It was the crime that left Australia on pins and needles.
On December 26, 1898, the official date of Boxing Day for countries under the British empire, three siblings from the Murphy family were brutally murdered. Twenty-nine-year-old Michael Murphy, and his younger sisters Norah, 27, and Ellen, 18, were tragically killed while returning home from a canceled dance in their hometown of Gatton, Queensland, Australia. The crime haunted authorities for decades, with the incident later earning the infamous name the Gatton Murders.
The Strange and Unsolved Mystery Behind the Gatton Murders
Gatton is a small town approximately 60 miles west of Brisbane in Queensland, Australia. During the late nineteenth century, it was a popular stop for those traveling from the east to the fertile region of Darling Downs.
The Murphy family resided on their farm, which stood around 8 miles outside of Gatton. The oldest son, Michael, was home just in time for the holidays. He borrowed a one-horse cart from his brother-in-law William M’ Neil to take his two younger sisters to a dance at the Divisional Board Hall in Gatton. However, Michael heard that the dance had been canceled, and the group was forced to turn back. Before the night ended, not one of them managed to make it back alive.
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A grisly discovery
When the family found out that Michael and the girls had not returned, M’Neil set out to look for them the following morning. He followed the tracks left by their carriage, which was easily recognizable thanks to one wobbly wheel. M’Neil eventually ran into the bodies of Michael, Ellen, and Norah. It was reported that Michael and Ellen’s skulls were crushed so badly, their brains were protruding. Both of the girls’ clothing was torn, and they had apparently been raped. It was also found that Michael was shot in the head, as was his horse whose body was found between the carriage.
A distraught M’Neil rushed back to Gatton to alert authorities, who quickly rushed over to the scene. The police noticed that not only were the murders violent, the nature of the crime was decidedly strange. For instance, all three bodies had their legs and feet pointing to the west, with Norah’s corpse lying over a neatly spread rug soaked in blood.
More questions than answers
Given the lack of technology that time, the investigation suffered a lot of setbacks. From communication breakdowns to the lack of eyewitnesses, there was simply no way for authorities to solve the Gatton murders.
To make matters worse, it would take the police two whole days before they could finally visit the scene of the crime. The reason for the delay was said to be faulty telegrams. By the time the Brisbane police arrived, spectators had already contaminated the scene.
Overall, the police managed to gather 3,000 statements in weeks after the slaying. One of the primary suspects in the case was a man known as Theo Farmer alias “Thomas Day” and “Thomas Furner.” Just two weeks after the incident, Day was brought in for questioning after one witness saw him washing blood from a pullover days after the crime took place. But for some reason, authorities let him go.
Records have it that Day enlisted in the army from 1898 to 1899. The following year, a certain Thomas Furner was admitted to a hospital in New South Wales after suffering a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. After his death on October 25, 1900, investigators were able to identify him as Thomas Day. It is said that Day had written a suicide note wherein he admitted that he was present when the Gatton murders took place. He added that he had trouble sleeping due to recurring nightmares that involved the three victims being smashed in the head.
The note only brought more questions than answers. Did Day imply that he was the killer, or was he merely a witness of the crime? Centuries later, the case of the Gatton murders remains to be a baffling mystery.