In Dunedin's Southern Cemetery there can be found a gravestone with a remarkable sequence of words on it. As well as three names are the words "who were brutally murdered." When I first saw this stone a few years ago I was instantly intrigued. What could be the reason for such an epitaph? Returning home, I looked online for references to the names in the inscription. That led to my discovery of the massive resource named "Papers Past," without which - at least for me - blogging would not be possible. It was the beginning of a journey.
Now, at time of writing this, my story count is 499. This reworked story, of the Dewar family and the man who murdered them, will be number 500.
MONDAY, MARCH 15, 1880.
Since the atrocious deeds of the Burgess and Kelly gang, nothing has occurred in this Colony so full of horror as the murder yesterday morning of the unfortunate Grant family. The whole circumstances, so far as at present known, point to predetermined action, and the cold-blooded monster who perpetrated the crime appears carefully to have chosen his time and opportunity, and to have used a weapon which effectually made sure of his victims. He killed them — and this is a matter worth noting, which possibly has not escaped the attention of the police — much after the fashion in which a bullock is despatched in the slaughteryard. The presumption is that the man who could deal such death blows with nerve and precision had had his hand in similar work before. We say only the presumption; but a clue worth following might possibly be thus obtained. This murder is naturally enough the interest of the hour, and the mystery of the motive seems altogether beyond solution. The idea that the murderer was a maniac would seem to be untenable. A maniac so violent as such a one must have been, could hardly have avoided detection, and certainly, we should think, would have in one way or another, been discovered during the day. The homicidal mania, again, is inconsistent with the deliberate attempt to destroy the bodies by burning the house over them. A lunatic, having indulged his frenzy to the full, either sinks into a state of despondency from the reaction, or parades his deeds, feeling elated at his success. It would be some poor consolation if the Cumberland street tragedy could truly be attributed to the acts of a person rendered irresponsible by insanity; but, as we have said, such a theory does not appear consistent with the facts. This theory rejected, we are faced by the difficulty of conceiving what possibly could have been the motive. That there was a motive must, of course, be admitted, unless the monstrous proposition be asserted that there exist in modern society fiends in human shape who would kill from the mere lust of bloodshedding. If such a wretch does live in our midst he would hardly have gone out of his way to slay the sleeping Grants when he might have found victims more ready to his hand. Now, what are the ordinary motives which have, by experience, been found to lead to the crime of murder? The lust of money in many instances; more exceptionally the passions of love, hatred, and revenge. We are speaking of premeditated murder, such as that of the Grants evidently was; many murders, legally so considered, result from sudden impulse, a fit of rage, or the imminent fear of detection in other serious crime. Murders also are on record which have been committed in cold blood in order to conceal the consequences of crime or destroy the evidences. In this instance there is nothing at present to guide even to a conjecture, further than the fact that money or money's worth could hardly have been the object. The victims were not wealthy, and stood in no man's path to wealth; nor did the murderer take what few articles of value were in the house. We can only hope that the speedy discovery of the criminal may solve the problem in the only satisfactory manner possible. -Evening Star, 15/3/1880.
The following was issued by us as an "Extra" yesterday forenoon. We printed between 600 and 700 of them; distributed them to all and sundry who came to the office between 11.30 a.m. and 1 p.m., and had them posted in conspicuous parts of the town. We were utterly unable to supply the demand for them after the churches were out, and therefore closed our doors:-
The block of land in King street, between Union and St. David streets, is gaining an unenviable notoriety. It was this morning the scene of a tragedy more atrocious than that which happened in the immediate neighboihood last month, whilst unlike it this affair is completely shrouded in mystery.
In Cumberland street, midway between St. David and Union streets, and almost immediately in the rear of of Lincoln Cottage — the scene of the Hayes tragedy — is a new three roomed cottage, which lays about 30ft back from the street. It was built and occupied by one James Grant (otherwise Dewar), a butcher, and his family. James was married about eighteen months ago, and the result of the union was a child — one of the victims of this tragedy. Grant has of late been carrying on business on his own account, but, for some time previous he was in the employ of Messrs McDonald and Doring and Dornwell respectively. He was aged about thirty years, and has been in this Colony nearly twentytwo years. His proper name was Dewar, but his mother (who resides in a house just behind his), having remarried a carpenter named Grant, he adopted his stepfather's name.
Between six and seven o'clock this morning a Mr Robb, who lives in Lambeth road, opposite, was startled by seeing smoke issuing from one of the front windows. He aroused his son, who is a fireman, and he, having partially dressed himself, went over, knocked loudly at the front door, and receiving no reply, raised an alarm, which brought some neighbors on to the scene, and subsequently Sergeant Deane and a constable.
On the house being entered there was discovered, lying on the floor of the bedroom, Mrs Grant in her nightdress, with blood issuing from her head, and quite unconscious. The bedroom was full of smoke. There, on the bed, lay Mr Grant, with a severe blow on his head, evidently inflicted by an axe, which lay at hand, and which bore marks of blood on it. The infant was also in the bed, apparently suffocated, the lower part of the mattrass having been set fire to by a lighted candle, which was found alongside of it. Mrs Grant was then lifted from off the floor, carried into the sitting-room, and Dr Niven, who was sent for, on seeing her condition, ordered her removal to the Hospital.
The tragedy must have been committed very early this morning. By whom it has been done is a question that the police are now endeavoring to solve. So far as we could learn nothing has been missed from the house, nor does anything in the other rooms appear to have been disturbed. The only suspicious circumstances is that the door of the house was found to be open. The wounds on Grant's head, and those on his wife, appear to the un-professional eye to negative the theory of having been self inflicted; and there is the additional circumstance vouched for by many people who knew the couple intimately that they lived very happy lives. The strangest part of the whole affair is that none of the neighbors, some of whom lived as near as 12ft to Grant's house, heard the slightest noise, and were awoke by the alarm of fire, raised by the fireman who lives close by.
On inquiry at the Hospital at eleven o'clock this morning we learned that Mrs Grant was still unconscious. She has three wounds on the head, causing a compound depressed fracture of the skull. One of the wounds is on the crown of the head, the second behind the right ear, and the third on the temple. The operation of trepanning was performed on her by Dr Brown, and she now lays in a very precarious condition, the medical gentlemen entertaining but faint hopes of her recovery.
The fullest details of the affair, obtained by our reporter, are subjoined:
It is now beyond dispute that the person to discover that Grant s house was on fire was Mr Robb, sen., who fixes the time at 6.40 a.m. The side of his house in Lambeth place faces Cumberland street, and through the front seotion being unoccupied, a clear view of the street is obtained from his kitchen window. Mr Robb happoned to be passing through his kitchen shortly after half-past six, and, on looking out of the window, noticed smoke issuing from the windows of Grant's house. Not feeling sure that it was a fire, he stood watching the house for some moments; but at length seeing that the smoke increased, his doubts were set at rest, and he lost no time in rousing his son, who is a member of the City Fire Brigade; and the latter, having donned his uniform, proceeded to the house, being the first person to enter it.
James Haydon, an expressman, says that he was awakened about four in the morning — he is pretty sure of the time — by a loud noise at the back. He thought that the roof of his stable had been carried away. He got up, went to the back door, but saw nothing except a dim light, as of a candle, burning in the sitting room of Grant. Observing nothing to alarm him, or account for the noise, he returned to his bed, and was awoke again shortly after six by hearing a cry of fire. He hurriedly dressed himself and went to his back-door, when he saw Mr Grant, senr., standing in front of Dewar's door. Grant called on him to go for a doctor. All the windows of the house were then closed, but the back door was open. Haydon did not go into the house, except to help to put Mrs Grant into the express. Mrs Grant was lying in the passage between the two rooms, and was uttering low moans. The only light he saw was in the sittingroom, but whether it was a candle or kerosene lamp he could not remember. He testifies that the Grants were exceedingly quiet neighbors, and he never heard of them quarrelling, or of the slightest thing to warrant the supposition that they did not live happily.
Mr T. H. Rix, a compositor in this office, whose house almost abuts on to Grant's, his kitchen wall being separated from the latter's sitting-room wall by a distance of 12ft, informs us that none of the inmates of his house, some of whom slept in a back room, heard any noise whatever in Grant's house during yesterday morning. He was awoke by the alarm of fire raised by a person whom he now believes to be Robb; and having dressed himself, he ran round to the front of Grant's house. Smoke was then issuing from underneath both front windows, and he observed — a fact that appears to have escaped the notice of everybody else — that the sitting-room window was open for fully 8in. His first act was to shut down the window, and so prevent the air passing through to fan the fire. Later in the day, Mrs Rix, whilst standing in her back yard, noticed lying in the grass immediately beneath the sittingroom window a white-handled dessert knife, which was taken possession of by one of the detectives. Mr Rix adds to the general testimony borne by the neighbors to the apparently happy lives of the Grants, and their peaceableness as neighbors.
Dr Niven courteously informed our representative that he was sent for shortly before seven o'clock. When he saw her Mrs Grant was lying in the sitting-room suffering from three blows on the head. Two of them were not very serious, but from the nature of the third he apprehended from the first that fatal consequences must ensue. He also described the wound on Grant's head, which in his opinion caused instantaneous death. In answer to the question put to him directly whether, from the nature of the wounds presented on either Mr or Mrs Grant, one could have murdered the other and afterwards committed suicide, the doctor affirmed unhesitatingly his belief that such a thing was physically impossible; the blows were dealt to each by some third person.
Mr Robb, junr., states: About a quarter to seven o'clock I was awoke by my father, who had, it appears, seen smoke issuing from the house in which the Grant lived, and I being a member of the Fire Brigade he naturally aroused me. I partly dressed and ran across the street and knocked at the front door, but receiving no answer ran round to the back door, which I found wide open. At this time smoke was coming out of the bedroom window and from under the roof of the house. Entering by the back door I found the smoke so dense that I had to crawl on my hands and knees along the passage. At length I reached the bedroom door, and as I entered the room I heard a gurgling sound. I called out "Get up!" but, receiving no answer, I felt about, and presently touched a person lying on the floor. The smoke was so dense that I could not see who it was, but I dragged the body out of the door, across the passage, and just made the passage, and then I found that it was a woman and that she was alive, though unconscious. I then ran out of the house to look for means of extinguishing the fire, and finding a bucket filled it with water from a tap. As it was filling I ran across to the house, a few yards in the roar, occupied by Mr and Mrs Grant, senr., the former stepfather, and the latter mother of the deceased Grant. These people I aroused, and shouted out that there was a fire, and I then ran into the burning house and emptied the bucket of water on the flames. While the bucket was filling again I went to the front of the house to look for assistance, and seeing a neighbor named Freeman coming out of his house I got him to assist me. While the latter was coming over I emptied the bucket again on the place in the bedroom, where I could see flames through the smoke, and feeling my way to the bed felt an infant lying there. This I carried out and gave to Mrs Grant, senr.; but it was quite dead, apparently suffocated. Freeman, Mr Grant, sen., and other men having now arrived I was kept supplied with water, and we extinguished the fire. Before the smoke had cleared away I had found the body of Mr Grant lying in the bed. He was lying on his back, quite dead, with a dreadful wound on the head. An American axe, belonging to the deceased, was near the head of the bed.
Dr Brown, who inspected the body of the deceased Grant at the Hospital, is of opinion that the blow was given while Grant was asleep, and that it caused instant death. Mrs Grant had three wounds — one on the crown of the head, one by the left ear, and one on the left temple. He considers it beyond question that the wounds were not self-inflicted on either Grant or his wife, and that the one could not have inflicted the wounds on the other.
After Mrs Grant, junr., had been removed to the Hospital she received every possible attention, and at one time appeared to to improving slightly; but towards evening she relapsed again, and expired shortly after midnight without having recovered consciousness.
During to-day a number of most absurd rumors have been afloat concerning the probable murderer, and several persons were said to have been arrested on strong suspicion. There is, however, no truth in any of these statements, no person having been apprehended up to the time of our going to press. The following rough plan indicates approximately the locations of the several casualties that have happened on the block:-1. House in which Roberts, a horse-dealer, committed suicide.
2. Jackson's house, in which a child was burned to death.
3. O'Brien's house, in which two children were burned to death.
4. Lincoln Cottage, in which the Hayes murder and suicide occurred.
6. Grant's cottage — scene of yesterday's tragedy. -Evening Star, 15/3/1880.
As will be revealed in due course, the perpertrator of the tragedy was not far away when the fire was discovered. He was standing on a street corner, watching for the signs which would show him that the house was burning and evidence of his crime being erased.
THE CUMBERLAND STREET TRAGEDY.
TO THE EDITOR. Sir,—
As, in the absence of any apparent motive, it has been suggested that yesterday's triple murder was the bloody work of a maniac, it is worth noting that the facts of the tragedy closely resemble the most sensational tableau in the melodrama which was performed last week at the Princess Theatre, and in which a returned sailor uses an axe for the purpose of killing his wife. Such an incident would make a deep impression on any spectator having homicidal mania who happened to be among the audience, The excitement which dramatic representations create in weak or diseased brains is most remarkable. Just as
Guilty creatures sitting at a play
Have by the very cunning of the scene
Been struck so to the soul, that presently
They have proclaimed their malefactions.
So may the very same exciting cause lead innocent but insane people to commit crimes.
A singular instance of the effect of even a dramatic reading occured less than two years ago at Gawler town, in South Australia, when the Rev. Charles Clark was giving his favorite recitation of Sairey Gamp and Betsy Prig. The leading merchant of the place, a Mr Harris, whose brain was slightly affected, was present with his wife and family, and when Mr Clark introduced the mysterious "Mrs Harris" the unfortunate gentleman rose, declared that he would not allow the lecturer to take such a liberty with his wife's name on a public platform, and used such violent and threatening language that he had to be removed from the hall.
Against the theory that the murderer was a lunatic it is urged that the idea of setting the cottage on fire so as to destroy all traces of the murder would not have occurred to a maniac. I venture to think that this circumstance points in quite the opposite direction. The chance that the flame or smoke would leed to the earlier discovery of the tragedy (which it actually did), possibly even before the murderer got away, was infinitely greater than that the fire would completely consume the remains of the victims. In a word, the arson., if not the murder, looks like — to use the common phrase — "the act of a madman." —I am, etc , R. S. Smythe. Dunedin, March 15. -Evening Star, 15/3/1880.
The police at Waikouaiti have arrested a man named Butler, alias Donnelly, charged with the murder of Grant, his wife and child. When arrested he drew a revolver, but did not use it. He had recently been discharged from gaol, after serving a sentence for burglary at Bishop Moran’s residence. He left Blueskin at ten o’clock, and will be brought to Dunedin to-night. -Ashburton Herald, 16/3/1880.
THE CUMBERLAND STREET TRAGEDY.
An inquest touching the death of James Murray Dewar, Elizabeth Mary Jane Dewar, and Elizabeth Lindsay Dewar, was opened at the Hospital this afternoon, before Mr Thomas Hocken, district coroner. The following gentlemen were sworn in as a jury: —James Steel Smith, Archibald Walker, John Otto, Robert Brown, Thomas John Goodman, Alexander Allan, George Waite Harrold, William Baskett, Alexander Durie, Charles Ziele, Grant Preston Farquhar, Charles Augustus Smyth, George Esther, and John Gray. The neighborhood of the Gaol and the Hospital were crowded with people, evidently anxious to get a glimpse of Butler; but they were disappointed, as his presence was not deemed necessary.
The inquiry was held in the small room at the rear of the Hospital, and a more inconvenient place cannot be imagined. About thirty people were crowded into a space 15ft x 12ft, into which the Hospital authorities declined to put more than one table and a couple of forms. Mr Inspector Mallard watched the proceedings on behalf of the police. A crowd of persons assembled outside the building, showing the great interest felt in the proceedings. The names of the jurors having been read over,
The Coroner said: There are two more gentlemen summoned, and whose names have been called. They are those of Messrs Blair and Blackadder. If these gentlemen have engagements I shall be glad to dispense with their services. Fourteen jurors will, I think, be enough. Messrs Blair and Blackadder then retired.
The Coroner, addressing the jury, said: I need hardly tell you, gentlemen, that you are called together to inquire into the circumstances attending the deaths of James Dewar, his wife Elizabeth, and their child Elizabeth Lindsay, which occurred early on Sunday morning last. From the evidence which will be laid before you, I think you will have no doubt that a most brutal murder has been committed on the parents. The little infant has apparently died from suffocation. It would appear that the murderer, who used an axe to deal his death-blows, tried to efface all traces of it by setting fire to the house, as a lighted candle was found burning under the bed. I shall ask you, gentlemen, at this inquest to cover as much ground as you can, and to attend to the circumstances concerning this incendiarism, as well as to those attending the death of the deceased. I do not purpose to-day to take more evidence than what will lead merely to the identification of the bodies, and then to adjourn till to-morrow at the City Police Court. Mr Watt has kindly placed his court at my disposal. At the adjournment of the inquest this afternoon it will be well for you to go to the house and inspect it and the whole of the surroundings, which will enable you to understand the evidence which will be brought before you.
Mr G. P. Farquhar: Mr Coroner, I wish to inform you hat I have a case in the Court to-morrow at 11 o'clock. How will that affect me?
The Coroner: I wish that you had mentioned that before. What is the case? Is it in the Resident Magistrate's Court ?
Mr Farquhar: Yes. Is is a debt case.
The Coroner: Yourself against someone?
Mr Farquhar: Yes.
The Coroner: Oh, I understand your case is for 11 o'clock to-morrow. It will be finished in time for us to-morrow. I hope we shall have no more inquests held in this room.
Mr Goodman was proposed as foreman of the jury, as was Mr Farquhar, but the firstmentioned declined, saying that he preferred Mr Farquhar to act.
The Coroner: We will now go to see the bodies, aid I will point out to you the injuries received by each.
On the jury returning, the following evidence was given:
Thomas Aitchisen, who was the first witness examined, deposed: I am a shepherd, living on the Hampden Downs Estate, belonging to Mr Macgregor. The deceased Elizabeth Jane Dewar was my danghter. At the time of her death she was twentyfour years of age. She was a native of Victoria, a Presbyterian by religious persuasion, and was married about fourteen months. I was at Hampden at the time of the occurrence, therefore I knew nothing of the particulars to throw any light on it.
Mary Grant: I live with my husband James Grant in Cumberland street and close to the house belonging to the deceased. The deceased James Murray Dewar was my son. He was 29 years of age at the time of his death, a native of Glasgow, married, a butcher by occupation, and a Presbyterian by religious persuasion. The child's name was Elizabeth Lindsay Dewar and her age nine months. She was born in Dunedin. I last saw my son alive on Saturday afternoon, between three and four o'clock. He was in his own house and then came to mine. He was quite well. I saw his wife going in and out several times after that. They were on the best of terms. I know nothing whatever to throw any light upon this affair. I went into the deceaseds' house before seven o'clock next morning, a fireman having called me. When I got to the house Mr Robb said "Come in, there's something serious wrong here." I entered by the back door, which was open. The house was full of smoke. I saw my daughter lying across the passage, with her feet in the bedroom door and her head towards the sittingroom door. She was lying slightly on her right side, her hands by her side. Her night-dress was on. I thought she was dead, but on approaching I noticed she was breathing. She was covered with blood: it was coming from the left side of the ear. She was alive, but insensible. She breathed slowly. The fireman told me he had placed her where she was. I went into the bedroom, which was full of smoke, and the bed was burning away. A lighted candle had been put under the bed, but it had burnt out. [A Small candlestick was here produced and identified by the witness. It was quite black, the candle having evidently burned itself out.] The candlestick belonged to deceased. It was usually kept on the kitchen mantel-piece. They did not use it on going to bed, but had a small kerosene lamp. The candle was only used when going into the sitting-room. The candlestick was under the bed just where the fire was burning. The night-lamp was lying on the floor in front of the drawers. The large lamp was in front of the basin stand; the globe was broken in pieces on the floor. There was a great deal of water on the floor thrown by the fireman. My son was lying on his back in the bed, his face turned slightly to the window. He was quite dead. His right eye was black, and his brains protruding through a hole in his skull. He was lying straight out as if in an attitude of rest. The pillow on which he was lying was covered with blood. The bed-clothes were undisturbed on his side, but on his wife's side they seemed as if they had folded down for the purpose of getting out of bed. There was blood on her pillow, and the wall looked as if she had rubbed her head up against it, being smeared with blood. The deceaseds' wearing apparel was lying on the floor beside the bed. Nothing whatever has been stolen from the house. I recognise the axe produced as the one kept in the coalbunker outside. I saw it when I went into the bedroom at the head of the bed, against the partition. I know nothing whatever that will thrown any light on the affair. The night was a very windy one. I did not see any lights in the house as I go to bed earlier than the deceased. I do not know whether the doors and windows were usually fastened, or the reverse. The child was lying at the back of the father in the bed. I thought it was alive at first, as it was quite supple when I lifted it up, but it was quite dead. Its clothes were not all disturbed, and I should fancy it died from suffocation. The candlestick under the bed was placed in the centre a little to one side. The flowerpots, two in number, were kept on the sewing machine in the sitting-room. I have never seen the table knife produced before.
To a juryman: The deceased had no quarrel with anybody, nor bore any ill-feeling towards anybody.
At the conclusion of the last witness's evidence, the Coroner said that he thought three o'clock to-morrow would be a convenient time to continue the inquiry, as Mr Watt used the Court in the morning, and they could not very well get there before. Some of the jurymen suggested a later hour and some an earlier, but the Coroner fixed it at three o'olock. -Evening Star, 17/3/1880.
The Dewar family were buried in Dunedin's Southern Cemetery on March 18, 1880. Below is a photo of the gravestone as I first found it - lying on the gound. The stone has recently been restored.
This afternoon the remains of the Dewar family were conveyed to the Southern Cemetery, where the Rev. Dr Stuart performed the funeral rites. The procession was a long one, comprising about 170 footmourners, besides a number in vehicles. -Evening Star, 18/3/1880.
MILTON, May 3. At the Quarterly District Meeting of the Foresters hold here on Friday LlO was voted cowards erecting a monument to the Dewar family. Dewar was a member of Court Pride of the Leith. The next quarterly meeting is to be held at Invercargill. -Evening Star, 3/5/1880.
THE DUNEDIN TRAGEDY.
Referring to the arrest of the man Butler on suspicion of being the perpetrator of the double murder and attempted arson in Cumberland street, Dunedin, the other day, the Otago Daily Times says: — "Butler, alias Edward James Donnelly, was discharged from gaol here on February 18th,. after serving a sentence of four years on a charge of burglary. Since the commission of the deed, the police have strongly suspected him of being the criminal, and from the first have laid their plans to catch him. Having heard that he had gone out of Dunedin northwards, the two constables stationed at Waitati and Waikouaiti respectively were ordered from headquarters to go out in search of him. On Monday afternoon these constables — Colbourne and Townsend by name — overtook him on the road about five miles from Waikouaiti. They at once ordered him to stand, when he sprang behind a flax bush at the side of the road, and drew a loaded six-chambered revolver, which he presented at them. The constables, however, rushed upon him and secured him, giving him no chance to use his weapon. He was taken to the Waikouaiti lock-up. .... This man Butler, whatever may turn out regarding his guilt or innocence of the crime at present imputed to him, is unquestionably a notorious and desperate criminal. His age is 28; he is a smart, clever, intelligent looking man, of good address and carriage, and he has a really good education (said to have been received chiefly in Pentridge Gaol, Victoria). If not a Victorian native, he has been in that colony since he was an infant. From the time he was 10 years of age he has been 'in trouble' almost constantly. In Victoria he served sentences in the total amounting to 13 years, his principal crime being robbery under arms. We believe he came to Otago in the end of 1875, or the beginning of 1876. The first knowledge we have of him in Otago is that for a period of some months in the early part of 1876 he held the position of teacher in the Roman Catholic school at Cromwell, a position his educational atainments enabled him to fill wonderfully well. He also established a night school in the town, which was numerously attended. For a time in Cromwell he seemed to be settling down to a respectable life. His antecedents were not known, and he earned for himself the character of a decent, deserving, respectable young man. But the criminal instinct could not be repelled. Although the charge was, we believe, never brought against him in a court of law, there was assumption so strong as to almost justify its being termed proof that from the residence of the Rev. Father Kehoe, the Roman Catholic clergyman stationed at Cromwell, he stole a large sum of money — L50 or L60, we believe. This theft he is believed to have effected by his favorite mode of entrance — the window. Through Butler's suggestions, suspicion became fastened on a young lad who attended his school; but it was transferred into what was believed afterwards to be the right path by the fact that Butler made heavy investments in clothes and jewelry. Almost immediately following this, he made a sudden exit from Cromwell society, and made his way to this city. Here he lost no time in getting to work. He gave the police a great deal of anxiety. His Cromwell history having been communicated to the police here, there was not long a doubt as to who was the chief actor in the burglaries which night after night were reported; but the difficulty was to discover the man, for none of the Dunedin police had any knowledge of his appearance. However, detection came at length. Butler's first exploit in Dunedin was breaking into the Queen's Theatre in Princes street on the night of Sunday, 23rd July, 1876. He obtained admission by breaking open a side door leading into the theatre from Dowling street. He stole therefrom a couple of wigs, a cornet, and other articles. On the 2nd August he committed some further small robberies; on that night also he entered the house of Bishop Moran. This he followed up on the night of the 6th of that month by obtaining entrance to the houses of Mr G. K. Turton and Mr T. S. Graham. In all these cases he made very considerable hauls in cash and jewelry. He did not long enjoy his liberty after this, for on the evening of the 8th he was arrested by Detective Henderson, and from the Guardian of August 10th we extract the following paragraph in reference to the burglar: — "Inspector Mallard and Detective Henderson found out the man Butler's residence yesterday, and secured a large quantity of stolen property. They found secreted in his box two loaded revolvers and an assortment of wigs and burglars' house breaking instruments. There is very little doubt that Butler is a systematic housebreaker, and he is supposed to be entirely alone in the different thefts that he has so cleverly accomplished. To know what a thorough rogue he is, we may mention that last Sunday he taught a certain Sunday school in Dunedin, and the same night broke into two houses and made away with £150 worth of jewelry." On the charges mentioned above, Butler received four years' penal servitude, in addition to three months' received in a lower court for a minor offence. On one of the charges Grant (this refers to Elizabeth Dewar) appeared as a witness against him.
Grant and his wife are everywhere spoken of as having been quiet, respectable people. Grant, in his capacity as rider out for the butchers with whom he was employed, had the character from customers of being most civil and obliging. He is said by his employers to have been a quiet, inoffensive man. Mrs Grant was highly esteemed by Mr and Mrs W. N. Blair and family, with whom she had been in service before marriage, and she is on all hands characterised as an eminently respectable woman. It is stated that Mrs Aitcheson, her mother, who resides in one of the country districts, was on Monday on her way down in the train, to visit her daughter, being all unconscious of the deplorable event; but that at Palmerston she received a rude awakening to the truth by hearing a stranger reading from one of the newspapers an account of the murder.
(BY TELEGRAPH.) Dunedin, Tuesday. At the City Police Court this morning, in the presence of a great crowd, the man Robert Butler, alias Donnelly, alias Midway, alias Lee, was charged on the information of the police with the murder of Mr and Mrs Grant and child on Sunday morning last, and remanded until Monday. He is also charged with attempting to shoot the arresting constable, and Inspector Mallard intimated that there would probably be a third charge of arson and burglary at the house of Mr Stamper, solicitor, on Saturday morning. It appears that prisoner, who has been recently discharged from gaol, had been lodging at the Scotia Hotel, within a few minutes walk of the house of the murdered man. He did not occupy his lodging on Friday or Saturday night but returned on Sunday morning within half an hour of the discovery of the murder, and after paying his bill, he walked to Blueskin, changing his clothes on the way, and clipping off his moustache. When arrested he had a loaded revolver and a number of cartridges, but was secured before he could use it. He is a small sharp looking man, under 30 years of age. -Southland Times, 17/3/1880.
The prisoner Robert Butler, who is suspected as the perpetrator of the treble murder in Cumberland- street, was brought before the Dunedin Police Court on Tuesday and remanded till Monday next, the 22nd instant. The charges against him are; attempt to shoot two constables; arson or burglary with reference to the burning down of Mr Stamper's house, and lastly, murder. The Coroner's inquest on the unfortunate victims of the Cumberland-street murder commenced on Wednesday before Dr Hocken and a respectable jury, but the proceedings were of little interest, the principal witness examined being Mrs Mary Grant. The inquest was resumed yesterday afternoon, and was expected to be finished last night. We shall give a summary report in our next issue. -Bruce Herald, 19/3/1880.
THE CUMBERLAND STREET TRAGEDY.
— Portraits of Victims, price 1s. I. Abraham, Queen’s Cigar Divan. -Evening Star, 20/3/1880.
THE CUMBERLAND STREET TRAGEDY.
The coroner's inquiry concerning the death of James Dewar, Elizabeth Dewar, and Elizabeth Agnes Dewar, was resumed before Mr Coroner Hocken, and a jury of fourteen, at the City Police Court at two o'clock this afternoon. The following additional evidence was given:
Henry Youngman deposed: I am Town Belt Ranger for the City Corporation. On Saturday morning last I went to the City Council Chamber as usual, and read the 'Daily Times.' From the evidence given by Sarah Gillespie on the day previously, and of the state of the mud on Butler's boots, I came to the conclusion that he had been skulking in the bush near the Northern Cemetery. As I was going in that direction I met Sergeant Dean and remarked to him that I thought Butler's clothes were in the bush, and that I would have a good look for them.
The Coroner: That was very creditable of you.
Witness: This would be about 10 o'clock. About 1 o'clock, when about 50yds from the entrance to the cemetery, I found a salmon tin, which induced me to believe that the clothes were not far distant. The salmon tin produced is the same. I continued the search, going on about six paces, where I found the coat produced, folded up like a ball.
The Coroner: Were these visible from the main road, or would you have to go in search?
Witness: You would have to go in and search all round the place; the ground fern is very thick. The spot is out of the line of the track. There is no footpath there.
The Coroner: Did you notice any steps or footmarks, as though anyone had pushed through?
Witness: No; there is necessity for that. The coat was rather damp, it had rained that day. I was wet through. I brought up the coat to the Police Barraacks, and handed it to Inspector Mallard. I had left the tin where I found it. Ina company with Detective Bain I returned to the search the same afternoon, and took him to where the salmon tin was found. In was still there. We searched till six o'clock, but found nothing else that day. The next morning (Sunday) I resumed the search about halfpast ten, and searched from Opoho to the Botanical Gardens, without success, and returned to where the salmon tin was. My object in so doing was to try and find the lid of the salmon tin. Near where I found the coat — about three or four yards from the place — I found the hat and cravat produced.
The Coronor: How was it you did not find the hat before as it was so near the place where you discovered the coat?
Witness: The fern was so dense it covered it. Both Detective Bain and myself must have nearly trampled on it. I took the things to the police station and gave them to Inspector Mallard, who locked them in the safe. I have not been searching since.
The Coroner: Great credit is due to you for taking so much trouble.
George Hutchinson: I will be fourteen years old in June. I live with Mr Garn in Howe street. I was walking with Alfred Miller on Sunday morning last, when I asked him if he would come into the bush and look for the missing things. He agreed, and on going into the bush Miller picked up a piece of an old hat. I found the two salmon-tins produced near the garden-seat overlooking Howe street. The tins were easily seen. They were on the footpath, and branches of elderberry grew over them. The tins would be about twenty-five yards from the seat.
John Woodsworth: I drive a milk-cart for my father, who lives in North-east Valley. I was coming along Cumberland street on Sunday morning, the 14th inst., between Howe and Dundas streets, when I noticed a man cross from the right-hand side of Dundas street towards Leighton's store. He was coming up towards Cumberland from the Scotia Hotel. This would be between 6.25 and twenty-five minutes to seven, but I would not be sure for five minutes. I stopped to serve a customer at the corner of Cumberland and Dundas streets, and I saw the man go towards Leighton's store, but I cannot say that I saw him knock. When I looked again the man came to the private door of the store and stood with his back against it. Just as I got up to him he stepped two step forward on to the kerbing and stared at me. This caused me to notice him in particular, for I thought perhaps he wanted me. I drove round the corner into Castle street to the next house to Leighton's store. In doing so I noticed three dogs on the road — two belonging to Mr Leighton — and the man picked up some stones and threw them at the dogs. The dogs were growling at him. I got off my cart and went to the corner of the street to see why he was throwing the stones. The man had then got to within about seven yards of Cumberland street, and was walking towards it. He went on to the kerbing of Cumberland street, and, stepping down, looked directly along in the direction of where the tragedy took place. He turned round and was coming back towards Leighton's store when my brother came up, and I had to go away with the milk-cart. He did not look along the street a minute. Just as my brother came up young Leighton came out of the store.
By the Coroner: I did not speak to the man. I was nearly asking him if he wanted milk he looked so hard at me, which caused me to take notice of him. He looked very pale.
The Coroner: Naturally pale?
Witness: I cannot say; I had never seen him before. He was wearing a top coat, buttoned close up to the chin, and a white scarf. When I got round into Cumberland street I heard of the murder. I did not see anyone about in the streets. I lave not seen the man again till this forenoon. I identified him in the gaol. I could not say whether he had a moustache then, I recognise him by his features and his eyes. He was not so pale this morning as on Sunday. I am quite sure of that. This morning he looked not nearly so pale; he was a good deal yellower.
Dr Brown: On Sunday, the 14th, a messenger came to my house at a quarter to nine in the morning, and called me to the Hospital. I went as quickly as possible, and on reaching the Hospital found the deceased, Elizabeth Dewar, in one of the wards. On first seeing her I was struck with seeing two large open wounds on her head. She was tossing about in bed. On examining the wounds I found the bones were broken and pressing on the brain. There was a third wound, which nearly severed the ear from the head. All these injuries were on the left side. Between the left ear and the eye there was an unbroken bruise. I removed the depressed pieces of bone; as a result the woman seemed to breathe easier, but she never recovered consciousness. While she was in bed I examined her for other wounds and found marks of a burn on her right great toe, and there was a blister above the right ankle and a number of scratches on both legs, also outside the right knee. I could not form any opinion as to how these scratches were done. There were other marks which I did not examine at the time. She died at 12.30 a.m. on Monday morning. On Monday, the 15th, at four o'clock I made a post mortem examination on her body. On looking at my notes I see I have mentioned the situation of one of the bruises, which I can refer to in detaling the post mortem. There was a bruise situated about -
The Coroner: Did you during your examination at the hospital see any marks of blood anywhere else besides on the head?
The Coroner: On her hands?
Witness: No. I looked at her hands and her finger nails, and did not see anything. There was a T-shaped wound about 3 1/2 inches above the left ear, and another straight wound about two inches above. I opened the skull and found, in addition to the fractured pieces of bone removed, that there was a fracture of the bone covering the ear, and a fracture of the bone between the eye and the ear, extending into the socket of the eye. The latter bone was driven in onto the brain also. The brain and its coverings were torn. The whole surface of the brain was covered by blood. There were marks of bruises on the right thigh — about six small bruises — one over the right hip, one on the tip of the right haunch bone, and one on the right arm above the elbow. I believe the woman had received four blows on the head, and that these were the cause of her death.
The Coroner: Could you say whether there was any interval between the infliction of these four blows, or were they rapidly delivered?
Witness: I cannot say.
The Coroner: And what sort of an instrument would cause these wounds?
Witness: Something about 7/8in wide and 2in or 3in in length.
The Coroner: Of course you know an axe was found?
[The axe found in Dewar's house was shown to witness.]
Witness: (After measuring the butt end of the axe) That would correspond almost exactly to the wound. It would be about 7/8 of an inch across the top. After leaving the Hospital on Sunday, the 14th inst., I went to the house at about ten in the morning with Inspector Mallard. There I saw the body of James Dewar lying on its back in the bed. The head was partly turned towards the left. There was a large wound in the right side of the head, from which the brain was protruding. His face was covered with blood, and there were small patches of brain on the side of the nose. The man's attitude was peaceful. His hands were lying calmly by the side of his body. Alongside where the man was lying there was an unoccupied pillow covered with blood, with a very deep indentation on it, as if a person's head had been driven deeply into it.
The Coroner: That would rather be a depression.
Witness: Yes, I mean depression — such as would correspond to a person's held.
The Coroner: And had been forcibly driven in to the pillow?
Witness: Yes. Lower down into the bed there was some excrement, and one of the man's hands was slightly soiled with it. It did not proceed from him. The wall over the top of the bed was sprinkled with blood. One ray of the blood seemed to proceed from where the man was lying, away from him towards the back of the bed and upwards in a fan shape. There were one or two spots over the bedpost near the front part of the bed. On the inner wall near the bed there was a very extensive surface smeared with blood; and on the door — the panel nearest the bed and adjoining it — there were a few small spots of blood, none of them larger than a pin's head.
The Coroner: Did you see any other smear of blood on the lower —
Witness: On the lower part of the door there was an extensive smear of blood. I saw a dead infant in the kitchen, but did not examine it. On Monday morning, the 15th, I made a post mortem examination of James Dewar. Outside the right eye there was a rectangular bruise; another above that, and farther back; a third still higher over the temple — this bruise was prolonged backwards to a jagged wound, and through this wound the brain was protruding...
The minute details of the murder scene are there online for the reader to find if necessary. I jump here to the evidence regarding Butler.
Inspector Mallard: On Monday, the 15th March, Detective Henderson and myself arrived at Waikouaiti by the evening train about half-past seven. I immediately went to the lockup, and the accused, Butler, was wearing the white shirt which has been referred to by Dr Brown in his evidence. I made a note of what took place so soon after as I could. The first thing I did after seeing the prisoner in the lock-up was to report to Mr Weldon, and at two o'clock in the morning I made this memorandum: — "On arrival at Waikouaiti immediately saw Butler in lock-up. Was lying down. He at once asked me what was the charge against him. Told him 'Murdering the man and woman in Cumberland street on Sunday morning.' He seemed terribly agitated, and had a choking appearance in his throat. After this passed off he said 'If that is the charge I have nothing to fear, for there is no evidence against me; but if I am hanged for it I shall die an innocent man, whatever other crimes I have committed.' I said 'There is evidence to commit you; the fire was put out.' Butler then said 'Since you told me that, I will ask you a question.' After pausing some time he said 'No, I will not ask you anything.' I then examined his clothes, and said 'These are not the clothes you left the Scotia in.' He said 'No, I threw them away in the North-east Valley yesterday. Those clothes (the ones worn) I have always had. Mr Caldwell (James Caldwell, in charge of the Dunein Jail) will tell that, and he knows that I threw my clothes away.' I said 'How can that be, when Mr Caldwell has not seen you.' He replied 'Oh! I mean other clothes too.' I said 'You had your moustache when leaving the Scotia; who took it off?' (it was off) He replied 'Oh, I cut it off myself while on the road.' His hands are much scratched, as if by bushes. Several times he commenced to ask questions, but stopped, and said 'No; I won't ask you anything.' He also appealed to Constables Colborne and Townsend, who were present with Detective Henderson and myself, and said they ought to remember him hereafter, as he could have shot them if he wished. 'Yes,' said Constable Townsend. 'so you would if we hadn't rushed you. You got no chance.' 10 45 p.m. Visited lock-up. Butler said 'Is that you, Mr Mallard. I want to speak to you. I want you as a favor to ask the Press not to publish my career. Give me fair play; but I suppose I shall be convicted and you will see I can die like a man.' The first intimation Butler received of the murder was from me. He was terribly agitated. Everything seemed to stop: there was choking in the throat, he trembled violently, and then a reaction set in of a solid nature."
The Coroner: Was it different agitation, do you think, to what a man would evidence on being charged of a murder when he was innocent?
Witness: Well, I looked upon it as something extraordinary. He asked me what he was charged with, and when I told him the agitation came over him. The opera-glass found on Butler was taken from Mr Stamper's on the night of the fire.
The Coroner: How long has Butler been out of gaol?
Witness: I think he was discharged about the 18th or 20th February.
The Coroner: Had you taken any precautions in the public safety to have this man kept under surveillance?
Witness: We had taken every precaution. We telegraphed for the detective at Invercargill; for the detective at Oamaru — but he was ill and the sergeant came; Sergeant Hanlon was instructed to come up from Port Chalmers; (this would seem to be the policeman who was father of the later renowned lawyer Alfred Hanlon) and on the 23rd February I wrote this memo: — "As I am afraid Butler, discharged from gaol a day or two since, is brooding too much, and not anxious for work, tell Detective Bain to keep him under proper surveillance." The reason I wrote the memo, was this: Butler called at the office and told me that he was not fit for manual labor and could not do it. He seemed to be very desirous of getting an introduction to one or two gentlemen connected with the Press. I begged him to give up his idea of prison life and turn over a new leaf. I told him both the Commissioner and myself were desirous that the police should not interfere with him; we only wished him to go to work. Of course we took care not to annoy him.
The Foreman: I don't know what position Butler holds to the Court; but the jury would like to know if there is any evidence to show any motive on his part, supposing he is the murderer.
The Coroner: The question can be put.
Witness: The only motive that I can see at present is this: deadly hatred of everyone. His temperament, from what I have seen of him, seems to be that he would go into your house and just as soon kill you as anyone else, even though he had never seen you before.
The Foreman: I can quite believe that. Was there a constable stationed in Cumberland street on Saturday night, and what would be the nearest point to the house he would reach during the night?
Witness: The constable would have charge of the block in Cumberland street and inquiries have been made of him whether he saw or heard anyone in the neighborhood. He would have passed along Cumberland street once or twice in the night. If not along that street he would have passed along Dundas street.
The Foreman: Was no other property found on Butler besides the glasses?
Witness: Nothing beyond the things produced here. There was no other stolen property that I am aware of. Nothing has been identified but the binocular glasses. We have been unable to find an owner for the cheese-knife found outside the house.
The Foreman: It is possible that it was a case of mistaken identity. He may have had some intimacy with another girl, and mistaken this one for her, and so murdered one for the other.
Witness: I never heard anything of the kind before.
The Foreman: It is one of the flying reports. I think, if possible, some further motive for the murder should be shown than there seems to be on the face of it.
The Foreman: Was she one of those who gave evidence against him at the previous trial?
Witness: She did not.
The Coroner: She did not even know him. I have learned that from her former employer.
The Foreman: This note has been handed to me: — "Mrs Dewar's father intimates to me that there was the resemblance referred to."
Mr Aitcheson was recalled, and stated that he had been told that there was a resemblance between his daughter and the girl referred to, but he had never inquired into the matter.
Inspector Mallard said Butler pleaded guilty at his trial, therefore no evidence was called.
Detective Bain identified the hat and coat found by Youngman. The house was, he believed, insured, but the policy was not found in it. The house belonged to a Building Society, and twelve payments of L25s a month had been made.
This concluded the evidence, and the Court adjourned till seven o'clock to enable the Coroner to sum up. -Evening Star, 23/3/1880.
The inquiry was then adjourned till 7 p.m.
On resuming, in addressing the Jury,
The Coroner said they would have no difficulty in concluding that a most wilful and brutal murder had been committed, and that the perpetrater had sought to destroy all traces of his crime by the act of incendiarism. This was so patent that he would not waste time by retelling to the evidence on that point. No doubt it would appear to them that the crime was one which stood apart from others of a like nature in two or three particulars. In the first place there was the apparent absence of motive; and secondly, the selection of a home inhabited by comparatively poor people; and thirdly, from the excessive ferocity of the whole crime. As regards the utter absence of motive, he would like to make a few remarks. Generally, revenge or burglary was the incentive to such a crime. But there there was no evidence of anything of the sort. In reference to the motive of robbery, Bain's evidence pointed to that to some extent, as he said the drawers were turned over, and so on; but it was astonishing that the house of a poor man should be selected. But whatever they might think regarding motive, it was a fact that in the annals of crime, murder had been committed for which there was no apparent reason. They should not, therefore, allow the absence of motive to weigh too strongly with them. The evidence showed that the crime had been the work of one man; and they must, if they thought the evidence strong enough against Butler, find a verdict against him; or, if they thought it weak, a verdict against some person unknown. He might here instruct them to allow the fact that Butler was a previous criminal not to weigh in their minds at all. There were six points against Butler. First, his absence from his lodging on the night; second, his extraordinary demeanour after the occurances; third, his going up to Cumberland street to look along it; fourth, his changing his clothes; fifth, the fact of blood having been found on his clothes; sixth, his remarks to the arresting constables and to Inspector Mallard. They might think one or two of these things trivial. He was frequently absent from his lodgings; then, with regard to his clothes, being a criminal and under police suirveillance he might have desired to get rid of his clothes and so cut himself off from his former habit of life. But trivial as some of them might be, they were important when taken as a whole; and the most important points against this man Butler was his demeanour on the Sunday morning directly after the occurance. This was so important that he would read over the evidence of Miss Gillespie. Having done so, he said she described him as looking frightened and trembling, and judged he trembled from the cold. It would be for the Jury to consider whether they also thought it was from cold. The Coroner then read over Donne's evidence as to Butler's demeanour at Blueskin; the boy Leighton's evidence; the evidence of the milkboy who had seen him near Leighton's store; and Inspector Mallard's statement as to the prisoner's manner in the lock-up. The first point for them was the value of his appearance on the morning of the murder and since then, and to consider whether that strengthened the other points he had mentioned. He would go over them all, mentioning as far as he could what might be said on the other side. As to Butler's absence from his lodging, there perhaps was not so much extraordinary in it. He was last seen at a quarter to 8 the previous evening in Dundas street, which bounded Dewar's block on one side. Then next morning he went to the Scotia Hotel, and from there he went along the street in a contrary direction to that afterwards taken by him in going away from town. Then with regard to ths change of clothing, and it was in connection with that he had taken the single piece of evidence that day in regard to the opera glass found on Butler being the property of Mr Stamper. No doubt it was natural that a man like Butler should wish, by taking off his clothes and his moustache, to cut himself off from his history. But they must consider the fact of the opera-glass being found upon him. The fire at Mr Stamper's might have been the act of the burglar or not, but Butler appeared to have got the glass as the result of the burglary, and they must ask, would it not be natural for him to have thrown away the glass if he wished to cut himself off from his previous associations? Then coming to the blood upon his clothes, it was possible that it came there by the scratching of his hands in the bush; and it might be argued that he would have put off his shirt as well as his clothes, but the blood spots were so small as only to be noticed by skilled examination, and perhaps, it might be thought, were missed even by himself. The last point was his demeanour when arrested. Having briefly referred to this, the Coroner said he thought he had more to say as to Butler's connection with the crime. It would be for them to weigh the evidence. Butler's demeanour after the occurrence was a strong point in determining the value of the other evidence. Although the matter did not end here, it was necessary and proper for them to return a verdict thoroughly founded on their belief, just as much as if they were a jury in the Supreme Court. It behoved them to pay very great attention to these points. He need hardly say that their verdict as regarded the husband would be the same as regarded the wife and child, and also as regarded the incendiarism, which they would have no doubt was raised to efface all traces of the deed. He then asked the Jury to consider their verdict.
The Jury retired at about quarter to 8 o'clock, and returned their verdict at 11.
The verdict was to the effect that Robert Butler, otherwise called Donnelly, did on the 14th day of March feloniously, wilfully, and of his malice aforethought kill and murder James Murray Dewar, Elizabeth Mary Jane Dewar, and Elizabeth Lindsay Dewar.
In making out the verdict as regarded the fire, the Coroner explained that generally in cases of fire the verdict ran that there was an intent to defraud an insurance company; but in this the presumed intent must be to injure some person, and Mrs Dewar being the only person alive, it would be taken that the intent was to injure her.
The arson verdict therefore; ran that Robert Butler, alias Robert Donnelly, did feloniously, unlawfully, and maliciously set fire to a certain house in Cumberland street with intent to injure Elizabeth Mary Jane Dewar. The verdicts were signed by only 12 of the jurymen, the two others taking this means of recording their dissent.
The following riders were added to the verdicts: — "(1) The Jury are further of opinion that; Robert Butler should have been present during the inquest, as it appears to them that his absence thereat was contrary to the principles of justice and of fair play; and further, his absence has weighed greatly with many of the Jury, who felt that they were scarcely in a position to return a verdict against a prisoner who was not present to hear the proceedings, to cross examine upon them, and, if he chose, to give evidence. (2) They also desire to express their high appreciation of the conduct of the fireman, Mr Robb, who first appeared on the ground, and also of Constables Townsend and Colbourne, for their smart apprehension of the supposed criminal."
In relation to the first clause of the rider the Coroner said: I am very glad such a rider has been given, as it has been a source of great anxiety and regret to see that the prisoner was not present; and I hope that your rider, which I will forward to the Government, will have the effect of preventing a thing of this kind in the future.
The Coroner having thanked the Jury for their attendance, and expressed his thanks to Mr Watt for his courtesy in placing the Courthouse at their disposal, the proceedings concluded. -Otago Daily Times, 24/3/1880.
THE CUMBERLAND STREET TRAGEDY.
Robert Butler, alias Donnelly, alias Midway, alias Lee, was brought up at Her Majesty's Gaol this morning, before Mr I. N. Watt, charged on remand for that he did, "on the 14th inst., wilfully kill and murder James Dewar, Elizabeth Dewar, and Elizabeth Lindsay Dewar, against the peace and dignity of our Sovereign Lady Her Majesty the Queen." Inspector Mallard conducted the proceedings on behalf of the police.
Thomas Aitchison (father of the late Mrs Dewar) and Mrs Mary Grant repeated the evidence given by them at the coroner's inquiry. The latter stated that when she first saw her daughter-in-law she had on her night-dress and her chemise. Portions of her legs were exposed to view, but witness could not say how much. [The prisoner during this witness's examination minutely examined the plan of the house where the murder was committed, and then said "Oh yes, I understand it very well."] She did not think she had seen the prisoner before.
In answer to the prisoner, Mrs Grant said: There was no cutlery like the cheeseknife produced in the house. I do not think the knife belonged to my son. It was two or three weeks before my son was killed that I cleaned the cutlery, I cannot say whether he had become possessed of the knife in the interim.
Prisoner: I have not understood where the knife was found.
His Worship: It is not in evidence yet — that has not come out.
Prisoner: Was there any extraordinary appearance on the knife?
His Worship: How can she say? She has never seen the knife before.
Prisoner: Are you aware whether James Dewar, your son, ever had any quarrel with anyone?
Witness: I don't think he ever had a quarrel with anyone.
Prisoner: Are you aware that the deceased, Mrs Dewar, ever had a quarrel with anyone?
Witness: I am not aware that she ever had a quarrel with any person.
Prisoner: You are not aware that he or she had ever quarrelled through jealousy with anybody in reference to each other?
Witness: No, never.
Prisoner: But still you cannot say positively either the one way or the other ?
Witness: I never knew them to have quarrelled.
Prisoner: Can you say positively that they never had quarrelled?
Witness: I am speaking what I know. It would be hard for me to say that.
Prisoner: But you won't say positively they never had quarrelled?
His Worship: How could she say so unless she was always there.
Prisoner: I have no further questions.
[The witness's evidence was here read over, and Inspector Mallard asked that the word "jealousy," used by the prisoner in cross-examination, should appear on the depositions. His Worship said that he did not hear the word used; and, on the reporters being appealed to, two of them read from their notes and corroborated the Inspector's impression; the third reporter was equally decided that it had not been used. The prisoner having denied that he had used it, His Worship allowed the depositions to stand as they appeared.]
Richard Sweetman Howard, butcher, of South Dunedin, in whose employ the deceased was at the time of his death; William McGuire, tram-driver; and Harry Hollander, drayman, who lived behind the deceased's house at the time of the outrage, repeated in substance the evidence they have already given. Hollander, in answer to the prisoner, stated that he first noticed the light in the bedroom window about eleven o'clock on the Saturday night.
James Haydon, expressman, was the next witness. He gave evidence to the effect that about four o'clock on Sunday morning he saw a light in deceased's bedroom window. The deceased was an obliging, jovial sort of a man, and seemed to live on the best of terms with hn wife. Witness had lived near them during thirteen months, and in the whole of that time had never heard them quarrel.
Inspector Mallard here said that he was about to put a question with regard to jealousy between the parties, but since His Worship had not heard the expression, and since it did not appear on the depositions, probably he would not be allowed to put it.
His Worship: Although the word is not on the depositions the question may be put.
Inspector Mallard: You say you have been on intimate tems with the deceased; did you ever hear him allude to any jealousy on the part of himself towards his wife?
Witness: None whatever.
The Inspector: Did you ever observe anything to indicate that — by a person visiting the house or anything of that kind?
Witness: No. On the contrary I thought they were too comfortable — the one with the other. There was never a time he went out but he always came back and kissed the child.
With the evidence presented to the inquest and that presented at Butler's trial, there is a lot to wade through, most of which is repeated. But the above is important, as the Dewar family tend to become an episode in the life and crimes of the psychopath Butler.
I think it is important to carry in the mind the image of James Dewar leaving his house, then coming back to kiss his little girl.
Before describing the trial and Butler's remarkable defence, here is a summary of the detective work which put him in the dock. It is the recollection of Detective Bain in 1896, after Butler's then latest arrest back in Australia, which naturally brought memories to Dunedinites of the "Cumberland Street Tragedy."
It is of some historical interest for those unaware of the connection, that the Mr Bracken mentioned below is Thomas Bracken, author of New Zealand's National Anthem.
Robert Butler alias Donnelly was discharged from Dunedin Gaol on the 18th February, 1880, after having served four years’ penal servitude for two charges of burglary and four of larceny. Immediately after his discharge he was placed under my special surveillance, and, knowing the dangerous nature of the man, I made it my duty to see him at least twice every day. This practice I continued until he went to Ravensbourne to live. When Butler was discharged from gaol he received from Mr Caldwell (the governor of the gaol) a small sum of money and a new suit of clothes. Butler took lodgings with a private family in King street, where he remained until about the middle of the first week in March. About a week before this Butler said to me that he was getting anxious for something to do, and that he thought he was able to write a series of articles on prison life. He inquired whether I could manage to get him some kind of literary work. I told him that I would try and do what I could for him. Accordingly, I saw Mr Thomas Bracken, then proprietor of the ‘Saturday Advertiser,’ and inquired of him whether he could give Butler any employment on his paper. Mr Bracken replied that before making any promise he would like to have some conversation with Butler on the subject. I then arranged to introduce Butler to Mr Bracken, and on the following Saturday night I did so in the latter’s office in Princes street. I wished to leave them alone in order to arrange matters, but Mr Bracken objected, and begged of me to remain, which I did. Butler explained the scope of the articles he proposed to write, and Mr Bracken told him that if he would write them as sketched and they came up to his (Mr Bracken’s) satisfaction he would pay him at the rate of three or four pounds a week. It was arranged that Butler would submit his first article to Mr Bracken for his approval on the following Wednesday. The interview then terminated, and Butler left me to go to his home. I next saw him as usual on the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, and in answer to my inquiries told me he that he was getting on first-rate with the sketches, and that he would be ready with the sample one on the Wednesday; but on the Wednesday he failed to keep his appointment with either Mr Bracken or myself. I was very anxious about him in the meantime, but soon ascertained that he had left his lodgings in King street on the Wednesday evening, taking what few articles he had with him. I made search for him, but failed to see him until about 10 a.m. on the Friday, when I met him in Princes street south. At this time he had a very haggard appearance, and looked as if he had been wandering about the streets all night. I asked him why he had failed to keep his appointment with Mr Bracken, and he replied that the work was too much for his head; that when he had the article nearly finished on the Wednesday he tore it up and threw the pieces into the fire. I further asked Butler if he had been in bed the previous night, and he replied; “No, I have been wandering about the streets all night. During the night I walked down to the end of the jetty with the intention of drowning myself.” I remarked that it was a pity he had not done so, for nothing on earth would have given me so much pleasure as going to the end of the jetty and identifying his body. Butler said: “You speak very plainly,” and I replied “Yes; and, what is more, I mean what I say.” Butler asked me if I could get him some manual labor, as he did not wish to break out again, but meant to try and lead an honest life, because if he did break out again he would be worse than the most savage tiger ever let loose on a community. I arranged to meet him that night in the Octagon at 8.30, and promised in the meantime to see if I could find him a job at manual work. I got a promise of work for him that day, but had to get that promise confirmed on the following Monday. Butler kept his appointment with me that night, and we were together until about eleven o’clock, when he went to his home. We met again on Saturday night, when I told him I thought I would succeed in getting him a job, but that I would only be able to let him know on the following Monday. He seemed pleased at the intelligence, and said he was very thankful for my kindness. We were next together on the Sunday night, and on parting he promised to meet me the next night. On the Monday I got for him the job that had been promised on the Friday, with a request that he would go to work on the Wednesday morning. The work was at levelling the reclaimed ground at Ravensbourne, not on the dredge, as has been stated. Meeting him on the Monday night, I informed him of my success, when he again appeared to be very thankful. I also told him that the late Mr Caldwell would supply him with a pick and shovel and an old suit of clothes to work with. Butler appeared to be greatly pleased with what had been done for him, and said that he did not know how to thank Mr Caldwell and myself for our actions. On the Tuesday Butler completed all his arrangements for going to Ravensbourne, and parted with me at a late hour that night on the understanding that he would go down to Ravensbourne by the 6 a.m. train and start work. He did go to Ravensbourne by early train, and started work on the reclaimed ground at eight; but, unfortunately, he only remained there some three or four hours. But I was not made acquainted with this fact until after the Cumberland street murder. On the Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday following I remained under the impression that he was at work at Ravensbourne, and fully believed that he would keep his appointment with me at the Octagon at 8.30 on the Saturday night. Shortly before eight o’clock on that night I left my house in St. David street to go to the police office. On reaching the corner of St. David and King streets I turned sharply round, and saw Butler close behind me. I was certainly surprised, and said to him: “Butler, what does this mean? Did you not promise to meet me in the Octagon at half-past eight to-night.” He replied: “Yes, but it is more than that now.” I then took my watch from my pocket, and found that it was just ten minutes to eight o’clock. I told him the exact time, and said: “Now, will you meet in the Octagon as you promised?” He replied in the affirmative, and left me, walking along King street townwards. He did not keep his appointment, and for hours that night I searched the town for him, but could not find any trace of him. Nor did I see him again until the following Tuesday, when he was in custody on the charge of murdering the Dewars. Shortly before seven o’clock on the Sunday morning I was informed of the murder. I proceeded to the scene and entered the house. The sight I there saw was something to be remembered; in fact, I feel certain that those who did see it will never forget it as long as they live. Mrs Dewar was lying on the floor in a pool of blood — not quite dead, but unconscious from two brutal wounds in her head. They were blows inflicted by an axe, which lay in the room close to the bed. Her husband lay dead in the bed. Apparently he had never moved after receiving a terrible blow on the forehead from the same axe. And at the husband’s side lay the body of the poor little infant, looking as pleasant as if in a sound sleep. There were no marks of violence whatever on the child, and there is no reasonable doubt that it died from suffocation by the dense smoke arising from the burning house, the murderer having set fire to the house, for the purpose of hiding his diabolical crime. The walls and floor of the room were in a horrible condition, being covered with blood in all directions. A candlestick lay under the mattress, where it had been placed with the object of setting fire to the house. It had been lighted, and no doubt caused the fire, as the mattress was burnt. Mrs Dewar was promptly removed to the hospital, where she died some two or three hours after her admission, never regaining consciousness. About 9 a.m. on the day of the murder I was instructed by my superiors to take charge of the case, and to obtain as much evidence as possible during the day, in order to be in a position to open the inquest on the Monday. That work occupied me until about 6 p.m. During this time I obtained some very valuable evidence, but no clue to the murderer. There was not the slightest suspicion of Butler being connected with the murder; in fact, during the whole of that day I only heard his name mentioned once in connection with the crime, and that was only a passing remark by one who expressed a belief that Butler might have had something to do with the murder. At 6.30 that night I had occasion to go to the Scotia Hotel at the corner of Dundas and Leith streets, and on arrival there the landlord told me that his servant-girl was very anxious to see me. Her name was Sarah Gillisple, and she told me this story: — “On the evening of the previous Thursday a man came to the hotel and asked if he could get lodgings. He was accommodated, and slept in the house that and Friday nights, only leaving the house for a very short time during Friday. On Saturday forenoon he left the house and did not return until about twenty minutes to seven o’clock on the Sunday morning. I had just opened the front door to clean out the passage when this man came in and went upstairs to his room. He had a very haggard and wild appearance, and his coat was all buttoned up about his throat. He only remained a few minutes upstairs, and when he came down he had his small bundle of clothes with him. He paid me the few shillings he owed for his board, and left the house, walking northward along Leith street. He crossed the Water of Leith, and I lost sight of him.” She then proceeded to describe the man’s appearance, and the moment she had finished I knew it was Butler. I left the house, hurried to town, found the inspector (Mr Mallard) at the house of Dr Hocken (who was then coroner for the City), and I reported to them what I had gleaned. At my request Inspector Mallard accompanied me to the Scotia Hotel, and took down the evidence of this girl. Now, I may here state that this was the first time the police had direct evidence of suspicion being directed against Butler. This girl should have got the Albert medal. And to the girl Sarah Gillispie is alone due the credit for connecting Butler with the Cumberland street murder. On the Monday morning a telegram was sent to Constable Colbourne at Blueskin inquiring whether anything had been seen in that locality on the previous night of a person answering to Butler’s description. At about 11am. the same day that constable replied: “About 9 o’clock last night a man entered the Saratoga Hotel, remained there for some time, and left, going along the Main North road.” Then followed a description of the man and his dress, but the constable did not think the man was Butler, and added that he had no bundle with him. But upon reading the telegram I at once concluded that the coat and trousers described by Constable Colburne tallied with those I had got from Mr Caldwell for Butler to work with at Ravensbourne. I communicated my belief to the inspector, and a telegram was at once sent to Blueskin instructing Colburne to follow this man along the Main road and to arrest him if overtaken. Similar instructions were despatched to Constable Townsend at Waikouaiti. Both constables acted thereon, with the result that they came upon Butler somewhere near Merton and arrested him. Butler was then in the possession of a revolver, loaded in every chamber, and he presented the weapon at Constable Townsend, but did not fire it. Butler was then dressed in the very coat and trousers that had been obtained for him to work with at Ravensbourne. He also wore the vest, hat, and boots (with the soles lately torn off), and the white shirt that he wore on the Saturday night when he spoke to me at the corner of St. David street. After reading Constable Colburne’s telegram I came to the conclusion that Butler had either “planted” the clothes he wore on the Saturday night in the bush on the Town Belt or buried them in the bed of the Leith. With the assistance of Mr Youngman (then Town Belt ranger) I started to look for these clothes, Youngman taking the Town Belt and I the Water of Leith and its banks. In little more than one hour Mr Youngman was successful in finding the coat and trousers that Butler wore on the Saturday night. These were afterwards identified as the articles of dress he wore when he went to and left the Scotia Hotel on the Sunday morning. What was their condition when found? Both coat and trousers were covered with blood stains, as was the white shirt he wore when he was arrested. Why did Butler throw away these articles of clothing? They were perfectly new; he had only worn them a little over three weeks, having received them from the gaoler on his discharge from gaol on the 18th February. But he threw them away, and kept the old and worn-out coat and trousers that had been obtained for him to work with. The reason he threw away the good articles of clothing is a self-evident one. He knew perfectly well they furnished an important link in the chain of evidence that the police would be able to forge, and it was highly dangerous for him to keep these blood-stained clothes. He never thought at the time that these clothes would ever be found, for he had planted them in a very secluded part of the bush. Now, it has been said over and over again that Butler had no motive whatever for committing such an atrocious crime; but I think and have always thought otherwise. My opinion at the time was and is still to the contrary, and it is based on the facts I gathered when I first visited the scene of the murder. In the bedroom where the murder was committed there was a chest of drawers. These drawers were all open, and showed distinctly that every one of them had been ransacked in search of money. Even the pockets of the clothing worn by the unfortunate Mr Dewar on the Saturday night were turned inside out, as were the pockets of Mrs Dewar’s dresses, which were hanging on the bedroom walls. No one can say whether or not any money was got, because none was left to tell the tale. But I have no doubt whatever that the actual murderer committed a robbery in the Dewars’ house that night, and that, on Mrs Dewar waking while he was at work rifling the chest of drawers, he turned on Mrs Dewar and struck her with the axe.
It has been frequently said that Butler had a sweetheart in Dunedin, or, rather, that he was worrying a young girl in Dunedin. The facts in connection with that matter are simply these: When Butler was serving his four years’ “hard” in Dunedin Gaol he, along with other prisoners, was engaged in levelling old Bell Hill. While so engaged they worked close to the residence (in Moray place) of a well-known gentleman, whose servant girl often worked in the back premises. She was thus frequently close to these prisoners. Butler, no doubt, had taken notice of her. A few days after his discharge from gaol he met her in town, and spoke to her. He met her again and spoke to her a second time, quite familiarly, but by this time his true character had been spread all over Dunedin, and a large number of persons in town were afraid of him. Amongst them was this girl. I was spoken to upon this subject, and that night I cautioned Butler against speaking to the girl. He there and then promised me that he would never speak to her again, and I know for a fact that he never addressed another word to her. I may mention in passing that all the time Butler was at liberty in Dunedin he never sought any acquaintances — he always preferred to be by himself — and he never was known to have any associates in crime. In all the crimes and they have not been a few — that Butler has been engaged in he invariably played a “lone hand.” I consider him to be one of the most expert criminals the colonies have ever known. -Evening Star, 11/7/1896.
From the beginning of the court process, Butler acted for himself, his appointed counsel having refused to represent him if he pleaded not guilty, but having given him advice. He seems to have been perfectly calm and rational in his cross-examining of witnesses, including those who had found the the blood-soaked scene he had caused. What kind of person, you may ask, could do so? What kind of person could hold inside his head the scene of himself taking an axe and chopping into the skulls of two people and calmly discuss the evidence with their loved ones? The answer is a simple one, which will be amply proven in further episodes - and evidence of earlier ones - in his life.
Butler was a psychopath. He had no empathy for his fellow humans. For him, other people had value only as far as they or their resources could benefit the only human being who mattered in Butler's universe - himself.
Butler's trial was a remarkable one. He was able to take advantage of the fact that he was untrained in the law and facing a Prosecutor who was. The Judge felt able to advise him in conducting his defence - possibly feeling that it would make little difference to the expected Guilty verdict and would serve to make the result of the trial all the more convincing.
He was also able to take advantage of two further things; juries in those days of capital punishment were very loath to convict unless they were completely sure of the Defendant's guilt, knowing that they were literally putting the noose around the prisoner's neck; and Butler, as his own council, was able to defend himself in a closing statement but could not be made to enter the witness box for cross-examination by the Prosecutor.
Thus he literally had the last word to the jury - in a speech nearly six hours long.
His acquittal would confirm what Butler believed of himself all along - he was a superior being, a Nietzchean "ubermench," to whom the petty rules of less worthy beings need not apply.
His speech in defence was part of the story of the trial, (which is a good short version of the case) serialised ten years after his death by the "New Zealand Truth," from which I take some excerpts to give an example of his ability to take apart for the jury the edifice of circumstantial evidence built up by the Prosecution.
The jury, having been empannelled, His Honor became solicitous concerning Butler's determination to defend himself, and the following dialogue occurred:
His Honor: I suppose you nave made up your mind to defend yourself? That is the case, is it not?
Butler: I will defend myself.
His Honor: You have made up your mind to defend yourself?
Butler: Yes, your Honor.
His Honor: I can only say that I am sorry you have adopted that resolution.
Presumably, the judge thought things looked black for Butler, but when, later, we come to the consideration of Butler's able, incisive, and commonsense address to the jury, one will be struck with the assurance and self-reliance
OF THIS REMARKABLE CRIMINAL. Mr. B. C. Haggitt was the Crown Prosecutor, and in his opening address to the jury (his only address to the jury, by the way, he, subsequently, not deigning to sum up the Crown case or to anticipate Butler's "Defence in Bar"), he touched upon all the salient features of the case, and certainly made the most of what was undoubtedly a bad case. Once only during the Crown Prosecutor's address to the jury did Butler intervene, and that was when Mr. Haggitt commenced to outline the evidence to be given, he asked that all the witnesses be ordered to leave the Court being particularly emphatic that Police Inspector Mallard should retire.
At the conclusion of Mr. Haggltt's address Butler asked permission to address His Honor.
His Honor: "What is it you have to say? The ordinary course is for the Crown Prosecutor to call his witnesses. You cross-examine them and when the Crown case is closed then you call your witnesses if you have any to call, and then you address the jury. Have you any further observation to make?
Butler: I wish to say a few words to your Honor. You said just now that you were sorry I had not had counsel to defend me. Whilst the adage says "The man who is his own counsel has a fool for his client," I can only say there is another, which says that "Thrice armed is he who has his quarrel just." I have to ask your Honor's assistance, and beg that you will not allow any irregularities to go against me.
His Honor: Certainly, I shall take care that you have fair play. I do not think the Crown will press unduly against you; but if there is anything which you wish brought out — any points that you think are in your favor, I shall certainly see that it is done.
Butler duly returned his humble thanks, and then commenced a trial, which started on a Thursday morning, and lasted well into the following Saturday, afternoon. -NZ Truth, 7/8/1915.
A REMARKABLE CRIMINAL
THE CUMBERLAND STREET MURDERS
ROBERT BUTLER'S CLEVER DEFENCE
His Telling, Thrilling and Touching Address to the Jury
We have now arrived at the stage when the Crown had closed the case for the prosecution, and Butler was thrown on his own resources. He had intimated that he had no witnesses to call for the defence, which, of course, negatived the possibility of the accused man entering the witness box, and on oath detailing his movements on the night prior to the murder and the eventful Sunday morning. It will, however, be learned that Butler was
"WISE IN HIS GENERATION." He availed himself of the right to make or incorporate his "statement" in his address to the jury. This had a double effect. He got in "evidence" without being placed on oath, and without running the risk of being cross-examined by a skilful lawyer, while, also, his tactics precluded the Crown Prosecutor from replying to his address, thus, practically, Butler had the last word. The more this extraordinary man is considered, the more remarkable a criminal he appeared. He was well versed in legal procedure, and it can well be imagined that he well knew the value of his tactics, though plausibly feigning ignorance.
We have already told how on the Friday evening Butler was given the opportunity of opening or outlining his defence, and how he preferred to do so the following (Saturday) morning.
Saturday morning saw Butler fully prepared for the truly gigantic task before him. The Crown Prosecutor declined to again address the jury, and his Honor addressing Butler admonished him thus: "Now, prisoner, is your time to address the jury."
Arranging his papers (voluminous notes they were), and seemingly mentally cogitating, Butler, then commenced, in a firm voice, the following address to the jury:
Gentlemen of the Jury, — This is a case wholly of circumstances which has been brought against me mainly by the fact that I was once before guilty of a crime, which at the time I frankly acknowledged. I wish you, gentlemen, to observe that the police started this inquiry with the evident conviction that Butler is the guilty party. This conviction getting into their minds seems to have prevented them from following any other trail. No other clue has been followed out. It has not even been attempted to follow any other clue. It has been evidently assumed at once by the police
THAT I WAS THE GUILTY MAN. If not, then the murderer, out of the confusion and diversion that have been caused by my arrest and trial — whatever the result of that may be — the guilty man may escape. You know that there is a sort of little fish that generally escapes from its enemies by the turmoil and mud raised by it in the water around where it is. I have said that this case is one wholly of circumstantial evidence. There is not one particle of direct evidence — it is entirely, purely, and as I have said in every particular, circumstantial evidence. Now, nobody should be judged guilty of any crime on circumstantial evidence, unless the proof is exceedingly strong. In almost all cases like this it is a matter of the greatest import; it is here a matter that involves life or death — a matter of the last import to me, and of not the least import to you, gentlemen of the jury — I say that in such a case as this, if in no other case, the circumstances should be clear and certain; without leaving any doubt whatever. Not only should there be a certainty in your minds that I am guilty, but there should be the equal certainty that nobody else can be guilty. You must follow that up — not only must you be sure that I am guilty, but be equally sure that no one else can be guilty. Even at this stage I ask you the question — I ask you to put the question to yourselves indlvidually — think, can this be said of me? Can this be said of this case? I ask you to say whether, though certain circumstances have been twisted against me, you can fairly and honestly, without the smallest sediment of doubt in your minds, say that the man who stands before you, whose life is in your hands, is guilty of the awful crime which is imputed to him. His Honor has expressed surprise, and has been good enough to express regret, that I should have chosen to defend myself. It may have been unwise and imprudent. Since his Honor made that remark I have thought so, but I allowed my own knowledge of my innocence to be my surest confidence.
I TOOK MY INNOCENCE FOR MY STRENGTH. I was not willing to leave my life in the hands of any stranger. I was willing to incur all the disadvantages which no knowledge of the law might bring upon me. I was willing, also, to enter on this case without any experience whatever of that peculiarly acquired art of cross-examination. I fear I have done wrong. If I had had the assistance of able counsel, much more light would have been thrown on the case than has been. In my case I can see now that through want of dexterity and through want of presence of mind I have allowed circumstances to slip in which, had they been brought out clearly, would perhaps have placed me in a more favorable view. It is because I took it for granted that you have no other view of the case at present — you are not like most of those who have listened here merely for curiosity, and not for criticism and judgment, as I am sure you are doing — that I took in hand my own defence, trusting merely to my innocence. I said on a previous occasion, as you have heard given in evidence, that I could not conceive how convicting evidence could be brought against an innocent man. That is why I trusted in my own powers as being quite sufficient for my support. I have had against me all the trained skill of an eminent counsel. I do not at all say or insinuate, or even think that the gentleman has taken unfair advantage of me. The case remains that, although I am not an absolutely ignorant man, I am a thoroughly inexperienced one, and, therefore, so far as this mutter is concerned, it may be said that an ignorant man in having to combat skill, ability, and knowledge which I have never encountered before. I think I before mentioned an old proverb which says that "a man who defends himself in a court of law has a fool for a client," and I tried to console myself with another reflection, that "thrice armed is he who has his quarrel just." Another proverb occurs to me now which is as apt as the others, "It is easier to attack than to defend"; and against this I will try to console myself with another old saying, which is, "God defends the right." Gentlemen, I shall endeavor to rest upon the force of truth alone. When a crime so great as this occurs in a community, few members of it can remain indifferent; and this dreadful event
HAS PRODUCED IMMENSE CONSTERNATION, not merely in Dunedin, but throughout the colony. Few great crimes occurring here have hitherto produced a deeper feeling than indignation —perhaps no greater feeling than of curiosity. But that with which I am charged must have produced one of almost universal terror — certainly so far as the town is concerned. I can easily conceive that there are few families m Dunedin who, when they heard of this dreadful crime, have not trembled and said: "It might have happened to ourselves." The uppermost feelings in the community are of pity for the unfortunate victims, and of horror of the peculiar atrocity of the crime; and as I have just remarked, a feeling of dread and terror on their own accounts. Now, gentlemen, terror is the worst of pain, and I think its reaction is the most dangerous of maladies. Three things combine to render my present position very dangerous. First, there are the feelings I have just alluded to, and then there is my utter isolation. If I succeed in my struggle for life, or if I do not, there is no one to care for me. On the other hand, society is saying, and doubtless believing, that its first and most bounden duty is to see justice done, the law vindicated, and this awful crime atoned for. But let society beware! Look, gentlemen, that it does not mean that society, in its desire to see retribution — just and visible retribution — done, does not cause the innocent to suffer. The death even of the guilty can be but poor satisfaction now; but
THE DEATH OF AN INNOCENT MAN can only deepen the horror of this crime tenfold. I feel that at such a juncture too many are apt to imagine that they see the bolt of Nemesis, perhaps, through Divine Providence, falling on the head of the — I will not say "guilty" — but the accused. Well, gentlemen, this feeling which is so common does much to influence the decision of many people who are even intelligent. I say that if you place it with the rest of the evidence which has been given, I think that you will find it all equally trustworthy. And now, gentlemen, there are three things which I have a right to require of you: first, that you consider the taking or the preserving of my life a matter of the most extreme importance; second, that you carefully look into your minds, and reject all private, or personal, or peculiar feelings or sympathies whatever; third, that; you view this case and shape your verdict entirely and solely according to what you heard here in this courthouse, and what you shall hear. That is to say, you should consider the evidence and nothing but the evidence. It would be hard indeed to think that you should have come here without any knowledge or opinion of the crime. You have read the papers; you have heard it commented on; doubtless you have commented upon it yourselves; doubtless before last Thursday you had formed opinions, and had certain sentiments of your own in connection with this crime. I have a right to ask you to empty your minds completely of such. I have a right to ask you to make your minds until the time comes for your deliberations a perfectly blank sheet of paper. There should not be a mark upon it! let it be perfectly clean; and then, when the time comes for your deliberation, fill it up with what you have heard here and nowhere else. In speaking so boldly and peremptorily to you I am not presumptuous, for consider the terrible position in which I am placed, and you must at once admit that I have a right to speak very strongly. My position is a very terrible one — no position can be worse: in fact, no position can be so bad. There is one position less awful than mine, however, and that position, gentlemen, is yours. I will now just comment slightly upon a few remarks with which the learned Crown Prosecutor opened his case. I think if there is one thing more common than another in the speeches of gentlemen m the position of Crown Prosecutor, it is
THAT OF BEGGING THE QUESTION. Nothing is more common than this, that he should state a thing and take it for granted, or endeavor to take it for granted, that is true. The learned gentleman said that from the Leighton's I went to the Botanical Gardens. I ask him how does he know that I went there? What proof has he that I went there? The two salmon tins have been produced, with a certain brand on them. I might have gone there late in the day; and, doubtless, I did so. He says it is not known how I got to Blueskin. I can only say it should be known. Certainly it is not my place, or rather I should say the police are not likely to ferret out any item of information that would tell in favor of the accused. If that had been done in this case, perhaps the Crown Prosecutor would have been informed that along the road to Blueskin. Well if it be unknown how I went to Blueskin I was repeatedly seen, and that I called at many houses. There is no need, therefore, for him to say that how and when I went to Blueskin is unknown. He also told you that the seat in the Gardens, whereon I am supposed to have been seated, overlooked the house of the Dewars. This is not the case, as it has been shown to you in evidence that the seat does not overlook the house, and that no spot within many yards of it does so. There is another example of begging the question. He also said that while I was in the Saratoga Hotel (at "Blueskin," now known as Waitati) I overheard the remark of Mr. Coleham "What a shocking murder that is that occurred this morning." How could he or anybody else know that I overheard that remark? Then it is said I got away from the hotel as soon as possible. The first section of this statement is begging the question
AND THE SECOND IS NOT TRUE. Perhaps I may as well mention to you now that the witness Donne says I remained in the house for supper, and took it, and then departed. Therefore, I do not see how I could have got away from the hotel as soon as possible. Then, speaking as to the knife, the Crown Prosecutor said that it gave two or three clues. It did not belong to the house of the Dewars; that the murderer evidently brought it with him. Why, a robber would not bring with him such an implement as that. You will recollect, gentlemen, what the knife is like. As an article of defence, it is utterly useless, and it is of no value as an instrument for housebreaking. Now I say that such an article as this, evidently brought by the murderer, speaks of a settled design to murder. Did he bring it intending to use it upon the sleeping people? He would not bring it as a means of offence or defence, or as a means of getting access to the house. There is a conclusion, gentlemen, which seems to my mind natural — horrible though it may be — and that conclusion is, that he brought it with the intention of cutting the throats of his victims, and that finding that they lay in a rather untoward position, he changed his mind, and having carried out the object with which he entered the house, left the knife, and went back and brought the axe, with which he effected his purpose. His after course of events seems to me to be inm perfect accord with this theory, as I promise to show you. The Crown Prosecutor also said that, speaking of the shirt, I continued to wear it, "thinking, no doubt, there were no marks of blood on it; because he could hardly imagine that had I believed there was on. the shirt such evidence as there was, I should have continued to have worn it." I say if the blood were so conspicuous that the police when searching noticed it, it would not have been difficult for me to have found it, especially if my eyesight had been sharpened with deadly fear, terror, and guilt. That I did not trouble myself about the blood upon it which was so conspicuous; that I even did not trouble myself about it after my arrest when I was charged with the murder, and did not suppose any evidence would be brought against me; that I did not trouble myself to look after and wipe out the blood stains, when I was wearing the shirt two days in gaol, speaks much more eloquently than Mr. Haggitt's assertion. If I had abandoned the other clothes on account of the blood, to say I was ignorant of the far more marks on the white shirt, seems absurd, or
SUPPOSES ONE A MADMAN. Mr. Haggitt promised you a narrative form. He did not carry that interesting idea out, I think; but, so far as it went, it was scarcely so consistent as it might have been. He says that I entered the house with the idea of plunder only, but murder, if disturbed; that, while searching, Mrs. Dewar awoke, and to avoid detection I struck Mr. Dewar and Mrs. Dewar. Now this is begging the question again, and has not been proved. But the learned gentleman, with a childishness — if he will excuse the remark — which seemed surprising in him, after assuming that I went into the house with the intention of plundering it, and having been surprised supplemented it by murder; when he had forgotten this no doubt, he says the murder was done from no other motive than a thirst for blood. In the latter assertion I think that the learned gentleman has hit the truth; and I think I shall before I have done lay before you substantial reasons for you to come to that opinion. Two things have been done by the prosecution — first, the commission of the crime has been proved; and, secondly, certain actions and movements of mine have been pointed out, together with the other circumstances connected with me. But between that crime on the one hand, and me on the other, there is a gap which has not been bridged over. The police have found a trail, and they have found me at one end of it. Turn back now, and see if the trail leads to the scene of the murder. I wish, and hope, to show that it does not. I say that the trail is a wrong one; that it has been taken up m the middle — at a distance off from the unfortunate victims whose death is so horrible to me. I am at one end of the trail, but the victims are not at the other end; and there are suspicions and inferences, and a few misapplied inferences are the limbs by which it is sought to bind me to a crime that has few parallels in the annals of New Zealand in its circumstances of
CRUEL HORROR AND ATROCITY. But, though an immense mass of evidence has been taken — though nearly thirty witnesses have been examined — the connecting link has not been found. You have heard all the evidence; all that can be said has been said; all that the ability and acumen of a practised lawyer, whose profession, gentlemen, is to make the most of the least — has he, with all the information at his disposal, backed up by all his skill and experience, made it perfectly certain that I am surely the man that must justly die for this horrible deed. The whole dreadful apparition that I have to contend with stands before me and before you. It gives me the idea of a skeleton in armour. I ask you if in that armour there is no imperfection, there is no rust, there is no rivet wanting? Even at this stage I say again that I do not think anybody who has listened here can say that a perfect certainty has arisen, and at least it has not in your minds, who, I repeat, I trust have listened with judgment and criticism. (To be continued.) -NZ Truth, 14/8/1915.
The evidence against Butler was strong. The clothes he had been seen to wear were found discarded with bloodstains. He was found in the process of leaving town. His boots were found, when he was arrested, to have had the outer soles - which could have corresponded to marks left on the Dewars' windowsill - very recently removed.
A REMARKABLE CRIMINAL
THE CUMBERLAND STREET MURDERS
ROBERT BUTLER'S CLEVER DEFENCE
His Address, to the Jury Continued
Butler's address to the jury, the commencement of which appeared in last issue, proceeded: Before I review the evidence, let me briefly recapitulate the case as far as the counsel for the prosecution has laid it down. Between six and seven, on the morning of the murder the accused is first seen. He is then in the same vicinity, or, more correctly speaking, in the same part of the town. He is wearing his usual clothes, with his usual personal characteristics. His manner is said to be "worried, pale, frightened, trembling, excited, and restless," so much so that one witness soon after suspected him on hearing of the murder. Immediately afterwards he is seen to walk towards the street in which the murder took place; and to look earnestly in the direction of the tragedy. He then provides himself with provisions for a secret flight, and is seen thirteen hours after thirteen miles away. He is now "weary and listless, uneasy and thoughtful." On hearing the murder spoken of he starts, and shows signs that are afterwards taken for fear, and alarm suspicion. He leaves the house soon after, and is arrested on the evening of the following day a few miles further on; and
WHEN ARRESTED IS FOUND ARMED, prepared, and ready for a dangerous resistance before he could have known that his arrest was contemplated or intended. When charged with the murder he displays extreme agitation and incoherence, at one time defying the police to obtain evidence against him, and the next moment saying that he supposes he will be convicted. The clothes that he had got rid of on the Sunday morning are subsequently found, and prove to be marked in many places with spots, and stains of blood, and in a manner not accounted for by ordinary and everyday causes, but quite explainable by the theory that they were worn by the murderer.
Boot nail marks are discovered on the window sill of the house where the murder took place, and when the accused was arrested the outer soles of his boots had recently been removed. This is the case, gentlemen, as the prosecutor put it. I have not tried to put it weakly, or to deaden its force in any particular. I have recapitulated the points that have been urged in their simple elementary strength, passing by for the time the numerous fallacies and errors that I know to exist. The whole of this is contained in four heads, upon which you have been urged to find a verdict which will place me beyond the pale of humanity and deprive me of existence. These four points are — My being in the south (north) part of the town not long after the murder; the disturbance of my manner and my guilty appearance; my leaving Dunedin at a suspicious time and in a suspicious manner; the spots of blood upon my clothing. To the first I might fairly say, that towards seven o'clock in the morning and within the same radius from the scene of the tragedy, scores of people might have been, and doubtless were, in the streets; to the second — that my manner was disturbed I may say that it is doubtful and contradicted, and in any case not necessarily and in itself referable to the murder; to the third part, I assert that has another explanation (applying equally to the other two), and the true reason is the more natural and the more consistent with all my movements; for the fourth reason, at present I will be content to trust that when you, gentlemen of the jury, have examined the evidence as carefully as the doctors profess to have examined the blood spots, you will think it far more safe that you should trust your own senses and intelligence than to be
LED BY THE NOSE BY THE DOCTORS — by the nose as wild Indians are led by their "medicine men." For the present I ask you, I repeat, to entirely suspend your opinion. My conduct, when viewed with reference to the murder — my conduct and movements when viewed with reference to the murder are suspicious, and unnatural, and inconsistent — suspicious, because the murderer might have done some things that I did; unnatural and inconsistent, because I did a number of things that it is hard to believe the murderer would have done if he were in his senses. Well, I say, viewed with reference to the murderer my conduct was inconsistent and incomprehensible; without reference to the murder I will show they were perfectly natural and easily understood. My leaving Dunedin and the circumstances connected with it are explained by the belief that my arrest had been planned for the burglary at the house of Mr. Stamper on the previous day — the Saturday morning — and by the fact that I had known I was under the strict surveillance of the police. My conduct, which was suspicious at the most, is likely and natural when referred to this, which is the true cause of my leaving; and as all my movements were governed by this fact, it will be found that everything I did has the evidence of this natural and enforced explanation; and, outside of this, all my movements are doubtful and inconsistent. Wishing you to bear this in mind, I will now ask you to look through some of the evidence that has been given. The first stage of the evidence simply proves that a crime was committed, and the eleventh witness on the list is the first that points to me. This witness — Sarah Gillespie — has the first thing to say of me. She saw me at twenty-five minutes to seven
ON THAT FATAL MORNING at the Scotia Hotel. This amounts to saying that she saw me at my lodgings; I was there because my lodgings I were there. If my lodgings had not been there I would not have been there, and this accounts for my being in that part of the town at all. Why I was there so early will appear better in another place. The second thing she has to say is that I was wearied, excited, frightened, and very pale. Well, allowing for a moment that my conduct did not come up to Miss Gillespie's standard of ease and decorum; without inquiring what that standard might have been, I do not think it likely her experience and judgment and powers of observation are beyond the average, or that she is able to determine that my manner might mean any given emotion, such as fright, as she puts it, or hurry, or any given disturbance whatever. She admits that I was suffering from a very sore throat, or, in other words, a violent cold; that I complained of having had no breakfast, and spoke anxiously of catching an early train. Well, in the light or darkness of after events, all this might have been misinterpreted by one wiser than Miss Gillespie. Just as one on seeing a hole dug in the ground, and a little further on seeing a trowel lying, might come to the conclusion that the hole had been dug with the trowel. Well, it might and again it might not, and probably not, for holes are not dug with trowels — trowels are for other purposes, and holes are referable to other causes than trowels; and there is such a thing as manufacturing a theory to fit the circumstances. Thirdly, she says that when she heard of the murder, immediately afterwards — much less than an hour — she suspected me of it. Whether her hearing of the murder within an hour after might not have begot or heightened her impression of my manner may be a question for you to consider; but the next two witnesses, who saw me almost simultaneously, positively assert that there was no disturbed appearance in my manner whatever. The witness Leighton, who was called immediately after the servant girl, says that I was quiet, and that there was no peculiarity in my manner, except that I was quiet. The witness Wadsworth, who saw me almost simultaneously, also says that I was not disturbed in manner; that I was quiet, and
DID NOT APPEAR FRIGHTENED. Putting the evidence of the two witnesses, Sarah Gillespie and the boy Leighton, together, it must appear at least doubtful if my manner was disturbed at all, more than natural to the causes mentioned, and without any reference to the murder. If Miss Gillespie spoke what she implicitly believed — and what she believed was true — then you will see at such a time, and in such a place I had not sufficient strength, or mind, or will, or purpose to hold the least control over myself when I had such profound motives for pulling myself together and holding myself together while in her very observant presence. Although I gave way so completely in her presence, and though I was trembling — though I ran out of the, house, though I was very excited, very pale, restless, disturbed, and so forth — a few minutes afterwards the next witness that saw me indicates that my manner was perfectly self-possessed and under control. Now, either I held complete mastery over myself, or there was no disturbing influence in my mind whatever. Wadsworth was then called and says that I stared at him, and he stared at me, and I suppose that is why we stared at each other. He speaks of my throwing some stones at some vagrant dog. Well, gentlemen of the jury, that is scarcely an amusement that would suggest itself to a murderer fresh from the scene of his crime, while the blood of his victims was still warm almost within a stone's throw or it — it was scarcely an amusement that would suggest itself to such an one. He says I walked up Cumberland-street, and looked for a minute, or nearly a minute, in the direction of the murder. Now, while the evidence of Leighton indicates that my manner was natural and self-possessed, how can it be possibly thought that at the same time I should have lost so completely all control over, myself as to have, in his presence, knowing that he was watching me as he says, walked deliberately and calmly up to the scene of the crime — almost standing beside my victims — and have carefully reconnoitred the place. To put this together with the theory, that I had there only a few minutes, as it were before, have perpetrated
A HORRIBLE AND GHASTLY MURDER, may appear natural to small minds; but to anyone who will look into it and examine it, nothing can be more inconsistent and unlikely. None but a superficial or small mind will persist in connecting the two things, and adduce my walking up Cumberlandstreet as an evidence of guilt. There is more reason to look upon it as an evidence of innocence. It is only moths that fly into the fire, and only children and fools — only madmen and unmistakeable fools that walk to the brink of a precipice that is crumbling beneath their feet. There is a sort of stock idea that a murderer is always compelled by some invisible force as it were to do some glaringly foolish thing that will bring him within the grasp of the law and the vengeance of God. Well, this is a vague kind of reasoning, if it is reasoning at all. The doings of men and their successes are regulated by the amount of discretion and judgment that they possess, and without impugning or denying the existence of Providence, I say that this is a law and holds good in all cases, whether for evil or for good. It is a law universally true. Murderers, if they have the sense and ability and discretion to cover up their crime, will escape, do escape, and have escaped. There is another stock saying, "That murder will out." Well, there are many people who, when they have gravely shaken their heads and said, "Oh, murder will out," consider they have done a great deal and gone a long way towards settling the question. Well, this, like many other stock formulas of Old World wisdom, is not true. Without pointing to the many murderers in high places — from Nimrod downwards — how many murders are there that the world has not heard of, and never will? How many a murdered man, for instance, lies among the gum-trees of Victoria, or in the old-abandoned mining shafts on the diggings, who is missed by nobody, perhaps, but a pining wife at home, or helpless children, or an old mother? But who were their murderers? Where are they? God knows, perhaps, but nobody else, and nobody ever will. These, gentlemen, are not the sentiments by which a case should be judged in such a place as this. Perhaps it is superfluous and ridiculous on my part to mention them, but such things do have weight in forming the opinion of some men. Then how often, I ask you, has the lightning, not of justice, but of the law, fallen on the head of innocent men? Gentlemen of the jury, I implore you — I require you — to remember this, in the name of justice, in the name of my life, in the name of the awful responsibility under which you are sitting there now — I was going to say in the name of God, but
I AM NOT GIVEN TO CANT. If the fact that I walked up to Cumberland-street and looked in the direction of the tragedy be urged as an evidence of gutlt, I have at least equal right to urge it as an evidence of innocence — for unless the canons of superstition be applied to the fact, and the rule that murderers are drawn to the scene of their crime by fascination, it is incredible that I should, in the presence of witnesses, go towards and examine the place in such a marked manner. But the reason of my walking up and looking about me is shown in the evidence. You recollect that the witness Leighton says that while he was in bed a rap came to the door; that he got out of bed and dressed himself, and by the time he got to the door nobody was at the door, but going into the street and looking up he saw a man some distance up the street. Nobody being at the door he went in again, and almost immediately afterwards the rap was repeated. Well, now, this bears its own explanation. I went to the store to make a certain purchase and the people were in bed. I rapped, and there was no answer given within a reasonable period. I concluded that I could not be served there and walked a little further up the street — to the corner of the street — and looked about for another shop. Looking back I saw Leighton had answered the rap and come out, I returned again and made my purchases. What would a murderer look towards the scene of a crime for? To see if the fire had taken effect? Well, he would have known that equally well without placing himself in such danger in a crowded locality such as that time in the morning; and when people were getting out of bed and moving about such a fire could not remain concealed; in fact, did not as it appears. From the appearance of the photograph the fire must have been discovered almost immediately. The murderer would have known whether the fire had taken effect or not by seeing or not seeing people running by the place, or by hearing or not hearing the fire-bells, or seeing or not seeing smoke without coming so close as he did. Perhaps it may be said he went there to see if the murder had been discovered. Did he think it would not have been discovered? Did he think the victims would
LIE THERE FOR EVER and that it would never be known? Do you think he would not hear of it too soon? The evidence of the three first witnesses, Sarah Gillespie, Leighton, and Wadsworth, contains nothing conclusive, scarcely even suggestive. What at most does it amount to? (To be continued.) -NZ Truth, 21/8/1915.
Butler's defence speech to the jury took five and a half hours, and the NZ Truth reported it in full in 1915. It is easily found and I think it need not be fully reproduced here. It is sufficient to say that he took a circumstantial case against him and broke it down, piece by piece. His greatest advantages, after his undoubted intelligence and reasoning power, were the principle in English law of presumption of innocence - that "golden thread" running through the fabric of the judicial system - and the fact that, because he was representing himself, he could make the defence statement without being in the place of a witness and therefore subject to cross-examination by the prosecution. He literally had the last word - could demolish the case against him, present his explanation for things which the prosecution asserted pointed to his guilt.
There was a further thing in his favour. He was undoubtedly fighting for his life. And a jury in those days was very reluctant to pronounce a guilty verdict - knowing its results were irreversible - without being completely sure of the defendant's guilt.
These days, of course, the spots of blood that Butler wore while fleeing Dunedin would be easily identified as that of one of his victims. Back then, little could be deduced by visual or chemical investigation of them.
As the NZ Truth put it:
By avoiding the witness-box, and raising his defence "in bar," to use a legal expression, he had the last word to the jury; that is to say, the Crown Prosecutor did not, because of his tactics, have the right of reply to Butler. Of course, it will be understood that the presiding judge really had the last word. Butler, it will be remembered, had got "into his stride," in commenting on the expert medical evidence on the blood-stains. Butler was about to break new ground, and feared that he might give an opening to the Crown Prosecutor. The dialogue is interesting.
The prisoner, addressing his Honor: Your Honor, if I should refer to any point in the evidence — for example, if I take any part of the evidence, and through mistake or otherwise I should say that a certain thing has been said or occurred during the evidence which thing had not occurred or been said, would that mistake subject me to a reply, or rather would it give
THE CROWN A RIGHT OP REPLY to my defence?
His Honor: No. If you make a mistake and I notice it I should point it out to the jury, and if I had not noticed it the Crown Prosecutor would have the right to call my attention to it; that is all.
Prisoner: I was about to make an assertion when it struck me that I might have done wrong. (Continuing his address to the Jury:) We come again to the clot on the collar....
Prisoner: I will request your Honor's permission to use the clothes. Can I have the coat and vest to put on?
His Honor: Yes.
Prisoner: May I make a communication to your Honor?
His Honor: You had better say out what you have to say.
Prisoner: Your Honor promised me the other day that you would, to a certain extent, watch the case for me. I have to request that your Honor will not allow me to do anything that will
SUBJECT ME TO ANY DISADVANTAGE.
His Honor: It is for you to frame your own defence as you think proper. Are you afraid that you may say or do anything that would give the Crown a reply? That is the only disadvantage I apprehend you can labor under. Is that what you are afraid of?
Prisoner: Yes, your Honor.
His Honor: Then I will do so.
Prisoner: I thank your Honor.
His Honor: I do not suppose for a moment that the Crown Solicitor would take advantage of any slip you might make.
Mr. Haggitt: Certainly not.
His Honor: You need not apprehend anything of the kind.
The Prisoner: Well, gentlemen, it may be said that innocence need not fear investigation.
Butler ended his defence on a powerful note
The prominent feature of the murder — indeed, its only feature — is its ruthless unrelenting, determined vindictiveness. Every blow seemed to say, You shall die — you shall not live. Malice, hatred, revenge, showed the whole of this dreadful mystery, revealed in the strongest light an enemy, and nothing but an enemy, and not a thief. But in neither character could the crime have been committed by me. It is extremely improbable that I should have had the slightest acquaintance with the deceased man and woman, because I was only three or four weeks in the town. All my places of resort are known, and do not correspond to the haunts of these people. Nobody ever saw me with the deceased at his home, or at his employment, or in his neighborhood. No one ever knew him to speak to me, to allude to me, or to have the slightest knowledge or acquaintance with me. Even his friends and relations never saw me before;- In short, it is certain that we were perfect strangers, and therefore all the foregoing arguments point powerfully and conclusively to clear me. But strong as these arguments are, there is another, if possible, more powerful still. Let it be admitted for a moment, that in the teeth of all probability I entered the house for the purpose of robbing it; then why did I not rob it? But more than why: what possible cause could render murder necessary to me? A few minutes ago I promised to produce a powerful argument that would apply peculiarly to myself; here it is. I could only have attacked the house in the character of a robber. What then, was the axe brought in for? For defence? I did not need it.
I WAS ALREADY DEFENDED. From what you have heard during the course of this case you understand that I had a loaded revolver. An axe would have been a useless incumbrance. I was already more than a match for any danger that could await me. Being so powerfully armed it is not likely I should select so mean a prey. Being so powerfully armed I should have been able to obtain perfect obedience without shedding blood; the house and all its inmates were under my control, my retreat was safe, and why on earth should I commit a murder — what possible reason was there for it? We hardly do anything, even the slightest thing without a motive; where is the motive for such a crime as this? Therefore, I had no motive for taking the axe for my own defence. Besides, if the axe were taken for defence, why was it used? The murderer was neither detected nor attacked. Gentlemen, I think this murder is a profound mystery. When you rise from your consideration of it, will it no longer be a mystery? If it be, how will you dispose of me? Can you in the face of these facts hesitate a moment to deliver me from the position in which I stand? I scarcely think so. I will just briefly summarise what I have said, and leave the caso with you and the Court. The offence that I am charged with I deny now, and I will deny it to the day I die, be that very soon or very far. The police and prosecution have made the scenes and circumstances of one offence with which they have charged me do duty as evidence in this case. The evidence is purely circumstantial on all points. A few misapplied inferences have seemed for a time to point in my direction. If at any time any of you have thought you saw a light upon the case, and that light shining upon me, I ask you what it was most like — the light of the sun, the light of day, the light even of a farthing candle would be useful: or was it like
THE LIGHT OF THE WILL-O'-THE-WISP, that can only lead astray? For every point that has been brought against me I have shown it is utterly and completely inconsistent with the theory of the murder. There is not a single thing which has been brought against me which I have not put aside. There is nothing that points in my direction. I cannot see how even a suspicion can attach to me. A lot of intelligent professional men come here and try to put a rope round my neck with their — by making common-sense topics a matter of profound professional mystery and experience. A lot of policemen come here and show clearly and surely that they are telling — I was going to say a word that would scarcely chime in with the dignity of the place. Every possible thing is in keeping with the one theory that I have placed before you, while many are not in keeping at all with the theory of the murder. What the law may be in such, a case I do not know. What justice and common sense would dictate I do know, and I think you know. The prosecution has endeavored to show that I was in the neighborhood of the murder on the Sunday morning; that my actions were suspicious, and so forth; that on the day of the murder I left Dunedin; and that there was blood found on my clothes. These few points that have been powerfully magnified, I think, have finished with the most powerful point of all. I leave it to you, gentlemen, to say if the case for the prosecution has not been completely crushed and set aside. I was taken by surprise in it. I was taken treacherously by surprise. I have not had time to prepare my defence on the point. Still I leave it confidently in your hands. My manner of being disturbed is much more than doubtful; it is supported only by falsehoods and contradictions. My being in the neighborhood of the murder — of that I shall recall the fact that I was not in the neighborhood of the murder, but in the neighborhood of my own lodgings. I might have looked down Cumberland-street, which was at one time a powerful sign of guilt, but if it is urged as a sign of guilt I can urge it as
A REASON OF INNOCENCE. If I looked down Cumberland-street it was because I knew of no reason why I should not look down that street. I have shown without reference to the murder that I had strong reasons for leaving Dunedin with altered appearance, although in this case the altered appearance did not amount to disguise. Nothing of the sort. I have accounted for the spots of blood — shown how unlikely, how impossible it could have been that they had any connection at all with the murder. I have pointed out numerous inconsistencies in the case for the prosecution, which inconsistencies become natural and intelligible in the light of the other theory. Finally, I have shown how unlikely it is that the murder with all its mystery is the work of a thief; that we must look elsewhere for the murderer; that it has for its bottom and foundation vindictiveness and malice; and I will now from here point out the track to the police and put in their hands the course that they should have taken before. I think that they have wasted a deal of valuable time. I have pointed out the utter, the complete absence of possible motive for the commission of such a crime — nay, more, I have shown powerful, overwhelming reasons which would have prevented me from doing such a deed, even if, as a robber, I had entered the house at all. I will not detain you, gentlemen, by going into details, but I will leave it in your hands, confident that, as such details shall arise, my defence upon them will arise in your memories. Finally, one word more. I stand in a terrible position. So do you. See that in your way of disposing of me you deliver yourselves of your responsibilities.
This address, perhaps one of the most remarkable ever delivered from the criminal dock, took nearly six hours in its deliverance. The judge summed up
IMPARTIALLY AND CONCISELY, and, if anything, in Butler's favor, and concluded his remarks as follows: —
"I will simply repeat the caution that I gave you already, that the case is not to be decided by what you have heard before, not from any views previously held by you, but from the evidence that has been adduced before you. If you think there is no other intelligible way of explaining the murder than that the prisoner committed it, then it would be a duty irrespective of consequences to find him guilty. If, however, you think that either the evidence does not establish that, and further, that the evidence does not sufficiently connect the prisoner with the murder, then, however, unsatisfactory it may be to leave a crime of such an atrocious nature undiscovered, and unpunished, it will be your duty to acquit him.
The jury retired at six o'clock, and returned to Court three hours later with a verdict of "Not Guilty." Butler was then in custody on other charges. As he left the Court be was hooted and hissed, but calmly facing the crowd he retorted: "Bah! the murderer is among you."
To complete the New Zealand history of this remarkable criminal it suffices to say that on charges of burglary and arson in Dunedin he was ordered imprisonment of 28 years, 18 of which he seems to have served in prison. He appealed for mercy, but the judge unheeded him, reminding him that the jury in the charge of murder had not acquitted him because
THEY THOUGHT HE WAS INNOCENT, but because there was not sufficient evidence, to convict. "Truth" in the next two instalments of this criminal's career will relate his life of crime in Australia up to the period of his execution for murder in Boggo-road gaol, Brisbane (Q). in July 1905.
(To be Continued.)
I note at this stage that there is a very good reason for an axe to be used instead of a revolver, as Butler would well know. Murder by axe would not be heard beyond the walls of the house where it took place.
A Strange Incident. —A strange incident, says the Otago Daily Times, occurred at the Gaol at the conclusion of Butler’s trial. A sister of Mrs Grant, the mother of the deceased man Dewar, informed Mr Watt, Resident Magistrate, that the prisoner was the man who committed the murders, and that she saw him do it. Upon Inspector Mallard asking her to interview one of the detectives, she said that it was in a dream she witnessed the deed. -Lyttelton Times, 6/4/1880.
To say that the verdict caused a sensation, puts it very mildly:
The trial has left the affair a more intolerable mystery than it was before. We are shut up to the alternative that either there has been such a failure of justice as amounts to a public calamity, or the murderer of the Dewars is still at large and unsuspected. Either Butler is guilty and laughs at judge, jury, police, and public, or a hell-hound is yet loose amongst us, who, perhaps, awaits an opportunity to repeat upon some other unoffending household the Cumberland street massacre. I don't know which supposition is most disquieting.
Whilst listening to Butler's speech, and watching the final stages of the trial, one of the cherished excitements of a dead and vanished civilization was permitted to me. I assisted in the capacity of spectator, at a gladiatorial combat. I can better understand now the Roman interest in that form of amusement, and the tense, high strung condition of nerve with which pleasure-jaded nobles and new sensation-seeking emperors must have heard the morituri te salutant of the combatants. To hear a man make a speech upon which his life depends comes very near to the sports of the amphitheatre, and is a kind of experience which in these humanitarian times must be exceedingly rare. Murder trials are doubtless common enough, and juries are addressed at such trials with more or less thrilling effect. But then the addresses are by professional advocates. Butler was defending his own life. He was required to show cause why the noose dangling above him should not be adjusted to his neck, and spoke with the certainty that if his speech proved a failure he was a dead man. Listening to a speaker who has these cogent motives to earnestness is as keen a nerve-tonic as I care to experience. You catch your breath in unconscious sympathy with the movements of his sentences, and almost feel the globus hystericus rising in your own throat. My notion is that Butler profited immensely by the emotion of a kind which no vicarious advocacy could have excited for him. He called no witnesses, employed no counsel, but seemed to find in his very isolation a source of strength. He was one against many, fighting for his life like a rat in a pit, and, however intense your horror at the crime imputed to him, you were constrained to a kind of pity for the friendless wretch. It is said that more than one lawyer was ambitious of defending him, but that Butler declared he would "yield to no man" the right of addressing the jury. His confidence was not misplaced.
Butler is a cadaverous-looking creature, with dirty leaden-hued complexion — which might take on an additional pallor, but would hardly flush with color — shallow blue eyes, and a thin fringe of hay colored moustache. His forehead and chin fall away rapidly from the salient promontory of his nose. His cheeks are drawn in, apparently by nervous contraction, and at the centres of depression have a twitching motion unpleasant to see. He is long-necked — the "Adam's apple" prominent in the throat — narrow-chested, spare of build and limb, below middle height, and though probably agile, possesses little physical force. An Otago policeman might tuck him under his arm. He is 28 years of age and looks 35. He is dressed in darkish clothes, wears a white shirt with half folded collar, and looks a cross between a pick pocket and and an evangelical cordwainer. "Light-fingered" might very well describe Butler's manipulation of his notes. They were in loose sheets, which he produced from time to time from behind him with a quick and furtive movement of the hands. His left hand shows deep scratches. After the second day's proceedings he ploughed it up with a pin to show one of the doctors how he could produce the blood spots. His manner in addressing the Court is quiet, self-restrained, deferential. He speaks with great deliberation, in a voice meant for the jury alone, often pauses, shades his eyes with his left hand, and taps the desk nervously with a pencil. He is a little foggy about the use of the aspirate, occasionally employs a grotesque illustration, but otherwise speaks intelligently and well, and makes some of his points — as for instance, when reminding the jury of their responsibility — with undoubted impressiveness. All theories respecting his guilt or innocence in the murder apart, Butler is to me a riddle which at present I can't guess. Notwithstanding his antecedents, his general views of life, Providence, law, and morality would do credit to a professor of ethics, and he is as free from cant and false sentiment as — well, the editor of the Echo. The day following the Stamper burglary he spent in practising sacred music which he had stolen from a church the previous Sunday! I can't guess him, but I won't give him up nor will the police either. -Westland Times, 4/5/1880.
SENTENCE ON BUTLER.
On April 22nd at Dunedin Butler pleaded "guilty" to the burglary at Mr Stamper's house, but not guilty to stealing books from the Catholic Church, but the jury without leaving the box found him guilty. At the suggestion of the Bench the Crown Prosecutor entered a nolle prosequi in respect to attempting to shoot the constables. Prisoner, in answer to the usual challenge, said nothing. The Judge, in passing sentence, said: — "It is evident that during the whole of your life you have committed crime. From your earliest childhood you have been a persistent enemy to society. Where the Court has to deal with such habitual criminals as you, it is absolutely necessary that such punishment should be meted out as will prevent the danger to society which must necessarily ensue if such characters as yourself are at large. The sentence I am about to pass upon you, you will distinctly understand, is not measured in any degree by what took place recently. On that charge you were acquitted. Such verdict by no means exonerates you from grave suspicion in respect to that charge. I concur in that verdict, not because I am convinced of your innocence, but because, in my opinion, the evidence brought against you was not sufficient to justify a verdict of guilty. I particularly wish you to understand that the suspicion which must weigh on the mind of everybody in respect to that transaction, does not affect in the least the sentence I am going to pronounce. The sentence I pronounce is based on your previous career, and on the circumstance that immediately after you were let out of gaol you commenced again a career of crime — larceny and burglary, the latter accompanied in all probability, though that is not put against you, by arson. The sentence of the Court is in respect of the burglary that you be kept in penal servitude for 18 years; for larceny after a previous conviction 10 years, the sentences to run concurrently."
Mr Haggitt intimated that he would consult with the Attorney-General as to whether the other indictments for murder should be proceeded with. -West Coast Times, 27/4/1880.
Lack of attributable motive was one of the more compelling aspects of Butler's defence. It had been suggested that, four years before, Elizabeth Dewar had given evidence against him when he was tried for a string of burglaries. This suggestion was refuted and no connection could be discovered between Butler and the Dewars. But there was a connection - one which led to Butler the psychopath creeping into their house, axe in hand, to exact what he would have considered his just revenge.
THE CONVICT BUTLER.
A series of articles headed "Prison Portraits'' is being published in Christchurch 'Society.' The last subject is Robert Butler, who is termed "The Cumberland street Tragedian." From the article we make the following extracts, having omitted some which insinuate charges against various people:-
Society is sometimes as much moved by the acts of a great villain as by those of a great hero, so my sitter, though he has not acquired fame, has, at least, achieved that infamy which ensures interest with the same certainty that it forfeits esteem. He is the amiable Robert Butler, the Nero of the Cumberland street tragedy, Dunedin. Let no one quarrel with me for focussing him. The effect will not be to inspire emulation, but execration. However inartistic my work may be, it shall be at least faithful to life.
Before attempting to portray the inner, I will describe the outer man. Robert Butler is now about forty years of age, he is 5ft 6in or 8in in height, slightly built, and, as one might suppose, from sheer force of intellect, getting bald; this, for two reasons, I take to be the cause of all, or nearly all, baldness. Ist, all, or nearly all baldies are, or look to be, highly intellectual. 2nd, the more shock headed — myself included are as noted for apparent, or real want of intellect. Robert Butler's face is thin and cadaverous, his nose rather aquiline, eyes grey and restless, mouth rather large and sensuous; the tout ensemble, of the features at once inspires with caution if not distrust; his walk is as ungraceful as bandy legs and splay feet can make it, something like the waddle of a lame Muscovy duck.
The operator's acquaintance with Mr B, began some six years since, and, as the policeman would say, "Yer Worshup, I've 'ad my eye on 'im ever since." Two of these six years we were close, if not intimate acquaintances, staying in the same hotel, eating at the same table, and belonging to the same Christian Young Men's Association and Mutual Improvement Society. There, don't laugh, for is it not an aphorism that truth is often stranger than fiction? This length of companionship will, I think, be allowed sufficient for an observant man to have got a pretty accurate gauge of his moral and mental calibre; and supplementing this, I have from others, who knew him earlier and elsewhere, slight sketches of his private life, and to this again I have his own previous confessions, in giving which, I trust, I shall be guilty of no breach of faith.
What his parentage may have been I never learned either from himself or others, but that he received a good education in the Catholic Grammar School, Melbourne, is certain. From boyhood he was one of the fastest of that fast class — the peculiar production of the present age — larrikins. In this he earned a reputation surpassed by none, and through this he gradually, perhaps almost naturally, developed into a professional chevalier d'industrie, and took his degrees in the great penal college of Victoria. After several terms there, hard study or work and the warm climate made a change of air necessary, and he migrated to the more temperate climate of New Zealand, bringing with him a rather large quantity of valuable jewellery, the proceeds of his last raid.
Arriving in Dunedin, he made the acquaintance of a young woman, to whom, for safety, he entrusted the jewellery while he plied his calling, with strict injunctions not to sell or wear it. That grand old patriarch Job declares that "man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward"; and if this was the experience of Job and his class in days when there were no detcetive police and no penal prisons, how much more so is it in these days, and to men of that class into which R. B. has with so much honor worked himself ?
After many ventures — some profitable, some profitless — R.B. and misfortune met. He robbed and tried to fire the Bishop's residence, firing being his own peculiar practice. As in the last great Cumberland street affair, the fire would not burn; and some of those troublesome fellows yclept detectives, pushing their impertinent inquiries, part of the loot from the Bishop's house was discovered, where B. had left it for a consideration with a relative called "my uncle." This occasioned an interview with wigged officialism, which resulted in a four years' residence with host Caldwell, Provincial Hotel, Stuart street, Dunedin, where we first became acquainted.
Here was formed that Mutual Improvement Society of which I have spoken, and of which each in turn rose to the dignity of chairman. And here it was that for two years and a-half I had ample means of testing Mr B.'s powers as a speaker, and, with others, formed no very exalted idea of them.
It is said that ingratitude is a crime of so dark a hue that no man ever confessed himself guilty of it. To this I will add an assertion of my own — the teaching of much experience: There are men whose gratitude, like their honesty, is a thing of mere policy — practised only when convenient or profitable. Where it is neither, they have no gratitude. Robert Butler is one of these men. Self, self is his only creed. He would sacrifice and he would trample under foot for either profit or revenge. Frequently I have heard him declare what others would hide — "that to gain the good-will of the gaoler and the gaol chaplain he would sacrifice all, as they only could serve him"; and this he conclusively proved ere he and I parted, but the story belongs to something else rather than this.
During my enforced companionship with Robert Butler I and all near him experienced in many ways the irascibility and treachery of his disposition. Truly he is as void of remorse as of principle — as wanton as malignant; no reproof could shame, and no obligation bind him. Vanity and envy (seldom found together) both dwelt in him. The first blinded him to his own faults or another's merits. How then, it might be asked, could he envy what he could not see or appreciate? My answer is: It was not the mental or physical superiority of another he envied, for these he could never discern, nor admit if he did discern. It was the material good that others enjoyed and he did not; here envy gnawed his very vitals. What he himself did not enjoy, he hated and would destroy if opportunity afforded. Whilst in Dunedm gaol his virulent nature was ever quarrelling with someone, fellow-lodger or official; hence he was always what is termed "in hot water"; but the cowardly craven with which he always begged for release from punishment was equalled only by the folly and recklessness with which he incurred it. At last he earned his discharge by an act as infamous as the Cumberland street murder was atrocious.
Discharged from gaol, he naturally inquired for, and found the person he had left the Melbourne jewellery with. She had become the wife of the man Dewar, and on being asked to return the jewellery, though admitting to still having possession of the property, she refused to restore it. Fatal admission! The loss of the lady, Butler says, he could have borne, but not so the loot. Repulsed, reviled, sneered at, and threatened, it was more than his greedy, unscrupulous, and malignant nature could endure; he determined to re-possess himself of the jewellery at any cost, and for this purpose, took lodgings near his victims' residence.
On the very night of the murder he says he made another demand for the things, but was again baffled, but while in the house he noted well the best means of entrance and the place where the axe was kept. While waiting to perpetrate the deed he was seen by Detective Bain, as told on trial. The meeting on Butler's part was unwelcome, and he tried to avoid it, but could not. This meeting, as it might have done, did not deter him from his purpose; but he had to wait, he said, until the streets got clear. He saw the husband return, and it but added another victim at the cost of another blow of the axe. What odds?he argued with himself. There may be his week's, perhaps a fortnight's wages, and I could not earn a couple of pounds as quietly or easily by honest labor. So he reasoned, and so the husband fell.
The knife by which he opened the window, and which could not be identified, he says he says he got from some hotel back-yard. After entering he proceeded at once to kill the sleepers to prevent their waking, striking the husband first and next the wife, who, he says, was awakened by the blow. How he killed the child he is silent about.
The occupants disposed of, he searched and found the jewellery rolled up in a pair of stockings; then, according to his regular custom, he thought to remove the evidence of the murders by firing the house. He cut open the bed and set it on fire. Calculating as he was, he thought not that, though calcined and charred, the cloven skulls would speak. But the fire did not burn, it only smouldered; and he states his feelings as he saw this from where he was watching. The fire not destroying the house determined him to leave Dunedin. He did so, and at the road-side hotel learned that the telegraph had flashed the news of the murders through the land.
He abandoned the clothes he had worn, fearing they might be blood-stained; but he regretted that he had done so, and to account for the blood marks of the murder he purposely lacerated his hands with the lawyer brambles. Certain of arrest, he hid the jewellery at a well-marked spot, not half-an-hour before capture, he states that from the moment of his arrest he had a conviction they would not be able to fasten the crime upon him, so well had he laid his plan and done his work. This feeling increased to a certainty as soon as he arrived in Dunedin, for there he was rendered that aid without which he later on felt he should have been lost.
A legal gentleman whom a friend engaged for him declined to openly defend him, yet advised him how to shape his own defence, and above everything, against giving the prosecution the right of reply, as his acquittal or conviction depended on this.
In regard to what I have indicated of B.'s powers of speaking, it may be thought I have much under-rated them, and it may be that I have. But I only spoke of those of his efforts to which I have been a listener. In these I repeat there was nothing in his speaking above mediocrity, and no one who heard him would argue that the talents of Butler were anything great. When we come to his defence on his trial for the Cumberland street tragedy, there are several things to be considered all tending to make clear what it is, but which were wanting in those other efforts I have alluded to.
First, there was the legal aid he received, which comes out quite plain in the points of that defence second, there was the time he had to prepare it; last, and greatest of all, there was the importance to Butler of the occasion. It was a matter of life or death; his existence hung upon it, and so he concentrated all his energies upon a grand effort; he had the whole bearings of the case mapped out and stamped upon his memory; he had written and read it over so often that he knew it just as he knew his pater-notra or the creeds. I used to see him walking about and mouthing it morning, noon, and night.
Soon after his removal to Lyttelton he got a pamphlet of his trial, which, after first reading himself, underlining and filling the margin with notes of admiration, he put into the hands of his few admirers, and at last it came into mine. In it I at once recognised all the peculiarities of R. B. There was the same pantomime and posturing, the same tautology, the same drumming upon and lengthening out ideas, and most of them very foolish. He seemed to be, as he ever was, talking against time. There was the same redundancy of similes and aphorisms, not always to the point. After hearing the whole of the evidence he saw at once, as did others, that there was nothing to link the crime upon him; even the circumstantial evidence — and it was mostly circumstantial — was very weak and inconclusive. Had he been convicted on that evidence it would have been by the force of public opinion and prejudice, rather than by the evidence itself.
Butler's one great aim was to impugn the whole evidence. All the witnesses were liars and perjurers, conspiring to hang an innocent man. But had not most of the witnesses, and the police in particular, been more scrupulous than they usually are, the circumstantial evidence might have been far more damning than it was. His cry of the treachery of springing fresh evidence upon him was puling in the extreme and something worse, for he who could murder sleeping people had little room to complain of surprise or treachery in others; but, with such as he, it is the peculiar policy to accuse others of their own crimes.
To show that this Dunedin defence was an unusual effort and one not all his own way, I have but to ask Why did he not display — if not equal talent and ability — at least some little power in the other cases for which he has been sentenced? He was unable, or he certainly would have done so. But, on previous occasions, he was like a burst bladder, empty. There was nothing left in him, and so he could bring forth nothing. But let me say a little more about his intellectual stamina and abilities. The police have said that, through them, he sought employment as a writer on the Press. They procured him such employment, which, when obtained, he declined. Why so? In reply, I have his own words, "that he felt himself quite unequal to the task;" he dared not, with all his vanity and assumption, even essay it. He begged they would get him pick and shovel work instead. They got for him this kind of labor, but again he declined. This time he excused himself on the ground of physical incapacity. In the first case it was sheer inability, in the second it was sheer laziness or distaste, for he had just done three years in the Government quarries.
Those who recollect him at our society's table will no doubt remember that he (Butler) failed in every intellectual essay he attempted, and in one he shamefully and shamelessly utterly collapsed after three attempts, and in consequence retired angry, yet not abashed. Butler has shown the possession of the three great requisite qualifications of Danton — "Audacity, audacity, and audacity." His own saying was: "If you have not some requisite quality, then ape it; few will distinguish between the real and the sham." Plenty of cheek he thought may sometimes be of more use in the world than modest ability. Judging his abilities fairly, he possesses a tolerable knowledge of music, but has a wretched voice, and is no instrumental performer. He is tolerably read in history, and has a good memory; is well up in grammar and common arithmetic. In religion he has no God but himself. Self-willed and arrogant, he cannot bear contradiction. Vain and affected beyond most men, he gives himself airs which render him at once conspicuous and ridiculous. He fidgets and jerks as though he had St. Vitus's dance, and, standing or sitting, he is ever posing and attitudinising. In fact, as I have said of another, he is vanity personified, and it is equally true of both.
Hargraves, in his "Blunders of Vice and Folly," says "all criminals are fools;" and someone else says "speech is silvern, but silence is golden." It is a species of gold Butler sadly lacks, for those ferocious threats of his made to the police he has made to many others — myself included — many times. He not only speaks, but preaches to others, he styles himself the apostle or schoolmaster of the period, and his doctrine to others is what he himself practises. It is "Kill, kill, and spare not." It is a divine command, he says, intended not for Joshua alone, but for men of all time. He teaches that his class ought to copy the examples of our rulers, and not be one whit more conscientious. Their orders in war run thus: "Kill, burn, and sink, and what you cannot carry away destroy!" and why, Butler asks, should we not do the same? Is it not our duty to do so? Half measures are no good, but dangerous to those who adopt them; and he argues that he is at present suffering for not having killed the Stampers and others he robbed, and vows should he ever have the opportunity again he will never again fail in carrying out this policy. Others, listening, admire and promise imitation. Should they do so, society will have something to fear.
Since his removal to Lyttelton, the same amiable disposition displays itself — bludgeoning some and threatening others — he is striving to terrorise all. Twice he has made efforts to get poison into the gaol, but the authorities have taken the proper means to frustrate his design. Ironing, solitary confinement, separate treatment, gentle friendly reproof and advice, all fail to influence him for good; he is, in fact, as impervious to good influences as is a duck's back to water. Yet Butler is leader of the gaol Hallelujah Band, or precentor of the choir, which, by the way, includes the honorable Mr Charters and others, all admirers of the "Philosophic Chicken," as R. B. has dubbed himself.
If the career of R. B. has been so brilliant in the past, what may society not expect of him in the future, when — trebly indurated by his present sentence — he returns to its midst? And what may not society anticipate from the converts he is continually sending out to practise his doctrines? The only hope of the public is that this amiable and illustrious individual may in some way on an early day finish his career in the gaol, if not by disease, then at the hands of one of those public functionaries he has so lately evaded. -Evening Star, 25/9/1882.
And there we have it: this missing jigsaw piece, the motive, from the mouth of the murderer himself. And, having literally got away with murder, Butler shows his truly psychopathic nature in boasting of it to a fellow prisoner.
But some were not impressed by the "portrait" - which was, incidentally, penned by a Mr Garret - who had gained his own notoriety in a gully on the side of the Maungatuas, still called "Stick-up Gully."
To the Editor of the Globe. Sir, — Under the above heading, I see Christchurch "Society" professes to give the career of the convict Robert Butler, who was supposed to have committed the Cumberland street murders in Dunedin about two years ago. The correctness, or otherwise, of his history is a matter of small importance, but the article contains a slanderous attack — as false as it is gratuitous — on the fame of Mrs Dewar, who was one of the victims of that outrage. She is represented as having received a quantity of jewellery from Butler in Melbourne, and having refused to return it to him in Dunedin, although admitting that she had it. The writer of the article knew Butler in Dunedin gaol, and adds, “Butler says he could have borne the loss of the lady but not of the loot,” and then proceeds to say, on Butler's authority, that to become repossessed of the jewellery was the object of the murder. All this is a pure fabrication, and no doubt if “Society” was aware of the responsibility it incurred by publishing such a libel, "Prison Portraits” would not have appeared. Mrs Dewar was well known in Dunedin; her character was unimpeachable, and there is no reason whatever to believe that she had ever seen Butler. It is childish to suppose that Butler made the statements which the author of "Prison Portraits” has imputed to him, for were he to make any such confession he would quickly change his place in Lyttelton gaol for the dock and the scaffold.
I am, &c., POLICEMAN X. Sydenham, September 16th, 1882. -Globe, 16/9/1882.
The republication from Christchurch Society, one of these wretched papers that make social gossip their claim to patronage, of an article on the “Cumberland-street tragedian,” otherwise Butler, has been vigorously condemned. The writer of the article was the notorious Garrett, who stuck people up at the West Taieri at the time of the Gabriel’s rush, who in gaol turned Christian and when he got out of gaol traded on his religion, but who found the “old Adam” too strong in him, and broke into a Princes-street seed shop, for which he got a long sentence, 15 or 16 years I think. Well, this Garrett made Butler’s acquaintance in Mr Caldwell’s hotel — the gaol that is — and pretends to give in the paper mentioned an exact account of how the murder of the Dewars was committed. But it is inconceivable that Butler would confide in Garrett about a thing of this sort. The story may almost certainly be taken as an invention, worked up by the whilom bushranger into a very readable article. What Mr Butler will say when he comes out if Garrett is still alive is not difficult to guess. He will certainly take some method of being revenged. Garrett is publishing a series of articles in the same paper under the title of “ Prison Portraits.” -Cromwell Argus, 10/10/1882.
Butler was released, for some reason, before his 18 year sentence was over. The next we see of him, he is closer to home, and plying his accustomed trade.
Robert Butler, alias Donnelly, whose arrest is announced from Melbourne, was one of the most notorious criminals in New Zealand. He was tried at Dunedin for the murder on a Sunday morning, early in March, 1880, of James Murray Dewar (or Grant) and his wife and child, in a cottage in Cumberland street, under circumstances which caused a profound sensation, but after an able defence by the prisoner, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. He was then sentenced to 18 years hard labor for burglary, having first made entry into the residence of the late Mr Stamper, in High street, and afterwards fire to the place. Butler was released about three years ago and shipped to South America. It was reported that he had made his way to San Francisco, and now we hear of his being in custody in Melbourne. -Oamaru Mail, 2/6/1896.
THE ARREST OF BUTLER.
A CAREER OF CRIME.
(From Our Own Correspondent.) Melbourne, June 6. It is now some six or eight months ago that a Melbourne journalist, formerly of Dunedin, became convinced that he had seen the notorious Butler in a suburban train. He was so firm in his belief of the identity of the convict that he followed the man to his home in order to be able to give all the necessary information to the police. A couple of subsequent encounters with the man lent further assurance to his conviction. He interviewed Superintendent Brown, of the Detective department, on the subject. The records were turned up, and some of Butler's distinguishing marks noted. Then a closer scrutiny revealed the fact that the man was not Butler, and the journalist's conceit in himself as an amateur Sherlock Holmes received a shock when he discovered that he had been expending his valuable time in following and watching a comedian at one of the minor theatres. But one result of his mistake was to interest Superintendent Brown in Butler, whom he kept in view as a possible trouble in the future. When, therefore, it was reported to him some weeks ago that the noted criminal was actually in Melbourne, he gave instructions to his men to keep him under close surveillance. Detective Dalton was assigned, the duty of "shadowing" the man, and subsequently Detectives Wilson and Hawkins were given the task in turns. They found him extremely cunning, and at times were quite uuable to follow him. He never walked two blocks without going through a lane, and frequently he would change trams several times on a journey from the city to the suburbs, or from the suburbs to the city. Now and again the detectives lost him altogether, but they always managed to pick him up again, though his residences were changed with as much frequency as his name. At the lodging houses he patronised he was a mystery, but contrived to escape close scrutiny and inconvenient questioning by saying he worked for a newspaper, and had to go into the country on business trips at short notice.
What led to Butler's arrest was the "sticking-up" of Mr Alexander McPhee, an accountant. While on his way to his home in Illawarra street, Hawthorn, on Thursday evening, Mr McPhee was waylaid by a man who compelled him at the point of a revolver to hand over all the money he had with him, together with his gold watch and chain. Mr McPhee described his assailant as a man of about 40 years of age, short of stature, thin to medium build, and dressed in a long overcoat and boxer hat. He added that he appeared to be wearing a wig and a false beard of short black whiskers. The description at once suggested Butler, and the detectives acted upon that suggestion. They found him on Saturday night in Clarendon street, South Melbourne, and took him into custody, on the charge of being illegally at large in the colony. Upon his person were found what appeared to be a false beard, a reel of cotton, two candles, some matches, and other odds and ends. At his lodgings was found a big overcoat, which, when on him, reached nearly to the ground. The detectives acted very warily with their prisoner. At his lodgings he made to enter his room. "Me first, please," said Detective McManamny. The detective feared firearms, and had a good look round for a concealed revolver ere he admitted Butler to the room. The false beard has been identified as part of some property stolen on May 10 from the shop of Mr Edward Dickens, tobacconist, of 273 Clarendon street, south Melbourne. Between 7 and 8 o'clock in the evening, while Mr Dickens and the members of his family were absent from the shop, someone gained an entrance, through a back window, and carried away from the shop I three tortoiseshell-handled razors and one white-handled razor, together with one short brown wig and one block wig. The false beard was portion of the wig, and gave its wearer the appearanoe of a man with a stinted growth of black whiskers. Another offence laid to the charge of Butler is that of having broken into the residence of Mr Power, of Cliften street, Richmond, on May 18. He was discovered before he succeeded in taking anything, and he prevented pursuit by, threatening to shoot with a revolver.
When Butler was leading a criminal life in Melbourne prior to his New Zealand experiences he was best known by the name of James Wilson, and it is by that name he has been known in Melbourne on his present visit. Throughout his career he hag been known also as George Lee, Robert Butler, Edward Don nelly, Robert Medway, and Thomas Lees. It was under the name of Wilson that he served his last sentence in Pentridge for a highway robbery of an exactly similar kind to that perpetrated on McPhee. He was at that time arrested by Detective Mainwaring, who is no longer in the force. When he was arrested on Saturday night Mr Brown, himself a detective of olden time, recollected his old comrade Mainwaring, and sent for him to identify the prisoner. The old detective, now 72 years of age, but straight and bluff and hearty as a man 15 years younger, turned up smiling at the detective office, after an absence on pension of 15 years. When the prisoner stood face to face with the man who arrested him for robbery under arms 33 years ago, he looked hard and long, and than said, "I don't recollect you." "I'm Mainwaring, who arrested you in 1864," the ex-detective answered. The criminal's eyes brightened. "Yes, I recollect you now; but you have altered — for the better. You are out of the service now, no doubt." That was all. The meeting of the two was not one of pleasure, and it was not prolonged.
The report of the arrest was, of course, made the most of by the Melbourne papers, and there was a great turning up of the records of the Cumberland street murder. One of the Melbourne papers is rich in Dunedin journalists, one of whom was roused out of his bed after midnight on Sunday to write a full history of Butler in New Zealand. The foreman of the Dunedin jury in the murder trial is now in Melbourne — Mr W. H. Quick. He was interviewed by the evening paper on the subject. To his friends privately Mr Quick admits his comfort at Butler's arrest. Butler is at least as well in as out of gaol under the circumstances. When the City Court opened on Monday morning there was a rush for seats by an eager crowd who desired to see the notorious criminal. But the crush had been anticipated, and the constables at the doors, acting upon express instructions, permitted only those to pass who had business to transact within the court.
When the formal court proceedings were over the accused was removed to the cell, and on the way started violently when two women, who were near the court door, caught his glance, and signified by an inclination of the head that they recognised him. He passed on quickly, and when in the cell behaved like a man who had lost his senses. He passed his hands through his hair, beat his fists against the walls, and walked excitedly to and fro. Detective McManamny had noted the recognition, and had quickly learned that the women were relatives of the prisoner (half-sisters they said), who desired a conversation with him. He told their desire to Butler, and the prisoner, calming down, said "Yes, I suppose so; let them come in. I would not have cared for anything so long as they did not know." The interview was not a long one, but it distressed the prisoner considerably, and he beat the cell walls with his hands, and even with his head, as he walked excitedly up and down. Later he became calm, and smilingly told McManamny that it was more than likely he would commit suicide before he came to trial on any charge preferred against him.
The watch and chain which were stolen from Mr McPhee have not yet been recovered, nor have the police succeeded in getting a trace of them. If a letter received on Saturday by Mr McPhee himself was a genuine document, there is reason to hope that the watch may yet turn up safely. The letter addressed to Mr McPhee, 51 Illawarra road, Hawthorn, was undated and unsigned, and written in a hand which was probably disguising a fair commercial style of penmanship. It bore the Melbourne post mark. The text of the letter was as follows: —
Sir, — If you would like to have your watch back again you can get it for two sovereigns (£2). Have the money ready for immediate call, on payment of the money I will give you my word that I will afterwards deliver you the watch, but should my messenger be questioned, delayed, or followed I will not return it.
If you agree to these conditions, put a notice in the paper or write, or something to that effect.
Acting under the advice of Detective-sergeant Dungey, Mr McPhee advertised on Monday "All right," and the messenger was awaited, but did not come. Of course, if Butler was the writer of the letter, he could not answer the advertisement, but it was thought he might have handed the watch to someone else.
Butler is a native of Melbourne, and his a career as remarkable as any on the record sheets of Australian penal establishments. At 12 years of age he was incorrigible. His relatives could not control him, and he refused to make any attempt to maintain himself in honest employment. He wandered through the city and suburbs by day and night, and slept in the thieves' watch wherever he happened to find shelter. His favourite haunts were unoccupied houses, and the timber of the fences and of the houses themselves contributed to his comfort when no ordinary firewood was obtainable. The police at Malvern finally arrested him, and as none of his relatives could promise to control him, he was sent to gaol for 12 months on the charge of larceny. That was in 1860. Twelve months for the larceny of a gold watch, and six months for vagrancy, brought him down to 1864, when be commenced upon more violent crime, and very quickly went "to the roads."
In 1864 he was 16 years of age. He had already served two years and a-half in gaol, and had fairly embarked on a life of crime. The company of the hardened villains of Pentridge had completed his criminal bias, and, probably fired by the accounts of the doings of the bush rangers — then in the heydey of their exploits — he started ont to plunder, armed with a pistol. As marking the passage of time, it is interesting to note that though he is now only 48 years of age Butler — or Wilson, as he was then known — was sentenced to five years' imprisonment for robbery under arms when Sir Charles Darling was Governor, Sir James McCulloch Premier, Mr Higinbotham Minister for Customs; when Mr and Mrs Robert Heir and Barry Sullivan were playing to crowded houses at the theatres; and when the people of Pentridge (now Coburg) were holding meetings to object to the continuance of the system of the transportation of convicts. The lad's first essay in violent crime was in the Fitzroy Gardens. A Richmond labourer, named John Geddes, was going home through the gardens when a man, as it appeared to the terrified imagination of Geddes, stepped before him, and, presenting a pistol at him, demanded "his money or his life," in the good old Drury lane fashion. The labourer begged for mercy as he handed over half-a-crown and some coppers. The robber next desired the labourer's watch and chain, and these were also given up. Geddes was then coolly told to go home straight and make no report of the matter, or else he would find a bullet whizzing through his brains. The robbery was reported in due course, but nothing was heard of the perpetrator for a day or two. Meantime a constable in Richmond found Wilson in an unoccupied hut in Clarendon street at 6 o'clock one morning. The youngster was asleep on the bare floor, with a cloak thrown over .him. A six-chanbered revolver fully loaded lay beside him, and a lot of books were scattered round him. These, it proved, were the proceeds of' a burglary an hour or so earlier at the house of Mr J. C. Raymond, of Gipps street. The youngster was later identified as having pawned the watch stolen from Geddes, and thus cornered, he freely admitted the charge of sticking-up Geddes. For this offence he went to Pentridge for five years. On his release he was not long out of trouble, and was seldom ont of gaol until in 1876 he left Melbourne for New Zealand.
Naturally when the accounts of the Cumberland street tragedy were published here there was much speculation about the motive for the crime. The evening papers revived the story that Mrs Dewar, the murdered woman, was an old sweetheart of Butler's; but there is no truth whatever, as most Dunedin people know, in that story. Butler did have, however, what he was pleased to consider a sweetheart in Dunedin at the time, and she was directly responsible for his first being suspected of the murder. He first became acquainted with her when he was working on Bell Hill. She was a nursegirl at a house close by, and he had seen her with her young charges about the place. When he got out of gaol he found out the girl's whereabouts and proposed marriage to her. Annoyed and persecuted by his attentions, the girl complained to her uncle, who happened to be a gaol warder, and he in turn complained to the detectives, who promised to prevent Butler troubling her in future. They told him of the annoyance he was causing the girl and warned him to cause her no more of it. He promised amendment, and led the detectives into the false belief that he had gone to work.
The murder was committed on a Saturday night, or, rather, Sunday morning. Early on Sunday afternoon Detectives Henderson and Walker were making their way down Rattray street, when the girl referred to called Henderson aside. She complained to him that Butler was still troubling her. "But," said Henderson, "he has been out of town the past ten days working on a dredge at Ravensbourne." "Indeed, no," replied the girl, "he was hanging about where I am living both yesterday and Friday." On the instant the conviction arose in Detective Henderson's mind that Butler was the man they must run down for the murder. He at once communicated his suspicions to Inspector Mallard, and from that time the efforts of the police were all directed to the discovery of Butler's movements. This is a bit of history in connection with the Cumberland street murder which has not perhaps been before published. It affords another example of the value and importance of slight and accidental clues to the mind of a skilled criminal detective. -Otago Daily Times, 13/6/1896.
Butler had "a fool for a client" again in defending himself in his home town.
THE NOTORIOUS BUTLER
At Melbourne on Saturday the notorious criminal James Wilson or Robert Butler was sentenced to ten years penal servitude for breaking and entering. He was arraigned on July 15th before Mr Justice Holroyd on three charges, of house breaking on 10th May, of attempted house breaking on the 18th July, highway robbery on 28th May. He pleaded guilty to the first charge aind not guilty to the other two. He also admitted thefollowing prior convictions: — 1863, at Melbourne, 12 months for larceny in a dwelling; 1864, at Melbourne, five years for robbery and six months for receiving (concurrent); 1871, at Melbourne, five years for burglary under the name of George Lee; 1876, at Dunedin, New Zealand, under the name of Robert Butler, four years for burglary, four years for larcency (concurrent), four years for housebreaking (concurrent); 1880, at Dunedin 18 years for burglary and 10 years for larceny (concurrent), making the total of sentences recorded against him 63 1/2 years.
It will be remembered by many of our readers that his defence in the murder case against him at Dunedin in 1876 was considered a wonderful effort of debating skill, and that this facility in dissecting evidence has not deserted him in the twenty years that have elapsed is shown by the following report of his address to the jury, in the highway robbery case: — He said the greatest difficulty and the greatest danger he had to face was the prejudice that had been engendered against him by the gossip that had appeared in the newspapers concerning him. No matter whether it was true or false, it was most unjustifiable. Many people who read such things believed that because they appeared in the newspapers they must be true. The public had been continually addressed with that gossip about him, and it was from that public the jury to try him had been drawn. It was too much to expect that the jury would be able to make their minds a blank as far as all they had read of the case was concerned, but he would ask them to do so as far as possible, and consider only the evidence that had been adduced against him in the court. Accused then referred to the disabilities a man confined in the Melbourne gaol had of preparing a defence, and then made an exhaustive analysis of the intrinsic value of the evidence of Mr McPhee, who, he contended, was the only witness in the case. He contended that, according to Mr McPhee, the occurrence took place in the evening, on the dark side of the street among the shadows; that the occurrence was only one minute in duration, and that the assailant was disguised. Yet in spite of all that Mr McPhee had professed to identify him absolutely at a first glance, was it likely, when McPhee was in great mental and bodily fear, that he would be able to take in all the details necessary for such an absolute identification as he had given. The prosecutor said that he could not properly describe the false beard, and if he could not how could he explain the paradox of being able to identify the features that were behind it? The fact that he had a long overcoat in his possession was nothing, for all overcoats were long, but the fact that the pattern was a broad check had not been mentioned, as it would have been had he been Mr McPhee's assailant, because it was the most striking feature of the coat. The prosecutor's assailant had been described as having a slight moustache, but his, as the jury would see, was anything but slight. The Crown Prosecutor had opined that McPhee would identify him (prisoner) by his voice, but he had not done so, and it was clear he could not. Referring now to the evidence of Daniel Evans, I must say that it is not only prejudiced, but it is brimful of palpable improbability. To say that I would babble to a stranger, an uninteresting white haired old man like that, who can hardly put his sentences together, the lean and slippered old pantaloon — Shakspear's last stage — is an absurdity. Is it likely that if I had robbed a man of a gold watch on the highway two days before I would talk of it to that old man, especially as the watch bore an engraving, with which I dared not have exhibited it? If you think I was guilty of an illimitable imbecility, I hope you will recommend me to mercy on the ground of insanity. The evidence is such a chain of ricketty perhapses, unrelieved by one solid block of certainty, that no one would convict a dog of stealing a bone on such testimony, unless it was the owner of the bone. -Timaru Herald, 30/6/1896.
THE CONVICT BUTLER
SCENE AT HIS SENTENCE.
(From Our Own Correspondent.) Melbourne, July 29. Robert Butler (or James Wilson, which is the name he has been convicted under in Melbourne) came up for sentence before Mr Justice Holroyd on Monday. He was already undergoing a sentence of 12 months for being illegally at large in Victoria. The crime for which he was to be sentenced was breaking into the shop of Mr Dickens, hairdresser, at South Melbourne, and stealing a wig, &c. He had been acquitted for the sticking up at Hawthorn, and the charge of attempted housebreaking at Richmond was not gone on with in the higher court.
When he was put into the dock on Monday Butler said he was 50 years of age, and had been a teacher. On being asked if he had anything to say why sentence should not be passed on him, he said, "I have handed a statement to your Honor"; and the judge replied, "I have read it."
Mr Justice Holroyd then said: James Wilson — if that be your name, — you have pleaded guilty to breaking and entering a dwelling house and stealing from it. The record of your crimes, as I have it before me, commenced in February 1863. You were then in Victoria, and between 1863 and 1871 you were four times convicted of stealing in a dwelling house, of robbery, of receiving, and of burglary. Your sentences combined amounted to 11 years 6 months. In 1876 yon appear in New Zealand. On one day you were there convicted of six gross crimes — three times of larceny and three times of burglary. That was on the second of October 1876. You then received six sentences of four years, making 21 years, but they were all made concurrent. Scarcely had your sentences expired when you were again before the New Zealand courts on a charge of burglary and larceny, and the judges thought proper to sentence you in all to 28 years, of whish you were to serve 18 years. Such a catalogue of criminality has seldom come before me. You are now undergoing a sentence of 12 months for being illegally at large in Victoria. It is difficult to know what to do with such a man. The first duty I have is towards the public, and the second, if I had any hope of your reforming, is towards you. You have sent me a letter, and in that letter you have stated something supposed to be a history of your life before the year 1863; it ends with that date with one exception, which I am going to mention. You have drawn a narrative that might be taken from some of those sensational newspapers which are written for nurserymaids, and in that you have though proper to read me a lecture on the manner in which I should pass sentence on you and to ask for a lenient sentence. In your letter you do not give one single word of information from which I can ascertain whether anything you say ever had any existence in fact at all. You refused when asked here to state what your real name is. I cannot find out that you ever yet attempted to do in the whole course of your life, on your own statement, one single good thing, or that you can bring before me one single person who can say one single thing in your favour, or that there is the remotest chance if let out of gaol now of your ever doing any good to yourself or anyone else. This is the conclusion I form from what you say of yourself and from the manner in which you have stated it. To me it appears that it is a great pity that a man with your knowledge, information, vanity and utter recklessness of what evil will do, cannot be put away somewhere where he can pass his life without the slightest chance of being mixed up with his fellow man. In my opinion if there was no hope of your doing good before there is still less of your doing any good thing now. But you can cause a great deal of harm, for it is evident that you are possessed with intense vanity, and that you are one of those who can incite others to criminality and lead them astray. The sentence of the court is the longest one I can give for this offence, and I take into consideration your previous convictions, and what I have before me of your record. The sentence of the court is that you be imprisoned with hard labour for 15 years, and that the first three weeks of the 7th, 13th, 20th, and last months but one of your detention be passed in solitary confinement.
Prisoner (leaving the dock): An iniquitous and brutal sentence!
Mr Justice Holroyd (with great sharpness): Come back. Bring that man back.
When Butler was placed in the dock again, his Honor said: No insult that you can offer me will induce me to inflict upon you one single hour more of imprisonment, but I advise you never again to offend the dignity of the court. If ever you get out of gaol, and are brought up again, never offend —
Prisoner: Iniquitous and brutal!
Mr Justibe Holyrod: I utterly despise your comment. I cannot tell you the scorn I feel for a man like you.
Prisoner: Publish my letter, and let the public judge.
Mr Holyroyd: Take him away.
Prisoner (descending to the cells): Publish my letter, and let the public judge.
Subsequently, after another prisoner had been called up, Mr. Justice Holroyd had Butler recalled. The prisoner reappeared in the dock nervously trembling, and scarcely able to stand.
Mr Justice Holroyd said: I am told that I read your sentence out of my book as 15 years; I should have said 10 years.
The prisoner was then removed.
The Argus referring to the discovery of the watch which the convict Butler had evidently stolen from Mr McPhee says — Detective McManamny had never doubted his charge against Butler was absolutely true, and when the jury returned a verdict of "Not guilty" he was more than ever determined to go further, and by every possible means, consistent of course with fair play, endeavour to prove that he was right. The first interview between the detective and the convict was short. Butler had recovered his self-possession and had quietly settled down to the prison routine. He greeted the detective familiarly, thanked him for the fair manner in which he had been proceeded against, and wound up a few well-turned sentences by saying that he would do McManamny a good turn if he ever had the chance. McManamny replied that he did not want any personal favours, but would be pleased indeed if he could recover Mr McPhee's watch. Butler smiled as he asked if the detective imagined he had lost his senses and was going to make evidence against himself. He was more thoughtful, a moment later when told that no further proceedings were contemplated so far as the Hawthorn case was concerned. "The old man (Mr McPhee) was very fair," he said, "and it perhaps would be a reasonable thing to help him to regain the watch. Supposing — I merely say supposing — I stuck him up, and tell you where the watch is, what would happen to me if something else where found beside it?" "Does it mean murder?" queried McManamny. "No," responded Butler, "merely a loaded revolver." "That might imply an offence against a by-law of the municipality, but nothing you need be afraid of." returned McManamny. Butler then promised to give some important information provided he were shown a definite undertaking on the part of the Crown not to proceed further against him in the case of the sticking-up of Mr McPhee.
A few days latter McManamny obtained this undertaking from the Attorney-General and once again interviewed Butler. The convict was not so free and outspoken as had been expected. He remarked that he intended to say nothing about Mr McPhee's case, and he did not. But he took a piece of foolscap and with a few lines in pencil sketched the intersection of Exhibition and Little Flinders street, with Rochester Lodge on the corner, and then indicated a four-roomed house in a right-of-way close at hand. About the centre of one of the rooms he placed a pencil mark, and, handing the paper over to the detective, said, "There you are. Now you know as much as I will ever tell you. Go and see what you shall see." To the detective mind nothing more was required. The plan showed plainly enough the place where the watch had been hidden, and McManamny lost no time in putting the information to a practical test. When he reached the spot indicated on the map or plan, however, he was startled by discovering that there was no house there. It had been recently pulled down, and its bricks had for the most part been carted away. This unexpected development staggered the detective, but without delay he searched out the owner (Mr Raphael, of Russell street), and then traced the purchasers of the bricks. Neither had heard anything of a watch being found in the house, and, provided it had been placed there, it was probably still lying there buried amongst the broken bricks and rubbish, which had been valueless to the purchaser and had, therefore, not been removed.
At an early hour on the 6th inst. McManamny and two assistants, armed with picks and shovels, commenced to clear away the debris. Some hours later they found a brown paper parcel, which, on being opened, was found to contain not only Mr McPhee's gold watch and chain, but a five-chambered revolver, loaded in every chamber, 10 ball cartridges tied in a piece of rag, a keen-edged butcher's knife about l0in or 12in long, and a black-haired mask. The watch chain was broken where it had been wrenched from the vest, and the watch itself was still showing the time of the outrage — viz., 20 minutes past 10 p.m. The mask was materially different from the one discovered in his possession at the time of his arrest. It is of the orthodox shape, and fastens with string. -Otago Witness, 20/8/1896.
The name of Robert Butler alias Donnelly alias Medway alias Lee, the notorious criminal, only requires to be mentioned to be remembered, by the old and even young residents of this City. The Cumberland Street tragedy is never likely to be forgotten, and the fact that Butler was due to be discharged from Pentridge Prison, Melbourne, on the 8th of this month is not by any means pleasant reading. Yet it is a fact. Butler, it will be remembered, was sentenced in 1880 to eighteen years' imprisonment, and was discharged from gaol in 1894 on the understanding that he went to South America. He, however, soon afterwards turned up in Melbourne, and received another long sentence there for having housebreaking implements in his possession. According to latest advice Butler, who is now about fifty-four years of age, is a free man once more. -Evening Star, 13/6/1904.
Butler wasted no time in resuming his criminal career.
ROBBERY UNDER ARMS.
EXCITING ENCOUNTER IN BRISBANE
BRISBANE, March 26.
A man named William Munday was stuck up and dangerously wounded near Toowong, a suburb of Brisbane, last night, by an armed robber. Munday was on his way to Toowong to attend a Druids' meeting, when a man stepped out from behind a tree, and exclaimed: ''Out with all you have got, and quick about it."
Munday refused to comply with the demand and attempted to close with the robber. The latter thereupon drew a revolver and fired, the bullet passing through Munday's arm, and entering the abdomen. He cried out for assistance, and several neighbors in the vicinity, hearing the shots and cries, ran to his help. Meanwhile the robber made off. The police were apprised, and the country was quickly scoured.
Munday was taken to the hospital. The police had practically surrounded the whole district, and at an early hour this morning Constable Hennessy saw a man named Wharton near the Regatta Hotel, on the Toowong road, making his way towards the city.
As he failed to give a satisfactory account of himself, he was arrested, and a revolver, with one chamber recently discharged, was found on him. He was taken to the hospital, and there identified by Munday as the man who shot him. He was again searched, and a second revolver, fully loaded, was found on him. When questioned by the detectives as to what he was doing in that locality, he said he was hard up, and was on his way to rob a house. He is a feeble old man, his age being given as 63. The evidence of the arresting constable was taken at the Police Court this morning after which the accused was remanded for a week.
It transpires that when Constable Hennessy met Wharton on the Toowong road the latter was carrying a parcel under his coat. Hennessy asked what the parcel contained. Wharton, with an accompanying oath, said, "I will soon show you," at the same time putting his kind to his hip pocket, from which he drew a nickel-plated revolver. Tlie constable immediately felled him, and handcuffed him.
[Munday has since died from the results of his wound.] -Poverty Bay Herald, 7/4/1905.
THE NOTORIOUS BUTLER.
SENTENCED TO DEATH AT BRISBANE.
AN EXTRAORDINARY CAREER OF CRIME.
THE LATEST MURDER
At the criminal sittings of the Supreme Court, Brisbane, on May 24, the trial of James Warton on a charge of the wilful murder of William Munday, at Toowong on March 23, was concluded. The defence sought to show that the accused was not wholly responsible for his actions, as he was suffering from dengue fever.
Counsel for the prisoner having obtained permission for the latter to address the jury, Warton, who was very nervous, and spoke in a weak voice, made a statement, in which he detailed the hardships endured by him during his wanderings in search of work since July last, when he got out of work in Melbourne. The only work that suited him was journalism, and for that he was rendered unfit by an attack of influenza. He visited Sydney and Brisbane, arriving at the latter place in August, but being unable to get work he walked back to Sydney. He then described further hardships endured up to the time of his return to Brisbane. Regarding the shooting of Munday the prisoner said that months of illness and privations had told on him, and his actions were those of a man who had become a fool. He also said the shooting was accidental.
The jury found prisoner "Guilty" of simple murder.
Warton was much affected, and said he had but little to say. He thanked the judge and jury for the fairness of his trial. If there was anything he could give or anything he could do to give back to the wife her husband and to the children their father he would give it. His life was a poor thing, but he would be glad to give it 50 times over. He expressed sorrow for what he had done.
The Chief Justice then passed sentence of death, and in doing so he said the jury had convicted prisoner of murder. On the evidence they might have convicted him of wilful murder, but they gave him the benefit of such doubt. His Honor thought prisoner went to Toowong intending to rob somebody.
Counsel for the defence asked the judge to reserve the question of law in connection with the admission of certain evidence for the consideration of the Full Court. -Otago Witness, 7/6/1905.
A REMARKABLE CRIMINAL
ROBERT BUTLER'S SENSATIONAL BIOGRAPHY
HIS COLD-BLOODED CRIME IN BRISBANE
Which He Expiated on the Gallows
In due course Butler, or James Warton to give him the name he then used, was brought to trial at the Brisbane Supreme Court, before the Chief Justice and a jury, charged with the wilful murder of William Munday.
Accompanying this instalment of this remarkable criminal's career is a sketch taken of the murderer as he stood in the dock, and it is worth while recording the impression made by the man at the time. We are told that, "Warton, who is a man of 5ft 5in, weighing 8st, is about 55 to 60 years of age. He appeared to be very nervous during his trial, but followed the evidence most closely, and frequently whispered instructions to his counsel. On occasions he seemed quite overcome, and would stand with his head bowed down on the edge of the dock. Anyone more unlike a murderer it would be impossible to conceive."
"Whispered instructions to his counsel," seems strange when we recall his self-assurance, self-reliance and scornful refusal of legal aid in Dunedin in 1880. Warton, or Butler, as we should call him, was represented by counsel assigned him by the Crown.
Some of the old-time dash was exhibited by him when he availed himself, as the prisoner, to make a statement to the jury. Again, it must be noted that he did not go into the witness-box to give evidence on oath, and submit himself to a searching examination. If doubt existed (and none does exist), that James Warton and Robert Butler were one and the same individual, his address or statement from the dock to a Brisbane jury effaces that doubt. It is recorded that his statement or address, which occupied over an hour and a-half in its delivery, was at times incoherent.
Brisbane "Truth," of May 28, 1905, states: — The whole speech, although rambling, was clever and ingenious, and the language that of a man with a fair education. At the commencement his voice was weak, he was palpably nervous, and apparently affected. He spoke slowly with long pauses, as if it was an effort, and at times, seemed at a loss for a word. He commenced by sketching his life from last July, when he said his prospects were not too bright. He was living in Melbourne, but lost his employment. He had no friends and only some £15 in money. He tried hard to get a steerage passage to England, but did not have enough money, and then
CONTRACTED INFLUENZA and deafness. This ate into his scanty resources and he became very depressed. "I found it very hard to obtain employment," said Warton. "I was fit for journalistic work, but I was working under the high pressure of sickness." He succeeded to a certain extent. It was a cat and mouse life. He then went to Sydney and paid his fare out of the "very low" sum of money which he possessed. People might say that in doing so he was acting like a hopeless lunatic, but if anyone had said so he would have told them they were hopeless liars. They might have asked him if he knew that Sydney was barren, a nest of poverty, and that he was wasting his money by going there. When he arrived in Sydney on November 17, he was utterly and thoroughly worn out. He went to the Salvation Army and saw Staff-Captain Bishop, who described himself as the head of the social refuge work in New South Wales. He went to him to get work. The Army could not find work for him, but gave him a letter of recommendation. When they did find him work he was only paid 1s a week, so he earned some money at journalistic work. This got to the knowledge of the Salvation Army and caused the officials to put him out and said Warton, "I was put out by a burly 15-stone official." Warton related another instance of his treatment while with the Army. While in the home he was suffering from dysentry, and, in his hurry, went to the officers' w.c. The captain came along and asked him what he was doing there? He said he was ill. "I don't care," said the captain, "you've no right there." He (Warton) thought it damnable that a Salvation Army captain should say a thing like that. He soon found himself upon the rocks, and at the end of three days fled, wandering Jew fashion, to Brisbane. He
REMAINED IN BRISBANE eight days, bewildered and despairing. (Long pause). "See! (Striking the dock). What presents itself to my mind is this if there could if there could be a psychological camera; if it could have the picture would have shown me as a bird fascinated by a serpent." Warton then described how he walked overland to Sydney. On the way he had to go into a hospital, and when he got to Sydney he went to the Salvation Army shelter. He was, he said, like a bird, fascinated, bewildered by the horrid and damnable fate in front, around and behind him. When he got back to Brisbane in the beginning of March last, he was not bad nor had he any homicidal tendency. He had no thought of taking any man's life or intention of doing so, but what he did say was that months of illness, privation, poverty and hopelessness had told upon him, and his actions were those of a fool; his mind and will had
BECOME A REMNANT, misguided by impulse. It was an automatic reflectation of a worn and tired mind. When he got to Brisbane he had 7s and went to live in Herbert-street. He might have gone to the Salvation Army Home, and did do so, but not until it was too late. Then he got ill with dengue. Prisoner here drew a vivid picture of dengue, as he had suffered and, perhaps, as the jury had also suffered. For four days and three nights he was without food, lying ill, with only his own thoughts. Then he wandered to the hospital, but had to leave before he was cured. They regarded him as a half-idiot, but let him go. He was not without money, as he had a penny in his purse. Unfortunately, that night he met a Salvation Army officer, and it occurred to him to make an appeal to him. The thought of a certain picture, with thousands of men like himself drowning in a river, and on the banks the outstretched hands Army hands of
HUNDREDS READY TO SAVE. The manager of the Metropole said he could do nothing for him, he had to make the place pay, but he gave him a bed and sent him to Mr. Brennan the next morning. He (the Metropole manager) had apparently not seen the picture he referred to. Prisoner related his interviews with Mr. Brennan and came to the night of the murder. He had, in his trunk in Herbert-street, the revolvers, and went and took out a clean change of linen and, at the same time, he took the revolvers. He changed his clothes on the river bank, and had a vague idea of getting money somehow. Wandering along he did not know where, he met Munday. Prisoner then detailed the shooting, which, he said, was not premeditated, but an accident.
HE THEN CAME BACK to the state of his mind, and somewhat incoherently argued that he was irresponsible at the time. This, he again argued, was the result of privation, sickness and hopelessness, which lasted from last July until March. He then started to argue the matter from a psychological point of view, and the fact of his allowing an unarmed policeman to arrest him, lock him up, and take him to what would probably be the gallows. He could not explain why he did so, but his mind that night urged him in that way. He could easily have shot the policeman had he wished to do so, or, for that matter, himself. Prisoner's further remarks all tended to try and convince the jury that he was not responsible for his actions at the time of the act, and he was going to quote authorities when his solicitor spoke to him, and he finished up abruptly by placing his head on his arms, and apparently crying. Warton spoke for one hour and thirtyfive minutes. The defence raised the only possible defence that could have been raised, insanity; but the jury's verdict of guilty, after an hour's retirement, indicated that such a defence did not appeal to them. The Court was crowded at the time, and a silence and hush fell on everybody, when the prisoner was asked what he had to say. Putting his hand to his forehead, he said he had to tender his thanks to the court, jury, and his own counsel. If there was anything he could give, he would gladly give it, and if he had 50 lives he would give them if they could bring Munday
BACK TO LIFE. His Honor delivered sentence very briefly. He said that prisoner had been found guilty of murder. He thought that the prisoner had gone out on the night to rob, and because Munday, whom he met, showed some sign of resistance he shot him. The sentence of the Court was that he should be taken back to the place from whence he came, and that on a date and time, to be appointed by the Executive Council, he should be hanged by the neck until he was dead. "And may the Lord have mercy on your soul." Warton received his sentence without flinching, and picking up his hat, left the dock escorted by two gaol warders.
(To be Continued.) -NZ Truth, 9/10/1915.
It occurs to me that, destitute as he was, he might merely have sold the revolvers.
UNDER SENTENCE OF DEATH.
Brisbane, Yesterday. Wharton, who is alleged to be identical with the notorious Butler, and who is now under sentence of death on a charge of murdering William Munday, at Toowong, has made an urgent written protest against the sentence being carried out.
Cabinet has not disclosed the contents of the protest.
Wharton also asked to be allowed to furnish a written statement, and his request was agreed to, but so far the statement has not been furnished. -Wairarapa Daily Times, 14/7/1905.
It is to the NZ Truth I am again obliged for their publishing, as part of their 1915 series on the "remarkable criminal" Robert Butler, this eyewitness account of his last moments. It would seem to have beeen copied faithfully from the contemporary reporting of their sister paper. It is strong stuff - but I would say that, while personally against the death penalty, I think the ignominy which attended the end of Butler was completely deserved.
James Dewar kissed his little girl goodbye every time he left the house in Cumberland Street. Robert Butler's life was "a poor thing" indeed.
A Ghastly Sight.
Head Hangs by a Sinew.
On Monday morning last, James Warton, the murderer of William Munday, paid the extreme penalty of the law at Brisbane gaol At 7.45 a.m. the Press representatives and others were collected in a group at the gaol gates, when the sheriff and another official drove up in a cab. Immediately the sheriff entered. Captain Pierson, the superintendent of the gaol, gave the signal for those who had the necessary permit to enter also. On passing through the main gates each individual was asked to sign his name in a book. This occupied some ten minutes. Then the second gate was opened and those about to witness the execution were formed into a procession and marched to the corridor in which the scaffold is located. After a wait of some few minutes the solemn tolling of the gaol bell signalled the early arrival of
THE CONDEMNED MAN. Almost before the echo had died away James Warton, looking somewhat pale, appeared at the entrance-door, and marched upstairs to the drop with the Rev. E. G. Ganley and a few gaol officials close behind him. Warton walked on to the scaffold firmly and with measured tread. He didn't seem scared, although he was slightly nervous, as any human must feel in such a terrible position. On entering the door, immediately behind the drop, Warton gazed at the rope and marched straight ahead until he butted into the railings which served as a barrier to prevent him going further. A light touch on the arm by one of the gaol officials took his attention from the streak of greased hemp, when he turned abruptly to the left and walked to the northern end of the scaffold where the entrance is. On reaching the spot through which he was to fall into Eternity, Warton placed his legs together, drew himself up into an erect attitude, and stood thus while the begoggled, bewhiskered, legalised man-butcher
ADJUSTED THE GREASY NOOSE around his throat. The proceedings having gone thus far, Warton motioned with his hand, the arms being pinioned, and the clergyman stepped on to the drop and shook hands with the murderer. The Church of England clergyman, who had been attending Warton during his last days, then repeated in a solemn voice the words: "Our Father which art in Heaven; Hallowed be Thy name; Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is done in Heaven; Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen." As these words were spoken, Warton stood with the rope around his neck, his head erect, a grim, stoical look on his face, and awaited further developments. The silence was painful. Only a moment elapsed between the utterance of the Lord's Prayer and the chief warder's charge to the man about to die, but it seemed an hour. Warton stood, still game, awaiting the final operation. When Chief Warder McDonald said: "James Warton! This is the last opportunity you will have of speaking. If you wish to say anything, you may say it now." Warton cocked his head on one side, gazed reflectively towards the roof for a few seconds, and then said in a firm, though low voice: "I am sorry. If there were anything I could do
TO ATONE FOR THE PAST I would do it," The condemned man reflected for a few moments, and then added: "If there be any to receive me, I commend myself to His hands, and can only hope for forgiveness." Warton paused again, appeared to think deeply for a few seconds, and then, in an almost inaudible voice said: "That is all!" The silence at this juncture was almost visible to the naked eye. A cold chill crawled up the spine of the spectators as the snakey fingers of the bewhiskered Quilp in goggles passed about the attenuated neck of the condemned man to finally adjust the rope ere placing the white bag over his head. Warton stood there, brave enough, but the hands of the hangman trembled and twitched as he tied the tapes attached to the white cap. When the tapes had been fastened the squat figure of
THE LEGALISED MAN-KILLER vanished as if by magic, and suddenly bobbed up near the lever. The executioner stood awaiting the signal from the sheriff, and, during that brief moment, Warton, if the clergyman's statement be worthy of credence, albeit the press representatives in the corridor did not hear it, murmured, in a low, husky voice: "Oh, my God; Oh, my God!" Almost immediately the sheriff raised the handkerchief above his head as a signal and, as the bolt was about to be drawn, clapped the handkerchief over his eyes to shut out the awful sight. Instantly there was a dull thud, and James Warton's body, bloodstained and limp, dangled at the end of the hempen line. The suddenness of the whole thing had a shocking effect on the nerves of the spectators, but some of the more callous walked close up to the cadaver, keeping just outside the pool of warm human blood which had gushed from the veins of the deceased, and closely inspected the torn and bloody throat of the unfortunate wretch. The inspection revealed the fact that Warton's head had been
ALMOST TORN FROM THE BODY — only a "ribbon" of skin, or a sinew as thick as one's finger was holding it to the trunk. The body was allowed to dangle and revolve for the space of about five minutes ere Dr. Marks stepped forward, and after feeling the cold, clammy wrist of the ghastly object on the rope's end, pronounced life to be extinct. In the meantime a bag of sawdust had been thrown over the pool of blood which steamed beneath the corpse. The executioner came and removed the straps from the legs and arms of the deceased. Then there was an awful silence, as the little fat man with the hand-made whiskers and black goggles climbed up a ladder to unfasten the rope from the beam. This having been done, the coffin was placed beneath the corpse which was lowered. As the body came down to a convenient level the feet were grasped and placed at the bottom of the coffin, then gradually the corpse was dropped. As the weight
LEFT THE ROPE, the head of the unfortunate man practically rolled under the shoulders. The executioner immediately pulled the head from beneath the body, removed the rope, and the lid was placed on the coffin and screwed down. As soon as the last screw was driven home the undertaker lifted the shell, carried it to the vehicle in waiting, and the mortal remains of James Warton were carted off to the South Brisbane cemetery.
Warton's grave had been dug on Saturday, while he still lived, in readiness to receive his corpse, hot from the hangman's hands, on Monday morning. On Sunday the open grave was a centre of attraction for hundreds of morbid-minded visitors who peered into the dismal depths of the dark hole, as they discussed the feelings and the awful fate of the convict, then in full health, who was probably busily engaged debating the existence or otherwise of the Supreme Being.
On Monday, as the undertaker's van with the coffined cadaver left the gaol gates, several small youngsters with smiling and grimy chivvies followed up behind. The van was accompanied by a gaol warder and a constable, while the Church of England clergyman, Rev. E. C. Ganley, followed a little later.
At the grave side, fully 100 persons, mostly lads and lasses, were gathered, but there were male adults and a few women. The Rev. B. C. Ganley, in compliance with Warton's request, read prayers at the grave-side, and the remains of the convict were thus interred with due regard to a section of the ethics of Christian burial. Certain rules of the Church of England, we understand, prevented the Rev. gentleman from reading the burial service at the grave-side, owing to Warton not being a member of the Church.
Since the establishment of Boggo-road gaol in 1880, some 60 executed criminals have been interred in the South Brisbane Cemetery. The burial ground is in the south-western corner, and included among the convicts there interred is the body of only one woman. Her name was Mary Ellen Thompson. She was executed, together with her alleged paramour, John Harrison, in 1887, for the murder of her husband at Port Douglas. The woman, it is alleged, encouraged and urged Harrison to shoot her husband, and the couple stood side by side on the gallows when the execution took place. When Mrs. Thompson stepped on to the drop her voice rang out clear and unshaken with the words: "I did not shoot my husband, and I am dying like an angel."
Reverting to Warton, it may be stated that his grave is alongside that of the last Kanaka hanged, Charlie. Next to Charlie's grave, Sow Too Low, another Kanaka, is buried, and Pat Kenniff's grave is in the same row.
The first executed criminals buried there were a German and two black follows, who were judicially murdered on the one scaftold for killing a fellow creature in the Leckhampton district. Since then there have been two or three double executions. Already the graves of executed occupy a large proportion of the allotted area, and if the barbarous custom of legalised murder is to be continued, the authorities will very soon have to purchase, or set apart, a patch of land for the reception of the bodies of the victims of this inhuman system.
Warton was persistent, up to Sunday, last, in stating that he would die an atheist, but when "the last lap" hove in sight he came to the conclusion that he would embrace the Christian religion as it is interpreted by Church of England clergymen. It was at the condemned man's request that the Lord's Prayer was repeated by the Rev. E. C. Ganley just before the final scene in the dreadful drama.
WARTON'S LAST HOURS. On Sunday afternoon last Mr. John Smith, a prominent member of the Brisbane Free Thought Association, visited Warton, at Warton's own request, and held a long conversation with the condemned man. Even up to the last stage Warton adhered to atheism, but during the night he appeared to have changed his views. On Sunday he expressed a wish that Mr. Smith should visit the condemned cell on Monday, and have a final handshake, but when the fatal morning dawned he stated that he did not want to see Mr. Smith. Instead, he welcomed the Rev. Mr. Ganley, who, after having spent two hours with the condemned man at his own request, on Sunday night, came at 7 o'clock on Monday morning, also at Warton's request, and remained with the criminal until he walked on to the scaffold. Warton listened attentively to what Mr. Ganley had to say. There can, therefore, be no doubt about the fact that Warton died a believer in the Christian religion as expounded by Church of England clergymen. Prior to his execution Warton
HAD A GOOD BREAKFAST. When being pinioned in the cell he was as calm as could be expected, although the sight of the executioner, as he appeared in his sable-hued whiskers and ditto goggles, would scare a pork butcher's bull-dog. That Warton had a very black record is now beyond doubt. He was first convicted in Melbourne in the year 1860, when quite a lad. On that occasion he was sentenced to 12 months' gaol for vagrancy, and from then up till the date of his last crime Warton had been in and out of gaol for all sorts of offences. He was variously known to the police in different States as Warton, Donnelley, Medway, Leo, and Robert Butler. On March 14, 1880, at Dunedin, New Zealand, a most cowardly murder was perpetrated, the victims being Mr. and Mrs. Dewar. After they were killed the murderer
SET THE HOUSE ON FIRE and cleared out. Warton, who was then known as Robert Butler, was arrested and charged with the crime. It seems that Butler, a few days before the atrocious crime was committed, made a boast to Sub-inspector Mallard that he could commit a murder in such a way that nobody would be able to bring it home to him. This partially led to his arrest when the ghastly discovery was made, and he was placed on his trial at Dunedin on April 5, 1880. During the trial Butler showed great shrewdness in cross-examination, and conducted his own defence so cleverly that he succeeded in procuring a verdict of not guilty. The Judge, however, at the close of the trial told Butler that the jury did not bring in a verdict of not guilty because they thought he was innocent, but because there was not sufficient to convict. But, although Butler escaped on the charge of murder, he made certain admissions as to two other crimes he had committed — burglary and arson. For these offences he was sentenced to 18 and 19 years respectively, the sentences to be concurrent. All doubt as to Warton being
IDENTICAL WITH THE MAN BUTLER has been removed as a letter addressed to Robert Butler, care of the Sheriff of Quensland, was recently received from New Zealand. The letter which was to clear up some matter in New Zealand was read to Warton in the condemned cell, and he claimed it as his property. Subsequently he wrote a reply, which he signed "Robert Butler." During his long career of crime, Butler, alias Warton, etc., proved himself to be a most unscrupulous scoundrel. He robbed everybody he could. One of his methods, according to a prominent police officer, was to bail up people in Melbourne late at night, poke a revolver in their faces, and make them shell out everything they had. This was probably his intention when he stuck up poor William Munday. Had the unfortunate victim "disgorged on demand" he (Munday) might have been alive to-day. Warton, in conversation with our reporter last week, said: "At times, when a helping band and a little kindness would have set me on my feet, I was left lonesome, neglected, and dejected,
WITHOUT A FRIEND IN THE WORLD." This was an absolute lie. Butler, or Warton, was assisted on more than one occasion by clergymen and others while in New Zealand. One of these was particularly kind to Butler, who showed his gratitude by robbing his benefactor. One thing that enabled him to impose upon people was his plausible manner, and another his harmless, inoffensive appearance. He could tell a tale that would move a stone horse to tears, and look as sentimental and sad as a Quaker all the time. However, he has paid his account; he will lie, steal, and slay no more. As Bowie says: "Peace be with him." (Conclusion.) -NZ Truth, 23/10/1915.
HANGMEN I HAVE MET (excerpt)
EXECUTIONERS IN THREE STATES
Profession not Unpopular
TASTES OF A TRIO
(By "THE OLD 'UN.")
"Truth's" reference in a recent issue to the career of Tom Long, New Zealand's celebrated executioner, now deceased, set me reflecting on the grisly gents of the hempen rope whom I have met on the "Inky Way." There were three with whom I had a passing acquaintanceship — Hudson (Queensland), Walker (Western Australia), and Sharp (New Zealand). I saw Hudson dispatch the notorious criminal, Robert Butler, alias Warton, in Brisbane gaol in July, 1905. By many old New Zealanders, Butler will be remembered as having stood trial in Dunedin in 1880, charged with the murder of Mr. Dewar, his wife, and their infant. The trio were attacked by a man with an axe as they slept in their bed at about 4 o'clock on the morning of March 14, 1880. The tragedy was discovered by someone noticing a volume of smoke issuing from Dewar's house. On admittance being gained, Mrs. Dewar was discovered on the floor of the bedroom and her husband and child on the bed. The murderer had started a fire by placing a candle underneath the bed.
SUSPICION FELL ON BUTLER and he was arrested at Waikouaiti. When the police approached him he drew a revolver, but he was rushed and overpowered before he fired. A paper mask and other things beloved of the burglar were found on him. The Supreme Court trial lasted several days, and the most notable feature of it was the clever manner in which Butler conducted his own defence. The shrewdness of his cross-examination of the Crown witnesses and his five hours' address to the jury saved his neck at that time. However, he was sentenced to nineteen years for burglary and arson. Butler was first convicted in Melbourne in 1860 when quite a lad, receiving twelve months for vagrancy. From then on he appears to have been in and out of gaol, mostly in, all his life. After serving his New Zealand sentence he returned to Australia, and spent terms in the gaols of Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, for various crimes. By dint of study he became an accomplished musician, and the gaolbirds were always glad to welcome him back, because he played the prison organ with fine expression at the Sabbath services. He also taught himself shorthand in gaol, and, when at liberty, he claimed to be a journalist. When I first saw Butler his alias was James Warton, and he was charged with the murder of William Munday, he having shot and robbed the poor fellow at night on the lonely road of a Brisbane suburb. Naturally the robbery under arms caused a great sensation and the police court on the following morning was crowded in anticipation of the appearance of the murderer, who had been arrested a couple of hours after the crime. In the court waiting for the disposal of the drunks, I sat on a form alongside an old gentleman who was bald-headed and rather refined in appearance, never thinking for one moment that he was the man to be called into the dock as James Warton. It was his inoffensive appearance and plausible manner that had enabled him to impose on people. It was said that he could tell a tale that would move a stone horse to tears, looking as
SAD AND SENTIMENTAL AS A QUAKER all the time. I was present at the Supreme Court trial and heard him address the jury, but he did not then show similar shrewdness to that with which he was credited at Dunedin in his younger days. Probably he was getting tired of life. He accepted the sentence of death quite philosophically. When he came to spend his last few days on earth in the condemned cell, he professed to be an agnostic and requested a visit from the president of the Rationalist Society. He was faithfully attended to by that gentleman up to the morning of the execution, when he asked for the gaol chaplain and sought forgiveness from God. His last words on the scaffold were a prayer for mercy. -NZ Truth, 17/7/1920.
There is in existence in Wellington a sort of “chamber of horrors,” or black museum where the instruments of many notable crimes are housed. Within the next few days this gruesome collection is to be increased — enriched is scarcely the word — by three articles from Dunedin, two of which were recently unearthed after lying hidden in some police store-room for about 40 years. The most interesting of these is a large blunt axe which figured in the trial of Robert Butler for the alleged murder of the Dewar family in a house in Cumberland street, early in the year 1880. -Otago Daily Times, 21/10/1921.
Some 20 years after Butler's demise came more information on his earlier years. The event related below obviously made an indelible impression on the miner involved, who presumably told the story to Mr James Rattray, for whom it was a story not to be forgotten.
INCIDENTS IN BUTLER’S CAREER.
TO THE EDITOR. Sir, — Having recently noticed references in your columns to incidents in the criminal career of the notorious Butler, alias Donnelly, alias Wharton, I was reminded of two incidents in the career of Butler which may be of interest to your readers. The incidents narrated reveal the contrasts and contradictions united in the make-up of this strange piece of human or, rather, inhuman, flotsam, and reveal also that Butler was not wholly incapable of responding to kindness nor of appreciating the manifestation of sincere concern by others for his well-being. And yet, in each case, was he able unflinchingly to go out from an atmosphere of human kindness and sympathy on the part of those anxious to help him, and while apparently evidencing contrition of spirit, and promise of change of heart, commit murder with a heartlessness that was diabolical.
Immediately prior to the act of sacrilege perpetrated at Cromwell, and the murder associated with his name in Cumberland street, Butler was crossing the Dunstan Ranges on foot, en route, so he said, to an appointment as school teacher. In the course of his descent of the range on the western slope he came upon the Rise and Shine gold claim, worked by four miners. With these men Butler was soon engaged in conversation. One of the miners invited him to wait until they had washed up, when he would be put on the trail to Bendigo and Cromwell, and he was eventually invited to stay the night with the miner and his family in their small but cosy home at Bendigo, at the foot of the range. The invitation was readily accepted, not alone for the sake of the kindly hospitality offered, but because of the opportunity presented to murder the whole family and secure the gold, a goodly parcel of which he had been shown at the claim. The sight of the gold gave birth to his thought and intention of murder. Butler awaited the psychological moment to strike and sweep away by one fearful act of wholesale murder all that stood defenceless and unarmed between himself and the coveted golden treasure. The miners would have no suspicion of misgiving about showing the self-styled school teacher the golden harvest of the Rise and Shine. Rather would they be proud of such tangible evidence of the success of their labours. They would enjoy the open-mouthed surprise of the uninitiated beholder. The writer recalls that on the occasion of the visit he himself paid to the Rise and Shine, when the facts narrated above were gleaned the same miner had with pride gone through exactly the same procedure, handing over the dish which contained the result of several weeks’ sluicing, and adding the interesting information that the value of the rough, nuggety gold in the dish was in the vicinity of £400. To a criminal of Butler’s stamp the committal of wholesale murder in order to acquire such wealth would be but a mere incident. Butler’s subsequent career of murder and criminality showed how unflinchingly capable he was of wiping out the miner’s family and home when the tragic moment of doom should seal their fate.
The moments fraught with destiny passed unsuspected in the bosom of the miner’s family and cottage. The sands of the hour-glass gave no inkling of the secret held in their sinking, save to one. The evening was passed in quietness, with conversation on general topics. The miner, his wife and daughters, and the stranger busy with their own thoughts and duties, until at length the Bible was laid on the table by one of the children — her nightly duty, upon the performance of which to-night would hang momentous issues. Butler was informed of the fact that it was their custom to hold family worship before retiring, and at the same time he was invited to participate if he had no objections. With the design of murder in his heart at that moment, he nevertheless accepted the invitation of his intended victims, and joined in the evening’s worship. The father “waled a portion wi' judicious care” from the family Bible. The family, as was their customary habit, each engaged in prayer, and all included the stranger within the gate in their supplications commending the keeping of their souls to God. Upon a scene so hallowed the mantle of sleep fell silently, softer than the beating of the wings of the Angel of Death. In the morning the miner put Butler on the road for Cromwell, not before the pair had had serious conversation on spiritual matters; — conversation carried over from the night before. Butler finally confessed his inability to accept the views in these matters as presented by the miner’s recital of the facts of his own conversion. Anxious that Butler should commence his 16-mile walk to Cromwell dry-shod, the miner carried his departing guest over a fast-running mountain stream on his back, but in mid-stream affected to stumble with his load. Butler exclaimed: “You are not going to let me fall?” “No!” replied the miner, “I was just giving you an object-lesson in trust. You trusted me, a mere man, to carry you safely across the stream. In spite of the fact that I could have failed, you had confidence, and you trusted me. That is what I mean when I ask you to trust God. He cannot fail; He will carry you through, safely over the stream.” The two men stood facing each other in the handclasp of farewell. Before turning to go his way Butler made the full and frank confession that he had entered the miner’s home on the previous evening with murder in his heart, determined at that cost to possess himself of the store of gold he had been shown so unsuspectingly. Coveting the gold, he had schemed and decided on wholesale murder that night. He further confessed that through the sincere personal efforts put forth for his good, and through the simple confidence and earnestness of the family devotions he had been deterred from his awful purpose. The miner paid no particular attention at the time to Butler’s strange voluntary confession. After events proved, however, that Butler was fully capable of carrying out the dark designs of murder and robbery. At the close of that very day he had robbed a church of its communion silver plate, and very shortly afterwards was standing his trial in connection with the murder of a family in Cumberland street.
More than 20 years after the incidents related above, in the course of a call made upon a leading official connected with social work in Melbourne, I was informed that he had had a call from Butler, who was seeking assistance. Knowing that I hailed from New Zealand, and would probably be interested, the officer related the following facts: — Butler had just been again released from gaol after serving a sentence for housebreaking in Sydney. He was without money and unable to get work. No one would give him employment, and he was under the vigilant eye of the police. He declared he was doomed to a life of crime. As he told his story, his face buried in his arms as he sat at the table, the tears coursed down his cheeks and fell upon the table before him. Like a hunted beast at bay, he looked out upon an environment that held not one ray of hope, present or future, for his betterment or well-being. Butler was distressed, but determined. ‘‘I shall probably go out from here to commit crime to-night,” he said. Accustomed to handling these difficult cases from the underworld, the officer reasoned kindly with Butler and proffered him practical assistance, which was readily accepted. He had requested a railway ticket for Brisbane, which was given him. In addition, a gold coin was placed in his hand, the officer remarking at the time, “There will be no need for you to commit crime tonight at any rate.” Butler seemed very grateful for the assistance, promising to pay heed to the good counsel and wise advice given him. In due time he arrived in Brisbane, and it was not long before Butler was once more on his trial for cold-blooded murder, and eventually sentenced to death. Before the date of his execution he wrote a long letter of thanks and appreciation to the officer who had befriended him in Melbourne, expressing regret that he had not carried out his good counsel and advice. —I am, etc., James Rattray. -Otago Daily Times, 4/8/1928.
Regarding the above, the final chapter in the story of the repulsive Butler, I would not put it past him to have lied to his miner host about his intentions in accepting his hospitality. That it made a lasting impression is obvious, and I can easily believe that it was told to make a religious point, to win a religious argument. I can equally believe that Butler intended heading for Cromwell alone that morning, with the gold, leaving behind a scene to be discovered in due time.