Safe As Houses: 225 Murray Street, Rockhampton
Police conduct becomes the focus of a murder trial, while the actual murder takes a backseat.
- WARNING: The following article contains descriptions of violent crimes that some may find disturbing.
Whether or not Julia Thompson murdered her husband Alexander ended up being less of an issue at her trial than how the police had gone about proving it.
Comparing someone’s tactics to fascism is such a common rhetorical weapon these days it’s lost most of its punch. But it must have been particularly poignant when the judge presiding over the case at the height of World War II compared the Queensland police to the German Gestapo. Those words ended up hanging heavier over the trial than Julia Thompson’s actual guilt or innocence.
Julia and Alexander lived at 225 Murray Street in Rockhampton. Alexander was a railway machinist who often worked nights. The implications of his schedule depend on whether one believes the Thompsons’ neighbours were true and reliable witnesses, as the police would paint them, or meddlesome and vindictive busybodies, as Julia Thompson would paint them.
The house at 225 Murray St, Rockhampton. Source: Google Maps 2016
According to Julia and Alexander’s neighbours, the couple often fought. The source of these fights, they said, was Julia’s ongoing friendship with a man named Gill.
This “friendship” had seen Alexander storm out of the house after Julia on several occasions when she had brazenly left for a rendezvous with Gill, her neighbours said. It had seen him openly bemoan to his neighbours his wife’s infidelity. And, police claimed, it had ultimately seen him murdered by strychnine poisoning.
On March 4, 1942, Alexander took some Bex headache powder from the medicine cabinet at the couple’s home at 225 Murray Street and put it in his bag to take to work. Neighbours would later testify that when he had earlier gone to the chemist to buy some, Julia had loudly protested that he should use the Bex already in the house. Hours later, he would be dead.
An autopsy confirmed the presence of strychnine, likely ingested through the Bex. Both Julia and her friend Gill argued to police that Alexander had been suicidal, and had become convinced he had stomach cancer due to an ulcer. The problem with this theory is that the autopsy found no ulcer.
It was the way that the police conducted their investigation that would prove to be Julia Thompson’s salvation. They held her in a darkened interrogation room for seven hours, pressing her for a confession in spite of her repeated assertions of innocence. She answered every witness statement from her neighbours in the same dismissive fashion: “That’s lies”.
At Magistrate’s Court for her committal hearing, the grilling by police investigators continued over the loud protestations of Julia’s solicitor.
Once she was committed to stand trial, it was the police who found themselves the focus of the proceedings. Both Julia’s solicitor and the presiding judge took them to task for their “Gestapo” tactics, with the judge going so far as to say that the inspector in charge of the investigation “does not seem to know much about his job at all”.
A jury would find Julia not guilty, as the only evidence presented was hearsay that Julia had repeatedly denied. The police had no proof Julia had ever been in possession of strychnine and no physical evidence linking her to the crime.
In reading the verdict, though, the presiding judge reserved some strong words for Julia, particularly about her statements that there was nothing untoward in her relationship with Gill.
“I don’t believe that, and I don’t believe you do. Gill seems to be a rotter. He is the cause of this trouble, no matter how it happened whether it was suicide or murder. Gill is at the root of a lot of it by hanging around a married woman when he has a wife and family.”
It’s unclear if the house currently sitting at 225 Murray Street is the same one where the drama between Julia, Alexander and Gill unfolded. It last sold in 2014 for $200,000, and CoreLogic pegs that price as the upper end of its current estimated value.
Julia Thompson was declared not guilty by a jury of her peers, so it would be wrong to ascribe guilt to her for a crime for which she was exonerated. One must wonder, though, how differently her trial may have turned out had the police and their tactics not taken centre stage.
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.