Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The Tragedy at Towitta (Part 5) –The Inquest Begins

The Tragedy at Towitta (Part 5) –The Inquest Begins

 News travels fast in the country and the tragic circumstance around the Towitta murder spread like wildfire through South Australia. Mounted Constable Mowbray secured the crime scene and started documenting the evidence, only to have Matthes and Johanne return home at 1pm that day from Flaxman’s Valley. Heinrich, one of the other brothers also made his way home from where he was working as soon as heard what had happened.

 Dr Steel had arrived from Angaston and had dutifully recorded the cause of death, assisted by Mounted Constable Mowbray and Police Constable Rumble. Matthes was soon approached to identify his daughter’s body, and did so with little outward emotion.
 Soon the Coroner arrived, Mr William Mulligan who almost immediately set in motion an inquest into the event gathering known facts and assessing the situation.
 The night, as neighbours gathered to console the grieving Schippans, two other neighbours prepared Bertha’s body for burial – It was a hot summer, and unlike today there were not electric refrigerated morgues, so a quick turnaround time to burial was considered essential.

Mary Schippan
 On Friday the 3rd of January 1902, families gathered at the Schippan family home and sang hymns as they mourned over the body of Bertha. After the short service, the families of mourners followed the body of Bertha to the Sedan Cemetery where she was laid to rest.

 On the same day a number of Police Troopers, Detectives, and Aboriginal Tracker and a Sergeant descended on lonely Towitta, bringing the investigate force to 15 men. Detecitve Priest ran the investigation, and set up office in the family homes kitchen, meanwhile the Schippans began to live their lives in the shed the boys shared, using another outbuilding for their kitchen and food preparation.
 Soon the media arrived in the town, and began enquiring of the Schippans, who answered every question thrown at them, and allowed numerous photographs to be taken. The Media also asked questions of every single person they encountered in the town of Sedan, looking for that one important scoop. In fact, as the inquest really took hold, and the publics greed for news about the Schippan story took centre stage, three people had to be added to the Angaston telegram exchange to get the news back to the newspapers.

  Soon the real inquest into the matter begun, and the Adelaide City Coroner, Dr William Smith came to Towitta as a witness, this was because he had been asked, as a Doctor to assist in the identification of blood stains on the girls clothes. Two Solicitors arrived, MR J Sinclair from Adelaide, acting for the Police, and MR A Foster of Kapunda acting on behalf of the Schippans.
 A jury soon arrived consisting of 8 men. The entire consort of people, and the Schippans all went into one of the outbuildings of which would become the main place for the inquest to be held. Just outside of the building a number of photographers and journalist’s waited for information, and behind them, in the field, were families, some with picnic baskets, waiting for sort of information they could get about the gruesome goings on at the Schippan House

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

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

The Tragedy at Towitta (Part 4) –The Death of Johanne Elizabeth “Bertha” Schippan

The Tragedy at Towitta (Part 4) –The Death of Johanne Elizabeth “Bertha” Schippan

 Johanne Elizabeth Schippan, known to the family as “Bertha” was just two weeks shy of her 14th birthday when she was brutally attacked in her bedroom on the 1st of January 1902, sometime around 10pm.
 Bertha was her Fathers favourite child of the 7 kids he, and his wife Johanne had raised, she was outgoing, strong of body and strong of mind. A young girl, about to become a woman, Bertha was a hard worker, and had a job at the Yalumba canning factory, working with her sister Mary, but also tended to the farm and other chores around the house.

 The house had three rooms, the first, a large kitchen area, with a door into the second room, the parents’ bedroom – both these rooms also had doors that led outside.  The parents’ bedroom also had a door that led into the girl’s bedroom, it was the only way into the girl’s room, not having an external entrance. The girls shared the one bed, with Bertha sleeping up against the wall, and Mary closer to the door.

 Bertha awoke to her sister’s screams and the sound of her being thrown across the room, not too much after is really known, but much has been speculated on.
 In Mary’s witness account, the men called out to the two girls that he was going to kill them both if they didn’t stop screaming, but both girls yelled for their brother’s help. The two boys were asleep out in their shared room, an old shed.
 Mary was forced through the parents room, into the kitchen, where she made her escape to the boys room to wake them up and get help – from hear she heard one last blood curdling scream from Bertha before silence fell over the farm.

The assailant cut Bertha’s throat from ear to ear, severing her carotid artery. She struggled with the intruder through three different rooms, and suffered three slashes to the throat, and one under her chin that was around 90mm’s long. Her ears had been slashed, and one large cut was across the back of her neck. The intruder then stabbed her multiple times in the back of her neck.
 Her left and right cheeks had been slashed, as had her hands, Bertha was also covered in scratched from the struggle.
 In a later report, it was discovered she had not suffered any attempted rape or sexual molestation throughout the entire ordeal.
 Bertha passed away on her parents’ bedroom floor after bleeding out from her neck wounds.

NEXT WEEK: The Tragedy at Towitta (Part 5) –The Inquest Begins

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The Tragedy at Towitta (Part 3) – Intruder

The Tragedy at Towitta (Part 3) – Intruder

 On December 27th 1901, Matthes and Johanne Schippan left their cottage in Towitta and made their way to Flaxman’s Valley, about 20 km’s away. They intended to stay with friends to see the New Year in, and had planned to return home on January 2nd 1902.
 At home on the farm, were Mary and Bertha, August and Wilhelm.

The original Schippan house at Towitta: SLSA B43959
  January 1st, New Year’s day, August and Wilhelm tool their rifles and went shooting for meat, rabbits, foxes and birds, on this occasion they managed to snag some parrots. They left just after breakfast and returned around lunch time. Wilhelm took the parrots out into the shed and plucked them, he then took the carcasses inside to clean them. Mary took them and put them in the meat safe.
 The two Schippan boys then headed off to a nearby friend’s house, and didn’t return until that evening.

 Mary and Bertha were home most of the day, but in the late evening, Bertha went to play with some neighbouring friends in the nearby paddocks and only returned home to help Mary with her chores of feeding and watering the animals.
  The two girls ate dinner about 7pm that night, then Bertha made her way to the girl’s bedroom, whilst Mary waited on the porch for her brothers. They returned about 8pm, ate cake in the kitchen, then retired to the shed they shared as a bedroom in the back yard of the cottage.

All was quiet, and the family, girls inside the three roomed house, boys in the shed-come-bedroom, slept quietly.

 At around 10pm that night, Mary woke suddenly as she felt a large weight press upon her. Mary screamed, and as she did so, a person grabbed her by the wrists, pulled out of the bed she shared with Bertha and threw her across the room, slamming her into the old family sewing machine.
 Mary screams woke Bertha, and both girls screamed at the top of their lungs “Gustave!” – calling for their brother in the shed.
 The stranger told them to “Shut up or I will kill you!” again and again, and forced Mary into the kitchen – she saw the flash of a knife, then heard it hit the floor of the cottage.

Mary ran outside, leaving her much younger sister Bertha with the intruder. She called out to Gustave constantly, and ran into the boy’s room to wake him, telling him there was an intruder. Gustave was slow to wake, and didn’t believe Mary. A final chilling scream from Bertha convinced him to get up and get dressed.

 According to statements from Mary during the initial investigation, rather than enter the house and face the intruder, Gustave (August) ran to a near-by farm for help. Mary and Wilhelm waited in the boy’s room until he returned. The three of them then armed themselves with pitchforks and entered the house.
 They lit a light in the kitchen, and could see pools of blood everywhere, this made them all hesitant to go any further, so instead they all headed off to the Lambert’s farm, only 1km away for help.
 District Constable Lambert lived with his parents across the way, and upon hearing the story of the two Schippan boys, rushed back to their farm house with him, with Mary in tow.
 The group entered the house through the open kitchen door, lit a light, and followed the trails of blood through the kitchen, into the parents’ bedroom, and lastly into the girls bedroom, where laying on the floor in her night clothes, was Bertha, in a pool of blood, with her throat cut.

 The 2 Schippans and Constable Lambert returned to his family farm, where his parents offered comfort for the Schippans, whilst the constable headed out by horse to Truro, to the local police station to make a report and get help.

 The next day, Gustave headed out to bring him his Mother and Father and alert them to Bertha’s untimely, brutal demise.
 The officer in charge in Truro, Mounted Constable Mowbray, headed out first thing in the morning to Towitta, to secure the crime scene at the Schippan house. Upon inspection he found two knives in the kitchen, a small one on the kitchen table, and a large one in the meat safe.
 There was blood on the wood in the fireplace, blood on a towel, blood on the bedding in both bedrooms, a bloodied towel, and remnants of clothing spread about the girl’s bedroom.

Next Week - The Tragedy at Towitta (Part 4) –The Death of Johanne Elizabeth “Bertha” Schippan