Horrible murder at Hillgrove Mines
While a party of men were out opossum shooting on Thursday night (26th January) they discovered the dead body of a man. The corpse was found in a very peculiar place. The man’s throat was cut from ear to ear, and his skull battered in. The sight was a most ghastly one. The body had on blucher boots, half worn out; colonial tweed trousers; regatta, or print, shirt; flannel drawers and under-shirt ; diagonal coat. He was apparently an aged man – over 50 years old. The murdered man’s name was ascertained to be Stapleton, and he was last seen alive on Wednesday morning. He went out to the mines on Saturday last, and returned to Armidale on the following Monday, and took out a miner’s right in the name of John Stapleton. He returned to Hillgrove on Tuesday, and stopped at Mr. Faint’s hotel that night and arranged for board and lodging. He paid for his bed and breakfast on Wednesday morning, and went away, leaving his swag behind him at the hotel. He was never again seen until his body was found on Thursday night. The miner’s right was found in his pocket, and this is the only circumstance at present that identifies the deceased. The body was dragged for some distance, and covered over with bushes and bark. It is only too clear that a brutal and cold-blooded murder has been committed.
The Chronicle’s correspondent writes from Hillgrove, under Monday’s date, as follows:-There is still great excitement here over the late horrible murder committed in our midst. It would appear that the unfortunate victim had been at the mines only two or three days ; he is spoken of as being a steady man, of some means. It is probable it was thought his possessing money that he was decoyed by some villain, under the pretence of being shown some fine reef, and when the secluded spot was reached he was set upon and cruelly murdered. From the way in which the head was battered in it would seem that a pick had been used with terrible violence ; and not satisfied with, this, the murdered man’s head was nearly severed from his body. The spot, as already described, was somewhat secluded, but the murderer could not have been aware of the fact that there were a number of residences about 200 yards or 300 yards away from where the deed was committed. Such is the case, however, as six or eight families live about the distance named from the spot. The place where the deed was done is a prominent point, overlooking the Falls, disclosing a fine view of the rugged scenery and the Baker’s Creek mine. Close to a stump, about thirty yards from where the body was found, seems to have been the place where the murder was committed, as there is a great quantity of blood on the stump and about the ground all around. My opinion is that the victim was leaning against the stump (which is amongst a lot of granite boulders), and while in that position received a deadly blow. It is quite certain that the deceased was murdered at this spot. The body was afterwards dragged to the edge of the Falls for the evident intention of throwing it over, but by some means or other the body got caught in a few dogwood branches, which prevented it from descending some hundreds of feet down the falls. In this position it was found as already described. So great was the fright experienced by the discoverers, that they did not give themselves time to see if the man was dead or not, and thus a great loss of valuable time was sustained by the police, as they had not the slightest idea of foul play until they arrived on the spot.
A little after 6 o’clock on Monday evening excitement ran high in Armidale when the news got about that John Grace, the suspected murderer of John Stapleton, had been arrested. About half-an-hour afterwards Constables Ford and Elliott appealed in Beardy-street, and between them walked a powerful-looking man, handcuffed, and answering in every detail the description given. He staggered a little, and was evidently under the influence of liquor. He marched along the street, casting an occasional glance at the crowd of people as they mustered on either side of the road. He was not at all communicative, and when asked by Constable Ford what he had done with his old boots (he was wearing a new pair) he replied, “That’s my business.”
John Grace appeared in the dock on Tuesday morning, when certain matters were gone through. The prisoner appeared quite cool, though at times he betrayed signs of restlessness. The court was thronged, and numbers could not gain admittance. Mr. Inspector Garvan put one of the arresting constables into the box, and examined him at some length. The accused, when asked if he had any questions to ask the constable, hesitated, and for the first time appeared completely bothered. He stammered somewhat, and in a rough voice said, “I never denied my name ; I’m quite certain of that.” The bench informed him that he was making a statement, not asking questions. The accused then continued, ” I had no black hat.” Mr. Inspector Garvan then applied for a remand to the Coroner’s Court at Hillgrove Mines on Friday next, when he would be prepared to produce other evidence. The bench asked accused if he had any objection to make regarding the application, to which he replied, “No, I have no objection.” He was then removed to the lock-up.
[It will be seen from a telegram in this issue that the prisoner has since been committed for trial.-ED ]