Tuesday, 8 March 2016

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





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

 The young and naïve Mary Schippan was very much out of place in the harsh environment of the Adelaide Gaol. Amongst thieves and prostitutes, there was no friendly faces, and being accused of murder, set her apart from the lower crimes, with the few women that were doing time, avoiding her as best they could. Mary’s only constant visitor was Father Eital from the Lutheran Church, who was consoling Mary about her upcoming trial and the possibility of being hung for the crime.

The date for her trial was set for Tuesday March 4th 1902.

Whilst Mary sat in Adelaide Gaol, an exhumation of her sister, Bertha had begun in Sedan Cemetery for a re-examination of the body for missed clues. Both the prosecution and the defence were gathering evidence and statements for the upcoming trial in March.
 Meanwhile, the general public where whipped up into a frenzy over the whole case, looking for any bit of information about it they could get, and on March 4th, a huge crowd of onlookers gathered in Victoria Square near the courthouse, a smaller crowd though, waited at the Adelaide Gaol to see if they could spot Mary as she was taken to the trial.

Mary’s parents and two brothers traveled to the city and were staying in Grenfell Street, they were to be called as witnesses again.

 The courthouse filled quickly that morning, but to the disappointment of the crowd the case against Mary was adjourned until the following morning.
 The following morning Mary was taken to the courthouse from the Adelaide Gaol, she sat and
 A few formalities were dealt with, and Mary was asked to offer her plea, of which she replied in a calm soft voice “I am not guilty Sir.”

waited in the Dock for Chief Justice Samuel Way to enter at precisely 10am.
 After the usual court hearing formalities, a jury was presented and the trial began. The Crown Solicitor Sinclair offered the opening argument about goings on that night, which ended with the following statement.
“The suggestion that the prosecution makes is that the deed was either prompted by jealousy arising from an invitation from Nitschke to Bertha to accompany him to Adelaide, or by fear that the knowledge of Mary’s misbehavior possessed by Bertha would be communicated to the Father upon his return home.
 I ask the jury not to allow sentiment to dictate their finding, and not to permit sympathy to dominate reason.”

 August and Wilhelm were called successively as witnesses for cross examination, and gave almost matching accounts, the same as they had in the inquest earlier in January. The followed by Mary’s Mother Johanne who was asked about the girl’s clothing.
 Court adjourned at 6:30pm that evening.
Police had to use diversionary tactics to take Mary back to the Adelaide Gaol as the crowd had grown to over 1500 people around the courthouse, trying to get a glimpse of her.

 The next day saw members of the Lambert and Henkes families called forth to give witness and statement from Detective Fraser, Mounted Constable McArthur and Gustave Nitschke.

Gustave Nischke was seen by the general public as a villain, and upon his leaving court that day, a large group of angry people began to follow him, as he sped up, they sped up too. It wasn’t until a police escort was presented that he was able to escape the angry crowd that looked as if it could riot at any minute.

On day 5 the defence mounted its case. Symon, for the defence, presented a well thought out and eloquent defence that lasted a full day. He detailed all events and possibilities that the prosecution had presented as motive and cause, and defended Mary, whilst in the same vein, destroying the reputation on Nitschke.
 In fact on the evening of day 5 of the hearing, the gathered crowd had become so angry towards the man, there was a good chance he would be lynched in the street. As he made his way down King William Street, the crowd turned angry, and he was struck in the face by two men. Nitschke ran to a nearby cab-rank for help, but they ignored him, so he ran to the Prince of Wales Hotel, where he was quickly turned away by the publican. Nitschke ran down the street dodging blows until police, hearing his screams, rescued him and escorted him away from the crowd, thus saving his life.


 Day 6, the courtroom was full, as were the streets outside. There was tension in the air as proceedings began again at 10am. Chief Justice Way then went about condensing the previous 5 days statements and evidence before conceding to the Jury for their verdict.
 Statements were made by both the prosecution and defence, and before retiring at 6:10pm to gather for their verdict, the jury asked for some of the clothing and the bed clothes to be delivered to them while they came to their conclusion.

The Jury returned to the courtroom at 8:06 pm that evening. The eerie glow of the now lit gas lamps and the total silence of everyone in the room led to an electric atmosphere. Mary sat in the witness box, quietly awaiting her fate.

Mary stood, grim and silent, as she waited for the Jury foreman to come forward and read out loud the verdict.
 When asked by the Crown if Mary Schippan was guilty of not guilty, John Bradley, the Jury foreman uttered “Not Guilty” in a nervous voice. Instantly the crowd erupted in applause and cheers, and outside the 3000 people gathered also began to cheer as the news spread through the crowd. Popular opinion was that Mary was innocent of the crime, and this was the outcome the public hoped for.
Meanwhile back in the courtroom, Chief Justice Way was shouting for order and trying to control the celebrations.
 Mary was reunited with her parents, and ushered out into a police cab, for 100 meters down King William Street people cheered for her, however, some of the crowd hung back at the courthouse, waiting to see Nitschke, and hurling abuse towards him.
Police had been prepared for this, and had set up a number of diversions to distract the crowd, secreting Nitschke out of the area and away to safety.




NEXT WEEK: The Tragedy at Towitta (Part 8) – The Aftermath of a Famous Trial