Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The Murder of Mrs Martin: Ghosts of Gawler: Part 7

Ghosts of Gawler
The Murder of Mrs Martin

Tragedy struck Gawler on Wednesday the 24th of June 1925, when a 14 year old Gawler High School student, a young man by the name of James Keats, shot and killed Mrs Martin, his boarding house owner, then killed himself.

Northern Times Carnarvon, WA, Friday 26 June 1925, page 3
The tragedy shook the then small country town and made news headlines right around Australia.
James Robert Keats, described as a normal boy with a tendency to over study his school work.
Events that transpired that day came to light via witnesses prior to the event, and the only survivor, a little girl, the daughter of the victim, Ms. Silvia Martin.

Earlier in the day Keats and another lad, one of the victims sons, had set off to go to school sports, Keats got as far as the old cemetery (what is now known as Pioneer Park, across from Coles), and had to turn back as he had forgotten some books, this was after 3pm in the afternoon.
Bunyip Gawler, SA 1863 - 1954,
Friday 26 June 1925, page 2, 3
Keats at some point returned to the home, and wrote a small incomplete note, that read: “Dear Mum – Just a few lines to let you know I have found out...”
Either whilst writing, or very near after writing, Keats took his Boy Scout knife and stabbed Mrs Martin, so viciously he broke some of her ribs, Keats then struck Mrs Martins daughter, Silvia with the butt of a rifle he had taken from the wardrobe of Mr Martin.
He threw a coat over the girls head at some point, and struck her again. The coat, according to the girls testimony, then lifted enough for her to see Keats lift the rifle, point it at his own chest, and shoot. Killing him.
The young girl then ran into the street seeking help, which she found with a nearby neighbour.

Border Watch Mount Gambier,
Friday 26 June 1925, page 3
The case hit the courts and the headlines, with a number of interesting theories as to why the boy, who left no clues, and had no motive, would kill Mrs Martin, then himself. 
One of the more “interesting” theories came from long standing Gawler Lawyer, Mr Rudall who’s theory was the boy had “over-studied” therefore creating a temporary “brain-storm” of derangement that led to the murder suicide.
The case was never concluded satisfactorily, and still remains a mystery as to why Keats did what he did, the Coroner put Keats actions down as “ A loss of reason” on the part of the boy....

Will we ever know what truly happened on that fateful afternoon in Gawler?

© 2013 Allen Tiller

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