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Doing Jack Gray Part Two

23 April 2018

Doing Jack Gray Part Two – The Tragedy on Hay Street

Doing Jack Gray: Part Two’ is the second of two instalments about the murder of John Gray.

The Chief Justice, Sir Edward Albert Stone, looked down at the three men before him, Donald McKay, John Campbell and William Cullen, as they sat accused of the murder of John Gray. The Crown Prosecutor, supported by a multitude of witnesses, painted a bloody picture of John Gray’s death in his opening address. He was attacked twice by the three men outside of the Criterion Hotel. The second attack left him with a fatal brain injury.

The old Supreme Court on Barrack Street 1902.  https://trove.nla.gov.au/work/10905701?q=Supreme+Court+Perth&c=picture&versionId=171870990

Recounting the facts, the prosecutor argued that in no way was Gray’s murder accidental. Mrs Agnes Kelly was the first witness called to the stand. She knew the man who went by the name Jack Gray, she had known him for three years. She described him as a gentle and softly spoken fellow who would frequent Mrs Chawkers Brisbane Street brothel, where she worked, two or three times a week. When Campbell came bashing on her door, demanding to know the whereabouts of Gray, Kelly had refused him entrance. To her knowledge, she had never met Campbell before. Campbell left Mrs Chawkers, and met up with his two cronies, McKay and Cullen. It was known by the other ‘Ladies of Mrs Chawkers’ that the three men were ‘freely drinking’ around Brisbane Street after Kelly turned Campbell away.

Between 2.30 and 3.00 pm, all three men approached Mrs Chawkers, and again demanded they be allowed to enter. Again, Kelly refused them. The many first-hand witness accounts that followed Kelly’s own testimony were variations of the same story; John Gray was relentlessly pursued, and beaten to death.

James Clarke, a taxi driver and long-time friend of Gray, took to the stand and gave perhaps the most damning evidence of the whole trial. He also shocked the court when he claimed that ‘filthy and threatening expressions had been used towards him in connection with the case’, and that other witnesses had been threatened. The Chief Justice responded to these claims by saying “You should report this matter to the police, and if anyone is brought before me, I shall deal with the offender very severely. If these threats or expressions are used in the vicinity of the court, the offenders should be brought to me at once.” The prosecutor drew attention to the noticeable absence of John Ryan, the tobacconist, who was also an eye witness to the murder.

Ryan had attended earlier sessions of the hearing, and was due to give evidence, but had since left the state. Walter Derbyshire, licensee of the Criterion Hotel, told the court that Ryan was confronted several times walking over the Barrack Street Bridge on his way home by members of the ‘Push’ who told him they would “blow his lights out.” Ryan had told his friends he was sure the ‘boys’ were going to kill him. Derbyshire told the court Ryan was so terrified of these men that he stowed away on a ship bound for Africa, but on being discovered, he was brought back to Fremantle. Still too terrified to stay in the city, Ryan stole a boat and sailed for Victoria.

Artists impression of the Barrack Street Bridge 1908 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/rendition/nla.news-page3395407.pdf

Doctor Haynes was next to take the stand. He told the court how he had found Gray, “Lying on his back with a puffing behind his ear about the size of a small mandarin orange and two smaller puffings higher up. I thought the man was dying. He gave a gasp, stopped breathing and it was with great difficulty that we got him to breathe again.” The post mortem examination was far more damning. Gray’s body was battered and bruised from head to toe, and there were indications that another beating may have taken place before the final assault outside the Criterion.

Mr Purkiss, the defendants’ lawyer, claimed Cullen and Campbell were innocent of the crime. He told the court that the two men had never laid a hand on Gray. Purkiss offered a weak argument in defence of McKay. He told the court that, “if there were three distinct wounds given to Gray during life, there is no way that the doctor could not have failed to have distinguished them after death. The assault was brutal and cowardly. Gray was pounded and kicked unmercifully. But, stripped of the sensational and the hysterical, Gray must have been guilty of some gross conduct with respect to one of the accused, given the lamblike way in which he took the assault. He made no complaint to anyone, and even assured McKay he wouldn’t give him up after the first assault had been committed. If Gray had not been guilty of something of which he was ashamed, why did he not complain to the public or seek the protection of the police?”

The defence was weak, and both the judge and the jury did not take to it favourably. Cullen and Campbell continued to deny their involvement in the crime, placing the blame squarely on McKay.

As the case progressed, day after day, the court was rushed by people clambering to get a seat inside, and large crowds would wait outside at the end of each day for the verdict. In a bold show of force, criminal elements in the crowd from the ‘sneak thieves’ and pick pockets, all the way through to the garrotters and hitmen, openly identified themselves among the crowds of people. Jury members and witnesses were intimidated as they walked to and from the court house and, most noticeably, the licensee of the Criterion Hotel, Walter Derbyshire, was heckled by friends of Cullen and Campbell. He reported that two unidentified men shouted “There goes the bastard who is giving evidence…We will settle him one of these nights.” The menacing presence of these men stretched the police so thin that the army was called on to deploy mounted troops.

Cullen was believed to be the most dangerous of the men, and the most volatile. He was reported to have made at least one attempt to escape from custody, and had “broken out in fits of violence on several occasions and even resorted to filthy language!” In explosions of rage, he assaulted officers and guards several times during transport from the dock to the prison van. When guards searched Cullen’s cell, they found two metal files hidden in his bed pan. It was believed these had been baked into a loaf of bread and smuggled in for him in order to break out of the gaol.

The case was sensational, and the public were outraged. In an unprecedented attack on the police, The West Australian Sunday Times spoke out openly saying, “Even Texan outlawry will compare favourably with our metropolitan security if the police are incapable of preventing such brutal outrages under the glare of the electric light and the highway of throngs of pedestrians.”

The jury were divided over the charge of murder. It was argued, somewhat successfully, that the nature of the attack was to cause grievous bodily harm and not death, so Gray’s death should be considered accidental and not premeditated.

On Thursday 20th of March 1902, the jury were locked in the jury room to reach a verdict. That afternoon, the foreman of the jury announced that there was still no verdict. By Friday morning, the crowd was surging outside the court house with people eagerly awaiting the verdict, but it was not until 10am Saturday morning that the jury emerged and entered the court.

The foreman announced, “We, the jurymen sitting on the trial of Donald McKay, John Campbell and William Cullen, finding the murder of John Gray, have had some trouble in agreeing to a verdict, and, in the interest of justice, the whole of the jury have agreed to a verdict of murder in the hope that the extreme penalty of the law may not be carried out for the following reason: – That, although the unfortunate man, Gray, met his death, in the circumstances, we do not believe that the accused meant to murder him.” He continued, “We find the prisoner, Donald McKay, guilty of murder, and the other two, John Campbell and William Cullen, guilty of aiding and abetting, with a very strong recommendation to mercy.”

The Chief Justice asked the prisoners if they would like to address the court in relation to the sentence.

McKay began openly weeping and addressed the court. “Yes, sir. I’ve been found guilty of a terrible crime. There is no doubt about that I was the cause of Gray’s death, but not wilfully. No, a thousand times no. I had received provocation. My blood rose and I hit him, but I had no intention of killing him.”

Campbell was emotionless when he said, “Yes, I am innocent. We were drinking together that day. I did not know Gray. I had nothing against him. I did not interfere with him in any way.”

Cullen looked at the judge and said, “Yes, me and Campbell took no part. I didn’t know Gray. I never saw him in my life”

Fremantle Prison 1909 (inner gates) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fremantle_Prison#/media/File:Fremantle_Prison_1909_Entrance_to_the_main_court_yard.jpg

After hearing the men out, the Chief Justice addressed them,

“Donald McKay, John Campbell and William Cullen. After a very fair and patient trial, and very careful attention to the evidence by the jury, and a long consideration from them of all the facts bearing upon the charge against you, you have been found guilty of the crime of murder. You, Donald McKay, are the man who caused the death of the unfortunate deceased, John Gray. You, Campbell and Cullen, from the evidence, appear to have acted in conceit with him. Although you did not actually assault the deceased – you left that to the prisoner, McKay to do – you were there and ready to assist and you are, in the eyes of the law, equally guilty with McKay of the offence of which you have been found guilty.

McKay, you are apparently a young man. I hope you feel acutely the position in which you are now placed. I do not want anything I may say to aggravate that position. You have a mother alive, you might have had a long, useful life before you, and you would have been able to assist your mother, but you have brought on her the greatest trouble that could possibly be bought to any mother on this earth. It is only for me to pass the sentence that the law directs me to pass in such cases as this. McKay, Campbell and Cullen, I cannot hold onto any hope for you of mercy being extended to you in this world, or the next. It is true you may not have had any intention of killing Gray, but from the evidence it is clear, I think, that you intended to do him grievous bodily harm. As I pointed out to the jury, if in carrying out this intention, death results, the law declares that the offence is murder.”

McKay’s mother, who had attended every day of the trial, broke down in front of the court. She was openly weeping and crying out hysterically in protest, pleading with the judge for mercy and was physically removed from court.

Chief Justice, Sir Edward Albert Stone, looked down on the three men and, having adjusted his black cap, said, “The sentence of the law is that you be taken hence to the place from whence you came, and from thence to the place of execution, and there be hanged by the neck until you be dead. May God have mercy on your soul.” McKay started crying again in the dock as the sentence was read and whimpered out, “may God have mercy on my soul.” Cullen and Campbell said nothing and showed no expression. The three men were dragged from the court and the mounted troops made a corridor through the crowd. Donald McKay, William Cullen and John Campbell were paraded in front of the crowd and taken to Fremantle Prison for the last time.

Gerard McArtney