Safe as Houses: 1/8 Beach Avenue, Elwood
A Melbourne bank manager meets his end at his best friend’s hands.
- WARNING: The following article contains descriptions of violent crimes some may find disturbing
Poor Ruth Nixon had a difficult couple of years in the early 1950s. In 1951, Nixon lost her son when he was murdered in Tasmania. The case was never solved. This wound was likely still very fresh for her in January 1954, when her husband was beaten to death in the couple’s flat in the Melbourne suburb of Elwood. Unlike her son’s death, though, there was never any doubt as to who killed Edwin Nixon.
In addition to dealing with her husband’s murder in their flat at 1/8 Beach Avenue, the trial of Edwin’s killer exposed an alleged side of Ruth’s husband that would have been difficult to come to terms with. To lose a son and a husband in such violent circumstances, in such a short period of time would have been devastating enough. To also have to hear the testimony that her husband’s killer gave must have been nearly unbearable.
Edwin Nixon was a highly respected member of the community. He was employed by the Bank of New South Wales, which today is known as Westpac. He’d worked for the bank for nearly 40 years, starting as a teenager in 1916 and working his way up to become manager of the bank’s Bourke Street branch by the time of his death at the age of 57. It was at this branch that Edwin met Murray Smith, who worked there as a security guard.
In spite of their age gap (Murray was 38), the two became fast friends. For two-and-a-half years they socialised both at and outside of work, often sharing drinks together when the working day was done.
It must have been very surprising for everyone, then, when Murray Smith beat Edwin Nixon to death on January 11, 1954. The two were drinking at the Nixon's residence at 1/8 Beach Avenue, when Murray, a former boxer, pummelled Edwin severely and left him prostrate on the floor of the flat. Murray would leave Edwin there gravely wounded, not knowing that the beating he’d dealt the older man would end up being fatal.
The leafy Beach Ave Elwood. Source: Google, 2013.
Murray Smith never denied what he had done to Edwin, but it was his reasoning that would have so shocked Ruth Nixon. According to Smith, the two men went after work to a hotel on Little Collins Street to share a few drinks. They then headed to Nixon’s flat. According to Smith, after a few drinks Edwin had placed a hand on his thigh and propositioned him. Smith claimed that after he rebuffed Edwin’s advances, Edwin became enraged and attacked him.
“The first thing I knew I received a violent blow on my eyes, which sent me backwards from the chair to the floor. He grabbed me by the throat with a grip that I thought was going to be the end of me,” Smith testified at the trial.
But Smith said he fought back.
“I punched him as hard and as often as I could because I feared for my life,” he said.
He left Edwin Nixon on the kitchen floor, bleeding and breathing heavily. Sometime after he left, Edwin would succumb to his wounds. It was Murray Smith who then found him and phoned the police, upon returning to the flat later with his wife.
A newspaper clipping from the time. Source: Trove
A jury would find Murray Smith guilty only of manslaughter, despite the prosecution’s assertion that he had also delivered brutal kicks to Edwin Nixon after beating him to the ground. The judge presiding over the trial seemed incredulous about the jury’s decision, telling Smith at sentencing that it seemed “incredible that the injuries found on the dead man could have been inflicted in the way you describe”.
Ultimately, the only two people who know the truth of the encounter that night are Edwin Nixon and Murray Smith. The flat that saw the two men’s friendship brought to such a bloody conclusion still stands and was last sold in 1992 for $160,000. Domain lists its current estimated value at $840,000.
There’s little record of what became of Ruth Nixon in the wake of the trial and we don’t know whether she left the flat that she and Edwin shared. Having lost a son and husband in such quick succession, and having endured a trial that, in those days, would have meant a lot of public attention and embarrassment, it seems unlikely she would have wanted to stay. No matter where Ruth Nixon ended up, one can only hope that the years to come were kinder to her.
Each week, Safe as Houses looks at some of Australia's most notorious murders and the effect those killings had on real estate values.