Safe As Houses: 2 Grays Road, Hamilton
A conspiracy to murder was driven either by love or greed, depending upon who you believe.
- WARNING: The following article contains descriptions of violent crimes that some may find disturbing.
Regardless of how it happened, what the motive was or which of the three co-defendants struck the fatal blow, it didn’t change one simple fact: Roy Ferguson was dead.
Ferguson was a well-to-do brewer who had left his lucrative job as managing director of a Newcastle brewery to relocate to Brisbane and start his own venture with his brother. He and his wife Sylvia settled into an opulent residence at 2 Grays Road in Hamilton.
Roy may have settled into Brisbane’s upper crust, but it’s doubtful he truly fit in. The brewer and hotelier had come from humble beginnings, and had certainly had his own run-ins with the law. In 1939, he was arrested for running an unlicensed bookmakers from one of his hotels. In 1946, he was jailed for attacking a man with a broken beer bottle.
Sylvia, too, was new to society’s upper echelons. She had been a barmaid in one of her husband's hotels. It was at one of these hotels where she first met Eric Murphy. Murphy was a waiter at one of Roy’s hotels in Tuncurry. Clearly, Eric and Sylvia hit it off, because when the Fergusons relocated to Brisbane, Eric Murphy followed.
It’s not clear when Sylvia and Eric’s relationship blossomed into a romance. At some point, however, the two enlisted Murphy’s young nephew, Barry, who was living with the Fergusons after the death of his mother, to pass letters between them. This escalated to the two using Barry to sneak Eric into the house for romantic trysts with Sylvia.
At some point, Eric and Sylvia seem to have grown tired of sneaking around. They would later testify that they had decided to elope, but reasoned that to do so, they would need Roy Ferguson out of the picture. To this end, they enlisted the aide of one of Eric’s friends, William Ernest Hamilton. They promised Hamilton £2,500 and, bizarrely, ownership of one of Roy’s hotels, if he would help the two deal with Roy and then drive them out of state so they could be married.
On the night of August 20, 1953, Sylvia left the door ajar at 2 Grays Road. Eric and William crept in, armed with a hammer.
What happened next would divide the three co-conspirators at trial. Sylvia and Eric tried to share the blame for the actual murder with William. Roy had been a violent man, they claimed, and had threatened Sylvia with a gun. She and Eric had appealed to their good friend William to help them escape. They claimed he had agreed to murder Roy not only for money, but to safeguard Sylvia and Eric’s love.
For his part, William claimed that he had not been told of any plans for murder, but had instead been enticed to the premises to take part in a robbery. Eric had told him Roy kept large amounts of cash in his bedroom, and that Sylvia would leave a door unlocked so the two men could burgle the house. He insisted that the idea that Sylvia and Eric were to escape Roy’s clutches and elope was an utter fabrication. The motive behind everything that transpired was plain and simple greed, William said.
Regardless, it was undoubtedly Eric who delivered the fatal blow. The court heard that William lost his nerve at the last moment and handed the hammer to Eric, who kissed Sylvia and then crept into the room where Roy lay sleeping and bashed him in the skull.
It would take a day for Roy to succumb to his injuries, and the trio were arrested almost immediately upon his death. While they argued at trial over the particulars, none could deny the end result.
The three conspirators were handed life sentences. All three appealed, and all three appeals were denied.
The house at 2 Grays Road in Hamilton has changed very little since the events of 20 August 1953. In spite of this, information on the property is scant. There’s no readily available sales data. The upscale suburb, though, is as exclusive as it was in Roy Ferguson’s day. The median house price in Hamilton is $1,190,000.
It’s hard to determine the motives and particulars at play in the murder that happened at 2 Grays Road in 1953, but in the end, the details mattered very little to Roy Ferguson.
Each week, Safe as Houses looks at some of Australia's most notorious murders and the effect those killings have had on real estate values.