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HomeNewsManillaFROM THE PAST… Shocking Tragedy Highway Murder

FROM THE PAST… Shocking Tragedy Highway Murder

Tragedy Highway Murder

Shire Engineer shot, murderer commits suicide. This story is reprinted from the Manilla Express of 8th September 1921 … and will be told in four parts.

Thunderboltís Rock was a huge sandstone rock on the western side of the road from Barraba to Manilla and a mile or so from Tarpoly Creek. The Rock was so large in extent that a four-wheeled vehicle, even a truck sheltering behind it could not be observed from the otherside.

It got its name from the fact that the bushranger Thunderbolt some- times hid behind it waiting for the mail coach to come along from Tamworth. The Members of the Manilla Shire Council must have been very sen- sitive about the murder and suicide that took place within its boundaries for they did an extremely silly thing.

One the excuse that Thunderboltís Rock presented a traffic hazard, they had the rock blown to pieces with explosives and the pieces car- ried away and thrown down Tarpoly Creek, there by robbing Manilla of what, today would be a prime tourist attraction. Now for the story…

Part 1

In the peace and sunshine of Wednesday morning a horrible deed was enacted a few miles from Manilla, when Mr Kirkcaldy Shire Engineer, was murdered with a shotgun by a stranger who afterwards blew the top off his own head with the death-dealing weapon. A Barraba resident and his two children were coming to Manilla in a car when they were horrified to see two dead men lying by the roadside. A telephone message was sent to the Manilla Police and Sergt. Ferris, Constable Clarke and Dr Rayson hurried to the scene. The following particulars were made available.

Between 10.30 and 11 am on the Barraba Road, about 14 miles from Manilla near the spot known as Thunderboltís Rock, a double tragedy took place and appears to be a case of murder and suicide.

The victims of the tragedy are Mrs Norman Kirkcaldy, Shire Engineer for the Mandowa Shire, Manilla and a man who is a stranger to the dis- trict.

It is surmised that the stranger, who was travelling in a buggy, pulled up on the roadside and evidently challenged Mr Kirkcaldy who was trav- elling towards Barraba in a car. The car was pulled to a standstill slight- ly off the road on the left hand side; and probably while Mr Kirkcaldy was pulling up the car a shot was fired at him from a single barrel shot gun and the top of the glass windscreen was broken on the driving side. It would then appear as if the Shire Engineer got out of the car, when another shot was fired at him hitting him on the right side of the leg and shot his right-hand pocket out, as coins which were afterwards found on the ground near the side of the car had shot marks on them.

It can only be surmised that he then ran around the back of the car, evidently trying to dodge his away from the car and that when he was going down pulled off a root of a tree, apparently to defend himself.

It is not clear how the last shots were fired. It is presumed Tillings having killed Kirkcaldy, turned the gun on himself and took his own life. His body, containing a frightful wound to the left breast, was found about 24 yards away, near the buggy and was lying face downward with the top of his head blown away. The body as lying with the left arm across the stock of the gun which was a single barrel breech loader.

Five empty shells were found near the scene and one empty shell in the gun. Among the belongings of the stranger is a gun licence issued under section 4 to Edward Ernest Tilling. This was issued at Howlong on March 12, 1921. The particulars of the gun mentioned in the license cor- respond with those of the weapon found on deceased.

The engineer before leaving in the morning, left a note for Mr Coates, Shire Clerk, as under: Have gone out on Barraba Road to Bettison and Bennettís work return for lunch. While he was talking with the men Tilling drove by, going in the direction of Barraba. He said ëGood morningí and the salutation was exchanged by the others. Soon after Mr Kirkcaldy drove on in the same direction ñto meet his tragic death.

There is nothing to account for the reason of the ghastly affair. Clearly it was a determined highway murder and suicide.

The late Mr Kirkcaldy was 52 years of age. He was a much travelled man of wide experience, embracing an engagement on a large engi- neering work in Russia. He possessed splendid qualifications in the engineering world and was entitled to attach to his name the initials. AMICE. Mr Kirkcaldy has been in Manilla for ten months, having succeeded Mr Baird as Shire Engineer. Prior to coming here he was engineer to the Burragong Shire and Demondrille Shire.

The funeral took place this afternoon. Among those present were members of the Caledonian Society, Shire Councillors and officers, Shire employees, The Mayor, Alderman and officials. Wreaths from the Shire Council, Employees, and Caledonian Society were laid on the pol- ished coffin. A short service was held in the Presbyterian Church by the Rev. W. A Thompson before the cortege moved for the cemetery The deceasedís brother arrived from Sydney this morning to attend the funeral. He is present on a visit to this country from Surry (Eng.) and the brothers had agreed to meet very shortly in Sydney.

The Body of the perpetrator of the deed was buried this morning in the Presbyterian portion of the cemetery. The Rev W.A Thompson read the burial service.


EVIDENCE AT INQUIRY – From the Manilla Express, September 1921…

An inquest into the deaths of Norman Melville Kirkcaldy Shire Engineer, of Mandowa and Edward Ernest Tillings who were found shot on the roadside at Thunderboltís Rock, near Manilla, on September 7th, was opened by the Coroner, Mr Kennedy at Manilla on Saturday afternoon.

Alice Sophie Rowlinson deposed that she was a resident of Bellingen and was on a visit to her father; Jacob Broadbeck, of Barraba. On September 7 she came from Barraba to Manilla. At Tarpoly railway siding witness saw two men lying, one on the side of the road, also a motor car and buggy. Both appeared to be dead. Witness drove on to Upper Manilla and informed the Police at Manilla.

To the Coroner: There were three of them in the car ñ witness, her father and her sister. They did not stop the car and the first they met was the service car about 200 yards away. There was no suggestion made to pull up. Witness said to her father, ìDonít Stopî.

Jacob Broadbeck, a grazier, residing at Millie Creek, Barraba, gave corroborating evidence. He said there was a horse standing near the buggy but he did not see it was harnessed or not. The man lying on the right was covered in blood as if he had his head half blown off. The other seemed as if he was dead. Witness did not pull up on account of having the girls with him. He went straight on and reported to Upper Manilla. He met the service car and told the occupants. He did not recognise either men ñ it took him all his time to see where he was going. He thought both were dead. To the Coroner: If witness had had a man with him he would have pulled up. He thought the girls would get a terrible fright.

George Chester Ferris, Sergeant of Police at Manilla, said that on receipt of the message from Upper Manilla he got into communication with the Coroner and later with the Government Medical Officer Dr Rayson. With Dr Rayson and Constable Clark witness proceeded to the spot. He found the body of Kirkcaldy lying on the right side of the road, about 4 feet off the road. He was on the broad of his back. On the other side of the road he saw the body of another man, lying in a crouched position, face downwards with his legs slightly drown up. A single barrel shot gun (produced) was lying with the stock underneath the left side of the body and left hand across the top of the gun. Deceased had the top of his head blown away. The gun had an empty shell in it and appeared to have been recently discharged. The two bodies were placed in the buggy and brought to the Manilla Hospital morgue.

Witness examined the bodies in company with the Doctor. Kirkcaldy had been shot in the back and the right side. The gunshot had taken a portion of the right pocket away and a portion of the bottom of his coat. He had also been shot under the right arm and on the left side just under the breast ñ the letter from a very close range. Some papers in deceased pocket showed the shot through it ñ that was a fatal shot. There were also two holes at the back of Kirkcaldyís hat. There were no marks on Tillings body beyond the wound in the head.

Previous to bringing the body in witness picked up two shilling pieces near the car (produced). One had two shot marks on it. He also picked up five empty cartridge cases which were similar to the one in the gun and would fit the gun. One of the empty cartridges was found in the buggy, the others on the road near the car. Among the belongings in the buggy was a gun licence issued under Section 4 of the Gun Licence Act 1920 in the name of Edward Ernst Tillings at Howlong, NSW on March 12 1921. The gun described in the licence. A number of receipts were also found by witness showing that Tillings was at Coonabarabran on August 13 1921; Tarrawingee Bridge, Victoria, March 1921; Narracoorte, South Australia, October 7 last where he bought the gun produced from G.W. Davidge and packet of cart ridges for three pounds ten shillings. Tillings was at Tamworth on February 9 1916; Sydney March 7 1917; and the Pine Vale Tubbul, NSW, February 8 1918. Kirkcaldyís car had gone slightly off the road on the left side, came back on the road and again went off on the left, where it was found.

Lying on the opposite side to Kirkcaldlyís body the root of a tree (produced) was found. Tracks led into a gully and witness could see the root had been wrenched off the bank probably as the two were running down. He thought it had been pulled off by Kirkcaldy either defend himself or to keep the dogs away. Tillings had two very savage dogs ñ one afterwards had to be shot before they could carry on. The gun had a spring extraction which would allow it to be loaded quickly.

To the Coroner: Four of the cartridges were about eight to ten feet away from the car. The top windscreen was broken. The brake was on the car and the petrol turned off. There was blood on the steering wheel, on the hood, on the left hand of the hood on the back mudguard. No cartridges were found on the side where Kirkcaldyís body lay. The only cartridges near Tilings body were the one in the buggy and the one in the gun.

Hugh Rayson, Government Officer at Manilla, deposed that he saw the body of tillings lying 24 feet from the road. The whole of the left vault of the skull had been blown away and brain mater was exposed and destroyed. On the body of Mr Kirkcaldy there were several wounds. There was a slight wound in the region on the right hip, with some superficial shot marks. On the right side in the region of the breast pocket the coat had been shot away apparently by a shot fired at close quarters, but there was no wound in the region. There was another wound in the left side about the level of the seventh or eighth rib, which had apparently been caused by the gun being placed right against the coat in which there was a hole ñ powder marks and a wad mark and wad of the cartridge. Undoubtedly this wound was the immediate cause of death. A further wound was caused by a shot apparently fired from behind, the whole of the upper part of the back and lower part of the skull being marked by shot holes.

To the Coroner: In Tillingís case the wound could have been self-inflicted with the gun produced in court. Witness though Kirkcaldy was standing up when he received the fatal shot ñ the wound in his back could not have been self inflicted. He fell sure the gun was right up against the coat when the fatal shot was fired.

To Sergeant Ferris: With the exception of the wound on Tillingsí head there were no other marks of violence.The approximate age of Tillings would be from 50 to 60 year.
Arthur Edward Rolp, a ganger on the railway, residing at Upper Manilla, stated he was at work on the railway line in the vicinity of the big rock on September 7. A few minutes after 11 oíclock witness heard a gun shot. Looking round he saw a man in a grey suit who appeared to be at the back wheel of the car on the left side effecting repairs. He also saw a man in buggy behind ñ nearer to Manilla than the car.

The man in grey appeared to fall back as though his hands had slipped off the car. The man in the buggy drove past the car on the right side. The Man in the buggy took the horse out of the buggy, unharnessed the horse and let him go and walked back towards the car. The two men went behind the buggy from where the witness was standing. Witness heard three more gun shots fired very closely together and saw the men walking sideways. They went behind the car and another shot was fired. The man in the black suit walked around in front of the car and over to the buggy. Witness saw him put up a gun as though putting it in the buggy, then saw him stooping position and heard another gun shot. Witness saw no more either of the men, nor heard any more sounds. When the man was stopping he could not say if he had the gun in his hand. When they were walking to the gully then man in grey was slightly in front. Witness was about a quarter of a mile away.

Some seconds after the first shot was fired the man in black was fired the man in black was still in the buggy. From the first shot until he started to take the horse out of the buggy would be one or two minutes. He did the unharnessing very quickly. The man in grey fell on the ground before the man in black had unharnessed the horse. He appeared to fall on his back and witness saw him get up again and put his hand to the back of his head. He stood still, holding his head, while the man in black unharnessed the sulky. They then got behind the buggy and the three shots were fired. From the first shot to the last would be about three or four minutes. When the witness heard the last shot he thought he saw the man fall back.

There were two other letters with witness ñ John Stringer and Ernest Dann. Witness thought a tragedy was being enacted and the reason he did not go up was because he had the road unrepairand could not leave it for 15 minutes. It was necessary for the three of them to remain where they were. During the last three weeks witness had seen a similar buggy go backwards and forwards several times.

To Sergeant Ferris: Witness did not hear any dogs barking; nor did he see any dogs. Albert Bettison, a shire ganger, residing at Manilla, said he worked for the Mandowa Council. He was a ganger under the late Mr Kirkcaldy and had travelled about the roads a good deal with him in his car. Witness had heard him rouse on people for not keeping on their right side. He had never heard Kirkcaldy use bad language or threaten anybody. The man, in the buggy alledged to be Tillings, passed witness on
the Wednesday morning and the Engineer pulled up just behind him on the Manilla side. The Engineer was with witness three quarters of an hour when the man in the buggy had passed by. It was about seven or eight minutes from where witnessís gang was to where the tragedy happened.

The inquest was adjourned until October 1 next for the production of further evidence regarding the antecedent history of Edward Ernest Tillings and to receive the evidence of witnesses Stringer and Dunn.


FROM THE PAST – 4th October 1921

The inquest into the death of Norman Melville Kirkcaldy and Edwin Ernest Tilling, who were found dead on the Manilla-Barraba Road, near Thunderboltís Rock, was resumed at the Manilla Court House today before the Coroner Mr J .D Kennedy.

John Stringer, a fettler residing at Tarpoly, deposed that on the morning of September 7, he was working on the railway line near the big rock. About 11 oíclock he heard a shot fired. Looking round he caught a glimpse of the wind- screen of a motor car. The latter seemed to shoot across the road to stop. A buggy came up behind. Next he saw that the man had got out of the motor and witness thought he was in a stooping position doing repairs to the back wheel; then he fell backwards.

The man in the buggy drove round the car, drew off the road, took his horse out and walked back to the car. Witness could not see if he was carrying anything. He heard three more shots fired in quick succession and then the two men got behind the motor car from view. Another shot was fired and witness saw a man dressed in dark clothes, walk back to the buggy. He could then see the gun shinning in his hand. The man put his hand up to the seat of the buggy and another shot was fired. When witness looked around after the first shot the motor car and the buggy were both travelling in the same direction; the buggy seemed to be about 10 or 15 yards away from the car. Witness and his mates were working about a quarter of a mile away. He thought they were shooting rabbits and at the time did not think that one of the men was shooting the other. He did not hear either of the men sing out nor any dogs barking.

Witness examined a sketch of the locality which he said was approximately cor- rect. Two of them were working together on the railway line, within walking dis- tance. A third man was 20 feet further away. Even after the last shot and when both men had disappeared witness did not think they were shooting one another, nor that one man had shot himself. It was about four minutes from the time the first shot was fired until the last one.

Witness reiterated his opinion that judging by the way then men were stepping about that they were shooting rabbits. The rabbits appeared to him to be on the other side of the road from where then men were. They looked to be quite friend- ly ñ one shooting at rabbits and the other walking about following him. He told the ganger what he thought but could not hear what he said in reply. Witness never discussed the matter afterwards with the others. Coulton asked of him where he was working and he said a quarter of a mile away. He asked ìdid you see itî and witness said ìnoî.

Rolph did not say anything to witness that he could remember. When the first shot was fired Rolph said: ìhis tyres blew outî. Nothing was said about going over to see what has happened that witness could remember. H e would have gone over had he known one man was shooting another. They had a lot of line up and if they had gone they would have had to put up flags and detonators; it would have put them to a bit of trouble. Rolph said nothing till the service car came. He came over after he saw the men in the service car and said there has been a tragedy ñ witness was probably 40 yards away from him.

To Sergeant Ferris: One man was in light clothes and the other in dark. While the shooting weeks before, up and down the road, that he saw there that day. He did not say to someone that he was out of it and would keep out of it.

Earnest Malcolm Dann, a fettler, residing at Upper Manilla, who was also work- ing on the railway line at the time, gave similar evidence. He said he thought he had seen the horse and buggy pass along the road twice before. Witness heard a man from the service telling Ganger Rolph about the tragedy. He asked ìdid you hear any shooting going on?í and Rolph replied yes: there are two men shot down the road here.í Rolph further said: Well I heard the shots and saw the menî . Witness could not swear to it, but he thought that was what was said. They did not talk over what had happened, but witness heard Stringer say ëThat shooting seems strangeí just as he came up. From what he saw and thought at that time there was nothing wrong. He was talking to several people afterwards about the affair.

Apart from the buggy the view was open and rise in the ground would not stop him from seeing it. Witness was 20 or 30 yards away from his mates when he heard the shots. He never spoke to the man who passed in the buggy. He heard no shouting nor noise. He did not go because he did not think there was anything wrong nor did he think that he should report it. A car before the service car came along from Barraba, It passed straight down the road about three to five minutes after the affair. Going was never mentioned so far as witness knew.

George Chester Ferris, Sergeant of Police stationed at Manilla, deposed that he had Police inquiries made respecting at Tamworth, Coonabarabran, Howlong, Bingara and Murrumburrah; also from the Registrar Generalís Office in Victoria. So far papers had not come back from Walpeup Shire.

From inquiries made at Howlong, witness found that Tillings was a stranger in that district and that he had come over from Victoria and had camped on the bank of the river for a fortnight previous to getting his gun licence. When he applied for the licence he stated that he had no fixed place of abode and was nearly always travelling about.

Witness produced a statement signed by Netterville John Davis, a Shire employee at Bingara, stating that almost six weeks ago a man driving in a buggy and accompanied by two dogs, whose description answered that of Tillings, had some conversation with him on the Bingara ñ Barraba Road. He complained that the people about Bingara looked upon him with suspicion and wanted shooting, but that he wanted to see one man die before he did.

A letter was also produced from M. A. Parkes, of Curra Creek, near Wellington stating that she had a brother named Edwin Ernest Tillings whom she had not seen for eleven years and whom she had last heard of at Toowoomba, Queensland. Her description was identical with that of Tillings.

Sergeant Toohey, Police Station, Murrumburrah, wrote stating that Kirkcaldy was engineer to the Demondribble Shire Murrumburrah for two and half years and resigned that position last October. When there he told Shire foreman named Adams with whom he was very friendly, that he only had one enemy in the world and that enemy had threatened to shoot him. Adams did not know who or where the enemy was but thought the trouble had occurred in New Zealand. Some trou- ble had occurred in a mine there were Kirkcaldy was engineer.

A letter was read from W.M Stones of Haberfield, Sydney, stating that he knew Mr Kirkcaldy very well. She now resided at Bernie, Switzerland. He had worked with her during the war for several months. She was of Swiss birth, having Russian blood in her veins on her motherís side. She met her husband in Eastern Siberia where he was employed as an engineer. After her marriage she spent some time on the West Coast of Africa and afterwards in London. When war broke out she was with her people at Bernie and Kirkcaldy was in Australia, where she intended joining him. The submarine menace prevented this. She had two children, a boy and girl aged eight and eleven years respectively.

A further adjournment of the inquest was made to October 29; the Coroner stat- ing that it had now become necessary owing to the turn of events in connection with the tragedy, to find out if possible what was the motive of the murder. From the evidence Kirkcaldy undoubtedly had an enemy and as outside developments were likely to arise it now became necessary to find out what the motive was.


FINAL – reprinted from the Manilla Express, 1st November 1921

The Coroner’s Finding
The inquest into the death of Norman Melville Kirkcaldy, Manilla Shire Engineer and Edwin Ernest Tilings, whose bodies were found shot on the road between Manilla and Barraba, near Thunderboltís Rock was concluded at the Manilla Court House before Coroner, Mr J. D Kennedy.

George Chester Ferris, Sergeant of Police stationed at Manilla, said he had had extensive inquiries made in Victoria regarding Kirkcaldy and Tillings. The inquiries did not result in any information being obtained. Witness produced stat- uary declarations from Netterville John Davis, of Bingara, and Clarence Henry Irwin, of Tingha. Inquiries made at Molong, New South Wales and witness read the following extract from a report by George E Frankish, Constable of Police at Molong.

Mrs Tillings states that her son Edwin Ernest was born at Molong in September 1879 and that he left home about 13 years ago. She last heard of him about 13 years ago from Toowoomba, Queensland. From that date onwards she never heard anything of him and although she advertised for him several times, she has not been able to locate him. His brother, John Sydney Tillings was admitted to a mental hospital at the age of 26 years and still confined there as a hopeless men- tal patient.

Witness said he also had a report from the Police at Wellington, New South Wales from which he read an extract to the effect that the gun licence had been shown to Mrs Park and her husband and they both said they had no doubt what- ever that the signature upon it was that of Edward Tillings, Mrs Parkís brother. Witness put in a gun licence which was issued to Tillings at Howlong, New South Wales on March 12 last. So far as the inquiries had gone, witness said he could not get any information regarding any deceased Tillings property other than that found in his possession and which when sold realised thirteen pounds sixteen and threepence (exclusive of 8/3 found on his person).

During the inquiries witness interviewed Mrs Boland, a storekeeper, of Upper Manilla who informed him that Tillings called at her store on the morning of the tragedy and purchased some goods. When paying for the goods he pulled out of his pocket a roll of notes. Mrs Boland, in answer to questions, said if they were all single notes there would be five or six and certainly not more than ten. Witness carefully searched the belongings of the deceased and the locality where the tragedy occurred, but was unable to find any of the notes. Kirkcaldyís visible prop- erty consisted of the contents of his room – a wardrobe of clothing, three suit cases and some instruments. These were handed over to the Public Trusteeís agent at Manilla.

This concluded the evidence.
Mr Hills, representing the Public Trustee, addressed the Coroner. He said he thought the Coroner had a very good idea of how this tragedy was enacted. In piecing the evidence together he submitted that it was proved beyond even rea- sonable doubt that Tillings murdered Kirkcaldy and then committed suicide. One generally looked for a cause or a motive in a double tragedy like this and it was the motive aspect of the case that he would like to refer to more particularly. By the data and evidence adducted the motive was not made clear ñ it was consid- erably clouded ñ and the real motive for the murder was not disclosed.

There was evidence, but it was not really good evidence, that Tillings had con- fided to others that ëthere was one man he wanted to shootí or words to that effect and a reference to a mining deal. Allowing this, the Coroner had no evidence to connect Tillingsí prospective victim with Kirkcaldy. The Coroner had information before him that one of Tillingsí brothers was mentally afflicted and this act was no doubt the act of a man not in his normal senses ñ with a lust to kill, motive or no motive. The Coroner generally agreed. He was not quite sure as to the man not being sufficiently normal. Mr Hills contended that the deed was such a cold-blooded affair that the man would not have been normal. The Coroner thought that no man was normal when he committed murder, but he was not sufficiently un-normal that he was not responsible for his action. The murder was planned in cold blood and was systematically carried out.

With regard to the motive they had tried their utmost to find a motive, but had failed. He complimented the police most highly on their search and efforts in New South Wales, Victoria and elsewhere. There were certain suspicions thrown on the matter by the evidence given. There was the evidence at Bingara to the effect that Tillings said he was determined to kill somebody. But there was no proof that these menís lives had crossed; however, he was quite satifised it was a case of deliberate murder.
The Coroner found that Kirkcaldy had been feloniously murdered by Tillings, but the evidence did not enable him to say what the motive was or what were the circumstances immediately before the murder. There was no evidence to show what the cause was. Something might have happened on that day immediately preceding the tragedy.

The Coroner found Tillings died from a gunshot wound wilfully inflicted by him- self.