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4 corrections, most recently by sandra.grinter - Show corrections

MURDER OF JOHN GOFTON.

ON Monday, information was received in town, that John Gofton, who escaped from gaol some weeks ago, had been found shot through the head, in the district of the Para

River. For some days past, the police have been on the look out in that neighbourhood, having received information that some sus- picious characters were lurking about. Through the assistance of the natives, the police suc- ceeded in falling upon their tract, which they   followed until it entered a mangrove swamp, near the mouth of the Para. Here, after con- siderable searching, they came upon a miserable hut, in which was found the body of John Gofton, life having left the body, to all ap- pearance, only a short time previous. No fire arms of any description were found in the place, so that no circumstance could encourage the idea that he had committed suicide. On receiving the intelligence, the Coroner, accompanied by two of the jury—the distance being too great for the whole of them to go— set out for the Para to see the body and bring it into town. It was accordingly brought to the Australian Arms, Hindley-street, where the inquest was held. During Tuesday, the body was viewed by a great number of persons, and much interest excited to know the result of the inquest. On Monday night, Lomas, of the horse police—one of the most active and useful men in the force—apprehended a person named Stagg, a companion of Gofton's, and the last person in whose company he was seen. This circumstance, combined with the fact that Stagg was seen riding towards the Para on Sunday with a gun in his hand, made sus- picion light on him as the person likely to have committed the murder. He was, there- fore, lodged in custody until the Coroner's in- quest should return their verdict. When apprehended, several percussion caps, two half bullets, and some money were found in his pockets. It is said he trembled when charged with the murder, but preserved the most dogged silence.   On Thursday afternoon, the long and pain-   ful enquiry before J. W. Nicholls, Esq., and a highly resprctable jury, terminated by their finding a verdict of "wilful murder" against   Joseph Stagg, who was accordingly committed to take his trial at the next Sessions. Without   giving a full report of the very voluminous evidence laid before the jury during the three days of euquiry, we shall give our readers the   particulars upon which the jury founded their verdict. It appeared from the evidence of Inspector     Tolmer and some of the mounted police, that they had been in search of Gofton and others connected with the cattle affair, in the neigh- bourhood of the Little Para, for about nine

days. On Monday morning last, some natives who were assisting the police, pointed out the tracks of a man which were supposed to be Gofton's, and other tracks which were recog- nized as Staggs; in following which, they came upon a kind of wurlie or hut, formed in the swamp scrub, in which they found the body of John Gofton, laying on his back, his arms extended, and quite dead—a fire scarcely ex- tinguished had been close by. On examining the deceased, a gun-shot wound was discovered which, as was afterwards stated by Dr. Wood-   forde, traversed from the right ear through the head, and out on the top of the left side of the head, causing instantaneous death. The police made strict search all round the swamp, but found nothing except the deceased's coat with the sleeves turned inside out, laying in the water close by. The deceased appeared to have been moved a yard or two from the spot where he was shot, and he had no coat on; twelve sovereigns, three half-sovereigns, a cannister of wet powder, a pair of blankets,   and a shirt, were found on or about the de- ceased. From the evidence of Mr and Mrs Robertson, it appears that on Sunday morning last, about ten or eleven o'clock, a man was seen coming past their house, from the direc- tion of Port Gawler. These witnesses stated   in evidence that "they knew Stagg well, they   they saw a man riding by their house very fast, on Sunday morning last, who, from his dress, hat, manner of riding and general appearance   they believed to be Stagg—but it might have been a man with Stagg's dress and horse, and his way of sitting; he was riding very fast towards Adelaide, and from the direction in whi.ch a person in must come on his way from   where the body lay to Adelaide." Mrs Roberton further said, "I know Stagg very well; I should know him in any dress, and anywhere, and to the best of my belief it was Stagg I saw 0n the horse on Sunday." John Baker, who keeps a public-house at Islington, stated that Stagg came to his house on Sunday morning last, about ten or eleven o'clock, and drank a glass of wine; that Stagg's horse was in a great perspiration, and Stagg told him (witness) that he had rode 30 miles since day-light. He (Baker) felt the barrel of a gun in a bag in front of the saddle, and asked Stagg "if he took such things as   that into the bush.'' Stag replied, "the gun belonged to some person in town." Baker then saw Stagg ride towards Adelaide. It appears further, that Stagg went to Hindmarsh Town, and from thence into Adelaide, going up Morphett-street, where he was seen and spoken with by Mr Forrester, at two o'clock or little after. Stagg was afterwards seen about four o'clock in the afternoon, on the other side of the bridge by a policeman, he was riding to- wards North Adelaide, and had a gun under his arm; he went afterwards to the jail, where he staid about an hour and a half. From the evidence produced, it would appear that Stagg rode a different horse in the afternoon of Sunday, to the one he had in the morning. On the second day of enquiry, most important evidence was produced by two policemen, who   had been sent the previous evening to compare the tracks or footmarks near where the body was found, with the shoes found in Stagg's house, on the South Terrace. The policemen swore, that with the assistance of a native, they had found the tracks which corresponded exactly with the shape of the shoes—the shape of which is peculiar, as also is the position of the footsteps, the latter corresponding exactly with Staggs manner of walking—turning the toes out very much. They fell in with the foot-marks about 200 yards from where the body was found, and traced them to within 50 or 100 yards of the spot, but could go no fur- ther, there being an exceedingly high tide, which covered the swamp with water. Several persons swore to the intimacy known to exist between Stagg and Gofton, and to the fact of Stagg having been frequently seen in in the neighbourhood of the Little Para lately, and particularly on the Friday before the mur- der—when the police saw him under suspicious circumstances within a mile of the spot where the body was afterwards found, he had a gun which he attempted to conceal, and said he   was looking for a horse. Stagg gave to the jury a most unsatisfactory account of himself, as to where he was on Sunday last. He said that, on Saturday night   he slept at Black Joe's (Joseph Hatfield's), he did not know what time he get up, or what   time he breakfasted, or what time he went out, whether in the morning or in the afternoon, he was riding on Oakley's horse at Hindmarsh Town and Islington, from thence through North Adelaide to the jail, it was in the after- noon—he had not seen Gofton for three weeks past. Joseph Hatfield said, Stagg lived at his   house ; that he slept there on Saturday and Sunday night; that he breakfasted there on Sunday morning, and was in and out of the house all day; that he (Hatfield) saw Stagg in the house at nine and twelve in the morning. This witness afterwards stated, that he himself wout out abuut nine o'clock, and returned home about two, that he then saw Stagg in the house; that he went out again, and when   he returned about half-past two, Stagg was gone out, and did not return till the even, when he had supper and went to bed. Thomas Oakley deposed to having lent Stagg his father's horse on Saturday, and its being returned by Stagg on Sunday evening; that Stagg ate a hearty supper of beef, bread,   and potatoes, and went home about seven o'clock. The Coroner having summed up the evi- dence at considerable length, the jury retired for about an hour, when they returned a verdict of Wilful Murder against Joseph Stagg.

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