I've been waiting until the right time to post the transcripts from the real life event that inspired this book, but was never sure when to post them. I don't want to give away the back story, and yet for those who have read the book, I think you'll all find this research very interesting, I know I did.
So I'll put it up with a warning.
DO NOT READ THIS POST IF YOU DON'T WANT ELEMENTS OF POPPY'S DILEMMA REVEALED BEFORE READING!!!!
The Warrell Creek Tragedy
24-25 November 1920
Sad Tragedy at Warrell Creek. Murder and Suicide.
N&B News 26/11/20
It is with feelings of inexpressible sorrow that we have to chronicle a double tragedy, which has thrown a gloom over the whole district.
It occurred at a quarter to one on Wednesday night, one of the best known young ladies of her age in this district being deliberately and foully murdered by her jealous lover, a returned soldier, who then committed suicide.
The information available shows that towards the close of the Church of England Social in the Warrell Creek Hall, about three miles from Macksville, Miss Gertie Trisley (daughter of Mr. James Trisley, of Warrell Creek), accompanied by Mr. Norman McRae (employed in the London Bank, Macksville), left the hall, and were followed about twenty yards behind by her sister Miss Violet Trisley, who was accompanied by Mr. J.H. Campbell (employed at the Macksville Butter Factory).
When crossing a little bridge over a gully on the road, about 100 yards from the hall, in the radiant moonshine of a perfect night, Alexander McLean, a returned soldier who had won distinction at the war and had paid Miss Trisley considerable attention which finally proved unacceptable to the young lady, stepped out in front of her and said to her "I won't let another man take you home." Pointing a revolver at her face he fired; the bullet entered through the cheekbone on the left side of the nose, going out through the back of her head, and the unfortunate girl fell to the ground, death being instantaneous.
McLean then pointed the revolver at Mr. McRae and fired, but Mr. McRae alertly lowered himself towards the ground, the bullet passing over his head, and he thus narrowly escaped death.
Mr. Campbell, who had by this time approached, called out "For God's sake have a little sence, Alick, whatever are you doing?" McLean then looked down at the murdered girl and said "Well, now that I've shot Gertie, I suppose I'd better shoot myself." He then put the revolver to his head and fired, the bullet entering through the hair above the forehead and exiting from the back of the head, the brains protruding from the frontal wound.
A car was immediately despatched to the home of the Trisley family, about half a mile away, and brought the father and brothers of the poor girl to the scene. There feelings can better be imagined than described.
Mr. Oscar Sanders speedily motored into Macksville and took out Sergt. Morgan, Constable Barry, Dr. Hobson and Mr. Hodge (the Coroner). McLean was still breathing, but it was evident that he was fatally injured. Dr. Hobson administered strychnine to McLean and bandaged his head, and he also banadged the head of the deceased girl. A vehicle was obtained from Mr. F.F. Elphick, of Warrell Creek, and into it the two were placed, the body of the girl being taken to her father's home, the now dying man being brought along to the residence of Mr. Thomas Sutton, about a mile from Macksville, where he died at twenty minutes past six on Thursday morning.
It transpires that McLean was in Macksville on Wednesday afternoon, and he and Miss Trisley were seen in conversation, but what occurred then will never be known.
One report states that McLean never went into the hall at Warrell Creek, but apparently waited outside for the opportunity for which he was seeking; another states that he was seen in the hall but did not dance, and left immediately prior to the tragedy.
The revolver used was of the big German automatic type, and it was borrowed by deceased on Wednesday afternoon from Mr. George Rowe, of Macksville, on the plea that it was to shoot dogs.
No papers were found on McLean written by him to indicate his intentions; but from his mother, written on 16th instant at Glenelg, Arthur Street, Randwick, sheds a little light on the occurrence. An excerpt reads thus:- "Of course I knew you had fallen out with Gertie, as a friend of Lucy's spent her holiday at Macksville and through friends of hers she met the Trisley girls, so she was invited on there and they gave her all the news about you, and she also says Gertie will never make it up with you again. This young lady works with Lucy…..Well, perhaps it is just as well, Alick, there is just as good a fish in the sea as ever came out of it."
The whole district is shocked by the awful tragedy, Miss Trisley was probably the most popular girl hereabouts, prepossessing and of a splendid genial disposition. She was ever willing to render instrumental musical assistance at social functions, without distinction. We feel justified, therefore, in expressing sorrowful sympathy on behalf of all our readers towards Mr. and Mrs. Trisley and family in their awfully sad bereavement. The public will await the inquest, which may throw some light on the reason for committal of such a foul deed by Alick McLean, who had fought for his country and enjoyed considerable popularity amongst his numerous companions; and sympathy will certainly be sincerely felt for his saddened mother.
Mrs. Trisley has been visiting her daughter at Casino, but will arrive by car today (Friday), and the funeral of the late Miss Trisley will leave the R.C. Church at 2.30pm.
The remains of the late Alexander McLean will be interred in the Church of England cemetery at half-past ten this morning.
The late Miss Trisley was only 18 years old, McLean being 25. The inquest is to be held on Saturday.
Warrell Creek Tragedy. Full Particulars.
N&B News 29/11/20 (Monday)
This special issue of the "News" is published with the object of supplying the public with the full information at the earliest moment. As can be well understood, our mind has had to be concentrated on the subject to more than an ordinary extent, and we have naturally felt intensely the sadness of it all. We therefore feel that it is for the public good that the matter should be published expeditiously, so that the memory of it might gradually fade quicker, than if publication were withheld till the end of the week.
The remains of the late Alexander Thomas McLean were interred in the Presbyterian Cemetery at 11 o'clock on Friday morning in the presence of a large number of friends and relatives, Mr. and Mrs. George McLean (father and mother of deceased) and other relatives having arrived by the morning's train from Sydney. A large number of returned soldiers in uniform also attended at the graveside.
The Rev. J.H. Beynon, who read the burial service, said that he had been some thirty miles from Macksville the previous afternoon and evening and quite out of reach of the telephone. It had become necessary to dig another grave, and this had been done in the Presbyterian Cemetery without his authority. He had learnt this on arrival at Macksville half an hour since, and did not feel prepared to interfere now. Seeing the large gathering of returned soldiers and the general public present, he felt constrained to say a few words, which would be directed especially to the men who had been comrades of him whose body lay at their feet. To do this was for him one of the most painful experiences of his life. Some of them had been witness of the awful end of a life which only the other day had been dignified and made noteworthy in their midst by a splendid military record. He had been decorated for the manifestation of the qualities of a soldier, and now he was the author of this unspeakable tragedy. How far his experiences at the war, the wounds he had received, the fights he had witnessed, were responsible for the destruction of his moral sense and will power, it was hard to determine. The speaker had no doubt that they had contributed to this man's downfall. To anyone who took something more than a passing interest in our returned soldiers, it was abundantly evident that the war had left us a dangerously mixed moral legacy in the characters of these men. His own constant and peculiar opportunities of watching in an official capacity the activities of many of them gave him the assurance that in the vast majority of cases our citizenship had been ennobled and enriched by the return to our midst of those whose close contact with the stern realities of life and death had made better and stronger men; but, alas, there were others to whom the ordered ways of life today meant an irksomeness and a restraint against which they seemed ever ready to rebel. Certainly to a number the great adventures of the war had brought a terrible slackening of any moral fibre they had possessed; perhaps a callousness and a debased sense of the sanctity of human life. He solemnly called on the soldiers standing there to guard well the citadel of their souls. They had guarded our honor, our homes, our loved Empire. A greater task remained, that of guarding themselves. Here was one who had tragically failed. In his going down into an awful abyss he had sent a bright young life into eternity, plunged innocent families into darkest sorrow, and cast a gloom over a whole community. The rev. gentleman concluded: "Men, for the love of God, guard your souls."
* * *
The coffin containing the body of the late Mary Gertrude Trisley was conveyed to the Roman Catholic Church, Macksville, on Friday morning, a Requiem Mass being held at 10 o'clock, after which the Absolution, Blessing, and Incensing of the Body was solemnly carried out in the presence of a large number of sympathisers.
The funeral took place at half past two in the afternoon, the remains being interred in the R.C. Cemetery, there being a particularly large concourse of people present. The Rev. Father Cohalan officiated at the graveside, and delivered an appropriate sympathetic address.
The funerals were conducted by Mr. W.H. Dalton, of Macksville.
* * *
The inquest was opened at the Court House, Macksville, shortly after 11 a.m on Saturday, 27th instant, Mr. W. D'Orset Hodge, the District Coroner, presiding.
Mr. H.E. Morgan, solicitor, of Macksville, was present in the interests of Norman McRae, whose father was seated alongside Mr. Morgan.
Sergeant G.A. Morgan, Macksville, conducted the inquiry in a capable and sympathetic manner, and was assisted by Constable McCrae, of Nambucca Heads, Constable Barry being absent on holidays.
Dr. G.E. Hobson, Government Medical Officer at Macksville, deposed: I remember the morning of the 25th inst. About 2 o'clock I went to Warrell Creek, to a small bridge near the Hall. I saw a man and women laying on the bridge. Life was extinct in the woman. There was a puncture wound in the angle of the left eye, powder marks being around the wound; also a wound at the centre of the back of the head, where the bullet had gone out. I should say that the wounds were caused by a high velocity bullet from a revolver (produced) which I saw on the bridge. Deceased was lying on her back, and the shot was evidently fired from the front. I examined the man, who was unconscious and breathing steadily. There were no marks of violence upon him other than a lacerated wound in the centre of the forehead, the bone being splintered and brain substance protruding. There was another lacerated wound about two inches above the left ear. I injected morphia with the idea of easing his pain and preventing hemorrhage and vomiting through swallowing blood. About 4 a.m. I again examined him at Thomas Sutton's house near Macksville, to where he had been removed. His condition was hopeless from the start. I again injected morphia and re-bandaged the wound. There was considerable hemorrhage from the wounds and the mouth. The wound could have been caused by the same revolver that I saw. The wound could have been self-inflicted. I quite agree that it is possible for the wound to be bigger when the shot is fired at very short range. I viewed the body at about 9 a.m. I had never examined the man previous to the tragedy. I should say that the man was of a strong constitution physically. I saw no marks of violence on the girl other than those described.
Sergeant G.A. Morgan, Senior Police Officer stationed at Macksville, deposed: About 1.15 on the morning of the 25th, accompanied by Constable Barry, the Coroner and Doctor Hobson, I went to Warrell Creek. On a small bridge on the main North Coast road, about 60 or 70 yards from the Hall, I saw the body of Gertrude Trisley lying on its back with her head pointing south and the feet north. Her head was in a pool of blood and she was dead. I examined the body. (Witness here corroborated the evidence of Dr. Hobson.) In my opinion the wounds were caused by a ball cartridge from the weapon produced. Within three feet of Gertrude Trisley I saw Alex McLean lying on his back, his head pointing north, his feet south. There was a gaping wound over his forehead, just in the hair and brain was protruding from it, and practically at the back of the head another wound. McLean was breathing heavily, and blood was flowing from his mouth. The wound could have been caused by the weapon produced, which was lying close to McLean. The weapon contained three live cartridges in the magazine and an empty shell in the barrel. I found another empty shell about three or four feet from the body of Gertrude Trisley. The weapon is a German automatic, self-ejector, sighted to 800 yards, and, in my opinion, was the weapon used in taking the lives of both. I would say that the wound in the deceased Gertrude Trisley was fired at a short range of two or three feet, but the shot fired at McLean was at a shorter range, the revolver being pressed against the head, the concussion causing the wound to be bigger. The body of Gertie Trisley was removed to the residence of her father, Mr. J.H. Trisley, and McLean was brought to Thomas Suttons’ residence, near Macksville, arriving there about 4.30 a.m. Constable Barry and I undressed McLean and washed the blood from his face and head. I remained with McLean. At about 10 past six his breath became shorter and faster, and he died at 6.20. I knew both deceased in life. Gertrude Trisley was a bright, intelligent girl, and bore a splendid character. The deceased Alex. McLean was a quiet man in life as far as I knew him, and was rather an intelligent man. I had a good many conversations with him since he returned from the war, and he appeared a man well balanced in mind. I searched the body of McLean, and found three letters, one signed by his mother, one signed “Nell,” and an invitation to a party; also a florin, a matchbox and a Tatt’s ticket in the Melbourne Cup, No. 42061. I also produce a letter that was handed to me yesterday by Mr. Thomas Sutton, which reads thus:- “I Alexander Thomas McLean, late A.I.F., wish to depart from this life on the above date. I leave all my doings and all my accounts to be paid by T.E. Sutton. He must sell my stock, and after debts are paid my then capital goes to my mother, Mrs. E. McLean, Glenelg, Arthur Street, Randwick. He will find in the London Bank at Macksville, a War Gratuity Bond for £102. I have done my bit, let others follow. (Signed) A.T. McLean. Goodbye.” It was bright moonlight on the night of the occurrence, anyone could be distinguished at thirty or forty yards.
The Coroner: Could you say from the appearance of McLean wheather he had any head wounds?
Sergeant Morgan: He was minus an eye, he had a glass eye, I understand he lost the eye at the war.
The Coroner: If he had lost an eye at the war, would it not be practically a head wound?
Sergeant Morgan: I Don’t take it that way.
The Coroner: The eye is connected with the brain.
Sergeant Morgan: I don’t think the loss of an eye necessarily means an injury to the brain.
The Coroner: Well, that is your evidence. What was his general demeanor?
Sergeant Morgan: He was generally sensible, although I must admit he was addicted to drink. I have never noticed anything remarkable or strange about him.
Norman Edgar McRae, Bank clerk, deposed: I remember the night of the 24th, I went to a social held in Warrell Creek hall in aid of the Church of England. I saw the Missess Trisley there and had several dances with them. About 1 a.m. on the 25th Gertie said that she and her sister were going home, and that Jock Campbell was going to accompany her sister. I asked Gertie if I could see her home. I had seen McLean during the night; was speaking to him on friendly terms outside the hall and borrowed a match from him. McLean was not strange in his demeanour, and appeared quite normal. I had never had any misunderstanding with McLean or any altercation with him during his life. I left the hall with Gertie about one a.m. Violet and Campbell left about the same time. Gertie and I were about 10 or 15 yards ahead of them going along the road towards the girls home, about a mile distant. About 60 or 70 yards from the hall we came to a little bridge. McLean came towards us from the left hand side of the road towards Macksville. When walking towards us he had his hands behind his back. He said to Gertie, “You will not walk home with any other man.” He drew one hand from behind, pointed the revolver and fired without any other warning. Gertie fell backwards and never spoke. McLean then said I’ll get you too.” I stepped back a couple of paces. He aimed the revolver at me and fired. I ducked down. I heard the report, but the bullet missed me. I ran towards Violet and Campbell. Campbell said “For God’s sake, Alick, have a bit of sence.” He replied “It’s not you I’m going to shoot, Jock; I’ve shot Gertie, now I’m going to shoot myself; farewell.” He put the revolver to his head and fired. I saw him fall. I did not go back to where they were lying, but went and told some at the hall what had happened. I gave a similar statement to Sergeant Morgan at 2.30 a.m. the same morning. I knew Gertie very well, but was not anything but the best of friends with her.
Sergeant Morgan: You could say, perhaps, that she was on friendly terms with everybody who knew her in the town.
Mr. Morgan (solicitor) : Just a popular girl.
Witness: I know of no reason why McLean fired at me, unless it was because I happened to be walking with Gertie on that occasion.
To the Coroner: I have never seen anything about McLean to suggest that he was not normal, and have never noticed anything strange in his conduct.
John Hayes Campbell, clerk, employed at Macksville Butter Factory, deposed: I was present at the ball at Warrell Creek on the night of the 24th, and saw Gertie Trisley and McLean there. About 1 a.m. on the 25th I left the hall with Miss Violet Trisley. Gertie Trisley and Norman McRae were about twenty yards in front of us when walking along the main road. We could see them plainly. When the first shot was fired I looked and saw Gertie Trisley fall. Another shot was fired. Norman McRae was in a stooping position. We walked forward quickly, and when about ten yards distant I saw the revolver in McLean’s hand. I shouted out to him “For God’s sake, Alick, have some sense, put that thing up.” When he heard me he stopped and said “It’s alright, I’m not going to shoot you, Jock; I’ve shot Gertie, and am going to shoot myself now,” He then put the revolver to his head, fired, and fell. McRae had run back to me by that time. I walked up to the two bodies and saw that Gertie was dead. McLean was apparently unconscious and did not speak. During the ball I spoke to McLean outside the hall. He was very quiet and seemed to be alright, and showed no signs of worry. I last saw him at the hall about 11.30, just before supper. I had known McLean for over eight years, but never noticed anything that would lead me to think he was unbalanced mentally. I never heard him say anything about a quarrel with Gertie Trisley, or that he had an idea of doing away with anyone. I was well aquainted with Gertie, who bore a good character and was on good terms with the boys and in fact with everybody. McLean also bore a good character.
George Burdett Rowe, fisherman, residing at Macksville, deposed: On the evening of the 24th I saw McLean between 5.30 and 6, as I was going to tea. During conversation he asked for the loan of a revolver to shoot some dogs that were troubling him. I told him it was there if it was any good to him. I told him I only had eight rounds of ammunition. He said that would be enough for what he wanted, he didn't miss very often, and could "do five with that." I asked him to have tea, and he said he had promised to have tea with young Sutton, and would have tea some other day with me. I gave him the revolver, and six live rounds. I fired the other two shots into the ground to show him how to work the mechanism. He pointed the revolver down to the ground, and said "I can just shoot them off the horse nicely." He then left and went down the road. He seemed in his usual spirits and health, and did not show any signs of a troubled mind; if he had, he would not have got the revolver. I have frequently been with him since the war, and he never gave any sign of having an unbalanced mind. I had never lent the revolver to anyone else.
James Coutts, fruiterer, Macksville, who was sworn by the blowing out of a match, deposed: On the 24th about half past 8 or nine at night McLean came into my shop and asked me for a writing pad and pencil. He then sat down at a table and wrote. I gave him an envelope. He took the letter with him out of the shop. He was in his usual frame of mind.
Con Peters, proprietor of the refreshment rooms in Cooper Street, deposed: McLean was in my shop on the evening of the 24th. He handed me the cheque (produced,) and said "Hold this until tomorrow for me." He then said "Will you lend me £1?" I gave him a pound note. He handed me a letter and said "Hand this to Tom Sutton. Give it to no one else. If he doesn't call, give it to me when I come back." Next day I handed the letter to Tom Sutton. McLean did not tell me the contents of the letter. He was just the same as he always was in his manner.
Thomas Edward Sutton, teamster, deposed: The letter produced was handed to me by Con. Peters. I was well acquainted with McLean. The writing is McLean's. I last saw McLean alive at a quarter to eleven a.m. on the 24th at my mother's place at Taylor's Arm. He left with Mr. Cassidy to pass some timber, and said if it was passed he was going to Macksville. McLean and I were working a bullock-team on the halves system. I am not conversant with his movements after leaving my mother's place. During the last six weeks he had appeared worried, but he never explained anything to me. During the past week he has not been able to work well, and complained of a pain in the back of his head. His work has been broken during the past five weeks. About four weeks ago he told me it was "all off" between him and Miss Trisley. He said he bought a necklace for her and was going to get it back. The bullock-team was his own property, he bought it from me two years ago last July for £3000. There were fourteen bullocks with trucks and gear. I have been paid up. He owned a horse, but I know of no other property.
John H. Trisley, farmer, Warrell Creek, deposed: My daughter Gertie was born on New Year's Day, 1902. I last saw her alive at 7.30 p.m. on 24 instant, when she left with her sister Violet to attend the ball in the Warrell Creek hall. She was in her usual spirits, and had not complained to me of ant trouble with anyone. The next time I saw her was about half-past one a.m. on the bridge. She was dead. Her life was not insured, and she had no property. McLean came to the house a few times, but not within the last nine or twelve months. As far as I know Gertie had not been keeping company with him since. She was never engaged to him. As far as I know Gertie had many friends and was sociable with them all. She never made any complaints to me regarding McLean.
George McLean, father of Alexander Thomas McLean, then entered the box, and it was evident he was extremely pained. "Yes, he was my son," said the sorrow-stricken old man in answer to Sergeant Morgan. "What was the date of his birth, have you his birth certificate?" asked the Sergeant. "I am not certain, Sergeant, he was 29, ask Mum, she is outside," witness replied. The Sergeant did so, and ascertained that the date of birth was July 6th, 1891, and took place at Oakhampton Road, West Maitland. Proceeding, Mr. McLean said: My son's life was not insured. I know of no property that he owned except what he had on the Nambucca. I never saw anything that would suggest that he was in anyway disturbed or unhinged in his mind. "We had not seen him since last Christmas," continued the old man, sobbing. "Yes, we saw him last Christmas, he was home then, and, the Trisley girls were there too." He then completely broke down, and Sergeant Morgan said he would not press any more questions.
Sergeant Morgan re-entered the witness box and said he had forgotten to mention that he found a gold ring tied up in a handkerchief in McLean's clothes. He understood, however, that that could be cleared up, as he had been informed that the ring was the property of a cousin of McLean on the North Coast.
This concluded the evidence.
The Coroner said: "As this is a public inquiry, there might be someone in Court who might be able to shed more light on this sad tragedy. There might be something that we have missed, and if anyone can give further information the Court will be quite willing to take it.
There was no response.
Mr. Hodge then said: As Coroner for this district, I can truthfully say that there has been no matter which ever came before this Court which aroused the intensity of feeling that has followed the awful event. We had the fondest of good wishes towards both of them. The young lady was one of the most respected and popular in this district. She had a sweet disposition, and was a lovable girl. We knew her only for good. During the last few years her help had been freely given in all public, philanthropic, and patriotic movements. She was ready to assist in everything which meant helping other people. She always bore an excellent character, and was highly esteemed in all her goings out and comings in. Our hearts are therefore sorely saddened that she forfeited her life under such dreadful circumstances. The respect in which she was held was evident yesterday at the funeral, where all shades of thought were represented. In the position I occupy as Coroner, an officer of the Crown, I wish to tender very sincerest sympathy with the relatives of the late Mary Gertrude Trisley, who was so tragically plunged into eternity. We have lost one whom it will be difficult to replace.
With regard to the lad who has terminated his own life (proceeded Mr. Hodge) we had always regarded him as one of the manly men. We remember how he went forth voluntarily to fight for his country and his King; and we know how valiantly he carried out the trust. He fought with such distinction that he gained that very coveted honor, the Distinguished Conduct Medal, and I think that at this very critical time he had been recommended for a lieutenancy. We all remember how he returned covered with honor; we hailed him back; we loved him, God only knows the great thing that caused him to do what he did; we feel that there must have been something that impelled him to commit such an awful crime. Our sympathies must go out towards those gallant men who fought for the Empire and came back with head wounds, or are suffering from the effects of gas; they went through a hell, and we have to make every allowance for them. The memory of these two will live on with us, and I doubt not that the good deeds of both will receive their due meed of approval. But it will take a long time to recover from the shock caused by the dreadful occurrence, and our hearts are full of sympathy for the father and mother and other relatives of the deceased friend. I have found it a great trial to sit here and take down the naturally halting evidence of the tragedy affecting two for whom I had the warmest respect. Having heard the evidence and studied it right through it is my duty as Coroner to deliver my verdict-
That Mary Gertrude Trisley died from a pistol-shot wound wilfully and feloniously inflicted by Alexander Thomas McLean, and that Alexander Thomas McLean did feloniously and maliciously murder her; and that Alexander Thomas McLean died from a pistol-shot wound wilfully inflicted by himself.
Thus ended the last scene in connection with the tragedy which has saddened all hearts in this district and outside the Court there were weeping demonstrations of sorrow amongst the relatives and friends of the two who had passed away.