Story: Violent crime

Page 3. Controversial murder trials, 1840–1939

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Murder trials have always attracted public attention in New Zealand, particularly if the accused are female, or have relatives who occupy important public positions; or if babies or young children are the victims.

Thomas Hall

Thomas Hall, a member of one of Timaru’s elite families, was also the town’s most notorious murderer. His wife, Kate, inherited the estate of her wealthy stepfather, Captain Henry Cain, and then became mysteriously ill after her son was born, in mid-1886. When a visiting family member fell ill after drinking tea Hall had prepared for Kate, poisoning was suspected. Hall was arrested and found guilty of attempted murder and forgery. He was on the brink of bankruptcy and stood to gain from his wife’s will and two insurance policies.

After the trial, the body of Henry Cain was exhumed and was found to have been poisoned. Hall was convicted of Cain’s murder, but successfully appealed against a death sentence, perhaps because of his upper-class connections. After leaving prison in 1907, Hall received an annuity from his uncle, Sir John Hall, premier of New Zealand from 1879 to 1882.

Minnie Dean

Williamina (Minnie) Dean was the only woman hanged in New Zealand. She was sentenced to death in 1895 for the murder of 11-month-old Dorothy Edith Carter, whose body was buried in the garden of Dean’s home in Winton. The body of another baby, Eva Hornsby (1 month) and the skeleton of a small child were also found buried in the garden. Dean, an unregistered ‘baby farmer’ (who looked after unwanted children for pay), was caring for several other children at the time. Her trial highlighted the vulnerability of children born to unmarried mothers and the limited regulation of their care.

Lionel Terry

Lionel Terry shot Joe Kum Yung in Haining Street, Wellington, on 24 September 1905 as a protest against immigration by non-Europeans to New Zealand. He reported his crime at the nearest police station and handed over the revolver he had used. Terry made grandiose speeches at his trial about the need to rid the British Empire of ‘aliens’ and resisted suggestions that he was mentally ill.

Convicted of murder, his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment on the grounds of insanity. Terry spent the rest of his life in prisons or secure units in Sunnyside and Seacliff mental hospitals. He was frequently involved in escape attempts and violent interactions with prisoners and prison guards, and continued to assert the political nature of his crime.

Daniel Richard Cooper

Discovery of the bodies of three newborn children on a small farm in Newlands in 1923 led to the arrest of Daniel Richard Cooper and his wife, Martha Elizabeth, in Wellington. Cooper (who ran a ‘health business’ that included illegal abortions and adoption arrangements) had already been arrested for criminal abortion. The combination of murder and abortion charges contributed to high public interest in the murder trial. Cooper’s wife’s defence lawyer argued that she was not responsible because her husband had forced her to collaborate with him, and she was acquitted. Daniel Richard Cooper was found guilty and hanged.

How to cite this page:

Greg Newbold, 'Violent crime - Controversial murder trials, 1840–1939', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/violent-crime/page-3 (accessed 16 October 2019)

Story by Greg Newbold, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 18 Mar 2019