Sunday, January 12, 2014

Amanuensis Monday - The Tantulean Tragedy - Murder Theory

I have mentioned in previous blogs the value of researching your family tree links in TROVE. However, when I first started searching for links to my family history, online research wasn't even thought of.  I paid regular visits to local genealogical and history societies, museums and libraries in the search for stories related to my ancestry.  It was in the early 1980's that I visited the museum in the small village of Braidwood. The Braidwood Museum is home to the local historical society, and at that time had a collection of newspapers dating back to the gold mining era. Pen and paper in hand I spend the day, carefully reading and searching for stories related to my family history.  One of the exciting discoveries I found was a story related to my great grand father's (Lynn Shepherd) brother Ralph Shepherd (1876-1933). Here is the article as I transcribed it about 28 years ago.

Braidwood Review, 14 February 1933

The Tantulean Tragedy.
Murder Theory.

Since the finding of the charred remains of the old man Ralph Shepherd, in the smoldering ruins of his homestead at Tantulean on Thursday morning, the district has been agog with excitement.  The scene of the tragedy was first investigated by Sergeant Germer of Braidwood.  Then Detective Sergeant Keogh, who was recently engaged on the evaluation of the park murders, was sent up to investigate.  A reporter came along for a Sydney daily, and spent some days in the vicinity.

The fact that the old man was known to have had a sum of money in his possession, estimated at something like 100 pounds or more and also that he had cased a 10 shilling note the previous day, the change of which could not be found, gave rise everywhere to the theory that ha had been murdered. However, we understand that the change from the 10 shilling note had been found.

In the meantime Detective Sergeant Keogh assisted by Constable Bodel of Goulburn is still pursuing his investigation.  The funeral of the deceased was to have been held on Friday, but acting on instructions from the police this was postponed until yesterday afternoon.

Though some of the silver coins belonging to the man have been found, the common idea locally is that, Shepherd was found done to death in his lonely hut, and that the murderer then set fire to the house to cover up his callous crime.  This theory is advanced on account of the fact that when found the charred body was lying in a normal position, partly on one side, on the remains of a mattress on an iron single bedstead.  The contention is that even had the old man accidentally set fire to his house while fast asleep he must certainly have been awakened when the flames began to seer and scorch his body.

Naturally, he would leave his bed and make an effort to get outside.  Even assuming he was partly smothered before he was properly awake he must surely have at least rolled from his bed to the floor in his dying struggles.  But he did not move, he was lying in the middle of his bed.  Particular significance is attached to this theory.  Then again, the finding of the coins would not signify very much.  The murderer would hardly bother about a few paltry coins when the big roll of 100 pounds was safely in his possession.

Rumour has it that parts of the metal of the old mans braces were found lying near his remains, indicating that he was clothed when the fire began to consume him. It is also rumoured that no sign of any metal such as would have come from the remains of his purse were located near him.  These reports further confirm the belief that Shepherd was murdered.

The theory that the old man accidentally knocked his lamp over in his sleep and thus set his house ablaze would not appear to hold much water.  Shepherd did not use kerosene, preferring to keep the old fashioned candle.  There was no kerosene in the house  Neither did the old man smoke.  Over twelve months ago when the price of tobacco rose, he gave up smoking and has not smoked since.

Each week when he secured his groceries he always purchased 3d or 6d worth of lollies.  These made up for the loss of his tobacco.

People who should know are very definite that Shepherd must have had well over 100 pounds in his possession when death overtook him. He was receiving a pension that was more than sufficient to keep him, and in addition he had a small paddock leased for some years for which he had been receiving 15 pounds per year rent and latterly 10 pounds per year.

Though the report has gone out that the cause of the fire and of the death of Shepherd was accidental, that fact that Detective Sergeant Keog is still investigating and it would not create surprise if in the course of the next few days some startling and sensational developments took place.

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