Murder on the Banshee
On Christmas Eve 1909, tragedy struck on the Swan River, unfolding at Royal Perth Yacht Club, then situated on the foreshore at the foot of William Street.
Club caretaker, Frank Passmore, was woken shortly after midnight on 23 December by a man’s voice. He went out but saw only an older woman sitting on the steps. Frank asked her intentions when the man, Thomas James Thomas, appeared and told Frank she was his granny. He left them to it and Frank heard Thomas say, “Come on, granny”. The two then got into a dinghy and rowed towards South Perth. Both appeared to be under the influence of liquor.
Frank knew Thomas, a 30-year-old Welshman recently engaged by Norbert Keenan as caretaker of his 40-foot yacht, Banshee. Thomas was required to live on the yacht which was moored on the other, deeper side of the Swan River at Mill Point.
The next day Keenan, Vice Commodore of Royal Perth Yacht Club, waited for Thomas to bring Banshee to the Club, to take on stores for a Christmas Eve sail. When Thomas failed to arrive, he rowed out to Banshee, then riding quietly at anchor near White Wings, another deep-keeled yacht owned by William Clements. Clements and his son, Robert, were on board and noted Thomas, on Banshee, appear on deck in his pyjamas. He returned their greeting and went back below.
At about 12:30pm, the Clements’ heard an agitated shout - “White Wings! White Wings, ahoy!”
It was Bob Rann and his family sailing past in their yacht Rob Roy, and Rann was yelling that a man had just gone over the stern of Banshee. Clements jumped into his dinghy and rowed over to Banshee, noting air bubbles rising from the water as he passed astern.
Keenan, about 180m away, rowed towards them and when he arrived, Clements advised him of what had occurred. Keenan boarded Banshee and called to Clements, “He’s in the cabin, come and look.”
Clements climbed aboard, and Keenan insisted he go below, to the cabin, and have a look.
In the cabin Clements saw a pair of legs under a blanket which, on lifting, he was horrified to see a woman’s badly mutilated body. He also found a note which read:
“I did a rash act in a moment of frenzy, under the influence of drink. You will find my body under the yacht with a small anchor attached. Do not look on me as a criminal, as truly I was not responsible.”
Signed, Thomas J Thomas.
Keenan returned to the Club and reported the incident to Central Police. The scene was attended by Detective Condon, Constable Young and the district Medical Officer, Dr Blanchard. Blanchard’s examination revealed the naked body of a woman, lying on a mattress saturated with blood. The wounds were severe, a post-mortem examination showing those injuries had caused her death.
“One of the most fiendish murders ever consummated in the West, followed by the deliberate suicide of the murderer, happened on the Swan River about 10 or 11 o’clock last Friday morning. The scene of the diabolical crime was ‘tween deck’ of Mr Norbert Keenan’s cutter yacht ‘Banshee’, which was riding at anchor off Mill Point at the moment of the double tragedy.
The victim was a woman of notorious antecedents named Marion Curedale alias Mary Ann Hardman, 62 years of age, with a police record to her discredit for drunkenness and prostitution. The murderer was a sailor named Thomas James Thomas, 30 years of age and, for the past three or four weeks, engaged by Mr Keenan as a caretaker of his yacht.
Police evidence revealed that relations of a friendly character had existed between the murderer and his victim, both of whom were seen on several occasions to board the ‘Banshee’ in company. It is clear there was a drunken orgy on the yacht prior to the murder, and that after the consumption of a quantity of beer, Thomas ‘saw blood’ and attacked his companion with a razor. Some little time after the murder, Thomas slipped over the bows of ‘Banshee’, apparently with a weight round his neck, and drowned himself…”
The Sunday Times, 26 December 1909
Thomas’ body was recovered later on Christmas Eve, a post mortem examination determining he died from asphyxia due to drowning. The victim’s fingerprints identified her as Marion Curedale (62) of Fremantle. She had an unenviable record and had been before the Courts many times for charges including being a rogue and a vagabond, sleeping in a cemetery, drunkenness and theft.
An inquest opened at 11am on Christmas morning and continued on 5 January 1910. The jury, without retiring, found Curedale came to her death through injuries inflicted by Thomas on 24 December 1909 and that Thomas’ own death the same day had been caused by drowning himself in the Swan River.
Versions of this article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of Peelers’ Gazette by Peter Skehan, and in the February 2012 issue of In the Wind (Royal Perth Yacht Club publication). It has been edited with the kind permission of Jon Readhead, Archivist, Royal Perth Yacht Club. Research for this article was carried out by Jon Readhead, Royal Perth Yacht Club Archivist, Peter Skehan, WA Police Historical Society historian, and Graeme Sisson, WA Police Historical Society President and former Archivist.