A DARK undercurrent of crime is brought to the surface in Murder on the Swan: Blood in the Water, a new exhibition at the Museum of Perth.
Museum executive director Reece Harley says the Swan River is often thought of as a place of great natural beauty and tranquility, of recreation and leisure; but its dark history is often overlooked.
“The river has been a crime scene and dumping ground since the first days of the colony,” Mr Harley said.
“We’ve uncovered some of the most grim and ghastly tales of murder, neglect and suicide; each case revealing something about the true nature and hidden history of our city.
“Many say that Perth ‘lost its innocence’ with Cooke’s murder spree in 1963, but our exhibition reminds people that Perth had lost its innocence long before that.”
Some of these crimes remain unsolved, like the 1899 axe murder of Rosalinda Fox, whose body was found under a tree on the Nedlands foreshore.
Her husband John Fox was arrested, as his axe had been used in the murder.
He had a rock solid alibi and the jury cleared him in three minutes, but only after he’d been forced to sit through a trial where his late wife’s cloven skull was presented as an exhibit.
For other crimes, the perpetrators are known, but not the reason: One bizarre case was the 1909 Christmas Eve “Murder on the Banshee”, when 62-year-old Marion Curedale was murdered by sailor Thomas J Thomas on a yacht named the Banshee.
Ms Curedal had endured a hard life, and was described in articles of the day as having “a police record to her discredit for drunkenness and prostitution”.
She’d been in front of the court dozens of times, on charges ranging from theft to “sleeping in a cemetery”.
While on board the Banshee, Mr Thomas attacked her with a razor for reasons unknown.
Before jumping overboard to kill himself, Mr Thomas left a note saying: “I did a rash act in a moment of frenzy, under the influence of drink. You will find my body under the yacht with a small anchor attached. Do not look on me as a criminal, as truly I was not responsible”.
Papers of the day speculated that he could have been overcome by a “drunken frenzy with malarial delirium,” as he was known as a quiet man until he contracted malaria in tropical Africa and afterwards suffered “periodical attacks affect[ing] his head”.
The exhibition is a collaboration between the Museum and the Piddington Society—a local lawyers’ social group named after Albert Piddington, our high court’s shortest-serving judge who was in the job one month and never actually sat at the bench.
Murder on the Swan is at the Museum of Perth in the Atlas Building, 8-10 The Esplanade, open Monday to Friday 10am to 4pm, until the end of February.
A digital exhibition chronicling the crimes is at http://www.murderontheswan.com