Safe As Houses: 80 Concord Road, North Strathfield
A young man’s impulse ends with the wrong man murdered.
- WARNING: The following article contains descriptions of violent crimes that some may find disturbing.
Deciding whether or not Lindsay Frederick Bell was a murderer came down to one central question: What role does intent play?
Bell, only 23 years old, sat motionless and terrified through his trial as a jury dealt with this question. There was no doubt Lindsay had killed William Katen at a house at 80 Concord Road in what is now the Sydney suburb of North Strathfield. On that much, the police had him dead to rights.
There was also no doubt that Lindsay had gone to the house to commit murder. He’d made his intentions entirely clear when William Katen’s daughter answered the door to find him standing on the front step, shotgun in hand.
The central question was whether Lindsay Bell was guilty of William Katen’s murder when he’d meant to kill Katen's grandson instead.
Lindsay lived in the same neighbourhood as William and William’s grandson, Neville Fittler. He seems to have been quite friendly with the family, and he and Neville, who was of a similar age, had been friends for a couple years.
Then on 13 October of 1934, things went spectacularly south.
It all started apparently because Lindsay wanted to invite Neville out for a drink. He and his friend Tom Lewis had been drinking for most of the afternoon, and were well and truly legless by the time they headed back to Concord Road to find their friend Neville. In fact, Tom’s father testified at trial that his son had been “silly drunk” when he and Lindsay had arrived at the Fittler home.
It seems to be a very small thing that set the deadly events in motion. Lindsay and Tom went to the Fittler home and Tom rapped on a window to try to summon Neville. The window broke, and the two headed out for another round of drinking.
The broken window seems to have incensed Neville, though. At trial, Lindsay’s defence tried to paint Neville as a quarrelsome character, always looking for a fight, and said he had “engaged in fisticuffs” professionally. Neville had done some amateur boxing, but he rejected the idea that he was naturally quarrelsome.
He was certainly feeling quarrelsome the night of 13 October, though. When Lindsay came back to Concord Road, Neville confronted him about the window and the two fought in the street. It was William Katen who intervened, pulling his grandson away from Lindsay and telling Lindsay to beat a hasty retreat “before [he] got [his] brains knocked out”.
Lindsay wasn’t about to take the defeat gracefully. He came back to the Fittler home at 80 Concord Road that evening, carrying with him a shotgun with four shells. When Neville’s aunt answered the door, Lindsay told her, “There is one for Neville, one for Tom Lewis, one for me and one in case I miss”.
But, again, Neville wasn’t home. Instead Lindsay found himself confronted with William, who he would later testify had always been kind to him. According to Lindsay, in the scuffle that followed the gun went off and William was killed.
“Mr. Katen was a friend of mine, one of the last I’d ever think of hurting,” Lindsay told his trial. “I had a lot to drink that afternoon and had no idea what I was doing. I am very sorry for the trouble I have caused to Mr. Katen’s family.”
Lindsay wouldn’t have thought of hurting William Katen, but he had very much intended to hurt Neville Fittler and Tom Lewis. He had gone to 80 Concord Road with murder in his heart. It was the jury’s task to decide if this intent made him a murderer, even if he hadn’t harmed his intended targets.
In the end, Lindsay was found guilty only of manslaughter. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
Source: Google Maps
It’s difficult to determine if the house at 80 Concord Road is the same one in which Lindsay Bell killed William Katen. There’s little data available on the house, though the one next door at 78 Concord Road is valued at $1,741,820.
A snap decision made in a haze of alcohol ended up changing the course of Lindsay Bell’s life and ending William Katen’s. Though harming William wasn’t his intent, Lindsay Bell’s murderous rage found a target, intentional or not.