time being. Mrs. Parry's Unlucky Custom. Mrs. Jack Parry, who was severely injured, came from Hamburg, Germany, five years ago, and was residing in Clarendon street, South Melbourne. When shot she was walking with her adopted daughter, aged 11 months. It has been Mrs. Parry's custom to take the child for a walk every afternoon, and usually they visited the Domain. Senior-constable Pearce, of South Melbourne, who reached the scene shortly after Mrs. Parry was shot, found the baby lying on the ground near her, and took it to the Botanical Hotel, where it was taken charge of by the licensee's wife. The baby was afterwards taken to the home of Mrs. Myrtle Jeffries, in Montague street, Montague, a friend of Mrs. Parry.
Mrs. Parry's husband is a boatswain on the s.s. Ashridge, which is due to arrive in Melbourne on Sunday next. Before coming to victoria Mrs. Parry was a stewardess on a German liner trading between England and Germany. She has only one sister, who is living in Hamburg.
Victim's Graphic Acccunt. "I was sitting with my two little children some distance away from my wife on one of the lawns near Domain road," said Mr. John Moxham, an accountant, who has been attached to the Working Men's College for about 11 years. "Then I heard several shots. At first I took no notice, but as I heard another I looked around and saw a man peeping through a shubbery.
He was holding a rifle and when I looked again he levelled it at me and fired. I happened to be lying on my side, and the bullet entered my hip and also shattered my hand. After that I do not remember clearly what happened.