‘Action Stations’ in Crime Investigation

From the April-June 1947 issue of the APJ

Senior Detective H. R. Donelly, C.I. Branch, Melbourne
An article from the April – June 1947 issue of the APJ, extolling the benefits of wireless patrolling.

The following case history is an indication of the means by which the resources of a well-equipped Police Force can be marshalled to aid the investigation of crime.

The late Duncan Campbell was a single man (55), a clerk by occupation, and although he resided in a distant suburb of Melbourne, frequently spent his evenings along the beach front at Middle Park. At 9.30pm on 16th August, 1946, he was found murdered outside a refreshment kiosk at Cowderoy Street, Middle Park.

John William Yuille and Robert Kennedy, who were subsequently charged with the murder, were 17 and 16 years of age, respectively. Yuille, who was born in Richmond, had a considerable criminal record. He followed the occupation of a labourer and early in August, 1946, sought employment from an Employment Bureau where he obtained a position with Mr. Fraser, grazier, of Glenthompson, Victoria. Within a few days of Yuille’s arrival at the farm, Mr. Frazer and his family were called away. During their absence, Yuille stole Mr Frazer’s pea-rifle and, with the aid of a meat saw, cut the stock and barrel from the rifle to make it resemble a pistol, and tried its accuracy on rats which were scampering about the farm. On the night of 13th August, 1946, Yuille broke into his employer’s house and stole two more firearms, 200 rounds of ammunition, clothing and money. He then caught Mr Frazer’s farm pony and rode it until he came to a bus route near Ararat, where he abandoned the pony and returned to Melbourne by train. On arrival at Melbourne, he booked accommodation at one of Melbourne’s leading hotels under an assumed name, where he left the stolen property.

On the afternoon of 14th August, 1946, Yuille went to the Regent Picture Theatre at Fitzroy, where he sat next to Robert Kennedy. During the interval Yuille spoke to Kennedy and showed him the sawn pea-rifle which he had in a leather satchel, explaining that he had sawn it off so that it could be carried in the satchel, as it was his intention to hold people up and rob them. Kennedy was impressed with the scheme and decided there and then to join Yuille in this project. Kennedy was not working and resided with his widowed mother at Collingwood, therefore the prospect of obtaining money easily appealed to him.

The following day Yuille and Kennedy met by arrangement at a theatre in Bourke Street, Melbourne, and later that night went by tram to Kew, where they saw a man in sports attire walking along the street. Yuille pointed the firearm at this man, whilst Kennedy placed his hand on a long-bladed knife which he carried in his inside coat pocket – the man handed over his money and left. Yuille and Kennedy then went a short distance and, adopting the same procedure, intercepted another man and relieved him of his overcoat, money and wristlet watch.

Following these hold-ups, Yuille and Kennedy lay hidden in a vacant allotment for some hours, in anticipation that the offences may have been reported and Police cars detailed to search the locality. Later they separated – Yuille returned to the hotel, and Kennedy, returned home explaining his absence by saying that he had been to the pictures.

On 16th August, 1946, they again met in Melbourne by arrangement, and after tea they went by train to St. Kilda. Yuille still had the loaded firearm in the satchel. On arrival at St. Kilda, they went and searched for a victim in an isolated spot, and it was not until a few minutes after 9pm that they saw the unfortunate man, Campbell, walking towards them in Cowderoy Street, Middle Park. Yuille said to Kennedy ‘We will take him,’ at the same time cocking the firearm which he took from the satchel. He then pointed the gun at Campbell’s chest and demanded his money. Kennedy stood close to Yuille with his hand on a long-bladed knife partly protruding from his pocket. Campbell, who was carrying a wrapped bottle of wine in his right hand, threw his hands in the air and called out. Yuille then fired point-blank and shot Campbell through the chest. Both youths then ran from the scene.

The shot rang out in the stillness of the night, disturbing residents, and was heard by people walking in the locality who, on investigation, found Campbell lying on his back, dead, on the footpath outside a kiosk.

Police Headquarters were notified by telephone, and a wireless patrol car, manned by a sergeant and two constables, was directed to the scene by radio. After brief enquiries Headquarters radioed for the assistance of detectives. This call was acknowledged and detectives were soon on the spot carrying out investigations.

Victoria Police detectives standing next to a wireless police patrol car. Image reproduced with permission from the collection of Victoria Police.

The ballistic expert and photographer were summoned, the body was photographed, and after its position had been recorded it was searched for the purpose of ascertaining identity and, if possible, the cause of death. This search established the identity of the victim and also the fact that he had been shot at close range through the chest from the front with a bullet of .22 calibre. The bullet had passed through the clothes and body, and was adhering to the overcoat at the back of the deceased. The fired cartridge case, which had been ejected from the firearm, was recovered a few yards from the body on the grass strip at the edge of the footpath.

The body was removed to the City Morgue where a post mortem disclosed that a bullet had passed through the heart and lung in its passage through the body, and death was instantaneous.

From the time the finding of the body was reported, squads of detectives were detailed for various enquiries to trace the suspected killer, such as enquiring from people living in and visiting the district; checking tram and train routes, taxi cabs and obtaining particulars of stolen cars in case any of these means of transport were used by the killer.

By these means, information was obtained that two youths of very small build were seen running in the locality soon after the shot was heard. This information was radioed back to Headquarters and relayed to police stations and wireless equipped cars. This description was somewhat identical with that of the two youths who had perpetrated the hold-ups at Kew on the previous evening.

Through the medium of the department’s radio communication system, all mobile units and police in the metropolitan area were directed to keep a look-out for these two youths whose meagre description had been circulated. Detectives were detailed to visit lodging houses, eating houses, and other places which youths of this wayward type would be likely to frequent.

During the progress of enquiries, a bookmaker of Glenhuntly reported to police by telephone that he had just been held up near his home by two youths armed with a sawn-off pea rifle and sheath knife, and had been robbed of a little over £4 in notes and silver.

A study of the operational map of the metropolitan area at Police Headquarters indicated at a glance the possible means of transport and routes by which these criminals would be likely to return to the city from Glenhuntly, and all wireless mobile units were directed to major roads, intersections, railway stations and tram routes in the area.

Shortly after midnight, the crew of a mobile unit patrolling near Richmond Railway Station intercepted two youths as they were leaving the railway station, who vaguely answered the broadcast description of the suspects.

When challenged, Yuille, who was carrying a leather satchel, told the constables that it contained papers that he had taken from the office, and on the pretence of showing them to the constables placed his right hand in the satchel and cocked the sawn-off pea rifle hidden there. One of the constables closed with Yuille and a violent struggle followed, during which Yuille manipulated the gun from the bag, but it was knocked from his grip by the constable. The gun was still in the cocked position, with a bullet in the chamber. At the moment Yuille cocked the gun, his companion broke loose and was pursued by the other constable who caught and subdued him after a struggle, during which Kennedy attempted to use a large sheath knife which he had concealed in the inside pocket of his coat.

Yuille and Kennedy were conveyed to Police Headquarters where they were further searched. Yuille, besides having in his possession money which he had stolen from his hold-up victims, had 100 pea rifle cartridges secreted about his person.

The two youths were interviewed by detectives engaged on the investigation who were, by this time, in possession of much detail regarding the movements of the suspects. They made complete confessions, admitting that on the night of the 15th August, 1946, they held up a man at Kew, whilst they were armed with the loaded sawn-off pea rifle and the sheath knife, and obtained money from this man. According to them, thy then went a considerable distance and caught up with another man walking in the same direction as themselves. They held this man up by pushing the cocked gun into his ribs, whilst the other menaced him with the sheath knife. They took from this man his overcoat and wristlet watch, together with all his money, then instructed him to jump a fence nearby and run uphill, at the same time telling him that if he dared to look back before he got out of sight they would shoot him. This man obeyed their instructions and hid in a ditch until he was satisfied they had left the locality; meanwhile Yuille and Kennedy had run from the scene to uninhabited country where they hid in the long grass at the side of the road for some hours to avoid possible detection by the police. They then returned to the city. Yuille was wearing the overcoat and wristlet watch at the time of his arrest.

Both Yuille and Kennedy went on to relate how they had held up Duncan Campbell at Middle Park on the night of their arrest, and shot him through the chest. Yuille, when making his confession, appeared to be unmoved and showed no signs of regret. His demeanour was that of a callous criminal although because of his youth and smallness of stature he would have great difficulty in intimidating any person unless armed with a lethal weapon. The youth Kennedy was a morose type and was more inclined to blame Yuille than accept his own responsibility in these escapades.

It will be seen how callous Yuille and Kennedy were when it is realised that, immediately they shot Campbell, they caught a tram in a street nearby and travelled into one of the main metropolitan railway stations (Flinders Street). Here they caught a train to Caulfield, where they alighted and held up Foulsham within two hours of having committed the murder.

Yuille was later taken to the room he was occupying at the hotel, where it was found that he had another rifle, and a shot gun from which he had attempted to remove portion of the stock and barrel, apparently for the purpose of secreting this weapon, too, about his person. About 50 shot gun cartridges were also found in his room, together with literature depicting gangsters and their exploits.

To complete the chain of evidence, both these youths were taken over the scenes of their crimes and allowed to point out where these were committed, and how they approached and left the scene.

Yuille and Kennedy were charged with murder and Campbell and three charges of robbery under arms; Yuille in addition admitted another robbery under arms, house breakings and several larcenies.

Before they were charged, as is customary, Yuille and Kennedy were asked whether they had any complaint in regard to their treatment by the police. They both told an independent police officer that they had been treated well. At the coronial enquiry into Campbell’s death, both were represented by counsel, who enquired of each detective when giving evidence as to whether Yuille or Kennedy was struck by the detectives prior to making their confessions. They received a negative reply. Such allegations are becoming a common feature of the defence in these cases, especially when there is little or no evidence other than the prisoner’s confession.

At the trial of these two youths, Kennedy’s counsel retracted his former accusations, alleging that his client had been exceptionally well treated, but at this stage blamed Yuille for Kennedy’s adventures in crime. Yuille’s former counsel withdrew from the case for some unknown reason, but his new counsel enquired of the detectives whether a piece of rag had been tied around Yuille’s head and twisted for the purpose of obtaining a confession from him. Neither Kennedy nor Yuille gave evidence on oath, but both made an unsworn statement from the dock, when Yuille reiterated his counsel’s statement to the effect that a piece of rag had been tied around his head and twisted, and that was why he made the statement admitting that he shot Campbell.

Yuille was found guilty of the murder and sentenced to death by the presiding judge. As is he rule in such cases, the death sentence is under consideration by the Governor-in-Council. Kennedy was acquitted of the murder charge and discharged, but on 28th November, 1946, he appeared before the Children’s Court, Melbourne, on three charges of robbery under arms. He was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment on each charge; thereafter to be detained in the Reformatory Prison during the Governor’s pleasure.

It is of interest to mention points of law which arose in this case regarding the admissibility of evidence of the two prior hold-ups and the one subsequent hold-up in an endeavour to prove intent, negative accidence, to prove course of conduct and to prove identity. This evidence was admitted at the preliminary hearing and at the trial.

Yuille appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeal against his conviction and sentence for murder and one of the grounds was that the evidence relating to the three hold-ups was wrongly admitted; that it could only be admitted at his trial for murder if he had set up the defence of accident or disputed his identity. The Court of Criminal Appeal, consisting of Mr Justice Gavan Duffy, Mr Justice O’Brien and Mr Justice Fullagar, dismissed the appeal and ‘held that such evidence was rightly admitted and could be admitted at the discretion of the trial judge.

Editor’s 2020 postscript: checks of the trove.nla.gov.au website revealed the jury, when it returned a guilty verdict, recommended mercy due to the youth’s age. In January 1947 Victoria’s State Executive Council commuted the death sentence to 20 years’ imprisonment with remissions. Senior Detective Hugh Donelly continued to serve with Victoria Police for two decades after he wrote this article. As a Detective Inspector he led the Homicide Squad for 12 years. He received the Queens Police Medal in 1963. The image of the author is reproduced with permission from the collection of Victoria Police.

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