On Thursday evening, June 19, 1913, a well-to-do farmer William Mullins went for a social drink at his friend Frank Whittle’s house. The next day, at about 11a.m., he left his home to check his possum traps. He was supposed to be gone for two hours, but he never came back.
Two weeks later, his remains turned up in a gully two miles from where he lived. All that were left were some charred bones.
Early criminological investigations suggested that an enormous pyre had been lit for Mullins’ body, prepared and attended to by at least two perpetrators, for at least six hours. The assailants had been so well-organised they removed the metal buttons from Mullins’ clothing. The story goes that they had even put the shoes on their horse backwards, so as to confuse the investigators.
Mullins was about 50 years old and lived on a property called ‘Sunnyside’, by the Tyne River near Mathinna. His neighbour, Daniel Jones, was the prime suspect in the case. Mullins had been accused of burning down the Jones family’s wheatstack; there were stories of poisoned dogs and pigs. Someone in the town had warned Mullins to arm himself, but he figured his fists would be enough to defend himself.
“Have you been out of your wife’s sight since June 20,” Jones was asked in court. “Not for long,” he replied. Jones seemed to be backed into a corner. He apparently told Mr. McKenzie that he had done away with Mullins, but the facts were hazy; his brother was rumoured to have said he would one day ‘pot [Mullins] like a bird’. The judge declared that everyone had satisfactory evidence apart from Dan Jones and his wife.
But the locals seemed to be indifferent about the murder of Bill Mullins; or worse, they seemed to be trying to shield the identity of the murderers. Jones’ bail, set at £100, was paid.
In the end, the Hobart Criminal Court found there was insufficient evidence to charge Daniel Jones over the murder of his neighbour.
One of the legacies of the murder: in the Fingal Valley Football Association, the Mathinna club came to be known by the unsavoury name of the ‘Kill-and-Burns’.
The author also profiled Tasmanian country football locations for ''Writing Footy'. The first instalment, about the old Mathinna ground, can be found here.