The Blue Mountains Murders
In 1893, a mysterious man arrived in Sydney. Having many aliases, the main one used was Frank Butler. After a long criminal past through Europe, America, Chile and Coolgardie, he headed for Sydney with a stolen Mining Engineers Certificate.
Rather than prospecting for gold, Butler realised that murdering his companions would be a faster and more lucrative venture. Three prospectors were quickly dispatched, buried in shallow graves and their belongings stolen. Assuming the identity of his last victim, “Lee Weller”, Butler obtained a job on the Swanhilda, leaving on the 23rd November bound for San Francisco.
Friends soon reported the missing men, and Detective John Roche was assigned to the case. Blacktrackers found their camp near Glenbrook, sparking a frenzied search in the lower Blue Mountains. Three bodies were later found.
The Swanhilda had been at sea for two weeks when an exchange of newspapers occurred with another ocean steamer. On reading newspaper stories of the “Blue Mountains Murders”, the Captain realised the suspect was aboard his ship and used the telegraph to discreetly advise the NSW police.
John Roche now knew where his suspect was, but needed to catch him before he disappeared into the vastness of America. Acting fast, he took a train to Adelaide via Melbourne and a steamer to London. Travelling to New York and then overland to San Francisco, this was an enormous journey at the time. Arriving just ahead of the Swanhilda, John Roche immediately made preparations for the arrest of the fugitive.
On the 2nd February, Swanhilda entered San Francisco harbour. Butler was immediately identified by local police and arrested at gunpoint. Taken by complete surprise, he did not resist.
The news of the dramatic arrest by the heroic NSW detectives spread fast, becoming a popular newspaper story. On return to Sydney, Butler was found guilty and hanged in Darlinghurst Gaol.
For John Roche, it had been a major case, a long and harrowing trip around the world, but, in the end, he had seen justice done and the case successfully closed. The case launched him to new heights in the NSW Police Force for his doggedness, thoroughness and relentless courage in pursuing a dangerous criminal. The chase would also go down in Police legend as one of the great criminal investigations with the name of John Roche at the very centre of the enquiry.
Next: The Company is Born (1899-1923)
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