Crackajack Cold Case

“The efforts of the police to discover some clue which may lead to the identification of the two bodies found on Friday in the shaft of Rushworth gold mine, formerly known as the Morning Star, have been continued throughout yesterday and today. The most promising piece of evidence so far has been a Crackajack mouth organ wrapped in a bloodstained piece of newspaper, which bears on the edge of the bloodstain a remarkably well-defined thumb print. The bodies were found lying on the first level in the shaft, about 140ft below the surface. The date of tho paper does not appear, but its contents, which refer to the opening ceremonies in connection with the reception of the American fleet, show that It is part of the issue of August 28.

The discovery of these articles in the same shaft as the bodies, and the significant blood stain on the paper, point to its being in some way connected with the crime-for crime, so far as can be judged at present, has been responsible for the presence in the shaft of the two corpses which were brought up on Friday afternoon horribly mutilated and quite unidentifiable. The mouth organ and its covering of newspaper were found by Mr. John Lightfoot, mine manager, about three inches from the edge of the level, and enclosed in a cheap cotton “tucker bag.” Beside it there lay portion of a man’s waistcoat of brown tweed. The site of the Morning Star is immediately adjacent to the town of Rushworth, and is only a few yards distant from the main road to Whroo.” (The Sydney Morning Herald, Sunday 30th November 1908)

A Crackajack mouth organ wrapped in an undated Argus newspaper, stained with blood and fingerprints was discovered beside two disfigured decomposed bodies. Who are they? What happened to them and by whom. Their brutal murder could not have occurred any earlier than the 20th August 1908 as the newspaper contained a story on the American Fleet’s arrival.

PATHOLOGIST AT WORK.

Dr. Crawford H. Mollison arrived from Melbourne by the first train today, and proceeded direct to the mine, where he set about his work of examination. He was occupied with it for more than four hours, and even at the end of that time he had not collected sufficient data to pronounce definitely on many important points. His report on the matter will not be completed until he has had an opportunity of examining the rest of the remains which it is expected will be found in the shaft. The body of the woman, or that portion of it which has been recovered, offered little scope for the pathologist, by reason of its advanced stage of decay. Both the legs were broken, and many smaller bones were fractured. The absence of the head was, of course, a serious handicap, and Dr. Mollinson would offer no opinion as to the cause of her death, nor would he commit himself as to the manner in which the man had been killed. A large portion of the man’s skull is missing, and in the absence of this there is difficulty in pronouncing whether death was caused by head injuries, or whether the shattering of the skull was done before or after death. The conclusion that the pathologist has reached, however, are consistent with the theory based on non-medical evidence, that deliberate murder has been done, and he was able to say that the condition of the bodies was such that they might have been alive on August 29, and notwithstanding the fact that the male body was in a state of greater preservation than the corpse of the woman, his investigations did not lead him to the conclusion that there had been an appreciable interval between the death of the two persons. A progress report will probably be furnished to the coroner (Mr. Knight) within a couple of days.

Pending the recovery of further remains and possibly clothing or other articles from the shaft, the task of solving the mystery will probably continue to be attended with serious difficulty.

Crowds flocked to the town of Rushworth in Melbourne to view the bodies that were on display at the local Blacksmith’s shop, which was only a few yards from the mine. The mine was noted as a place where swagmen and other deadbeats camped. The dead man was described as a tall, stalwart fellow with black whiskers. A man fitting this description had been witnessed in the area by a woman who keeps a hotel in the area. Her somewhat dim recollection was of a man often walking down the main street with a billy can and was of the tramp class.

Who was the dead woman in the mine? Was she a woman? Originally it was assumed that it was a short, plump woman known as the Trotting Cob, but the body could have been plump because of gaseous distension of the intestines. This person was later ruled out as they were located. Another theory postulated was that it was woman masquerading as a man and that her death may have been a result of her identification as a male. This theory had its support as the corpse was attired in a man’s rough Crimean shirt and a man’s black sock. It was thought they had been murdered while they were both asleep due to the imposing physical stature of the man.

In a statement to Victorian Police a man named Iddles reported that one evening he heard screams of murder up the bush and not long after a woman ran past him followed by a man. He also furnished a description of a swagman he knew who camped in the vicinity of the mine that resembled the man pulled from the mine shaft. He had left a number of items with Iddles, but he never returned to collect them.

A later report made by Alfred Jasper a storekeeper at Waranga Basin said he knew a man Hans Bloom who answered the description of the murdered man. He was called the Big Swede and he had been camping with a woman, Grace Collins. He had reported to the authorities they were missing.

Yet another story surfaced that two men and two women had arrived in Rushworth in the month of June. The men were named Harris and McCabe, one of the women was a sister of Harris (known as Mrs Love) and the other was unknown. They had been camping at the slaughter yards, but moved on to the Forge at the Morning Star mine. One of the party had a revolver and the other a mouth organ, however the dates didn’t align with the newspaper.

At the inquest Dr. Mollison concluded,

Dr Mollison detailed the results of his post-mortem examination of the bodies, which he found in a terrible state of decomposition. The generative organs were entirely missing, and the pelvis of the smaller body was smashed, so that he could not say definitely if the remains were those of a woman or a man, although in his opinion they were those of a woman. The bodies were smashed about in such a manner that most of the bones were broken, and it was impossible to say whether any of the fractures had been caused prior to death. The bodies were in such an advanced state of decomposition that the liver and spleen had entirely disappeared, while the heart was barely recognisable. The coroner found that the bodies of two unknown persons had been taken from the Rushworth mine on 27th November last, but that there was no evidence to show how or by what means the victims had come by their deaths.

Who were they? What happened? Who did it? What was their motive? To this very day the case still remains unsolved. A very cold case.

Ch EssDawg

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