The Case of the Case-Maker's Hammer


tags: Homicide, Tasmania Police,

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By Darcy Erwin

From the March 2014 issue of the APJ.

For almost four years, Tasmania Police were frustrated in their endeavours to solve the brutal murder of a Launceston taxi driver. However, through the stubborn persistence of a dedicated young detective and a degree of scientific inquiry, circumstances began to emerge to build a picture that had previously been a puzzle. Solving the heinous became more than a possibility.

The Tasmanian town of Longford is located 27 kilometres south of Launceston near the junction of the South Esk and Macquarie rivers. It is generally a quiet community, but there have been some dark shadows which have fallen across the town in the past.

A total of five murders have been committed in Longford since 1909; the last, just over seven years ago, being the catalyst for the passing of what has been described as the most draconian domestic violence legislation in this country. Two of the killings remain unsolved, and a third may have remained so if not for the dogged persistence of a young police detective and a little good fortune brought about due to a lack of rain.

An Unusual Find

On Thursday 31 March, 1960, a workman stood upon what was known to locals as the Long Bridge, over the South Esk River. Jim Simmonds was bridge foreman on that day, supervising a crew carrying out repairs to the structure while the river was low. Gazing down at the muddy bed of the watercourse, he reflected upon the fact that this was the lowest the water level had been for 70 years; normally, the water would have been high on the bridge pylons.

As Jim looked at the riverbed of broken and rotted stumps, matted with dead vegetation and interspersed with stagnant reaches of the muddy and depleted river water, his eyes focused upon a small object which didn’t quite fit in ?it was too perfect; the wrong shape for a natural world.

There below him, poking out of the mud, was a handle of some sort, rounded and shaped by human hand rather than by wind or tide. Curiosity got the better of the foreman, and he left the bridge-top to investigate. Tramping through the fetid and squelchy ground below the boardwalk, he located this object and withdrew it from its muddy resting place. Carefully, he placed a stick in the hole in which the item had previously rested.

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