A Mystery Murder of Married Lovers

The Discovery

On the morning of Christmas Eve 1926, the first train from Sunnybank came to a halt just before Park Road Station at Woolloongabba, waiting for a green signal to continue. Passengers on the left side of the train were startled to see a man and woman lying together partly undressed on a bank next to the railway line.

The fireman got off the train and walked over to the couple calling out “wake up”. Getting closer he saw that they were lying in pools of congealed blood and obviously dead. The train proceeded to Park Road Station shortly after and from there the police were called.

Park Road Railway Station 1925


Park Road Railway Station in 1925. The murder scene is in the far background on the right. (State Library of Queensland)

The police soon discovered that the bodies were those of Acting Police Sergeant Marquis Cumming and Mrs. Eileen Walsh, both of whom had been missing since the previous evening.

The bodies remained in view of passing train passengers, as well as a gathering crowd, for some time until a tarpaulin was brought to cover them.

cu‌mming walsh murder scene

In this photo taken at 7.15am on December 24th 1926, the two bodies are under a tarpaulin marked “X”. “The True Facts of Australia’s Greatest Double Murder Mystery : Who murdered Act. Sgt. Cumming and Mrs Eileen Walsh at Brisbane, 23rd December, 1926?” published 1928 Brisbane Nielson & Simmons.

Eileen Gladys Walsh

Eileen Christie was born to parents John and Mary Christie in 1896.  Eileen had a child, Albert, in 1913 to an unknown father. He was adopted out.

In 1915, a 24 year old James Walsh, a friend of Eileen’s from school days, volunteered to join the 1st AIF. The year 1916 saw him on active service in France with 15th Battalion. He was taken prisoner and held at Limburg for the duration of the war, returning to Australia in mid 1919.

He and Eileen had been close and he soon went to see her after his repatriation. She told him that she was pregnant and that the man responsible had since disappeared. Baby Gladys was born and died in 1919.

Eileen resumed her relationship with Jimmy and in 1920 they were secretly married. Eileen’s mother was against the marriage, at least in part because the Christies were Catholic and Walsh was Protestant.

eileen walsh

Eileen Gladys Walsh (MyHeritage)

A child James was born soon after the marriage and a second son Ronald was born two years later. By 1924, the couple had separated and Eileen was living with her mother and other relatives in Stephens Road.

Jimmy unfortunately had a problem with drink and was at times violent.

Eileen had applied for support from him through the court. In her application she had described his drunkedness and violent behaviour. Walsh entered into an agreement to pay support for the children but had fallen behind as he was often unemployed.

Eileen had taken on washing work to make ends meet but fell ill and had a major operation. In a letter to her husband published in “Smith’s Weekly” in 1927,  she talks of bursting stitches on a wound after lifting heavy washing tubs.

The “Smith’s Weekly” article also mentioned letters from Eileen saying that she would return to Walsh soon if he stayed off the grog.

smiths weekly washtub headline

Smith’s Weekly (Sydney), Saturday 29 January, 1927. (TROVE)

Eileen applied for State relief rations due to her pecuniary circumstances. The relief tickets were distributed by police officers and it appears that in this way she met Marquis Cumming. There were rumours that he sought favours from women who received relief coupons from him.

Marquis Cumming

Marquis Cumming was born in 1879 in Cambooya. He joined the police force as a constable in 1900 and initially was stationed at Mossman River. In 1904, he married Teresa Howden and over the next 12 years they had 7 children, although two died before becoming adults.

marquis cumming

Marquis Cumming.

The family moved around between many country postings and in 1923 they were living in Mount Morgan. It was here that Teresa became suspicious of her husband’s activities.

On one occasion when he returned home inexplicably late, she fired a shot with his revolver to scare him. A few years later when they were living in Brisbane, she and her son Stanley managed to open his safe box. There they found letters from a women in Mt Morgan who had had his child and wanted to leave her husband for him.

She and Stanley began following Marquis and found that he often met women in various places around Brisbane. Stanley was forced to leave home on several occasions after arguments with his father. One was after he had been to see the woman at Mt Morgan and obtained a letter from her describing her relationship with Marquis. At that time Teresa was thinking of obtaining a legal separation.

marquis cumming at trocadero

Marquis Cumming on duty at the Trocadero. (From the Qld. State Archives and published in “Scaffold of Shame” by A. Rogers.)

On one occasion Teresa accosted her husband at the Trocadero Dance Hall and they were asked to leave after she caused an altercation. The manager said Cumming was at times on duty there but usually was “found in a corner chatting to girls rather than attending to his duty”.

On another occasion, Stanley spoke to another  woman, Mrs Page, who he had seen with his father and then followed her, trying to find where she lived.

After the murder, a number of love letters and cards from various women, as well as an item of lady’s underclothing, were found in his locker at the Police Station.

The Night of December 23rd

On the night of the 23rd of December, Acting Sergeant Cumming was rostered for duty  from 2pm until 10pm. As a Sergeant, his role was to move around the various beats in the South Brisbane area, checking on and assisting constables as required.

cummings house

The Cumming’s home in Wilton St., Woolloongabba. Truth (Brisbane) Sunday January 2, 1927. (TROVE)

sydney daily mail sep 10 1898 sb police station

South Brisbane Police Station (Sydney Daily Mail 10 Sep 1898 TROVE)

He came home at 6.30pm and left around 7pm after dinner. He was seen at 8pm riding in the front of a tram heading towards Woolloongabba. When he didn’t report into the Police Station at his shift’s end at 10pm, an unsuccessful search was made for him.

His wife Teresa prepared his supper but he didn’t return home. Two policemen dropped in at 11.30pm checking on his whereabouts which remained unknown until the morning’s grisly discovery.

Eileen Walsh had dinner at home and then went out at 8pm to post a letter. This was probably the Christmas card to Cumming that tragically arrived by post at the Police Station the morning after the murder. Members of the family testified that she asked a niece to accompany her, but the girl was too tired. Also she was wearing a simple house dress.

When she didn’t come home, the family searched for her and eventually reported her missing to the police at 2.30am.

Mrs Page, when questioned by police during the investigation, said that she had gone with Cumming three times recently to a spot close to the murder scene, which was a known rendezvous location for couples. Each time she had “given herself to him”. The last occasion was just two nights before the murder.

Each time he had asked to meet her at the Dutton Park tram terminus which was at the corner of Annerley Road and Cornwall Street,

Tram terminus at Dutton Park Brisbane circa 1929

Tram terminus at Dutton Park Brisbane ca.1929 (State Library of Queensland)

A witness James Jamieson said that he had seen two men suspiciously standing in the dark near his house on Annerley Road. Cumming, who he knew, came past with a woman at around 9.30pm. They turned up the goal lane towards Burke Street. The two waiting men followed them at a distance. One of these was short, wearing a suit much too large and had a gait more reminiscent of a women.

He heard two gunshots about 15 minutes later.

Various other people reported hearing two or three gunshots, all saying that it was somewhere between 9.00pm and 10pm.

Marquis Cumming was shot by an automatic pistol, with the bullet passing through the shoulder blade. The bullet severed his spinal cord and lodged in the crown of his skull. He was thought to have been lying on top of Eileen when shot and then rolled to the side.

Eileen Walsh probably then sat up and saw the murderer as she was shot below the right eye and the bullet was not under the body. It traversed the brain and passed out of the base of her skull.

One commentator described the position of the bodies as indicating that “they were killed at the height of emotion in an enrapturous embrace”.  There was no sign of a struggle.

Cumming’s service belt, handcuffs and keys were missing and never found. Eileen’s wedding ring, which her family said she always wore, was also missing.

Another witness, Stanley Crane, was driving down Annerley Road and saw two suspiciously acting men with a similar description to the two Jamieson had seen, heading away from the jail. He thought though that this was at 9.10pm.

Refidex 1926 murder scene

Detail from page 35 of the 1926 Refidex, State Library of Queensland.

Referring to the map above :

Dotted line – probable path taken by Cumming and Walsh
1 – Dutton Park Tram terminus
2- Murder scene
3- Jamieson’s house where he sees two men waiting, Cumming and Walsh pass, and the men follow.
4- Where the couple turn into the Gaol Lane
5- Where Crane sees two men cross the road looking to see if they were being followed.

The Enquiry

Public interest in the case was very high. Investigations took some time as an ever increasing number of Cumming’s lady friends came to light requiring delicate investigation of associated men’s whereabouts on the night of the murder.

truth jan 2 1927 headline cropped

Truth (Brisbane) Sunday January 2, 1927. (TROVE)

As the months passed, there were ongoing calls for a public enquiry. A Magistrate’s Enquiry into the deaths finally commenced in May of 1927 and lasted for around three weeks. There was detailed reporting each day in newspapers around the country.

daily standard 26 may 1926 headline

The Daily Standard, Brisbane, Thursday May 26, 1927.

The main suspects questioned in the enquiry were those close to the murdered couple. There was hearsay evidence of threats from all of them towards Cumming.

Eileen’s mother Mary testified that her son-in-law James Walsh has previously threatened Eileen with a razor. Witnesses were able to confirm that he was in Wynnum on the night of the murder.

Teresa Cumming and her son Stanley were initially prime suspects. Marquis Cumming’s lover who had borne his child in Mount Morgan told police that he had told her “not to be surprised if he was shot, and if so it would be in the dark, and it would be one of them”, meaning his wife and son.

Truth june 12 1927 headline

Truth (Brisbane) June 12 1927. (TROVE)

On the night of the murder, Cumming’s wife Teresa had gone to visit her mother at Fortitude Valley. Her mother was 86 years old and somewhat vague about the time her daughter had left.  Teresa Cumming strangely denied saying many things in the days following the murder that had been reported by other witnesses, including police officers.

Marquis’s son Stanley said that he had gone to the Empire Theatre with a friend, Josephine Clutterbuck. She confirmed this and still had the ticket butts.

Details of the other suspects connected with the many identified women acquaintances of Cumming were not made public. The opinion of the police was that this would “cause domestic unhappiness, and in some cases, possibly lead to tragedy”.

The enquiry closed on June 17 without any conclusion.

However the Magistrate did point out in his report that Teresa Cumming had made a number of  suspicious statements. For example, the detective who accompanied her to the morgue reported that Teresa had said she’d warned her husband that he would come to a sudden end. The detective at that stage had not told her of the circumstances under which her husband had been found.

The report also pointed out that Cumming normally carried a revolver but did not have it with him that night, suggesting that the murderer or murderers knew of this.

The Aftermath

Later in 1927, a woman claimed that her boyfriend, a police constable, had told her on the night of November 23rd that he had committed murder. She claimed he once said to her “I’ll scatter your brains like I did Cumming’s”. This information was investigated however there was no breakthrough in the case.

truth november 6 1927 betrayed woman

Truth (Brisbane) November 6,1927 (TROVE).

The Sydney based “Smith’s Weekly” took a strong interest in the case, at times in a bitter contest with its competitor newspaper “Truth”. In mid 1927, the widely read newspaper offered a £500 reward for information leading to a conviction. Numerous people came forward, including a clairvoyant who had information she had received whilst in a trance and a man whose insights came from one of his dreams.

A Mt Morgan man approached the newspaper, after being advised by his confessor priest, with information that he had sold an automatic pistol to a person of interest in the enquiry. No more was reported on this development.

Articles on the crime appeared sporadically for many years.

double murder march 1951 sunday truth.jpg

Truth (Brisbane) March 11 1952

james walsh

James Walsh (TROVE)

James Walsh, the husband of Eileen, didn’t get custody of his two sons.

It seems that he lost all contact with them, as after his death in 1943, his medals from the first World War were returned by the Public Curator to the Army as they could find no living relatives.

In 1951, Marquis Cumming’s son Stanley offered a reward of £1,500 for information leading to the conviction of the murderer of his father. He also passed to the Police several items of new evidence. He stated in a newspaper interview  that he always had leaned to the theory that the murderer was one of his father’s lovers driven by jealousy.

In a recent podcast (see Episodes 13 and 14) prepared by Boggo Road Gaol, a Cumming family member expressed the opinion that his grandmother, Teresa Cumming, was responsible for the crime.

A descendent of Eileen’s first born Alfred has written a book about the murders after having gained access to some of the files at the State Archive. He suggests that Marquis Cumming was executed because he had uncovered a Golden Casket racket (see my previous post The Golden Casket Art Union ) and wanted a cut. He further proposes that Eileen Christie was an innocent victim lured to the site to make it seem that the crime was one of passion.

murder scene 2019 blog

The surrounds of the crime scene have changed beyond all recognition. In December 2019, work was underway on a new Metro Station.

Whoever committed the crime, it was clearly a premeditated murder by someone who was familiar with Marquis Cumming’s modus operandi. Eileen Walsh very likely lost her life simply for being his unfortunate companion on the night.

The majority of the related Police files will remain sealed for decades to come. However  even when access is made public, there’s no guarantee that things will be any clearer.

If you fancy yourself as a latter day Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot, write a comment here about who you think “dunnit”!

Further Reading :

The True facts of Australia’s greatest double murder mystery : who murdered Act. Sgt. Cumming and Mrs Eileen Walsh at Brisbane, 23rd December, 1926?

Scaffold of shame / Antony W. Rogers. (ebook)

 

 

 

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