Safe as Houses: Segenhoe Street, Arncliffe
A couple can’t keep their story straight after a surprised homeowner finds a body in her yard.
- WARNING: The following article contains descriptions of violent crimes that some may find disturbing.
When Betty Hillier returned home on 16 February 1952, she knew right away something was amiss.
Betty had been staying at a friend’s house, and when she came home in the morning it was obvious that intruders had been in her home at Segenhoe Street, Arncliffe. There was broken glass on the floor and it was clear someone had forced entry through a window. There were signs of a drinking party, one to which Betty obviously hadn’t been invited. But nothing appeared to be missing, so she dismissed the incident as a harmless, if odd, occurrence.
In the week ahead, Betty would notice a foul smell emanating from her backyard. A neighbour even asked her if perhaps one of the family’s cats had died. The next Sunday, the source of the odour would become terrifyingly clear.
“I came back from taking my four-year-old son Garry to school this morning and found police all over the place,” she told police. “This was the first I knew of the body.”
The body in question was 52-year-old John “Jack” William Toon, a glass works employee from Cronulla with a reputation for hard-drinking. His body, partially hidden under some brambles, had obviously been there for some time. It was decomposed to the point that a cause of death wasn’t immediately clear.
“My son never plays in the part of the yard where the man was found,” Betty assured police and, most likely, herself.
Betty had never met the man before in her life. However, she had met the last two people to see him alive.
A few days before the break-in, Betty had attended a gathering at a neighbour’s house. There she was introduced to Molly Tommerup and Ronald Simpson. She’d mentioned to the two that she might be willing to take them on as boarders. Apparently, that was all the invitation they needed.
On the evening of 15 February, Molly and Ron made Jack’s acquaintance at a wine bar in Newtown. The three decided for reasons entirely unclear to move their party to Betty’s house in Arncliffe.
They bought a couple of bottles of wine and headed to Segenhoe Street. When they arrived and Betty wasn’t home, they decided to let themselves in via a kitchen window.
Once there, they seem to have made themselves right at home. Ron even excused himself to go to the bathroom to shave.
Here the stories about what happened next begin to diverge. When she was first interviewed about what had happened, Molly painted a picture of a sweet old man taken off-guard by her friend Ron’s sudden aggression.
The view down Segenhoe Street today. Source: Google Maps
“Jack was sitting in a chair on the arm of which I was sitting. His conduct was not improper. I should say he was a decent old man,” she said.
But Ron had it in his head to rob the old man, Molly said.
“I went out to the bathroom and asked Ron not to do anything to him. Ron said he wouldn’t, but when he came into the lounge he was hostile. He walked straight over and hit the poor old fellow.”
Somehow Molly’s story changed from one police interview to the next. Sweet old Jack was now painted as a lecherous predator.
“When Ron was in the bathroom, Jack made up to me and put his arms around me. I didn’t like it and went and told Ron. Ron came in and told him to keep his hands off me,” she said.
Then Ron hit Jack, who fell over backwards with glazed eyes.
Ron told a shifting story as well, but in the reverse order of Molly’s. His tale saw Jack transform from sinner to saint from one interview to the next.
“Molly came out and told me old Jack was pawing her and making some rude suggestions. When I got back to the lounge he was trying to put his arms around her,” Ron initially told detectives.
But then his story shifted dramatically.
“Jack was not trying to put his arms around Molly when I went back to the lounge. She came out to the bathroom and told me he seemed a decent old chap.”
The truth of the matter is that the two had met Jack at a wine bar and happened to spy him tucking a few notes into his sock. At that point they conspired to take him to Betty Hillier’s house, get him drunk and rob him.
It seems Jack was such a sweet old fellow that Molly had second thoughts.
“[Molly] asked me not to rob him but I went on with it,” Ron finally confessed.
Ron had strode into the lounge, and with no warning had hit Jack in the jaw.
“When I saw him unconscious I got frightened,” Ron said. “I took him into the yard and pulled some brambles over him so he would not be seen. He appeared to be dead, but you know how it is. You always hope for the best.”
The best was not to come. Decent old Jack was indeed dead. Once the story was finally straightened out, Ron would be sentenced to 12 years’ hard labour for manslaughter. Molly was lucky to come away without charge.
Though there's no record of the house number for the Segenhoe Street property where Jack Toon was so unceremoniously laid to rest, the median price in the suburb is $1,322,500. A recent sale on Segenhoe Street saw a four-bedroom house go for $1,850,000.
Betty Hillier had been ready to open her home to Ron Simpson and Molly Tommerup. But the two had taken her up on her offer much quicker, and with far more disturbing consequences, than the could have imagined.