Safe As Houses: 7 Bosisto Street, Richmond

Adam Smith 9 June 2017

Safe as houses 7 bosisto st richmond

A Richmond home sees the end of a decade-long tragedy.

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

The scene that played out in May of 1934 at 7 Bosisto Street in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond was unspeakably sad and tragic, and proved the heartbreaking culmination of events set in motion more than a decade prior.

Sydney tabloid Truth would be nigh-histrionic in its descriptions of Frank O’Brien, calling him a “fiend” and a “maniacal demon” consumed by “unaccountable bloodlust”. But these melodramatic descriptions are, of course, a gross oversimplification. It would be wrong to paint Frank O’Brien purely as a victim, given his heinous crimes, but to call him a “demoniacal school master” may have mischaracterised the situation.

Truth was right about one thing, though: Frank O’Brien probably shouldn’t have been let out of hospital.

Safe as houses 7 bosisto st Richmond

7 Bosisto St, Richmond in 2016. Source: Google Maps.

Problems started for Frank in the 1920s when he was headmaster of a school in Mildura. His mental state is revealed in an intensely personal letter he wrote to an old friend.

“I do not know what is wrong with me but since September I have been gradually going downhill. Physical exertion and mental work alike are an unendurable burden on me. I do not feel fit for anything at all. I thought at first that a good rest during the Christmas vacation might fix me up but it has not done so, so far. I seem to have no interest in life. In fact, life has become one long agony. I see ahead the dreadful possibility of a complete breakdown, bringing ruin and misery on my wife and helpless children.”

In 1922, he was hospitalised for a time after taking an axe to the lockers at Mildura State School. The constable who attended the scene in the aftermath said Frank had “a vacant look” when he was taken to the police station. His wife, Clara, wept when she went to the station to see her husband.

In the letter to his friend, Frank expressed his worry that his “mind [was] going permanently, and [his] brain diseased”. He admitted he had tried to hide his illness from his family.

On 26 January of 1924, Frank could hide his illness no longer. Frank and Clara’s son would later testify that he heard a commotion from his parents’ bedroom, and that soon after his father sprang from the room and attacked him. After a brief struggle, Frank collapsed into a chair, crying, “What have I done?”

What he had done was use a hammer to strike fatal blows to Clara’s skull. When police came to take Frank away, he was wandering around the kitchen in a daze.

Eventually, Frank would be declared not guilty by reason of insanity. He was instead consigned to the Mont Park mental health facility, and released three years later. The conditions of his release stipulated that he was to make weekly check-ins with a doctor at the facility. He dutifully complied for three years, before disappearing from the mental health system.

He only reappeared on the day of May 28, 1934. By then Frank O’Brien and his entire family were dead.

Bendigo Murder clipping

A news clipping from the time. Source: Trove

In the Mont Park hospital, Frank had met Rose, a fellow patient. The two had fallen in love and had married, and eventually had three children. They settled into their home on 7 Bosisto Street.

Obviously, Frank’s past made it untenable to continue to work in the education system. Instead, he was only able to find casual work as a wharf labourer. It was quite a fall from respected headmaster to semi-unemployment.

When police entered 7 Bosisto Street on May 28, they found Frank, Rose and their three children dead by Frank’s hand. The only clue to Frank’s state of mind was a note he had left complaining of insomnia, though it made no reference to the murder of his family.

The house at 7 Bosisto Street is the same one in which Frank O’Brien’s story came to a tragic, bloody end, his illness ultimately claiming innocent victims. The house last sold in May of 2012 for $680,000, and CoreLogic estimates its current value anywhere from $870,000 to $1,099,999. Its legacy remains as the setting for the end of a long, heartbreaking story.

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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