The Gatton Murders: A Look Back at an Unsolved Triple Family Homicide

GATTON, AUSTRALIA — Sometime between 10:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. on the night of December 26th, 1898, 29-year-old Michael Murphy and his two younger sisters were brutally murdered as they traveled back from a night out to their home in Gatton, Australia.

Michael was home for the holidays, and had borrowed a horse-drawn cart from his brother-in-law William M’Neill to take his sisters Norah, 27, and Theresa “Ellen”, 19, to a dance in town.

But after receiving word that the dance had been cancelled, Michael decided to head home. None of them made it back alive, and the mysterious murders became known as “The Gatton Murders,” “The Gatton Mystery” and “The Murphy Murders.” The triple homicide is still unsolved.

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The next morning, M’Neill went looking for the siblings in the woods, and found their bodies arranged in a bizarre fashion. Michael and Ellen lay back-to-back, while Norah lay nearby on a neatly spread rug soaked in blood. The two women had their hands tied behind their backs.

Post-mortem examinations revealed that Norah had been strangled, and that Michael had been shot in the head before being hit with a heavy object. Investigators also discovered that the women had been sexually assaulted. Even the horse had been fatally shot.

The investigation was complicated by the fact that nearly two days passed after the bodies were discovered until police were called  – and the fact that inconsistencies arose between reports from the crime scene and the post-mortem examination.

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A Royal Commission in 1899 investigated the methods used by the Queensland police force, and looked into rumors of corruption in the case. There were many suspects, but no one was ever arrested or charged in connection with the killings.

Some experts have speculated that the killer could be Theo Farmer, Thomas Furner, or a man named Thomas Day.

Day was employed by a local butcher in December 1898, and was reportedly lurking near the murder scene on the night of the killings. Some suspect that he was also responsible for another murder just a few weeks before, when a 15-year-old was killed — and his pony was shot.

Day committed suicide shortly after the murders, and it was rumored that he left behind a suicide note admitting his guilt. But the suicide note raised even more questions, because some people believed that Day may have been a witness — and that the actual killer was still out there.

Read more:
National Library of Australia
The Huffington Post 

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Main photo: 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 [Wikimedia Commons]