The Gatton Murders

The Gatton Murders

In this article we will be taking a look at the Gatton murders which took place on the night of Boxing Day 1898, – one of the most baffling unsolved murders in Australian history…


On the night in question, Michael Murphy, 29, and his sisters, Norah, 27, and Ellen, 18, were on a sulky journey back home to their parents house (which was situated just outside the Gatton area).

The had spent the evening travelling to a country dance that was being held in Gatton itself…only to find out it had been cancelled by the time they arrived there!

They never arrived back home that night.

The Search

The following morning their brother-in-law, William McNeill, set out to search for them.

He located the sulky’s tracks about two miles out of Gatton on Tent Hill Road (a wobbly wheel track indicated to him that it was the correct sulky).

The Murphy Family involved in the Gatton murders
The Murphy family. Pictured are Daniel Snr. and Mary Murphy (seated), with 8 of their 10 children behind them:
(left to right) John, Jeremy, Patrick, William, Polly, Norah, Theresa ‘Ellen’ and Catherine.

To his horror, he eventually found the bodies of Michael, Ellen and Norah.

The young sister’s clothing had been ripped to shreds – they had both been raped. Michael and Ellen’s skulls had been crushed and Michael had also been shot in the head.

The Investigation

Unfortunately the investigation was a bit of a mess from start to finish – mainly down to the lack of communications in the area back then.

Because of the reliance on telegrams to relay information, the Brisbane police were actually two days late in hearing about the gruesome incident.

This meant that the crime scene had been left open for a 48 hour period – a lot of people had visited it by that point so gathering evidence was a bit of an uphill battle.

Gatton murder scene
Gatton murder scene with police trackers at work.

On top of all this – there was only one police photographer located in the Australian state at the time. By the time he had arrived at the scene the bodies had been moved several times.

The press had a field day and hounded the local police for their terribly poor efforts on the case – Inspector Urquhart criticized the press for its ‘silly and unreliable’ reporting.

The police did eventually manage to interview over a 1000 local residents…but the case still remains unsolved.

If you have any thoughts or opinions on the subject we have covered here today, please leave them in the comment section below.

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