On December 26, 1898, three siblings left their farm in a rural part of Queensland to go to a dance in the nearby small town of Gatton. The next morning, their brother-in-law got on a horse and rode off to find them or the borrowed cart. After looking for a few minutes, he saw what looked like piles of clothes lying still under the hot summer sun.
On the evening of December 26, 1898, three siblings from a large farming family called the Murphys rode in a horse-drawn cart down a rural road in Queensland, Australia, towards the small town of Gatton.
It was the day after Christmas, or Boxing Day, which is a continuation of the Christmas holiday in Britain and other parts of Europe. In 1900, there were only 450 people living in Gatton, which was made up of Irish, German, and English families, so most, if not all, of the people there celebrated Boxing Day. In 1898, parts of Australia were still ruled by the British, so Boxing Day was a big holiday with a tradition of giving to others and being kind.
On the road that night, Michael, Nora, and Ellen Murphy would run into anything but peace and goodwill.
The siblings decided to go to a town dance at the Tarampa Divisional Hall, which was a few miles from their family’s farm. Michael, who was 29 and had been working at a nearby government farm, came home for the holidays. He decided to take his younger sisters, Nora, 27, and Ellen, 18, into town for some socialising, even though their overbearing mother Mary didn’t like the idea.
When they got to town, the dance hall was dark and empty because the party had been called off. Witnesses said that the Murphy cart, which is also called a “sulky,” turned around right away and creaked back towards their farm.
When the Murphy family woke up the next morning, Michael, Nora, and Ellen had not come home. They didn’t know the dance had been cancelled, so at first they weren’t worried. Farm town dances often went on until the early hours of the morning, but when the three Murphy children didn’t show up by 8 a.m., the husband of the oldest Murphy child, William McNeil, decided to take a horse and go look for them. He didn’t have to look for long to find the cart’s tracks on the road. McNeil owned the cart that the Murphys used to get to the dance. It had a bent wheel that left clear divots in the dirt road.
McNeil followed the tracks into a nearby paddock, which is a grassy area surrounded by a fence where horses and cattle are let out to graze. Not too far from the road, he found a strange scene: his in-laws were lying on the ground in a gum tree grove. To him, it looked like they were sleeping. As he got closer, though, he saw that they were not peacefully sleeping. Instead, Michael, Nora, and Ellen were all lying dead under the hot Australian summer sun. They had been brutally killed by someone he didn’t know.
The brutality of the murders shocked, scared, and interested the 450 people who lived in the small town. They thought the murders would be solved in a day or two. After the investigation went wrong, though, the Gatton Mystery became one of the most well-known unsolved murder cases in Australia. It is still a mystery that amateur and professional detectives are trying to solve to this day.
The Gatton Murders are told here.
Gatton is a small town in southeastern Australia. It is about 60 miles west of Brisbane. It started out as a small town where Royal Mail coaches stopped to change horses and water them on long trips. By the middle of the 1850s, the village had its gazettal. This means that an official publication was set up to give the British colonial government information like notices of land acquisition, government orders, and the by-laws of companies with a royal charter. This is the first step towards becoming a real residential area. By the 1860s, land plots were being sold to private families.
In 1875, a train station was built in Gatton, and the town and farms around it began to grow. It became a place where immigrant families wanted to live because it had cheap land and new opportunities for their children.
Daniel Murphy Sr., the head of the Murphy family, and Mary Holland, who would become the next head of the family, moved to Australia from Ireland at different times between 1862 and 1865. During these years, a lot of Irish people moved to Australia, while only a few moved to the United States because of naval blockades during the Civil War.
As was common for people who came to work, Daniel got a job building the railroad soon after he got there. He put rail between the cities of Ipswich and Toowoomba. The town of Gatton was in the middle of this route. He met Mary Holland, who was probably working as a housekeeper. They got married around 1866 and moved to a rented farm near Blackfellows Creek outside of Gatton. The Murphys were able to make a pretty good life for themselves over the next 30 years or so with the help of their ten children.
By 1898, the land they rented had more than 300 acres of green pastures with trees and land for raising dairy cattle. Eight of their ten children, William (31), Norah (27), Patrick (24), Jeremiah (20), Ellen (18), John (15), and Catherine, were still living in their 5-room cottage (13). Michael (29) and Daniel (21) had both moved out. Michael worked a few miles away on the Westbrook Experimental Farm, and Daniel was a constable in Brisbane.
Polly, the oldest Murphy child, was the only one who was married at age 32. After an accident that left Polly partially paralysed, she and her husband, William McNeil, and their two young daughters moved back in with her family.
The family seemed closed off, if not completely under the matriarch’s control. Mary Murphy is said to have had an iron will and her word was law in the house. Daniel Murphy, on the other hand, was a quiet man who rarely spoke. He was an introvert who worked hard on the farm and liked to pray alone in his bedroom during his free time.
We don’t know everything about how the Murphy family works, but we might be able to learn something from the fact that, at a time when getting married and having kids meant being independent, the Murphys had seven children over 18 who hadn’t found partners yet, and only two of them had moved away for good. What is known about the family is that they were respected in their township, which for Daniel Sr. and Mary, who were poor Irish Catholic immigrants who could barely read or write when they came to America, was worth its weight in gold.
The family went to Gatton’s St. Mary’s Catholic Church and was very religious.
On Christmas Day 1898, everyone in the Murphy family went to Christmas Mass, except for Daniel, who was back in Brisbane on police duty. The family was said to be in a good mood on the holiday.
Even though Gatton was in a rural area, the people who lived there had a pretty active social life. With a cricket club, tennis club, dog tracks, fairs and festivals, and housework competitions, there were always things to do in the area, especially around Christmas.
On Boxing Day, Ellen, Michael, William, John, Polly, and Polly’s husband William McNeil, along with some of the other Murphy children, went to the horse race track in nearby Mount Sylva. For the holiday, they spent the day watching races, eating, and drinking, but the real highlight was a dance in the town of Gatton that night. Young people who were single and living in a town found that country dances were the best place to meet new dates.
That night, not all of the Murphys went to the dance. Michael offered to drive his sisters Nora and Ellen to the party in town. Their sister-in-brother-in-law law’s let them use his sulky cart so that the women wouldn’t have to ride horses. Michael wore a small leather purse on his hip. It had 15 shillings in it, which he could use to buy his sisters whatever they wanted that night.
Michael Murphy was nearing the end of his 20s, and he had a reputation as a good-looking, honest hard worker. Murphy volunteered as a Mounted Infantry Sergeant because he was in good shape and a great horse rider.
Ellen Murphy, who was 18 years old, was said to be a pretty, active, and passionate young woman. Many young men in the area were interested in her, but she seemed to have a crush on a musician who was playing at the Gatton dance that night.
Nora, their twenty-seven-year-old sister, was smart and seemed to have her own suitors, but she lived her life for her family. Both Nora and Polly helped their mother take care of the house, but Nora seemed to be the most helpful. She cooked and cleaned for the family and took care of Polly’s two young children. Nora seemed to have a rare chance to “let her hair down” at the Gatton Dance on Christmas Day.
Michael put on a three-piece suit, and both women wore long, pretty dark skirts with blouses in lighter colours. Around 7 p.m., they crammed into the small horse-drawn cart and set off for Gatton. As they drove away from their parents’ house, they were said to be happy and smiling. It was the last time their family would see any of them alive.
The next morning, December 27, each member of the Murphy family got out of bed and did their usual farm work. There was neither a horse nor a sulky cart in the yard. Michael, Nora, and Ellen weren’t back from town yet. No one on the farm knew that the Gatton dance had been cancelled the night before and that the three of them should have been home long before morning.
According to what the family said, William McNeil was the first person to start to worry about where the Murphy children were. As soon as he came out of his room, he showed that he was worried. He said that his cart was old and not reliable; it had a broken wheel and could have broken down on the way back to the farm. Most of the family didn’t seem too worried at first, but then Mrs. Murphy asked McNeil to take one of the horses and go look for them. McNeil went straight to Gatton, keeping an eye out for his sulky cart’s tracks. It was around 8 a.m.
McNeil found the tracks of his old cart on Tenthill Road, the main road to Gatton. They went off the road and into a big paddock that belonged to a neighbour. McNeil went to the edge of the paddock by following the tracks. He had to take the wooden planks off the slip rail fence and follow the cart tracks into and out of the paddock for a few hundred yards. After looking for a few minutes, he saw what looked like piles of clothes still and still under the hot summer sun. His cart was close by, and the horse was lying down nearby.
McNeil said (quote): “I thought they were sleeping in the sun. When I got closer, I saw that the girls’ clothes were all messed up, and then I saw that ants were crawling all over them. I didn’t keep going.” (Page 667 of Stephanie Bennett’s book The Gatton Murders: A True Story of Lust, Vengeance, and Vile Retribution)
William McNeil ran back to the edge of the field, jumped on his horse, and rode into town. Before going to the police station to report the crime, he stopped at the Brian Boru Hotel and told the people there that he had found three dead Murphy children in a nearby paddock. As news of the horrible deaths spread through the town, his stop at the hotel ended up causing a lot of trouble for the police.
William McNeil went to the police station and found Sergeant Arrell alone. He told him what he’d found. On their way to the crime scene, the two men rode horses. Along the way, they met Mr. Gilbert, the owner of the Brian Boru Hotel, who was travelling with three other men who had gotten into a horse and buggy and were riding out to look into McNeil’s claims.
Together, the six men found a scene that made them feel like they were in a nightmare. This scene would haunt Gatton and Australia for many years to come.
As William McNeil said, the bodies looked calm at first glance. Nora’s body was lying on a rug under a gum tree, almost face down. A few yards away, Ellen and Michael were lying on their backs next to each other. The sulky cart and the horse, which had been shot in the head, made up the third point of the triangle made by the bodies.
Each of the victim’s feet was pointed in the direction of the west. Michael’s hands were free, but Nora and Ellen’s were tied behind their backs with their own handkerchiefs. Abrasions on his wrists suggested he had been tied at some point, and a leather ratchet strap was found near his body. He held the leather purse in his hands. It was empty of the fifteen shillings he had brought for the party the night before.
The first people who saw the crime scene knew that they needed a medical examiner to do an autopsy to find out how bad the injuries were, but they could tell from where they stood that both Ellen and Nora had been raped.
Nora’s clothes were torn apart, and she had horrible scratches all over her body. Her skirt was pulled up around her waist, and her shirt was torn so that her breasts were showing. In addition to the many scratches on her face, there was a cut along her right eye socket that was several inches long. This cut showed that someone had used a knife to cut at her face.
Ellen’s body was still badly scratched, but it didn’t look as bad as the other two. However, all three of the Murphy children’s heads had been hit with something heavy. Nearby, a bloody branch of a tree was found. Michael’s head looked like it had a small bullet hole, but neither of the two sisters looked like they had been shot.
Sergeant Arrell ran to the Gatton telegraph office as soon as he saw how brutal and big the bloody murder scene was. He knew that his rural police force didn’t have enough people or the right skills to handle a triple murder, so he went into town to send an urgent message to the police commissioner in Brisbane, which is the closest big city. He left Mr. Gilbert and his three friends to protect the crime scene from people who wanted to look around.
William McNeil rode back to the Murphy farm on horseback to tell the family about the killings. As he told them, shock and disbelief spread through the family. When Daniel Murphy Sr. heard the news, people say he almost fell over, and Mary Murphy cried out for her poor children. Mary Murphy asked McNeil right away to take her to the scene of the crime, so they quickly tied two horses to the family buggy and ran. She made sure to bring bedsheets so the bodies of her dead children could be covered.
When they got there, there were a lot of people there. The men Sgt. Arrell left behind to watch over the bodies couldn’t or wouldn’t stop onlookers from trampling all over the crime scene. Almost all of the tracks that went from the slip rails to the bodies were broken. Proof was moved and handled. People looked at the bodies of the Murphys like they were creepy sideshow attractions.
By noon, Sgt. Areell had sent a telegraph message to Brisbane and rushed back to the scene of the crime. After scaring away morbidly curious people for most of the afternoon, Arrell and his helpers killed the Murphy horse in the paddock and found a.380 calibre bullet between its eyes.
Arrell wanted to wait for a response from Brisbane before moving the bodies. However, it would take several hours for the chief investigators to take the report seriously, and it would take another 24 hours for someone from Brisbane’s Criminal Investigation Branch, or CBI, to be sent to Gatton to take over the investigation. People at the scene finally persuaded Arrell to take the Murphys back to the hotel in Gatton so they could wait for the medical examiner there. William McNeil helped put the bodies in the Murphy buggy and drove it to the hotel. It was probably the only good decision the police made in the first 48 hours about the case.
By 4 p.m. on the day the bodies were found, Dr. Von Lossberg, a medical inspector, had arrived by train from the nearby town of Ipswich. By 7:30, he had finished his autopsies, if you can call them that, and was getting on the train to go home.
Here is a brief summary of what Von Lossberg found when he looked at Nora, Ellen, and Michael’s bodies after they died:
Ellen Murphy got a hard blow to the head that knocked her out. The skull was so badly broken that her brain matter could be seen through what hair she still had. Dr. Von Lossberg found signs of rape all over her body. Her underwear was torn, and there were scratches and fingernail marks on the insides of her thighs and buttocks. Her sexual organs were swollen and bruised on the outside, and the doctor found that her hymen had just burst. The way some of the scratches were placed also made it look like she had been sodomised. There was blood and sperm on her thighs, legs, and clothes. Her own handkerchief was used to tie her hands together behind her back.
Norah’s attack could not have looked any worse. Ellen was badly cut, but Nora looked like she had been hit with a stick with barbs on it. Her underwear, blouse, skirt, and jacket, along with her skirt, blouse, and jacket, were all shredded, and her sexual organs were hurt in the same way. The doctor found her on her hands and knees with deep cuts and her neck tightly bound with a leather strap. Due to the lack of air, she probably went in and out of consciousness during the attack. The handkerchief that she used to tie her hands together was tied so tight that her hands turned blue. Nora’s injuries made it seem like she had been gang-raped. The people who hurt her hit the left side of her head with something heavy.
Michael also looked like he had been raped in some way. The doctor found sperm on the inside and outside of the front of his pants, and the foreskin of his penis was very swollen. Even though his hands were not tied when he was found, strap marks on his wrists showed that he had been tightly bound before he died. Someone had hit him on the right side of the head. Michael may have had a bullet wound in the head, but Dr. Von Lossberg said there was no bullet and brushed the idea aside.
Each victim’s clothes and skin had blood stains that looked like they were made by a corduroy-like fabric. There was also evidence that both women had been violated with the handle of a brass riding whip, which was not at the scene.
The biggest problem with Dr. Von Lossberg’s assessment of the bodies was that he didn’t do enough research. He didn’t look inside the bodies, and he did the exams quickly. Later in 1899, a Royal Commission would look into how the police handled this investigation. Von Lossberg’s tests and the actions of the head of the C.I.B, Frederick Urquhart, who arrived in Gatton the next day, just in time for the funerals, would be closely looked at.
The bodies of the Murphy children could be buried the next day, December 28, two days after they were killed. This was okayed by the local magistrates. William McNeil, for some strange reason, insisted on paying for all three funerals. People came to the St. Mary’s Catholic Church to pay their respects, and the Murphys were laid to rest there.
Sergeant Frederick Urquhart took a train from Brisbane to Gatton on the morning of the 28th. He arrived at the crime scene a full 24 hours after the bodies were found. Nine days after the murder, on January 5, 1899, Urquhart was officially put in charge of the investigation into the Gatton Murders by the head of the police in Brisbane.
Frederick Urquhart was born into an old Scottish noble family. He went to an English boarding school to learn. He ran away from home when he was a teenager and worked his way onto a boat to get to Australia, where he worked for the Electric Telegraph Company for many years as a bushman. In 1889, he became a police officer. In the late 1890s, he was put in charge of the Criminal Investigation Branch, even though he had a reputation for being haughty, spiteful, and unwilling to listen to other people.
Urquhart decided right away to dig up the bodies to see if more evidence could be found. He did this after looking at the little evidence in the case and talking with the constables and magistrates who were there about how unhelpful the post-mortem medical exams were. The Chief Government Medical Officer, Dr. Wray, was called in by the police to do a full autopsy on each of the three bodies.
He was able to tell right away that Michael had been shot through the head. He took a.380 calibre bullet out of Michael’s head, which was the same calibre of bullet that had been taken out of their horse. Dr. Wray also thought that the person who did it was left-handed or could use either hand. This could help investigators narrow down the list of possible suspects in the coming months.
Urquhart sent a telegram to his bosses in Brisbane after taking stock of what was left of the crime scene, the evidence, and the autopsies:
“Circumstances point to premeditation. Worst of all are the details. So far, there is nothing to grab hold of.”
Newspapers and regular people all over Australia paid a lot of attention to the case. Almost right away, the police started getting a lot of letters with different “armchair detective” ideas about who did it.
After it was said that a woman who was staying in a house near the murder scene heard a woman say, “Father!” a popular theory grew: maybe Daniel Murphy Sr. killed his children because he found out they were having a sexual relationship. Worse, some people went even further and said that Mr. Murphy himself was having inappropriate relationships with his grown daughters.
These accusations were devastating for a family who was proud of their good reputation in the neighbourhood. Even though investigators never took this idea seriously, the Murphy family shut up almost right away and refused to help the police in any way. Daniel Murphy Jr. was the only person who didn’t help with the investigation. He was a police officer, though, so he had to. Police had to get horses from other farms because the Murphys wouldn’t let searchers use their horses to help them look for clues in the paddock.
Alfred Hill, a 15-year-old boy, was found dead 40 miles from Gatton. This made the situation much worse for the police. On December 10, his parents said he was missing. On January 7, his body was found in a rural area with a lot of bushes. Like the Murphy horse, his pony had been shot between the eyes. Alfred’s head had been shot with a.380 cal liber gun, and his feet were set up so that they pointed west. Police thought right away that his murder had something to do with the Murphys’.
The brutal killing of Alfred Hill made people even more upset and hysterical, and the press went on a full-scale attack against the CIB. In her book about the Gatton Murders, Stephanie Barnett included the following article from the Brisbane Courier on January 9:
“In the two tragedies, if not in the Ipswich horror, the police have failed to show why they exist as guardians of public peace.” Gatton… A lack of organisation at the start of the case made it almost impossible to find the killer. Tracks were destroyed and clues were thrown away, and the post-mortem examination of the bodies seems to have been little more than a formality. These and other things have been waiting for a response. We chose not to criticise because, as soon as it became clear how serious the situation was, the authorities got to work with all their energy and enthusiasm.
Over the next few months, the relationship between the police and the press got worse as the police chased leads that led nowhere and it became less likely that the Murphy case would be solved. Urquhart had a reputation for being very sensitive to criticism. When the press wrote about his investigation, he didn’t handle it well and almost refused to consider any possible motives or suspects outside of his own area of responsibility.
Even though many people in Gatton thought that more than one person killed the Murphys, Sergeant Urquhart decided that the murders were done by a single labourer who was not from Gatton. His attention went right to an ex-convict named Richard Burgess who had moved to the area in early December.
Burgess got out of prison for the last time on November 30, 1898. He had been there for six months for raping an old woman near the town of Toowoomba, which is twenty miles from Gatton.
He was back in Brisbane by the end of the first week of December. He was always hard to find because he moved from place to place, but on January 6, he was arrested sixty miles north of Toowoomba for “strange behaviour.” Police found a witness who said they saw someone who looked like Burgess hanging out near where Alfred Hill was killed. Given Burgess’s criminal history, police suspected him of the Gatton murders, even though eyewitnesses put Burgess nowhere near Gatton on Boxing Day.
He was put in jail for a few weeks because he stole a saddle while the police tried to find proof that he killed the Gatton family. But Burgess’s story turned out to be rock solid. He was let out of jail in March 1899, and he soon left Australia.
A few weeks after the murders, it came out that Michael Murphy, who had been seen as the most honest person in Gatton, may have had a number of sexual relationships with single women in the area. There were rumours that he had at least a few children outside of marriage, and that a young woman named Kate Ryan died while giving birth to one of those children.
What happened was Michael slept with Kate and got her pregnant. When his sisters Nora and Ellen found out, they were very against the marriage. Maybe the women’s family members were mad at Michael for cheating on them, so they tried to get even in the worst way possible.
Urquhart said the Kate Ryan story was not true, but it’s impossible to know for sure. He said that the Kate Ryan in question had a child outside of marriage, but that she had since gotten married and was living happily.
Another idea was that Nora Murphy was behind the attack on her and her siblings because she had driven an old teacher to the point of going crazy by making her life miserable. Nora was said to have sent nasty letters about this teacher to a Queensland newspaper, which published them right away. The event made the woman lose it, and her sisters vowed to get back at her. Again, this idea didn’t work.
William McNeil’s closeness to the murders and his role in the investigation also made people wonder.
McNeil didn’t get along well with his in-laws, and it wasn’t easy for him to get married to Polly Murphy, Mary and Daniel’s oldest child.
McNeil was a Protestant, and as a devout Catholic, Mary Murphy found it very offensive that her daughter would marry a Protestant. She supposedly told Polly and McNeil early on that they couldn’t be together, but Polly disobeyed her mother and married McNeil anyway. Two months later, Polly had a girl baby, which made things even worse. This is said to have caused them to stop talking for a few years, until she had her second child. Polly was in some kind of accident that left one side of her body paralysed. At best, the details of this accident are unclear, but McNeil may have had something to do with the injury.
After the accident, the Murphys welcomed back their oldest daughter and her family. They helped Polly look after her two young kids. McNeil lived in a business he owned in town, but the business is said to have burned down, giving McNeil a big insurance payout. By Christmas 1898, he was also living with his wife and children in the Murphy house.
It was said that McNeil got very drunk at the horse races on Christmas Day. When it was time for Michael, Nora, and Ellen to leave for the Gatton dance, William offered to drive them, but they turned him down. Instead, he stayed home with his wife and kids, which he didn’t want to do. It’s not clear where he went after that.
Mary Murphy told the police that McNeil had been home the whole night. Mrs. Murphy said that she went into their bedroom after 11 p.m. to get the table lamp and saw McNeil sleeping.
Daniel Murphy said that he heard McNeil talking to his daughter around 12 am, but he never saw him that night.
Polly said that her husband came to bed and slept in his clothes. However, a neighbour later told police that Polly had told her that McNeil had been out of the house for most of the night. Many people thought that McNeil knew the bodies were there because he found them so quickly the next morning. More questions were raised when he was there for the autopsy and then offered to pay for the funeral. At first, the police were suspicious of McNeil, but it never went any further than that.
The most likely suspect might have been a young drifter named Thomas Day. When the murders happened, Day had been in Gatton for a few weeks working for a butcher named Mr. Clarke. Because he was strong and fit, he was a great worker in Clarke’s slaughter yard. Clarke gave Day a place to stay and food, and Day lived in a small shack just behind the Clark home. The Clark property happened to be right next to the paddock where the Murphy bodies were found.
Mr. Clark told the police that on Boxing Night, between 8 and 9 p.m., he had set off fireworks. Thomas Day was the only person in the house who wasn’t there.
Investigators asked Thomas Day where he was the night of the murder. He said he went to bed at 7 pm, read until he fell asleep, and didn’t hear a thing.
The person who said they heard a woman yell “Father” on the night of the murders was actually staying at Mr. Clarke’s house, but Day said he hadn’t heard anything. The police then looked through his room and found a shirt with blood on its sleeves. Day said that this was because he carried wet meat into town with his bare hands, which caused animal blood to get on his clothes. He was told not to wash the shirt, but Day cleaned it thoroughly in just a few days.
He was close enough and strong enough to do the killings, but for some reason, Urquhart didn’t think he was a good suspect. Stephanie Bennett, who wrote The Gatton Murders, thinks this is because Day had a low level of education. When police came to question him about the Gatton Murders, they found him reading 14th-century Italian poetry. Urquhart came from a wealthy family, so he thought that educated people couldn’t do bad things. Urquhart gave Day his personal permission to leave the area. After a short time in the British military in Brisbane, Day quit and almost vanished.
Sergeant Arrell, who was the first officer on the scene the day the bodies were found, was one of the constables who didn’t agree with Urquhart’s decision to rule out Thomas Day as a suspect. A few months later, when the Queensland Police’s actions were looked into by the Royal Commission, it was revealed that Urquhart had told Arrell and others that he would fire them and make their lives miserable if they didn’t stop talking about Thomas Day.
What did Urquhart say about why the police couldn’t figure out who killed the Murphys?
“We failed because we never had a chance to win from the start.”
On Saturday, October 27, 1900, a newspaper in Western Australia said that a man named Theo Farmer had killed himself. It was quickly found out that this was just Thomas Day’s new name. In the short piece, it said:
“Today, at an inquest into the death of Theo Farmer, who died in the Sydney Hospital from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a lodging house on Wednesday, a letter written in pencil that was found on the body of the deceased was shown. It was all over the place and made a lot of references to the Gatton tragedy. It said, “Just a few words to tell the public about the murder of Gatton, which I think or hope will be solved after I die.” I’m going to sleep for a long time, but before I leave this world, I want to say what I know for sure.’ Then he said something about several people in the Gatton area. The letter went on to say, “I know the public may be confused, but I’m not. I’m sure the police were supposed to keep the case quiet, so I think it’s about time they were shown up.” So, I’ll end, hoping that the Gatton case will go forward. The verdict was that it was suicide.”
Even though Thomas Day’s suicide note didn’t say he killed the Gatton family, it is still one of the strongest pieces of evidence that he did. Given that Nora and Ellen had been raped by more than one person, Tom Day may have joined up with a group of locals and attacked the Murphys as they were walking home that night. Even now, many people think he is the most likely person to have killed Michael, Nora, and Ellen Murphy, but it is impossible to know for sure who the murderer or murderers were because so much time has passed.
Unfortunately, it looks like this case will never be solved.