Kōrero: Violent crime

Whārangi 3. Controversial murder trials, 1840–1939

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

Murder trials have always attracted public attention in New Zealand, particularly if the accused is female, or has a relative who is well known; or if a baby or young child was the victim.

Thomas Hall

Thomas Hall, member of an elite Timaru family, 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 in mid-1886, soon after her son was born. 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 had stood to gain from his wife’s will and two insurance policies.

After the trial, the body of Henry Cain was exhumed and he was found to have been poisoned. Hall was convicted of Cain’s murder, but this was overturned on appeal. After leaving prison in 1907, he received an annuity from his uncle, Sir John Hall, who had been premier of New Zealand from 1879 to 1882.

Minnie Dean

Williamina (Minnie) Dean is the only woman ever to have been hanged in New Zealand. She was sentenced to death in 1895 for the murder of 11-month-old Dorothy Edith Carter, whose body had been buried in the garden of Dean’s home in Winton. The body of one-month-old Eva Hornsby and the skeleton of a small child were also found buried in the garden. Dean, an unregistered ‘baby farmer’ (a woman 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 to New Zealand by non-Europeans. Terry reported his crime at the nearest police station and handed over the revolver he had used. At his trial he made grandiose speeches about the need to rid the British Empire of ‘aliens’ and resisted suggestions that he was mentally ill.

Terry was convicted of murder, but his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by reason of insanity. He 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

The discovery of the bodies of three newborn children on a small farm at Newlands, near Wellington, in 1923 led to the arrest of Daniel Richard Cooper and his wife, Martha Elizabeth. 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. Martha’s defence lawyer argued that she was not responsible because her husband had forced her to collaborate with him, and she was acquitted. Cooper was found guilty and hanged.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Greg Newbold, 'Violent crime - Controversial murder trials, 1840–1939', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/violent-crime/page-3 (accessed 27 May 2024)

He kōrero nā Greg Newbold, i tāngia i te 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 3 May 2024 me te āwhina o Greg Newbold