Incident at the 'Green and Cream Cafe'

01.03.2019

tags: NT, murder, police death,

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By Noel Johnson

From the March 2019 issue of the APJ.

The town of Katherine is located some 320 km to the south-east of Darwin in the Northern Territory. It is a thriving outback town with a population of around 10,000 people. Situated on the beautiful Katherine River, it serves an area the size of Victoria.             

Back in 1952, Katherine had a population of approximately 500 people. The town then consisted of a dozen or so shops, two hotels, a garage, a hospital, a theatre and a police station. The most popular place to eat in Katherine was at Mrs Peterson’s ‘Green and Cream’ café.

The officer in charge of Katherine police station was Sergeant James Joseph (Jim) Mannion. 

TERENCE CHARLES STAPLETON 

Terence Charles Stapleton liked a drink! He was 22 years’ old and had made his way from Tasmania to Alice Springs, where he worked as a plant operator with the Department of Works and Housing. He was fired after having been involved in an accident with his departmental vehicle.

June 1952 found him in the town of Katherine, where he became friendly with a young lady from his boarding house by the name of Sheila Peckham. 

CONSTABLE WILLIAM BRYAN CONDON 

Constable William Bryan Condon was born on 24 December 1922. He had joined the Northern Territory Police Force on 18 January 1949, after having served in the Middle East and New Guinea with the A.I.F. He was stationed at Maranboy, a small town in a large tin mining area, 70 km south of Katherine. Constable “Bill” Condon had been married to his wife (Marie) for a little over a year. He had a reputation as a strong, efficient and understanding officer, who was honest and fair. He had been called in to Katherine to help out with the long-weekend crowds.

INCIDENT AT THE ‘GREEN AND CREAM CAFÉ’

Terry Stapleton spent Monday morning drinking alcohol and, in the afternoon, attended the race meeting where he continued to drink. After the last race Stapleton returned to Katherine in a cab driven by a local man named Ron Brown.

On arrival back in town, Terry Stapleton met with Sheila Peckham and the pair decided to have dinner together. It was 6.30pm when they entered the Green and Cream café. Stapleton went straight to the counter to place an order and, as he did, Sheila looked for a seat in the crowded café. As she was about to sit down, someone moved the chair and she fell heavily to the concrete floor. Being extremely annoyed and embarrassed, she left the café and headed home. 

Terry Stapleton, who was still at the counter, saw what had happened and he became very angry! He looked across at the taxi driver, Ron Brown, and turned and stormed out of the café. He quickly passed Sheila Peckham and disappeared down the street.

When Sheila arrived home, she found Stapleton by his bed, taking cartridges from a bag and feeding them individually into a bandolier (a belt that holds ammunition). He also had a handgun in his belt. 

Hoping to calm him down, Sheila tried to diffuse the situation by suggesting, “Why don’t you have a sleep for a while?” Stapleton stared at her, before growling “Where’s my rifle?”

Sheila shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know”.She was beginning to become alarmed, especially when Stapleton moved round to where she was standing and put the revolver into her back. “You'd better hurry up and find it!” he hissed into her ear. Sheila found the .303 rifle on the other side of the bed and handed it to him. 

Sheila then suggested that she invite their neighbour (Mrs Kruger) to come over and make them a nice dinner. Stapleton roared back at her, “If you both come in here, I’ll blast the two of you!”

Snatching the .303 from her, he headed to the door. Suddenly, he stopped, turned to face her, and softly said, “Don’t forget to write to my mother and explain".

TERROR IN A TAXI

At 6.50pm and at the local service station, which also served as a taxi depot, Leslie March looked up to see Terry Stapleton walking toward him, carrying a rifle. 

Stapleton asked Les if Ron Brown was around. March replied that he had not seen him for a couple of hours. Stapleton then demanded that Les March drive him around to look for Brown. 

March demurred saying that he had a couple of things to do but he should be available in 15 minutes or so. “No quarter of an hour. Now!” yelledStapleton as he pushed the point of his rifle into Les March’s stomach. When March pushed the barrel of the gun away, Stapleton slammed his torch down hard on the back of Les March’s left hand and pushed the rifle back into his stomach. March realised that Stapleton was serious and quickly climbed into one of the four cabs. After Stapleton was seated on the back seat, he placed the point of his rifle between March’s shoulder blades, just below his neck.            

Les March asked Stapleton why he was looking for Ron Brown. Stapleton replied that Brown was a friend of his and had driven him home from the races.

At one point, as they drove around Katherine, Stapleton placed his left hand over the back of the seat and asked March to shake hands saying, “You might not be able to see me tomorrow”. 

March looked at him through the rear-view mirror and asked, “Why? Are you going away?” 

“No”, Stapleton replied, “but tonight, blood will flow and I will go down in history”. March quickly shook hands with Stapleton! 

After driving around for another 20 minutes, Stapleton got out of the car, saying that he would walk. He asked March how much he owed him and on being told the amount, Stapleton fumbled through his pockets for the fare. He pulled out a handful of cartridges and coins. “I can’t sort this out,” he said. “I’ll pay you tomorrow”.He thenleft and headed for the Green and Cream café. 

Leslie March drove straight to the Katherine police station and spoke to Sergeant Mannion. The sergeant had already received a telephone call from a very worried Mrs Kruger. 

Sergeant Mannion then followed Les March over to the Katherine Hotel, where Constable Condon was having an evening meal with his wife. 

Shortly afterwards, Constable Condon jumped into the cab with March and they drove off to look for Stapleton with Sergeant Mannion following the pair in the police truck.

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