I had some research to do for this project I’m working on and I was putting it off and putting it off because I was too lazy to do it and also because I feared that it would take a lot of time to achieve not very much.
Finally, yesterday, I thought, that’s it, you’ve just got to do it, so I signed up for membership at the State Library of Victoria. I go there often to use the internet but this was the first time I’ve tried to access any of their resources.
It was just too easy. I selected two books that I was interested in from their online catalogue, hit the request button, and a sign popped up on the screen saying that my items would be available in 30 minutes. I imagined this whole team of people in the basement being activated the moment I clicked the mouse, beginning to move methodically up and down, left and right, through a grid of bookshelves, combing through rows and rows of books for the titles I needed. It was like playing an arcade game, only better, because I would win every time and the prize would be exactly what I wanted. I could see that this could become addictive.
Shortly after collecting my books, my suspicions that I was not a very effective researcher were confirmed. One of the books was completely useless; my own fault entirely since the main reason I picked it was because I liked the title. Skimming through the contents page of the second book, I forgot all about the focus of my research when my eye alighted on the chapter title The Murder of Margaret Graham.
Of course I had to read it, and it was an interesting case. An attractive, red-headed 18 year old was found murdered in her bed by her husband, sometime in the early 1860s I believe (I’m not such a terrible researcher that I took notes on something irrelevant to my project so I can’t be sure). A casual farm hand who had been camping in the area was arrested on the strong evidence that he had an evil eye. Further damning evidence was the unusual pipe found at the scene of the murder which allegedly belonged to the accused. Or was it taken to the crime scene at a later date? The police investigating the case couldn’t agree on this point. At any rate, a farmer who had once employed the farmhand said he’d seen him with such a pipe. The farmhand was found guilty and hanged. He never confessed to the crime.
Personally, I think it must have been the husband. The victim was alive and well at 9pm and dead by the time he got home from work at midnight. What’s to say he didn’t stab her himself then run out and tell the neighbours she was like that when he found her?
Apparently the murderer entered the house via the chimney and the author of the book I was reading speculated that there would be no need for the husband to enter his own house in such an unconventional manner.
Surely there would be no need for anyone to enter the house in such a ridiculous manner. It certainly wouldn’t be very stealthy. You couldn’t make your escape the same way you came in. You’d have to exit via the front door looking conspicuously sooty and probably leaving a trail of black footprints that would lead the police straight to you. Not to mention the sooty fingerprints you would leave on the body and in the bedroom. I wondered what evidence made the police think this was how the criminal came into the house?
I also wondered if it would be possible to go back and look at newspaper articles and court reports and witness statements from the time to work out who the killer was. It’s been done before: I saw an exhibition in Melbourne Gaol about Colin Ross who was pardoned in 2008, 86 years after being hanged for murder.
But intriguing though it was, I didn’t have any more time to mess about. I knuckled down, got the information I needed, then returned the books to the collection desk.