Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Special Collections Fossicking 24: True Crime 3(1). The Boonjie Scrub murder.


On 8 August 1928 the “Cairns Post” reported the district was “seething with excitement over [a] ghastly tragedy” which had taken place on the Atherton Tableland. Two days earlier, the mutilated remains of a young man had been found in the isolated Boonjie scrub, south-east of Malanda, in the shadow of Bartle Frere. His companion and work-mate had disappeared from the district and inevitably became the main suspect. While the “Post” assured readers that “the police will spare no effort in bringing the perpetrator to justice” their task was hardly helped by the fact that the body had lain undiscovered for nearly six weeks, giving the wanted man plenty of time to escape.
Small camps like this on the edge of the forest around Malanda would have housed itinerant workers like Walter and Kelly, Garner Bequest, NQ Photographic Collection ID 16574
Bill Johnston tells the story in the Eacham Historical Society publication “Murder in the Boonjie Scrub”. Murder victim, Frederick Walter, a 19 year old Englishman, had arrived in the district some 10 months earlier. He was not well-liked, being described as often unwashed, short-tempered and quick to start a fight. By contrast, his mate, Victorian James Kelly, was popular and good-tempered. The two met at a camp for unemployed at the Malanda showgrounds, teaming up to seek work. In January they began cutting logs, fencing and scrub-falling at the farm of Russian migrant, Felix Fadchuk. Neither man was cut out for the heavy, dangerous scrub-falling and on other selections preferred the less arduous “brushing” or clearing undergrowth with brush-hooks. This is what took them to Jim Ginn’s Boonjie selection in early June.
Malanda township and hotel, where Kelly and Walter did their shopping, drinking, socializing,Wilson
Albums, NQ Photographic Collection ID 1701
Timber clearing work was always available around Malanda, Eacham Historical Society Collection ca1936, NQ Photographic Collection ID 14355
It was a lonely spot for the two young men, camped in a primitive hut on the edge of the forest with only occasional visits from Ginn and others. The two were last seen together on 28th June when an acquaintance joined them for lunch, finding them for once on good terms with each other.  Subsequent callers were at first unconcerned by their absence. With heavy rain preventing work, it was assumed they had gone fishing or simply ‘cleared out’ to avoid paying debts in the town. To some extent Ginn stood to gain from the men’s disappearance since he had not yet paid them for work already done. Only Fadchuk, their former employer, urged action but despite police examination of the deserted hut and abandoned possessions four weeks later, it was another ten days before a foul smell assailing carpenters working on the property led to the grisly discovery. Don’t miss next week’s Fossickings for the end of this story …
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