The Rhynie Tragedy
Last week we looked into some of the circumstances that led to the tragic deaths of the Lee family, after Father and husband Alexander Lee killed his Wife and Children. This week we take another look at the case, delving into how he perpetrated his crime, and his eventual hanging in Adelaide Gaol.
Thursday Morning, July 15th, 1920, Convicted murderer, Alexander Newland Lee was taken from his cell on the Eastern side of Adelaide Gaol. It was 6:30 in the morning, in less than two hours, Mr Lee, condemned for the murder of his wife and children, would himself be dead, hung from the gallows inside Adelaide Gaol.
Weeks earlier, Lee had hurt his hand shearing sheep in a freak accident, and had been receiving treatment at Nuriootpa hospital. Due to not being able to take on his usual employee, he accepted a job droving cattle. Whilst employed on the cattle run, it is believed Lee purchased a quantity of strychnine & in compliance with regulations, signed his name in the Poison Book.
Lee was said to have been seen skulking around the small town the night of his families death, having returned only a couple of days earlier from the cattle droving job he'd picked up.
In his testimony to the Police, Lee stated that he had returned home from the cattle run to find his family writhing in agony on their beds. He jumped onto his bicycle and rode 300 meters to awaken the mounted constable and a Doctor in the Rhynie Hotel.
Lee rode back to his home, and was just in time to see one his little boys drawing his last breath, He then witnessed the death of his daughter, writhing in total agony as the strychnine poison engulfed her body and stopped her heart.
On Easter Sunday Detectives Nation and Goldsworthy of Adelaide, arrived in Rhynie to conduct a full investigation of the deaths of the Lee family. They concluded that Alexander was the culprit and arrested him on suspicion of murder.
Alexander offered one of the weakest explanations for the death of his family, stating that he thought the family had died after drinking milk tainted with mouse poison. The mouse poison in his explanation, had fallen from a high shelf into the milk container, and the family, who were in the custom of having a glass of milk before sleep, all drank from the same bottle.
The inquest and trial did not take long and found Alexander Newland Lee guilty of the crime of murder, the evidence spoke for itself.
Lee was found guilty by murder by poisoning, a rare thing amongst male killers, as women are usually the ones to kill by using poison.
Lee, in his final hours that morning ate a hearty breakfast, and was comforted spiritually by Rev. W.H. Hanton. Before being led to the gallows. Even in his final hours he would not make a confession to the crimes, and the details of what happened died with him at 8 am that morning on the noose.
Murial and Alexander’s two surviving children, the twin girls were fostered by a local family in Rhynie, where they were raised lovingly. They took on their foster parents surnames and lived locally for many years.
Upon burial of Muriel and her children, Murial Lee's parents buried their daughter and grandchildren under her maiden name, in protest of their murder by Lee.