Tuesday, 1 March 2016

The Tragedy at Towitta (Part 6) –What the Inquest Found

The Tragedy at Towitta (Part 6) –What the Inquest Found

 Towitta could not handle the influx of people who had come to hear the slightest bit of news from the inquest, Sedan was overrun, and even Angaston’s overnight lodgings were full.

 August was the first to be called to the inquest, which was being overseen by Coroner Mulligan, with Detective Fraser taking the depositions and Detective Priest acting as Clerk. Wilhelm followed August – as the boys gave their statements, Mary and her Mother, Johanne, waited in the kitchen of the family home.
 The boys stories differed slightly from that of Mary’s original story, they stated, they had come home and the girls were already in bed, so they helped themselves to cake, before retiring themselves, Mary’s statement said she had cut the cut for the boys, before they had retired to bed.

 Dr Steel was next to be questioned, and his statements proved to be quite damning for Mary. After describing his initial examination of Bertha’s body as she lay dead on the floor, he then described the port-mortem examination and the findings there, but, it was his examination of Mary, on the morning after the murder that proved most news-worthy.
 Dr Steel stated that some the strips of clothing found near Bertha’s bod were missing from Mary’s night clothing, Mary also had scratched on her arms, bruising on her knees and upper thighs, but perhaps the most damning was Mary had complained of a sore neck, Dr Steel discovered Mary’s hair had not been pulled or was even out of place, and that the back of her neck had been recently washed.

 Matthes and Johanne were called upon next, but offered no new clues, or a clear motive for the attack. The inquest went on well into the night and was only adjourned until the next day because there was enough light to allow the clerk to take notes.

The next day the inquest began again at 8am. Mary was called to the witness chair at 10:20am. She wore a brown dress and white apron and was sworn in, something that wasn’t normally done at an inquest.
 An argument then broke out between the two solicitors over Mary giving evidence that may or may not incriminate her, and both men argued the point to the Coroner. Detective Fraser then told Mary she does not need to say anything she thinks may incriminate her.

 Mary answered all the questions asked of her for the next four and half hours, never wavering and never showing much emotion. Her story had not changed, but one piece of evidence was about to be brought forward that would change the case, and cause the biggest media sensation South Australia had ever seen at the time.

 Mary revealed she had been having relations with a man named “Gustave Nitschke”. The Police Solicitor jumped on this as a possible motive for the killing of Bertha, who, as it turned out, had known of Mary’s Trist with then older man.
 Gustave Nitschke was called to the inquest to give evidence, and spoke of having sex with Mary on a t least three occasions, one time on the Schippans parents bed, with Bertha in the room next door, possible watching through the cracks in the door. This of course in 1902 would have been scandalous, an unwed woman and man having sex and secret meetings.
 During Nitschke’s evidence he stated he had previously “spooned with Bertha, whilst another man spooned with Mary, and had often joked with Bertha about whisking her away to the city with him.
 It came to light that Nitschke had had sex with Mary on the night her parents had left for Flaxman’s Valley, December 17th 1901, just a few days before Bertha’s murder, but he had witnesses to prove he had been in Adelaide at the time of the murder.

 More witnesses were called during the afternoon, including Mary’s Mother and Dr Smith, the jury retired at 5 to 6pm and returned an hour later with their verdict on the matter.
At about 7pm that night the Jury’s verdict was read aloud by Coroner Mulligan:
 “We, the Jury, are all of the opinion that Johanne “Bertha” Elizabeth Schippan met her death on the first night of January, 1902, by having her throat cut by Mary Augusta Schippan.”

The room was silent.

Mary was called before Mr Mulligan and the murder charge was read out loud to her, and everyone present. She was then ordered to be arrested and to be transported to the Adelaide Gaol, where she would await trial for murder, a sentence that carried the weight of being hung if found guilty.

 Mary’s Mother embraced her daughter, and refused the police to take her away, all the while Mary pleaded with her mother that she had not done the crime.
 The Police put Mary in a horse trap, and took her to the Angaston police cells where she was kept until the next morning, they then took her to Freeling train station and awaited the Kapunda train.
 The Police officer knew word was travelling, and a crowd had gathered at Gawler to get sight of Mary, a larger crowd was now gathering at the Adelaide Railway Station as the news of the young girl who had killed her sister made its way into Adelaide.
 The officer in charge of transporting Mary had other ideas to beat the crowd, and he disembarked from the train at North Adelaide, taking Mary straight to Adelaide Gaol.

NEXT WEEK: The Tragedy at Towitta (Part 7) –The Trial of Mary Schippan