Now, it has been my serious misfortune in life to actually know two people who were murdered (in quite separate incidents) so I get it's very serious yada yada, but I knew exactly what he meant, because I have had one of my long-dead relations prematurely assisted to the grave, and I know what a gold-mine the resulting documentation can be. So no lectures about bad taste, please!
This story relates to one of my SA pioneer families. I find it hilariously ironic that they are one of the families which would entitle me to join the SA Pioneers Society, a thoroughly respectable institution, when actually they were very disreputable. The father, Archibald Gall, was a serial petty criminal and drunkard. He had a pronounced dislike for authority, which manifested itself (among other things) in a tendency not to register his children's births. His wife tried to get him committed to an asylum in 1870, his neighbours were always dobbing him into the council, and he was a notorious flouter of licensing laws and disrespecter of property boundaries - notorious, even though he lived in an area full of such people.
One of his daughters, Jane, was very deaf, and as a young lass alleged she was a victim of sexual assault along a road in a nearby area and that the alleged perpetrator threatened to cut her throat. It turned into a he-said-she-said case as both confirmed intercourse had taken place, but couldn't agree on the issue of consent. The judge was very unsympathetic, particularly when it emerged in the trial that Jane had, shall we say, been around the block a time or two with several of the local lads. She later married someone who was sometimes known as Andrew Cunningham and sometimes known as Andrew Sharkey. The couple were quite poor and at some point, Jane was left a widow (possibly 1881, meaning her last child had a different father). It was their daughter who was murdered in what became known as The Bridgewater Mystery. As an aside, this story also perfectly illustrates why newspapers are so useful. We had no idea about this family story, much less knowledge of all the family details contained in the report, until the newspaper records became searchable.
On 3rd October, 1890, 13 year old Ellen Cunningham (known as Nellie) disappeared after being seen walking from her home in Aldgate Valley towards Aldgate. By the 14th, the papers were starting to report this with increasing concern and a full scale search was conducted by about 60 local residents. The family had placed advertisements in the paper seeking information to help them find Ellen.
Some time before the 17th (and I'm sure Chris will tell me I should browse through the papers for the intervening days to find the exact specifics, and he's right) her badly decomposed body was found by Dr. A E Wigg at Cox's Creek in a fairly heavily frequented place which had been searched several times already. The body was partly in the water, with the legs drawn up in a pose the paper said had lead locals to "draw inferences". A post-mortem was carried out by Dr. J H Henderson.
The body had marks and bruises on the face and abdomen. Her head showed no signs of injury, and there was no proof that she had swallowed water as was expected at the time in cases of drowning. The initial report said that there was a gush of blood from her liver, but Dr. Henderson later wrote to the paper to make some corrections to their report, including stating that the blood was from "another part of the body altogether" (gotta be a euphemism for something deemed too explicit for the papers, surely). She was estimated to have been dead about two weeks. Dr. Henderson felt quite strongly that she was not drowned. She was not pregnant, but her body was too decomposed for Dr. Henderson to ascertain if she had "been tampered with".
Ellen's sister, Agnes, identified the body and the nightgown and ring being worn as Ellen's. Agnes said there was no reason for Ellen to have left home, and that when she last visited the family on 24th September (Agnes was married and in Stirling East) there was no evidence of any quarrels. The earliest news report then states that "the carpet bag and its contents weren't hers" and she hadn't seen Ellen's clothes since she left home.
Jane, Ellen's mother, said that she'd last seen her daughter at 7:30 am on the 3rd. She was fully dressed and in good spirits. She left Ellen with two of the youngest in the family and an older daughter, also Jane. The clothes had not been seen since. Jane returned at 4:30 to find Ellen gone. The previous day Ellen had asked to go and bathe and permission had been refused. Ellen was in the habit of bathing, but Jane did not know whereabouts.
Jane Cunningham testified that she had been milking the cow at about 11:00 when her sister left to get the other cows on the 3rd. At 5:00 the dog came home, wet, uneasy and tired. It had not rained that day and was quite warm. Jane had last seen her sister fully dressed and talking to Tommy Mullins, a schoolboy. She was using her nightdress as a bustle. Jane believed Ellen was in the habit of bathing at the creek by Mr. Rudd's. Jane identified a pocket knife which seems to have been found either with or near her sister as belonging to W Jenkins. She said she last saw the knife when her sister passed it to her at the table the week before Ellen disappeared, and Jane had given the knife back to Jenkins. Jane said that Ellen was rarely away from home alone, but would often go to the Salvation Army Chapel with Jane. She did not know if Ellen and Jenkins were on good terms, but Ellen was not in any quarrels, and when Jane realised Ellen was gone she and her brother in law, Paul Bartsch, went looking. They saw a man's footprints by the creek, and there were wild-flowers on the other side. They ran into a young boy who said he'd heard someone scream, but Jane Sr. had written it off as just being a jackass.
Thomas Mullins said he was at the home that morning, and saw Ellen heading off around 8 without the dog, saying something about taking Jenkins his knife. Mullins ended up with the knife, and Ellen went to the Galls (obviously one of the family) which was where Jenkins lived. Mullins was able to accurately describe the knife.
Andrew Hart, a neighbour, said he'd seen Ellen and Jane at about 11am out on the road. They had their hats on and were headed to the waterhole. There was no dog with them. He felt the need to point out, at this juncture, that he did not tell Jennie (Jane's nickname) he would get her in trouble or smash her head under the wheel.
Euphemia, one of the youngest of the girls, agreed with Jane's story, with the addition that she had seen Ellen go off with Tommy on her hunt for the cows. Margaret, the youngest (she was 5 at the time), also confirmed the story, but said that Jane had accompanied Ellen on the walk.
Evan Jenkins said that he had known the family about five years, and that he often used to bring his food to the house where they would cook it. He didn't pay for board or lodging, but worked occasionally. On the Monday night, he saw Jane Sr. at the Aldgate Hotel Monday night and paid her 12 shillings for board, but then forgot all about it. As you do. He had meals with them and slept in the house, but that Mrs. Cunningham wasn't there then. He denied having said that "the police would get nothing out of me tonight" and that he left the Cunninghams because Ellen locked him out one night. He denied the Cunninghams had instructed him on what to say. It was at this point the Foreman of the jury suggested Mr. Jenkins knew more than he was telling. Jenkins denied having a quarrel with Ellen, and said she probably locked him out because he was taking too long over his dinner. Again he denied committing perjury, or that Jane had ever said "policemen will never get anything out of me". Jane Sr interjected to say she'd never received any board money, and Jenkins responded by saying she hadn't, because he was behind in paying. He said he slept on the couch at the old place and now at the new, while the family (Jane Sr. and her four unmarried daughters) slept in the other room. Jane responded by saying this was only when it rained. Jenkins further elaborated that he had thought Ellen would be at the Hancocks, hence his claims he could find her in two hours, but she had not been there.
William Jenkins, Evan's brother, said that he had received his knife Friday night from Jane while he was helping search for Ellen. He had not seen Ellen since Wednesday. He had heard the girls having words, but never a quarrel, and he had no quarrel with them either.
Andrew Hart spoke again, alleging that William and Jane in fact did have a quarrel. Two years before, Jane had claimed Jenkins' cow was in the pound and had obtained money from him to organised the cow's release (the Galls and Doreys, her family, were involved in pound-keeping at various times, so it may have been a relation of hers in charge of the process). As it turned out this was a lie and the cow was never impounded.
Charles Garbie, aged 7, said he saw Ellen near the Aldgate Post Office between 8 and 9, reading a letter. She did not have the dog with her. Mary Johns, aged 11, said she saw Ellen at about 8:50, with two cows but no dog. Another local said she'd seen Agnes with a sister, possibly Ellen, at 8:30, and another local described the search. The inquest was again adjourned.
Jane Sr. was called to testify again. She revealed that on October 7th she found Ellen's stays in her room, and that it was very unusual for Ellen to go out without them on. She also said that both Ellen and her own father, Archibald, were prone to fits.
Paul Bartsch talked about the advertisements the family placed, and was questioned about a mistake in the colour of the dress they had said Ellen was wearing. Agnes talked about Jane telling her of conflict with Hart over cows, and the threats he made to the girls when they were out on the road. Agnes said her mother was prone to fits and that her grand-father had just died only days before of a heart problem (Archibald died on 29 Nov 1890). Her uncle had chronic pain and two aunts had fits. Jane confirmed she had told Agnes, but said she had done so after the funeral. This was immediately identified as untrue as apparently the threats had not been used until later. The Coroner went to town on her, telling her she was telling falsehoods and acting like this cast doubt on everything she had said. I don't know if he was suspicious for other reasons, or just being a dick to an 15 year old girl (reported as being 18) whose family were completely dysfunctional and who had just lost her sister in bizarre circumstances. Of course the family's extensive reputation for serial dishonesty (even my great-grandmother is described as "handling the truth a bit carelessly") would hardly have helped!!
Local woman Jemima Harris said that Jane had come to her home on the evening of that fateful day, and that Jane claimed their dog had blood on it. Others testified to hearing her say the same thing. James Gall, Jane Sr's youngest brother, got up and suggested if anyone was lying it was Evan Jenkins. In response Evan's brother William implied James had been attempting to intimidate both Evan and Andrew Hart. The new focus became the brown skirt which the family had said Ellen was wearing but which many people had seen around their home after Ellen's death, and it is clear the jury thought that was a critical piece of evidence.
By this time the case had made national papers, and it is in those that it is recorded that the jury censured Jane Cunningham Sr and the Bartshes for their approach to giving evidence, and suggested the authorities should further investigate the evidence given by James Gall, Jane Jr. and Evan Jenkins. The jury made clear their avowed belief that some key facts were being suppressed by the family, but could only conclude from the evidence at hand that Ellen Cunningham met her death in some way unknown. The remaining articles on the issue focus on criticism of the selection of a local GP as the pathologist in the case rather than an expert in the field, leaving poor Ellen's mystery unsolved.