Thursday, April 25, 2024

HGB Ep. 535 - Berrima Courthouse and Haunts

Moment in Oddity - Crawfordsville Monster

In the fall of 1891 in Crawfordsville, Indiana there was an unidentified specter that brought dread and horror upon the town. The incident took place in the wee hours of the morning on the 5th of September. Two men were preparing their ice delivery wagon when they witnessed something unexplainable to them. The creature appeared to be about 18 feet long by 8 feet wide moving through the air with several pairs of fins. It was white in color and had no distinct shape or form. They reported there was a single flaming eye and that the creature made a plaintive wheezing sound. It is said that the men observed the entity for nearly an hour hovering three to four hundred feet in the sky before they left the area. Even a pastor and his wife reported observing the phenomenon. Shortly after the Pastor's experience was shared, the Keeley Institute for Inebriates reached out to the pastor and his wife suggesting they visit and receive treatment. There were multiple newspaper articles regarding the encounters, with the Crawfordsville Journal, the Indianapolis Journal and the Brooklyn Eagle reporting on the sightings. The local postmaster was deluged with letters, some of which stated that Judgement Day was near. Thankfully two eyewitnesses tracked the beast and discovered it was actually a flock of several hundred killdeer birds. It was determined that due to foggy conditions and newly installed electric city lights, the birds became disoriented, causing them to fly in a different manner than usual. However, there was also an alternative explanation for the apparition. This entailed a 'balloon parachute craze' caused by boys in the city, some of which supposedly sent cats up in the balloons. Many of us in our podcast group are avid bird watchers, but a story that is still publicized today about a large spectral entity comprised of a flock of birds, certainly is odd.

This Month in History - The Birth of Edward Everett

In the month of April, on the 11th, in  1794, orator Edward Everett was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts. He was a gifted young man with an insatiable appetite for knowledge. Everett graduated Harvard University after four years of study at just 17 years of age. He then served as a pastor in Boston and from there continued pursuing academic goals. Everett received his Ph.D. in Germany, becoming the first American to earn a German doctoral degree. Other career achievements included time spent as the President of Harvard, the Governor of Massachusetts, he was elected a United States Congressman and Senator as well as Ambassador to Great Britain and Secretary of State. One of his most memorable achievements however, was personally raising more than $69,000 for the Mount Vernon Ladies Association to purchase Mount Vernon. His lectures spanned from March 1856 until spring of 1861 and raised a third of the monies needed for the purchase of what he spoke of as "his Washington". Everett sent all the money earned from those audience filled lecture halls to the Ladies Association without keeping anything to cover his own travel expenses. Although his lifetime achievements were great, he is best remembered as the man who lectured at Gettysburg for two hours while Abraham Lincoln's speech was two minutes in length.

Berrima Courthouse and Haunts (Suggested by: Julie Burton)

The Berrima Courthouse in the beautiful Southern Highlands of New South Wales in Australia is a great example of colonial architecture. The courthouse was a necessity as the colony was built on convicts and many continued their wayward deeds. The village of Berrima itself was an important stop on the path from Sydney to Victoria and there were several hotels in the area. Many historic structures still remain and spirits just may be inhabiting them, including the ghost of Australia's first serial killer. Join us as we explore the history and haunts of Berrima, Australia!

Berrima is a small historic village in the heart of the Southern Highlands. The Highlands sit 68 miles southwest of Sydney and feature a luscious wine region. Berrima had once been the main town here and was initially meant to be the capital of the Southern Highlands. The Dharawal aboriginal people had lived along the coastal area here for centuries as hunter-fisher-gatherers. European settlers arrived in the early 1800s. Two of these people were James Harper and his wife Mary. James had been the police chief constable at Sutton Forest and he was the son of convicts. Mary herself was a convict. They bought a block of land in Berrima in 1832 and built the Surveyor General Inn in 1834 in the Georgian style. The inn remains today and is the oldest continuously licensed hotel in all of Australia. The name was a nod to Thomas Mitchell who was the Surveyor General of the colony of New South Wales from 1828 until his death in 1855. He was a larger-than-life character from Scotland. 

Despite nearly 20 other licensed inns opening up in Berrima, The Surveyor General Inn did very well and clearly outlasted all of them despite a downturn in travel when the railway caused Berrima to be bypassed. Motor cars brought the tourists back in the 1930s. By the 1960s, the place was fairly neglected and rundown and would have been demolished had it not been for residents making a push to get Parliament to pass a special Act to preserve the Inn and maintain it's historic license. Restoration was difficult as the inn had been built from sandstone that was badly weathered. The current owners are the Durney family and in 1997 they added an extension at the back of the inn to house a bistro. People claim that the inn is haunted. James Harper retired from the pub in 1839 and leased the business to recently widowed Ann Richards who owned a brewery at Goulburn and a general store in Berrima. She only hosted at the inn until 1840 when a Ralph Hush leased the place and he was replaced by William Taylor and his wife Mary in 1841. William had been a convict shipped to Australia after stealing sheep in 1832 and his wife Mary and daughter Lucy joined him the following year. Mary died in 1842 and William remarried to a woman named Bridget in 1844 and they would open the Crown Inn in 1844, which remains open in Berrima as Taylor's Crown Inn.

The ghost story featuring the Surveyor General Inn is connected to the Taylors. The Sydney Herald reported on June 13th 1842, "A considerable sensation has been felt by the inhabitants of this town, owing to the sudden death of Mrs. Taylor, landlady of the Surveyor General Inn. Mrs. Taylor was in apparent good health on the evening of the 7th-and was observed passing to and fro underneath the verandah of the inn-however about two am. Mr.  Taylor was awakened by her restlessness, and   asked her, " What was the matter," she replied, " Eh !" and never spoke afterwards having departed this life at 9 a.m. Mr. and   Mrs. Taylor had been married 30 years, and her sudden decease has been doubly felt by him-being nearly inconsolable ; it is to be hoped, the sympathy and attentions shewn to him by his friends and acquaintances, will so far succeed as to ameliorate his sorrows, for this lamented, but premature bereavement." The staff claims that Mary Taylor has returned to the Surveyor General in the afterlife. Her full-bodied apparition has been seen.

In 1835, James Harper built Harper's Mansion, which still sits on a hill overlooking the town and features one of the largest hedge mazes in the country. This was designed in the Georgian style and built from bricks made on site. The exterior was three bricks thick and the interior was two bricks thick. More than likely, the workforce was the same as those building the Berrima Courthouse and Gaol at the same time. The Harpers had six children with only three of them living into adulthood. One of the boys was only 2.5 years old when he walked into one of the immense fireplaces in the house. The other two more than likely passed from an illness like small pox at the ages of six and seven. Harper owned much of the land in Berrima and he died in 1845 heavily in debt. He had big hopes for Berrima and while many blocks of land had been sold to speculators, not much had been developed. The house is said to be haunted.

Dodger52 wrote on TripAdvisor, "The friend I was with had to quickly rush outside as she felt something strange that made her feel ill. Once outside she was OK, but was not prepared to go back in. She said she is very sensitive to phenomena. Apparently 3 children had died in the house over 100 yeas ago and 1 particularly gruesome death with a child dying when he fell into an open fire. So, the place is very interesting and worth a visit during their open days. It is historic over 135 years old and well restored and looked after." And there are indeed reports of haunting activity at the mansion. A Lady in White has made occasional appearances and psychics claim there are other spirits.

Governor Bourke visited Berrima in 1834 and he chose the site for the building of the courthouse. He laid the foundation stone in March of 1835 and sandstone was quarried from Church Hill. The roof was made from timber shingles, which was later replaced by slate. Immediate issues developed with the original architect and contractors and so construction was stalled until Mortimer Lewis was appointed as the Colonial Architect. He designed the courthouse in the Regency style with four Doric columns across the front. The interior had decorative plasterwork cornices and cedar mouldings and the courtroom was topped by a vast "greenhouse" type structure that allowed natural light to fill the interior. This was later replaced by skylights. The front entrance was bigger than it needed to be to inspire awe in all those who entered. Juror rooms were in both wings of the courthouse. There were also Housekeeper’s rooms, a dressing room for the staff, judge’s retiring room or chambers, an office for the Clerk of the Court and a Witness Room. Even with this new architect, issues continued and construction took until 1839 to be completed. Sub-standard workmanship left the roof leaking and water seeping into the foundation and major repairs were needed over the next 20 years. 

The courthouse opened with a salaried Police Magistrate and nine police constables. It served as a Court of Assizes from 1839 to 1846. Assize courts dealt with civil matters and criminal matters that were less serious. Although here in Berrima, murder cases were tried at the courthouse. The first trial by jury in Australia took place here. This was also where all public administration was handled, like the licenses for taverns and people selling wares. Convicts also got their assignments here. Community events like dances and concerts were also held in the building, along with meetings. During World War I, German officers were kept in cells in the courthouse as prisoners-of-war. The School of the Arts used the building in the 1930s. They would be followed by other organizations until the courthouse was closed in 1972. The Department of Public Works restored the building after that and tried to bring it back to its original state and that work was finished in 1976. The Berrima Courthouse opened as a museum that is owned by the New South Wales government and managed by a trust made up of local residents.

One of the most famous cases tried here was for Lucretia Dunkley and Martin Beech in 1843. The brutality of their crime shocked the entire colony. Lucretia had arrived in Australia as a convict who had been found guilty of serious crimes and sentenced to life in prison. She married Henry Dunkley in 1834 and the two had a farm near Gunning. In 1842, Henry hired paroled convict Martin Beech to work on the farm. Martin and Lucretia soon started an affair. In September of 1842, Henry went missing. Neighbors reported the behavior of Beech and Lucretia to the local magistrate and they were arrested with a paper reporting that Dunkley's disappearance "has turned out to be one of those deep laid preconcerted acts of human butchery, which occasionally take place to the disgrace of human nature."

Lucretia had confessed that Beech entered her and her husband's bedroom with a candle and axe and hit Henry in the forehead with the axe as he slept. Beech struck Henry two more times. The force was so great that it broke Henry's back. The two then put Henry's body in a sack and buried him in a hole and then cleaned the house. Despite the confession, the couple plead not guilty and were tried and found guilty and sentenced to hang.The judge said of Lucretia, "You, Lucretia - a name ill assorted with the adulteress and the murderer! - exhibited on your trial, a tone and manner, accompanied by language, which might well excite doubt of your kindred with the human species, and lead to the conviction that the Devil himself had, for a time, assumed the female form."

The pair were quickly executed. When Lucretia was hanged, her body ejected a fetus that she had apparently been impregnated with by Beech when the two shared a cell at the Berrima Gaol. Lucretia and Beech had their heads cut off after they were hanged and the bodies were buried standing up, so that they would never know any rest. Their skulls were sent off for scientific study in phrenology. Eleven years after that, the skulls were donated to the Australian Museum where they were put in boxes and still remain. The fetal skull had also been with them, but is believed to have disintegrated. This story is told in the courthouse with an audio and light show and creepy looking mannequins.

The old Berrima Gaol was built in 1835 by a pardoned convict named James Gough and John Richards. Convicts in leg irons did the work under the watchful eyes of red coated British garrisons. The gaol had walls of stone three feet thick and thirty feet high and three wings that were two-stories high. There was a central watchtower and 34 cells. This wasn't a place anyone wanted to be with harsh conditions. Cells were dark with solid cedar doors and prisoners were confined to them nearly all day. An underground floor had three solitary confinement cells and every prisoner had to spend time in them. Eventually, a larger gaol was built in another town and this became a place for mainly older and sick prisoners. The gaol closed in 1909 and then reopened in 1949 as the Berrima Training Center after extensive rebuilding. During World War I, this was an internment camp for German prisoners. The gaol was minimum security until 1970 when it was upgraded to medium security and remained that way until 2001. In 2001, the name was changed to Berrima Correctional Center and with that came a major change. For 166 years it had just been a gaol for men and now this would be a women's gaol. It closed again in 2011, but was reopened in 2016, finally closing for good in 2020.

There were two successful escape attempts from the gaol. Bushranger Larry Oummins crawled 400 yards down a drainpipe to the river. At the end he found a grate blocking his way and managed to break it out. The other escapee was named Mad Tom Can of Careoar. He had been sentenced to the gaol after stealing a horse. He made it over the gaol wall by making a hook out of a horseshoe and tying it to a homemade rope composed of strips of a chaff bag and throwing the hook up to the edge of the wall when the guard wasn't looking. Both men were recaptured.

The courthouse features history tours and ghost tours because the place is reputedly haunted. The APPI has experienced a variety of activity while conducting tours. They've heard disembodied footsteps, had doors unlatch themselves and creak open, seen full-bodied apparitions and even had doppelgangers. There has also been piano music heard and poltergeist activity moves objects around the property. During an investigation, APPI captured an EVP that said, "Free them all cops." (EVP Berrima) A police prosecutor was attacked in the male holding cell once when APPI was investigating. They have a video on their website and it really looks like something got this guy. Perhaps a spirit that knew he was a law man and wasn't happy about it. Johnny commented, "I spent a lot of time at this location. Had footsteps walk right up to and past me. Another time loud exhaling sounds. Also a tapping sound that use codes to communicate and it was always correct." 

They conducted a sensory deprivation experiment. A guest named Liz took part and she felt the air around her become very heavy and dense and then towards the end she ducked her head quickly and she explained that even though she had headphones on, she thought she heard a loud bang. And then she felt like something was on top of her. She shook uncontrollably for about 5 minutes after the experiment. The group also conducted a table tipping session in a cell and a guest named Helen started to feel her chair being tipped forward even though no one was behind her. And then she heard heavy breathing and felt very cold. Then she thought she heard someone say the name James or John and it seemed angry. She herself felt overcome with anger and had to leave the cell. Another guest named Andrea had visited the courthouse many time and she had the following experience. She was standing next to a basin in the Judge's quarters and she had her back to the door. The doorknob started rattling. And then the door opened, but everybody who was in the building was inside the room, so who opened the door? A short time later, the door to the vanity under the basin opened by itself.

There are thought to be several spirits here. One is referred to as Pale-faced Paddy Curran. Patrick Curran had been indicted for raping a woman named Mary Wilmore in 1841. Her husband had been away and Curran accosted her when she went out for some wood and he held a knife to her throat. The jury found him guilty. He was also indicted for being an accomplice to a Patrick Berry who shot a constable named Patrick McGuire. They both beat him too. The jury deliberated for about a quarter of an hour and found Curran guilty of that crime as well. He was sentenced to death. He is seen flitting through the pine trees on dark nights.

Another ghost is referred to as the abominable John Lynch, who was said to be the most callous murderer in Australia's history. And he was a horrible man. He would go from simple thievery to serial killer. Lynch was born in Ireland in 1812. When he was nineteen-years-old, he was tried and convicted of "obtaining goods under false pretences" in 1831. He was sent the colony of New South Wales and arrived in October 1832. Lynch was assigned to work at the Oldbury Farm and by 1836, he and another man named John Williamson were tried for the murder of another assigned servant on the farm named Thomas Smith. That man's body was found in the hollow of a fallen tree about a mile from the convict huts at the farm. There were two heavy pieces of wood nearby covered in blood and human hair. The case rested on a witness who wasn't found to be credible and Lynch was found not guilty. Lynch later confessed that he did kill the man. He was put on a chain gang and later turns up in 1839 having reported being stabbed by three other convicts who were sentenced to death. Those sentences were commuted to being sent to a penal settlement. It later came out that Lynch was bragging about how he got three men transported from the colony, but in actuality he had stabbed himself to get revenge on them for something. 

Lynch escaped and committed the Razorback murders in which he killed a young aboriginal boy and a man named Edmund Ireland with a tomahawk. He stole their stuff and headed towards Berrima where he committed the Fraser murders. This was a father and son and Lynch again used the tomahawk and stole their stuff. In Berrima, he hit the Mulligan Farm and killed John Mulligan and his de facto wife Bridget Macnamara and her two children. One of them was Mary who was only 13 and Lynch violated her before murdering her. He then piled the bodies up and burned them and then squatted on the property for six months. As papers related, the sickest thing about this guy was that "he -always prayed to the Almighty for aid before committing his killings."

His final murder would be his undoing. He met a 27-year-old man named Kearns Landregan along the road in February 1842. He asked the young man to come with him to Berrima to do some fencing and so they traveled together. They camped near the Ironstone Bridge about seven miles from Berrima. The morning of February 20th, Lynch hit Landregan on the back of the head with the tomahawk twice. He dragged the body into the brush and decided to come back later to bury it. The next day, a labourer was passing by and found the body and reported it in Berrima. A publican named John Chalker told the authorities that he had seen the dead man in the company of John Lynch. The two had dinner at his establishment. He later went with the police to identify John Lynch. Lynch was arrested and indicted for Landregan's murder. And then more people came forward and before long, the authorities realized they had a multi-murderer on their hands. The Sydney Herald said of Lynch, "We doubt whether there ever existed in this Colony a man so deep in crime as this man, and yet his appearance is not in the least such as would lead one to suppose he was a murderer." Lynch was a good-looking guy who only stood 5 foot 3 inches tall. Lynch was tried in the Berrima Courthouse on March 21, 1842 and found guilty of Landregan's murder. He was sentenced to hang. Lynch had killed at least ten people, so this was justice for all of them. Before the trap door swung down ending Lynch's life, he did a little step-dance for the crowd.

A third spirit here is said to be Lucretia Dunkley and she appears as a headless apparition. Martin Beech's spirit is here as well, missing his head too. Paranormal investigator Judy Kemme and psychic June Cleeland are part of Southern Highlands Ghost Hunts and Investigations. Kemme told The Sydney Morning Herald, "You can never guarantee paranormal activity is going to happen, but I've never had it not happen in here. We've heard doors slamming, voices, and you'll probably feel the presence as you go in." She pointed to the jail next door and said, "People were hanged just over there, and the bodies were buried standing up just inside that wall. So you never know who's going to be hanging around." Cleeland definitely feels like Lucretia is haunting the courthouse. She told the paper, "This is one of the most haunted places I've been in. Some of them, like Lucretia, are not really aware most of time. She's lost in her own anger, bitterness and resentment. But there are others that will stand giggling, watching you, and they want to do things, make noises. Others are sort of passing through."

Berrima has a long history in Australia and many firsts for the colony happened in this little village. Are there spirits of killers walking the streets and hanging out in the buildings? Are these locations in Berrima haunted? That is for you to decide!

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