Safe As Houses: Wedd St, Cheltenham
When a man shows kindness to his down-on-his-luck friend, it proves to be a fatal mistake.
- WARNING: The following article contains descriptions of violent crimes that some may find disturbing.
Murderers don’t come much easier to crack than Percival Barnard. The diminutive, trembling man entered a Cheltenham police station in a daze on the night of 7 October, 1933. In his hand he held a .25 calibre pistol.
To the incredulity of the police on duty, Percy walked up to the desk, shuffled some papers out of the way and put the pistol down. He even stooped to retrieve some errant warrants he’d knocked off the desk when making room for his pistol.
Percy and the officers regarded each other for a moment in stunned silence, until one of them, Senior Constable Charlesworth, finally found his voice to address the bizarre scene.
“Well, what’s wrong with you and what have you been doing with that ugly toy?” he asked Percy.
“I have killed a man,” came the reply.
The man was Percy’s workmate and landlord, Cornelius Smith. To add insult to injury, Cornelius, or Con as he was called, was just returning home from a long day’s work to celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary.
Percy Barnard had been a hard luck figure for years before he stumbled into the Cheltenham police station on the night he shot Con Smith. Once a successful clerk in a Melbourne city office, Percy had fallen on hard times and lost his job. He hunted unsuccessfully for more clerking work, before finally taking a theatre commissionaire, or in today’s parlance, working as a uniformed door-holder.
Still, it was honest work for 56-year-old Percy. Even if he was still something of a disheveled figure, often seen running to catch his train and frequently tardy for work. It was in this work that he met Con, who was employed by the theatre as a cleaner. The two got on well enough, and Con offered Percy a room in his house at Wedd Street in Cheltenham.
While Percy and Con got on just fine, Percy and Con’s wife Ivy got on much, much better.
And so it was that when Con returned home to see his wife for their 25th anniversary, he found her otherwise engaged. With Percy.
The two were in a front bedroom and thought that Con hadn’t heard them when he came home. When some time passed, Percy and Ivy assumed the cuckolded Con had left the house, none the wiser of their tryst. But when Ivy rose to open a window, she found Con lurking just outside.
Percy tried to beat a hasty retreat but was confronted by his friend.
“I’ll do for you!” Con screamed at Percy. “I’ll shoot the pair of you, but first I’ll shoot you!”
Con reached into his pocket to retrieve what Percy assumed was a gun. Unfortunately for Con, Percy was prepared.
As part of his duties working for the theatre, Percy had to carry the night’s takings from the box office to the bank. To protect the deposit, he was required to carry a pistol. For three years he had kept the .25 on his person at all times, but had never had occasion to use it. Until now.
According to Percy, he intended to fire into the air to scare Con away, but Con rushed at him and the gun discharged. Con stumbled away a few metres and then pitched face-forward into the street.
A jury found Percy guilty only of manslaughter, much to the chagrin of the presiding judge.
“Personally speaking, I do not see one single redeeming feature in this case. You carry on an illicit relationship with the wife of this man. When he discovered what was going on and spoke to you about it, you promptly shot him!”
Percy was sentenced to seven years hard labor for his crime.
There’s no record of the street number where the love triangle between the Smiths and Percy Barnard ended so dramatically. A 5-bedroom home on the street recently sold for $2.2 million.
Percy Barnard was a hard luck character for much of his life. But when he finally found luck in love, Cornelius Smith’s luck ran out.
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.