ON THIS DAY – 11 October 1937

The investigation into the initial disappearance of John Thomas Demsey received widespread media coverage and extensively featured in the official Police Gazette which went out to all stations.  According to the police investigation, Demsey had left Bendigo on October 11, 1937 with his load which was expected to have been delivered in Essendon that night.  He was last seen leaving Keilor at 9.20pm.  Just over three weeks later, his body was found in a shallow grave in a gully in Kinglake West. His killers had ensured he wouldn’t be around to give any descriptions: he’d been shot in the heart, liver and lungs.

Demsey’s body had been forced into a bag, head first, and was found in a crouched position.  His vehicle was also recovered in Kinglake West – minus the wool. Police found human blood stains inside the cabin, on the framework supporting the seat. The blood had run across the toolbox, leaving a spot on the fan belt and the starting handle, which were in the tool box. Police told newspapers their investigation had involved journeys totalling “30,000 miles”. “Graziers, wool scourers, farmers, transport drivers, wool storers, felters and persons in city occupations were among the 1000 persons interviewed,” The Argus reported: “Six hundred letters, some of them scribbled on brown paper bags, have been received at Russell St and 2000 telephone calls from informants have placed an unprecedented strain on the staff. “Crystal gazers and clairvoyants have confidently offered their services to the police, some of them wanting only some article which Demsey had touched to enable them to solve the mystery. “All sections of the public including even the criminal classes have assisted the detectives in their inquiries.”

At the end of all this, 32-year-old Roy Bruhn and three others were arrested and charged with the murder and robbery, and went to trial the following March. One hundred witnesses were called and some forensic evidence introduced, but it wasn’t enough to convict the four. In the absence of an eye witness, the circumstantial proof offered by the Crown was not enough to convince the judge it had a solid case. The case had collapsed. On March 1, he directed the jury to acquit Bruhn and company. Bruhn trumphantly walked free from the court, but his freedom was shortlived. He was immediately arrested and charged with having stolen goods valued at 470 pounds.



ON THIS DAY – October 10, 1943


After 20 minutes consideration, the jury at the Bendigo Supreme Court today acquitted Mrs. Dorothy Frances Franklin, 42. of a charge of murdering her husband. Eric Franklin. 42. rail fitter, at Castlemaine on October 10. The Crown alleged that during the quarrel at their home, Franklin struck his wife. who stabbed him with a large breadknife while they struggled.

On this day …….. 21st September 1916

A remarkable story would unfold on this day in 1916, when news was reported that a horse owned by Mr Pola of Serpentine, Bendigo in Central Victoria had been buried alive under straw for five days and six nights. The wind blew the straw stack over the horse during a large storm. Realising his horse was missing Pola examined the straw stack revealing the horse was still alive but weak.


ON THIS DAY…… 30th August 1898

An enquiry was opened, on the 30th August 1898 at Bendigo into a mystery attached to the finding of the skeleton of a man under an old blue blanket at Five-mile Creek. A patient at Bendigo Hospital said he knew two mates at Five mile Creek. They had a quarrel, and one bolted from the district. He supposes the skeleton must be that of the mate who probably was murdered. The medical evidence of the examination of the skeleton was to the effect that some of the bones of the jaw were missing, and one was indented as with slugs. The enquiry was adjourned until the following day .



Bushranger ‘Black Douglas’ Charles Russell

The legendary ‘Black Douglas’ Charles Russell was an English-born bushranger who held Melbourne and its surrounding areas to ransom during the 1850s. Russell preyed on those diggers travelling to and from the goldfields between Bendigo and Melbourne. There are several accounts of victims being tied naked to a tree or fallen log with their boots full of bull ants, left to die a slow and excruciating death. He reportedly led a gang of 16 bushrangers who worked together in their marauding. Their camp was strategically located a few kilometres away from the Alma minefields in Maryborough, Victoria. Eventually, a frustrated group of nearly 200 diggers burnt their camp to the ground and overpowered Russell in May 1855. He was 75-years-old when he died in Bendigo gaol in 1892.


ON THIS DAY – July 18, 1859

Yesterday morning at ten o’clock was the time fixed for the execution of Chew-a-Key, the Chinaman convicted of the murder of the late Mr. M’Elligott, at Ironbark Gully, Bendigo, On Sunday evening however, he contrived to evade the sentence of the law by committing suicide. He was last seen alive by Mr. Winkle, the Governor of the gaol, and the turnkey in whose immediate custody he was placed, at about four o’clock on Sunday afternoon. There are two doors to the condemned cell in which Chew-a-Key was confined, the outer one similar to those in general use in the gaol, and an inner one composed of perpendicular and transverse iron bars, so as to form a sort of grating, through which the prisoners might be observed by the turnkey on duty. At a quarter to five o’clock on Sunday afternoon, the turnkey went to the cell in which the condemned prisoner was confined, for the purpose of lighting the gas. On opening the outer door, he saw him hanging from one of the transverse iron bars of the inner door. The alarm was immediately given, the prisoner cut down, and every means employed for his resuscitation, but without avail. It was apparent that Chew-a-Key must have premeditated self-destruction for some time from the particular care which he had taken that the attempt should be effectual. He had torn up one of his blankets, and twisted it into a rope for the purpose; and it was evident that he must have managed so to raise himself from the floor of the cell as to obtain a seat on one of the bars of the door, whilst he fastened the rope with which he hanged himself. He had also tied his feet together, and had then connected his hands with his feet by means of a piece of the blanket twisted into a rope in such a manner as entirely to prevent any attempts which he might have made to save himself, supposing his courage to have failed him at the last moment. The Sheriff was not informed of the occurrence until he arrived at the gaol yesterday morning, shortly before ten o’clock, to see the sentence of the law carried into effect. An inquest was held on the body yesterday, at twelve o’clock. The Coroner then drew attention to the fact, that in England, from the time sentence of death was passed on a prisoner until that sentence was carried into execution, he was never suffered to be alone, and said he thought the recent occurrence would show the authorities the necessity of adopting a similar practice in the colony.


ON THIS DAY – June 25, 1918


The adjourned inquest concerning the death of Christian Andrea, who died on June 25 from the effects of a revolver wound received in McKenzie street on June 22, was concluded on Monday by the coroner, Mr. D. Berriman, P.M., who committed a youth named Clyde Buddle, 17 years of age, for trial on a charge of manslaughter. Bail was allowed in one surety of £200 and a personal bond of a like amount.


ON THIS DAY – June 22, 1892


The position in which a man named David Storey found himself recently at Bendigo should be a warning to all men who, with hasty temperaments and temporary under the influence of liquor, give vent to passion and action. Storey was in company with a Constable named Brown, who was in private clothes, and several others, and had been drinking, so much so, apparently, that they were in that condition described by the poet, “When the wine is in ths wit is out,” A dispute arose about the payment of some drinks. Brown, it is asserted, used some forcible language towards Storey, who, after a brief interval, retaliated by striking Brown in the mouth. The blow, coupled with undoubtedly an unsteady gait, caused Brown to fall, and in doing so his head came in contact with a sharp stone. This caused concussion of the brain, from which the unfortunate man died. The whole occurrence passed very rapidly, and doubtless Storey was as much amazed as anyone to find what was at first a trivial affair, having such a tragic termination. Storey was duly committed for trial on a charge of manslaughter, and at the ‘Criminal Sessions in Bendigo the other day, before Mr Justice Holroyd, found guilty, the jury adding a strong recommendation to mercy. Mr Justice Holroyd, in delivering addressed a few remarks to Storey, and
remarked that he hoped the occurrence would be a warning to him for life not to go into any street brawls again. Storey, was then sentenced to pay a fine of £20. The sentence may seem light, and if every street brawler imagined he wae going to get off with a fine for any serious termination of a disturbance through deeming the sentence in question a precedent, it might be regretted that the judge did not impose a heavier penalty, Judge Holroyd, however, was humane enough to think of keeping Storey from contact with ordinary criminals. The whole surroundings of the case olearly showed that it was altogether a chance circumstance that led to the tragical termination of very trivial quarrel, and the evidence brought forward showed that Storey had held positions of trust in connection with two business firms for very long periods, was usually of an inoffensive nature, and was not hitherto known officially to the police. Under all those circumstances, the imposition of the fine is to be regarded as a proper vindication of justice. It cannot be regarded as a certainty, how ever, that quarrelsome people who get drunk and aggressive in action and bring themselves into a similar position will get off either with a fine, or as lightly. On the other hand, it ought to be a warning to people that cannot control their tempers under the influence of liquor, that no brawl is unattended with more or less serious consequences, from manslaughter to murder, and therefore the whole case should carry its moral with it.


Executed On This Day…….22nd May 1876

John Duffus, age 50, was executed on this day in 1876 in Castlemaine for a charge of Rape. Mrs. Duffus, who was living isolated with her family, husband and three daughters at the Bendigo Creek, near Goornong, gave information to the police that her husband, John Duffus, had criminally assaulted his own daughter, Mary Ann, 11 years of age. Mounted Constable Clark arrested Duffus, who was formally placed in the dock at the City Police Court at Sandhurst (now Bendigo) and charged with carnally knowing a girl under 12 years of age, a capital crime. Duffus not only had assaulted his youngest daughter between the 27th January and the 17th February, but also had incestuous relationships with his elder daughters, at that time 22 and 15, who both became pregnant. The youngest daughter affirmed that her father had abused her for a period of over four years, which was confirmed by a medical officer who examined her. The isolated condition of the family and the thorough control which Duffus obviously exercised over all family members was the reason why his crimes had been detected earlier. John Duffus was convicted of rape at the Criminal Sessions of the Assize Court at Sandhurst, and was sentenced to death on 29 April 1876. He was hanged at Castlemaine Gaol on this in 1876, at 10am


EXECUTION ON THIS DAY…….. 20th May 1873

The last sentence of the law was carried out at the Castlemaine Gaol, on the body of Pierre Borhuu, for the murder of Mrs. Smith, of Kangaroo Flat, Sandhurst. Which took place on the 28th April 1872. Pierre Borhuu was a native of Guernsey, his parents, who are still alive and residing at North St. Denis, being French. He was brought up on the sea, and had for some years followed his calling on the coast of England. He arrived in this colony in 1868, and shortly afterwards came onto Sandhurst, taking up his abode in Sunrise Gully, Kangaroo Flat. Here he worked as an alluvial miner, and was very successful, but generally managed to spend most of his gains in the public-House owned by Mr. Smith, the husband of the criminal’s victim. It was during one of his mad paroxysms of drink that he committed the deed for which he has suffered. Since his incarceration at Castlemaine he has behaved himself remarkably well, and frequently expressed his regret for his hasty and intemperate conduct. At 8am the Rev. Father Allen went into the condemned cell, and the irons having been struck off the criminal, the two remained in religious exercises and administering the last offices of the Roman Catholic Church till the arrival of the sheriff. At 10am precisely Mr. Colles knocked at the door of the condemned cell, and demanded the body of the murderer, who was then delivered over to the executioner William Bamford. He was at once pinioned and conducted to the scaffold, the unfortunate man walking with a firm step, and even a smile of resignation on his face. During this time the attendant priest was reciting the prayers for the dead. The white cap was then placed on Borhuu’s face as far as the eyebrows, and the rope put round his neck, but here Bamford bungled the matter considerably by running the hitch so tight as to half strangle his victim before he fell, and thus prevent the knot slipping into its proper place on the fall of the body. Having placed the man in his proper position, the bolt was drawn, and, with a dull heavy thud, the body fell, and the criminal was launched into eternity. For some minutes there was a convulsive twitching of the limbs, death not taking place instantaneously, owing no doubt to the cause abovementioned. The body swung half round, so that the features were not visible to the spectators, but beyond a swelling of the tongue, which protruded slightly, there was little disfigurement. There were about 20 spectators, most of whom were the gaol officials. After hanging the customary time, the body was cut down, and an inquest held on the remains. The usual verdict was returned, and the body then buried within the precincts of the gaol.

Photo of the Castlemaine Gaol


ON THIS DAY – May 15. 1916


As the outcome of a shooting affray at Ironbark, Bendigo on May 15, Adrian Arthur Percy Lakeman, aged 21 years, a pastrycook, was charged at the Bendigo Court today with shooting his stepfather, Arthur James Main, with intent to murder. Main said he had only a hazy recollection of what occurred, as he was mad with drink. Evidence was given by several witnesses that the shots were fired by Lakeman in defence of his mother The accused was discharged.

On this day …….. 20th of April 1908

On this day in 1908, a Bendigo-bound holiday train collided with another heading for Ballarat in the Sunshine rail yards, west of Melbourne. Forty-four people were killed and more than 400 hurt. The Age did not believe in sheltering the victims’ next-of-kin. Down on the rails among the piles and piles of splintered woodwork and the upholstery, their blood and brains splashing the wheels, many more dead bodies and bodies in which there was still life, mingled in frightening sickening heaps in a way that seemed to defy extrication.