Heating up a cold case

  Ken Russell (left) Kylie Gorton, Louise Steding and Rodney Gorton at the old Booral Wharf. Ken owns the property on which the old Booral Wharf is located.

Ken Russell (left) Kylie Gorton, Louise Steding and Rodney Gorton at the old Booral Wharf. Ken owns the property on which the old Booral Wharf is located.

Some 30 forensics and policing students from across Australia will converge on Stroud and Booral for a week-long investigation of an infamous unsolved local murder mystery.

Swinburne Online criminology lecturer and forensic archaeologist, Dr Louise Steding is hoping her students will solve the double murder of Allan and Mary McAskill at Booral in 1878.

“The McAskills’ deaths were violent and ruthless,” Dr Steding said.

“Robbed and battered, Allan’s body was thrown down a ravine and the body of Mary burned within their home. Such brutality seems far too cruel for robbery.”

Dr Steding said it was a case where many in the community and the police were convinced of the killers’ identities.

“Yet, after two inquests and a trial, this case went cold. Despite the destruction of much evidence by arson, a host of indirect witnesses, and physical traces of the crime, the perpetrator or perpetrators remained free.”

In a quest to solve the murders, Dr Steding will lead her students through a series of on-site forensic investigations, supported by presentations from experts in forensics, fire investigation, policing and criminology, from Tuesday, October 31 to Thursday, November 2.

The Stroud Courthouse will be the location of a trial and inquest re-enactment which is open to the public. Photo courtsey of the Stroud Historical Society

The Stroud Courthouse will be the location of a trial and inquest re-enactment which is open to the public. Photo courtsey of the Stroud Historical Society

“We’ll revisit physical evidence in the landscape and testimonial evidence presented at the inquests of the McAskills,” she said.

“Students will use a range of modern forensic investigation techniques, including ground penetrating radar and profiling, to explore various aspects of the case at two Booral crime scenes.” 

“We’ve organised a fascinating line-up of speakers including the first paramedic to attend the Granville train disaster, a prison director, chief inspector, fire investigator, and a forensic archaeologist. Although this is essentially a student exercise, the community is most welcome to listen in on most of the talks.”

“The culmination of our investigations will be a public re-enactment of original key testimony from two inquests into the murders held at Stroud Courthouse in 1878,” she said.

“Students will form the jury and local actors, under the direction of Anne Frost, will re-enact the inquests with cross-examination based on new evidence.”

Dr Steding is working with Stroud and District Historical Society and the community to revive the infamous cold case.

“We’ve had unbelievable cooperation from the property owners involved in the site investigations – actually, I’m stunned. Local actors are also giving up their time to stage the re-enactment, community groups are doing our catering, and the local cafes will be run off their feet,” Dr Steding said.

Society president, Rodney Gorton said it was very exciting the community would have an opportunity to attend some of the sessions.

“This case has been Stroud’s biggest mystery for nearly 140 years, and the prospect that there might be new evidence and a chance to solve it will be something many locals will be very interested in,” he said.

A full program can be found on the society’s Facebook page, or contact Rodney Gorton on 0427 945 420.