On Saturday morning, May 21, 1870, James Cook walked into the Armstrong Street shop of the tinsmith William Moss and placed a double-barrelled shotgun under the right breast of Moss’s wife Catherine. He discharged one barrel of the gun, killing Mrs Moss, then placed it under his chin and fired again.
The crime, a murder-suicide, caused a near panic in Ballarat, according to a special second Saturday edition of The Courier printed hastily that afternoon. At one point rumours flew that at least six people had died in a terrifying killing spree.
It’s an unfortunate but necessary requirement of being a journal of record that such crimes are part of our daily job. While some criticise our reporting, many more read the articles.
Our reporting has become more tempered over the years. Once the reports included, as below, graphic and often gruesome details of the crime scene, and reporters would attend the coroner’s inquest, observing the bodies and the autopsy.
We would hesitate to go into such specifics today.
The Cook-Moss crime was not a mass murder, but rather a tragic love affair gone sour. The Courier was coy about the nature of the relations between the fated couple (describing it as an ‘improper intercourse’), but the detail of what happened was explicit.
Mr Cook’s head was “frightfully shattered, and the brains protruding in the most ghastly manner,” reported the newspaper.
Mrs Moss “attempted to speak” after being shot, “but in the effort the blood commenced to flow from her mouth, and with one or two convulsive gasps she expired...”
At the inquest, held in a room at the Victoria Hotel in Armstrong Street to which the bodies had been removed, The Courier reported that Doctor George Hamilton examined Mrs Moss’s body.
“I found a large open gunshot wound in the right breast, below the nipple,” The Courier reported Dr Hamilton as saying.
“On introducing my three fingers, I found that part of the ribs attached to the sternum, had been carried in. All the integuments had also been carried in.”
Cook, said Dr Hamilton, suffered a large wound to the head, “shattering the temporal and occipital bones… The brain was shattered all to pieces, with considerable loss of substance - not less than two or three ounces.”
One hundred and one years later The Courier was reporting on the Ballarat Supreme Court trial of two young men accused of the kidnap, assault and murder of a schoolgirl in Hamilton.
Rosalyn Nolte was just 15 when Christopher Lowery and ‘Charles’ (actually Clive) King enticed her into Lowery’s 1964 Holden panel van. She was walking her Corgi along Gray Street, Hamilton.
Lowery was 19, King 18. Both were from respected families in Hamilton. King worshipped Lowery and called him ‘Mother’. At some point in their lives they decided they wanted to see what it was like to ‘kill a chick’, and talked about it often. When they saw Nolte walking her dog, their chance was realised.
The pair took Nolte to remote Mount Napier where they beat and kicked her savagely, breaking her elbow. She pleaded for her life and clung to the men, who then tied her with brown electrical flex in such a way that the weight of her body caused her to suffocate.
The details of the method were on the front page of the newspaper, with comments by the Crown prosecutor Mr G. Byrne.
“… they deliberately and methodically murdered her in order to watch her die – to see what it would be like to do it,” said Mr Byrne.
King and Lowery watched as she choked to death, then dumped her corgi by the roadside before returning to Hamilton, where they took Lowery’s pregnant wife to the drive-in.
Rosemary Nolte’s body was found six days later when her dog led police to where the murderers had left her.
YOUTHS KILLED GIRL FOR ‘SENSATION’ was The Courier headline, the article outlining the Crown’s case against the two.
They were convicted of her murder in 1972, and were the last criminals to be sentenced to death in Victoria. The governor-in-council commuted their sentences to 60 years’ imprisonment, with a minimum sentence of 50 years. Under a new Sentencing Act introduced in 1991, they were paroled in 1992.
Lowery returned to a life of crime and suicided around 2007. King changed his name and disappeared until a newspaper reported he was working as a gardener at a retirement village. He resigned from the job and disappeared.
The Courier has covered many murders in its 150 years. Charles Deutchsmann was hanged at Ballarat Gaol in 1908 for the shooting murder of his wife. Patrick Sheedy was sentenced to death in 1933 for the murder of Mrs W.N. Brooks and the wounding of Henry Lloyd at the North Grant Hotel (later the Bridge Mall Inn) in an argument over the takings. In recent times the brutal stabbing of World War Two veteran Ken Handford caused outrage.
Some remain unsolved. Nina Nicholson was murdered in Clunes in 1991, Tracey Howard near Pootilla in 1998 and Belinda Williams in Buninyong in 1999. Police are still searching for their killers.