Safe as Houses: 24 Banfield Street, Downer

Adam Smith 6 July 2017 NEWS

Police tape in front of a house

A couple’s decision to take a young man under their wing ends in murder.

  • WARNING: The following article contains descriptions of violent crimes that some may find disturbing.

It’s interesting to consider whether more than 50 years of increased awareness about mental illness could have made a difference to the verdict handed to Angelo Panarello. Would a jury, knowing what we do now about schizophrenia, have sentenced him to hang? Regardless of the answer, it’s safe to say it would have made little difference to Bruno and Mary Moras.

Twenty-year-old Angelo had moved to Downer, ACT, to be close to his fiancé, Ann. He found work with Bruno Moras, a fruit shop owner who befriended the young man and served as a bit of a mentor.

Bruno was always there when Angelo needed a sympathetic ear. Angelo faced some difficulties with his future in-laws, who were concerned he couldn’t provide a reasonable standard of living for their daughter. He’d share his troubles with Bruno, who said Angelo had always seemed a friendly, if mercurial, young man. Bruno and Mary had invited Angelo round to their house at 24 Banfield Street many times.

The house at 24 Banfield Street

Source: Realestate.com.au

But Bruno didn’t just provide a sympathetic ear. He was also generous with his finances, and loaned Angelo money on several occasions. All in all, he’d lent Angelo about £700. The precise amount of this loan would become crucial when Angelo eventually went to trial.

On the night of September 2, 1964, Angelo visited Bruno and Mary at 24 Banfield Street. He happened to see an overnight bag stuffed with cash, earnings from Bruno’s several fruit shops. He asked Bruno how much it amounted to.

“Oh, about £700,” came the reply.

On September 3, Angelo didn’t show up for work. Filled with concern for his friend, Bruno went to Angelo’s house in Bega Flats and took along medicine, in case the young man had fallen ill. Angelo returned to work with Bruno, but later in the afternoon asked to go home, saying he felt weak and sleepy.

That night, as Bruno was at one of his fruit shops unloading a shipment, Angelo called upon Mary at 24 Banfield Street. Witnesses saw him enter the house. Some time later they heard a scream and a loud thump, and then saw Angelo exit nonchalantly.

Mary was found asphyxiated with an electrical cord wrapped around her neck. Missing was the money in the overnight bag, actually £620.

News article about the murder

Source: Myheritage.com

Police would eventually find Angelo at a home in Five Dock in Sydney. He asked only for a moment to say goodbye to his fiancé, and then willingly accompanied them and signed a confession.

Angelo expressed remorse, saying he didn’t know why he’d killed Mary. Yet, police claimed he showed little emotion, even when shown graphic photographs of the crime scene. Instead, he wordlessly examined them from different angles for around 15 minutes.

Angelo would also go on to blame his in-laws for the predicament he found himself in.

“As far as I’m concerned, they are to blame for Mary’s death,” he told detectives, lamenting that Ann’s parents would no longer let her speak to him or return his letters. He was nonplussed that the two couldn’t follow through on their planned marriage, and asked that a message be delivered to his erstwhile fiancé.

“I would like to tell you something, Ann. If you don’t marry me because [of] your parents, one day you will be sorry. Not that I hurt you or anything, but things that I done for you, and I find myself in this position now. You will never forget that I loved you, respect you more than anything else in the world and now even you turn your back on me.”

At his trial, a doctor would testify that Angelo was suffering from schizophrenia. The illness was so little understood at the time that newspaper reports from the time put the word in quotes and offered definitions. According to Angelo’s defence, he couldn’t be held criminally accountable for his actions, and should instead be hospitalised.

The jury didn’t seem to understand the doctor’s claims, and sentenced Angelo to death by hanging. His lawyers would appeal, and lose, on the grounds that the judge hadn’t properly explained to the jury that they should be considering an insanity defence.

Ultimately, Angelo wouldn’t hang for his crime. His sentence was later commuted to 20 years on account of good behaviour.

It’s difficult to say if the house currently at 24 Banfield Street is the same one in which Angelo Panarello murdered Mary Moras. While it appears to be an older home, no information is available on the date of its construction. It last sold in December 2001 for $262,000, and CoreLogic puts its current value between $690,000 and $869,999.

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.

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