OMEO WOMAN'S DEATH.
POISON FOUND IN BODY.
EVIDENCE AT INQUEST. Husband's Statement Read.
(BY OUR SPECIAL REPORTER.)
OMEO, Tuesday. -Hundreds of people, many of whom had travelled long dis- tances, were unable to gain admit- tance to the Omeo courthouse this morning, when the inquest concerning the death of Mrs. Ethel Constance Griggs, aged 22 years, was resumed before Mr. F. W. Bond, P. M. Mrs. Griggs, who was the wife of the Rev. Ronald Geeves Griggs, Methodist minister, at Omeo, died at her home here on January 3, a few days after her return from Tasmania, where she had been staying with her parents. As a result of persistent rumours in this township Constable McMillan began inquires, which were followed by the exhumation of the body of Mrs. Griggs, and an analysis of the contents of the stomach revealed traces of poison. Later Ronald Geeves Griggs, aged 28 years, was arrested at a homestead, seven miles from Omeo, and was charged with the murder of his wife. Griggs, who has been in the Sale gaol since his arrest, was brought to Omeo last night and lodged in the small lockup attached to the police station. He appeared in custody at the in- quest today. Mr. Llewellyn Jones, a Crown Law officer who was assisted by Detective-sergeant Mulfahey, conducted the case on behalf of the police and Mr. G. H. Wise, of Sale, appeared for Griggs.
Outlining the case for the police Mr. Jones said that Griggs and his wife were married on April 7, 1925, and shortly after wards they came to Omeo. Griggs later became acquainted with Miss Lottie Con- don, the daughter of a member of the church congregation, and as a result of re- lations between the two Mrs. Griggs com- plained. She left her husband in July, 1927, and went to Tasmania to live with her people. Evidence would be given to show that three months before the death of his wife Griggs had discussed the question of marriage with Miss Condon. When Mrs. Griggs returned home on January 1 her husband prepared her a meal of tea and bread and butter, and immediately after- wards she became ill. The following morn- ing she was better but with the next meal she again became ill, and this sickness con- tinued until the following evening, when a doctor whom Griggs had called in pre- scribed a sedative for his wife. It would be shown that Mrs. Griggs became worse after her husband had given her a dose of medi-
cine, and that Griggs awoke the following morning to find his wife dead. After the exhumation of the body the contents of the stomach were taken to Melbourne and in those organs the Government analyst had found 15½ grains of arsenic.
Detective-sergeant Mulfahey of Melbourne, said:- I began my investigations on January 18, and interviewed Miss Lottie Condon at her home at Tongio, where she made a signed statement. I then interviewed Griggs at a place called The Walnuts, and told him that I was inquiring into rumours con-
cerning the death of his wife. He accom- panied me to the Swifts Creek police sta- tion where he made the following state-
Statement by Griggs.
It will be two years next April since I took charge of the Omeo circuit. Prior to that I was
at Queen's College, Carlton for two years, and
was 18 months at the home mission station at Wilmot (Tas.) I was married on April 7 1925 to Ethel Constance White, at Railton (Tas.)
I was on good terms with my wife at Omeo, and she did not at any time complain about my conduct with Lottie Condon. My wife did com- plain about my stroking Lottie Condon's forehead one day at the parsonage. My wife did threaten to commit suicide at Omeo one night just before the baby was born. She asked me, "Would that rope hanging up in the shed hang me?" I said
"No: do not be silly." Late in July she went to Tasmania, and I heard from her every week while she was away. She returned home on Saturday night, December 31, by car, and she seemed quite well. She later said that she had been very sick, so I gave her a cup of tea and some biscuits. She did not drink all the tea. On Sunday morning she got up and that night I
saw Dr. Mathew and the chemist who gave me some medicine. I gave my wife the powders and medicine as directed. She slept on and off and was sick during the night. On Monday, January 2, she did not appear to be any better and I went for the doctor. I was alone in the house with my wife. The doctor arrived and
told me to give my wife more medicine to stop the sickness. She again became very ill, and was tossing about restless.
After having detailed that he and a neighbour, Mrs. Mitchell, had tried to stop the vomiting Griggs said that he was awak- ened at 1 o'clock the following morning by the baby crying. The statement con-
"I went to my wife's room and found her dead. When the doctor came I said, "What do you think it was, doctor?" He said 'The heart.' I said 'Do you think the injection would affect the heart?' He said 'Of course it does affect the heart, but I could see nothing in the condition of the heart to indicate that I should not have ad- ministered it.' I asked the doctor what I had to do. He said 'Come down for the death certifi- cate.' Later I said 'Do you want to make an inquiry, Doctor?' He said 'No, I am satisfied.' I asked that because it seemed so sudden. I got the certificate and my wife was buried at the Omeo cemetery on January 4.
Purchase of Poison.
"About 12 months ago I bought 1/ worth of
strychnine at Wade's chemist shop, Bairnsdale. At the same time I bought some prussic acid to poison a dog. I poured the acid out and threw it away. I still the strychnine. I have been on friendly terms with Lottie Condon, and she has stayed at the parsonage at different times with my wife and myself. Latterly my wife was unfriendly towards Lottie. I admit that I did promise to marry Lottie Condon when my wife got a separation. Lottie Condon's statement is true that there had been misconduct. I admit that the death of my wife looks suspicious, but I have in no way been the cause of it. On two separate occasions Lottie Condon came to the Omeo parsonage on horseback, and on each occasion she came into my own bedroom. She was then stopping at Mr. John Paynes house. She used to come out after the Paynes had gone to bed, and return before they were up. I have on more than one occasion discussed with Lottie Condon how we were going to be together."
Girl's Statement Read.
Detective sergeant Mulfahey then read the following statement made by Lottie Elizabeth Condon, aged 20 years, single, of
I had been on friendly terms with Mr. and Mrs. Griggs. A month after their arrival at the parsonage at Omeo I spent a week with them, and at Christmas, 1926 I spent a further week there at Mr. Griggs's invitation. Since then I have spent one night, at the parsonage. Mrs. Griggs was there. On the last occasion, December, 1926, there was a disagreement between Griggs and his wife. She seemed rather jealous of me being there. She asked if there was anything between her husband and me and I said 'No.' "
After describing the relations which existed between her and Griggs, the statement by Lottie Condon told of numerous occasions upon which they met, including once at Wagga, when she told him that it would be better if they did not meet again. The statement proceeded:-
Promise of Marriage.
"On Sunday morning at church Griggs said that his wife was sick, but he thought it was due to the seasickness coming back from Tasmania. When he came in after church she was sitting up in bed playing with the baby and she seemed all right. I did not see her again. Mrs. Mitchell rang up my mother on Tuesday morning and told her that Mrs. Griggs was dead. Griggs told me that she was coming home but not to stay,
as she was going back again. He said that they would not live together any more. He has pro- mised to marry me. This was discussed by him
months ago and it was at his suggestion. Mrs. Griggs was coming home only for belongings. I knew that Griggs had studied chemistry. My
father keeps poisons in the house. I have never
seen Griggs with poison and I have never heard him say that he would poison his wife. I did not know that there was any poison in the wool-
shed or the blacksmith's shop. I have never given Griggs any poison."
Poison Kept in Shed.
Continuing, Detective-sergeant Mulfahey said:- I read Miss Condon's statement to Griggs and he said that it was correct. Then he went to the parsonage, where he produced two bottles, which I handed to the Government analyst. On the following day I saw Griggs at home and he said,
"I know now that my wife must have died from poisoning. She knew where I kept some poison. I always kept strychnine in the shed. I did not have any other poison in the house while my wife was ill." Griggs told me that he did not have any disagreement with his wife when she returned home. He said also that when he was giving his wife a dose of medicine on the morning before she died she said "Ron, if you love me do not give me any more of that medi-
cine." On a later occasion Griggs said to me, "If poison is found in my wife's body will the statement which I made in the first place be produced at the inquest?" I said "Yes:" and he replied, "I would not have made that statement if the girl Condon had not done so." After the exhumation of the body and the analysis of the contents of the stomach I returned to Omeo from Melbourne, and again interviewed Griggs. He told me that he had prepared a meal for his wife upon her return from Tasmania. He admitted to me that he had stayed at Condon's home once for four days and that he had had the run of the place. I said,
Condon says that you were in his black- smith's shop for hours at a time on one occasion and that he kept arsenic in both this building and his woolshed." Griggs replied that he did not know there was any poison in either place. Griggs told me that he had applied for the £200 insur-
ance on his wife, as he wanted it for the
Poison Found In Body.
Charles Anthony Taylor, Government analyst, said:- I analysed the contents of the stomach of Mrs. Griggs, and found that the organs contained a total amount of 15½ grains of arsenic. I could find no trace of lead in the organs. I also exam- ined a bottle of medicine handed to me by the police, but it did not contain ar-
Dr C. H. Mollison, Government patho- logist, who made a post mortem examina- tion of the body of Mrs. Griggs after it had been exhumed, said that death had been due to poisoning. The amount of the arsenic found in the stomach alone was more than a fatal dose and he was of the opinion that the last dose of poison had been received by Mrs. Griggs not long be- fore her death. Sickness and vomiting were common symptoms of arsenic poison- ing. Arsenic itself was practically taste-
Mrs. Griggs's Illness.
Dr A. C. Mathew, Bell street, Coburg, said: -While I was at Omeo on exchange duty with Dr. Langdon, Griggs called to see me and said he wanted something for his wife, who had just returned from Tas- mania. I gave him a prescription, but next morning he returned and said that his wife was no better. I visited Mrs. Griggs, who appeared to be very restless, but her temperature and heart action were normal. Mrs Griggs said, "I am still vomiting, and I have pain in the stom- ach." I remarked upon the fact that only a little of the medicine had been used. I decided to give her a dose, and she vom- ited before taking the medicine. The only reason she suggested for her illness was that she had had a bad trip from Tasmania. I formed the opinion that the voyage and long train and coach jour- ney to Omeo had upset her, causing vomit- ing, and an unstable nervous system had kept the vomiting going. Her condition did not appear serious. I saw her the same evening, and she was very restless and unable to go to sleep, so I gave her an injection of morphia and left. I was called to the house again at half past 1 o'clock the next morning and found Mrs. Griggs dead. I thought she must have died quietly in her sleep. I came to the conclusion that death was due to heart failure, following exhaustion from exces- sive vomiting. I could not conceive that an injection would cause death. Griggs said, "Will you give me a death certificate?" I said, "I see no good purpose in with- holding it. I do not suppose you want any publicity." He said, "No. I would not like to think of the body being cut up." Griggs suggested that he should conduct the funeral service but I said it would be wiser if he did not. Mrs. Griggs had not shown any signs of wanting
to take her own life.
Inquiry About Poisons.
Francis John Perry, chemist, Bay street, Omeo, said:- Griggs came to my shop on two occasions about 18 months ago and in- quired about sulphuric and nitric acids, cyanide and arsenic, but he did not buy any. He said that he wanted acids for experiments in assaying, but he appeared reluctant to enter into conversation or answering questions, and for that reason I did not feel inclined to sell him any.
Mr. Wise.- When was the first time you thought of these incidents?
Witness. - When Constable McMillan
came to see me.
Mr. Wise.- I thought so.
Witness.- I recalled incidents when there were so many rumours about the death of
Lottie Elizabeth Condon was the next
On the application of Mr. Wise, the coroner cleared the court while this wit- ness's evidence was being taken, even the press being excluded.
John Henry Condon, grazier of Tongio, said:-I was on friendly terms with Griggs, who stayed at my house on several occa- sions, sometimes for days at a time. He had the freedom of my home. I kept a large quantity of arsenic in a blacksmith's shop and the woolshed and some arsenate of lead in the storeroom. I had about 80lb. of arsenic. I have seen Griggs in the black- smith's shop on two occasions mending his motor-cycle, one occasion being in Decem- ber when I went with Detective-Sergeant Mulfahey to look at the case which con- tained arsenic. It was nailed down, and did not look as if it had been opened. The last time I opened it was five years ago. There was a drum of arsenic on a shelf, 9ft. high in the woolshed, and I also had a bottle of arsenate of lead in the store
To Mr. Wise.-The drum in the wool- shed had not been used for 15 years.
Henry Harmen, farmer, Ensay, said:- Griggs and Miss Condon stayed at my place in December and January. Griggs stayed there on other occasions as well. I had a quantity of arsenic and kept it in a billy-
can in the washhouse.
At this stage the Court adjourned until 9 o'clock to-morrow morning.
Many more witnesses are to be called, and it is probable that the inquiry will last all day.