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ON THIS DAY – May 7, 1970

ECHUCA

On May 7, 1970 members of the Victoria Police stationed in Echuca responded to an emergency call at a home in Mitchell Street. They found a heavily-pregnant woman, Beverley Ratten, lying dead in the kitchen from a shotgun wound to the torso. Her upset husband, Leith Ratten, was removed for questioning. Beverley would later be interred in the Cheltenham Memorial Park, Melbourne.

During interview Ratten said he was cleaning an old rusty double-barrelled shotgun brought in from the garage when it fired, hitting his wife under the left armpit while she was in the kitchen at lunchtime. Ratten could not explain how the gun discharged or how it came to be loaded. Subsequent investigations revealed that Ratten was having an affair with Jennifer Kemp, the wife of a family friend, and had spoken to her on the morning of the shooting. He had also applied for a twelve-month posting to a base in Antarctica.

In January 2012, Ratten died, aged 73 years. Ratten was committed to trial for murder and the hearing took place in August, 1970 in the nearby town of Shepparton, Victoria. Despite the assertions of Ratten’s defence counsel that the shooting was accidental and evidence against him was circumstantial, the jury found Ratten guilty and he was sentenced to death. This was later commuted to 25 years’ prison. Following the case, Ratten’s lawyers undertook four separate appeals on various grounds, one of which involved the exhumation of Beverley Ratten’s body in 1973. All four appeals were dismissed. Despite the failure of his appeals there was considerable doubt about Ratten’s conviction, many believing he was found guilty for the questionable morality of his marital infidelity rather than concrete evidence.

His case was widely discussed among the legal fraternity while his cause was taken up by many notable lawyers and politicians, such as Don Chipp. In 1978, the Free Leith Ratten Committee was founded by Monash University law undergraduate, Mark Cowie. Over the next five years, and until Ratten’s release from Her Majesty’s Prison Dhurringile, Cowie was involved in efforts to bring new evidence before the courts that questioned the legitimacy of Ratten’s conviction. He authored an unpublished manuscript on the case, Justice in Shame: The Leith Ratten Case Don Chipp said that in 1971 Henry Winneke had told him the convicted murderer Leith Ratten was innocent. In 1981 when Ratten had yet to be released, Chipp said Winneke denied the conversation had taken place. Later, a member of the Supreme Court at the time of Ratten’s trial, told Tom Molomby Winneke had wanted to remove the jury from the trial. Such a move would require a belief that the evidence would not support a guilty verdict. Ratten served his sentence, was a model prisoner and was released in 1983 (whereupon he worked as a surveyor in Queensland).

In 1981, two years prior to his release, Ratten was advised he would likely be released and was given time on regular day-release opportunities to find a job, which he did. Then he heard via the radio that he would not be released. Politicians making the decision had allegedly been pressured by Victoria Police to not release Ratten. Further examination of the unfired cartridge was undertaken, with the view that it was indeed a reload cartridge, and he was released soon after.

ON THIS DAY – May 1, 1950

After a retirement of nearly seven hours to-night the jury in the Glen Valley murder trial failed to agree. Mr. Justice Barry said that a trial of the case would take place at Shepparton Supreme Court on October 24. Alfred James Hodgkins (32) is charged with the murder of Donald Forsythe (30) at a hut in the lonely Joker Mine area at Glen Valley on May 1.

ON THIS DAY ……. 29th March 1900

Sir John McEwen was born in Chiltern, on this day in 1900. His father died in 1907 and consequently McEwen was raised by his grandmother with her sister. He was educated at state schools and at 15 became a junior public service clerk. He enlisted in the Army immediately upon turning 18 but the First World War ended while he was still in training. He commenced dairy farming at Tongala (Victoria), near Shepparton, and then changed to sheep and cattle farming in nearby Stanhope. McEwen was the 18th Prime Minister of Australia. He was the last member of the Country Party to serve as prime minister. He was nicknamed “Black Jack” by Robert Menzies due to his dark ‘beetle-browed’ appearance and temper.

 

 

ON THIS DAY – February 10, 1966

Detectives found that a murdered youth’s car had been used to drive the youth and a girl to the place where their bodies were found. The bodies of Gary Heywood, 18, and Abina Madill, 16, of Shepparton, were found in a paddock at East Murchison, 20 miles from Shepparton on this day in 1966. The decomposed state of the bodies is hampering police pathologists but dust samples taken from the youth’s car were found to be identical with samples from the paddock. The search for the two teenagers began about three weeks ago when they failed to return to a dance at the Shepparton Civic Hall after leaving to go for a drive. Heywood’s car was found next morning with the petrol tank half full, it had been abandoned near an area known locally as “Lovers’ Lane”. The girl’s white leather shoulder bag, its contents intact, was found later on the roadside about 14 miles from Shepparton. Police believe the two teenagers were bundled into a car by the killer or killers and taken to East Murchison. Heywood was shot through the head and the girl was battered to death.

Raymond Edmunds (Mr. Stinky) was convicted of the murder of 18-year-old panel beater Garry Heywood and rape and murder of 16-year-old Abina Madill on 10 February 1966 at Murchison East, near Shepparton, Victoria after they disappeared from a rock ‘n’ roll dance. Heywood was shot through the head with a .22-calibre Mossberg self-loading rifle and Madill was raped and then bludgeoned to death.

 

On this day ………… 4th February 1939

The indigenous people of Australia were the original inhabitants of the Australian continent. Ever since Europeans first settled the continent, Australian history has been dotted with instances of injustices against the native people. As European settlement spread, more and more Aborigines were displaced from their traditional home. They were dispossessed of their land and, due to the hostilities between whites and Aborigines, they were moved onto reserves and missions, where they were supposed to be protected. The Cummeragunja Mission in southern New South Wales was one such mission, established in 1881, primarily for the Yorta Yorta people who inhabited the land just north of the Murray River near Barmah, Victoria. Many of the Yorta Yorta had been relocated from the strictly religious Maloga Mission, and were permitted to live more self-sufficiently on Cummeragunja, establishing a farm and producing wheat, wool and dairy products. In 1915, the New South Wales Aboriginal Protection Board took over control of Cummeragunja, disbanding the farm’s committee of management, meaning that the residents no longer had control over funds they raised from their work on the farm. Conditions for the residents became far more restrictive, and a system of distributing rations was implemented. These rations were unhealthy and insufficient, other supplies were minimal, and shelter was inferior. By the 1930s, illness was rife throughout the mission. On 4 February 1939, between 150 and 200 indigenous residents staged a mass walk-off in protest against the deplorable living conditions. They crossed the border into Victoria, which was against the rules of the New South Wales Protection Board. Many of them subsequently settled in towns such as Barmah, Echuca and Shepparton. No further action was taken on behalf of the aboriginal people’s claims for compensation, and little has been taken in recent years. At most, the Yorta Yorta people have received about one tenth of 1 percent of the traditional lands they lost to European settlement.

 

 

ON THIS DAY – January 20, 1940

Charged with having shot Xhezar Ramadan at Shepparton on January 20 with intent to murder him, Rakip Begir, 42, labourer, of Shepparton, appeared in the City Court. The police prosecutor, Sub-Inspector Charlesworth, said that it was alleged that Beglr had been involved in a quarrel with the proprietor of the Seven Stars Albanian Club, Shepparton, outside the club. Later he entered the club and returned with a pistol and shot Ramadan in the stomach. Sub-Inspector Charlesworth, who said that Ramadan had improved slightly, but was still on the danger list at the Mooroopna Base Hospital, asked that bail be refused. Later Mr. M. Goldberg for Begir told the Court that Ramadan had greatly improved and was no longer on the danger list. Mr. MacLean then fixed bail at £500.

 

 

On this day …….. 16th of January 1983

An unidentified flying object was reported crossing the sky above Victoria shortly after 6pm on this night in 1983, according to a Federal Department of Transport spokesman. Sightings came from south-eastern Melbourne suburbs, Moorabbin Airport, south-east of Melbourne, and Shepparton, 180 kilometres to the north. The department spokesman said the object was sighted in the north-eastern sky. An air-traffic controller at Moorabbin Airport reported the object as being “bright silver” at first but changing colour to green and red as it headed further north. A spokesman for the Federal Government committee monitoring space objects said there was “little chance” the object was the Russian satellite Cosmos which passes over Australia four times a day. The satellite was scheduled to pass over South Australia and Queensland at 6.30pm but should not have been visible from Victoria. “The Government is confident that if there was any change in the Cosmos orbit the United States would notify Australia,” he said. Calls reporting sightings began soon after 6pm. Melbourne airport flight-service officer Mr Joe White said, “I was sitting at my flight-service console and I just saw it in the background out the window. It was heading downwards at a steep angle, about 80 degrees, but disappeared from sight before it reached the ground. “It was bright green and had a tail of light behind it which was also a green colour.” The senior operations controller at Tullamarine Airport, Mr Brian Whiteley, said the object did not show up on radar screens and a check confirmed that no aircraft were missing. “We contacted the RAAF and have reported it as an unidentified flying object,” he said. An officer at Tidbinbilla Deep Space Communications Centre in Canberra said that no NASA station around the world had reported any satellite coming down. The president of the Victorian UFO Research Society, Mrs Judith Magee, said reports of sightings died down yesterday and she felt it had been the Cosmos satellite.

 

 

On this day …….. 14th of January 1940

Near the Torrumbarry Weir on the Murray River on the 14th of January 1940, a local man named J.F Williams found a corked bottle with a message inside. Although the paper was badly discoloured, the writing was still decipherable and Williams was amazed to find that it had been written by a namesake. It read: “F. Williams, 10 Welsford Street, Shepparton, Vic. Bottle dropped over the bridge, Shepparton, 2 March 1926”.  The bottle travelled 96 kilometres in 14 years.