Monday, 8 July 2013

Special Collections Fossickings 25: True crime 3 (2). The Boonjie Scrub murder - continued.

Malanda Hotel, one of the last places Kelly was seen, the day before leaving the district. Eacham Historical Society n.d., NQ Photographic Collection ID 14368
Kelly’s movements after the assumed date of Walter’s death (28/29th June) were slowly pieced together. Around 3pm on 29th a Boonjie farmer chatted briefly to Kelly whom he met riding towards Malanda. This, it later appeared, was the start of Kelly’s journey out of the district and possibly out of the State. Reports pieced together weeks later showed that on 30th June he made his way to the top of the Gillies highway where, abandoning his horse and swag, he hitched a ride on the back of a truck. Later that day he boiled his billy and ate a meagre meal with two residents of the Bungalow shanty town, then on the edge of Cairns, before walking towards the town. Next morning he returned, collected his bag from the fork of a tree, and headed south along the railway line. He was given a lift to Gordonvale and two days later was seen at the unemployment camp there before heading towards Aloomba, presumably to try ‘jumping’ a train south. All reports matched Kelly’s description regarding clothing, height, complexion, curly sandy-coloured hair and missing lower teeth. But the Gordonvale sighting was the last ever recorded of James Maurice Kelly.
It might have been a train like this that Kelly hoped to "jump", at nearby Aloomba.  Wilson Album, NQ Photographic Collection ID 1618
Two arrests were made in the following months. The first, in September, was in the English port of Gravesend when a recently-arrived crew member, Hubert Storey, was taken to be Kelly, but swiftly released. The following January, Gordon Franks, using the alias Kelly, apparently confessed to the murder on Thursday Island but on arrival in Cairns easily proved his innocence.

Was the likeable, good-natured Kelly capable of such a savage act? Could he have been provoked into murder by the irascible Walter? Had he acted in self-defence against his mate who owned the gun found in the hut? Was he, as some suggested, fleeing a third man – someone who had already killed Walter? With no known motive, no murder weapon and the disappearance of the chief suspect, it is small wonder that this crime became a source of fascination across the country.

Bill Johnston’s meticulous recreation of events, compiled from court records and newspaper reports, is packed with detail creating a prosaic but surprisingly intimate portrait of life in the scattered Tableland farms and communities on the brink of the Great Depression.

Story by Miniata

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