The Christmas Day Tragedy of 1893

On Christmas Eve 1893, a group of Christmas carollers took to the streets on a borrowed horse carriage. It was lent to them by popular, 33-year-old and well-to-do local businessman, Henry Oxley. In the small hours of Christmas morning, they returned the carriage to Mr. Oxley's Sturt St, Adelaide home. The good cheer was apparent on all sides as the group chatted with Mr. Oxley in his front yard before the merrymakers left around 5am in the morning.

The Oxley family led an enviable life. They were very active in church matters and had received a personally signed letter from the local Anglican Churchman, expressing the hope that they would provide similar labour in the future. Mr. and Mrs. Oxley had been married for 11 years and were parents to 3 children (a boy and 2 girls). Their bank account held a comfortable amount of savings to the tune of £1300 (approx. $200,000 in today's currency). Also, Mr. Oxley had just finalized the purchase of a new fruitier business. The future looked bright for the Oxleys. So as soon as the carollers departed, Mr. Oxley began implementing his Christmas plans.

It would be only a short while later, at 7:30am that same morning, when the groom for the horses arrived at the Oxley's backyard. Finding no one about, he called out to draw the household's attention. The only reply was an ominous, deathly silence. This was Christmas morning in a household with three young children, and it was expected that the excitement of the day - with the corresponding shrieks of delight - should be reaching a crescendo.

His suspicions aroused, the groom gained entrance to the house and entered the first bedroom. "Are you going to get up today?" he asked. The boy on the bed did not reply. It was a terrible sight, the dead little Oxley boy, lying on his right side, a vicious gash to the left side of his skull, surrounded by walls and floors that were covered with blood.

Truly disturbed now, the groom checked the adjoining room, which contained a large bed occupied by Mr. Oxley and his wife. From the angelic expression on her face, it appeared that Mrs. Oxley had died in her sleep and would slumber eternally evermore. A horrible gash had been inflicted on her skull, and one of her large arteries had been cut. Mrs. Oxley received the fatal blow from a tomahawk that lay nearby, covered in her blood. 

Mr. Oxley himself was lying next to his wife on the bed with a razor tightly clasped in his right hand; on his throat were seen the results of its work. Within that same room, on another bed, lay the two little Oxley girls. Both had awful wounds to their heads, and yet they were still breathing.

It was hard to believe that only a few short hours previous in that same neighborhood, the Christmas carollers had sung their lilting tunes, but now there was a scene of tragedy and desperation as the Oxley daughters were rushed to the hospital. Grave fears were held for their recovery, but at least they had a chance, whereas the remainder of the unfortunate family was beyond any earthly help. Sadly, the poor young girls died later that morning.

It was a shocking Christmas Day and one that would be long remembered in the local community. It didn't take long for that one-word question to form on the lips of everyone in the community - why?

A long-time friend of the Oxleys stated that she had never met a happier family and that Oxley was the best of fathers who idolized his children. However, she went on to relate the contents of a more ominous conversation with Mr. Oxley from a few days earlier. Aside from complaining of the heat, he also stated, "This day a year ago I was the happiest man in the world, and this month I'm the poorest man in the world."

Mrs. Oxley also told her in secret that her husband was ill, and that he was carrying a massive weight on his shoulders that he could not bear. He was unable to shake off his despondency and kept repeating that he had been deceived and was disappointed. He told his brother in law, "The fact of the matter is I have been swindled from beginning to end. I am a ruined man".

Only a few days after starting the new fruiterer business – an event that should have been the next chapter of a mostly successful life, Mr. Oxley's manner had changed dramatically and for the worse. What could have gone wrong?

In 1893 Australia was suffering from a financial crisis. Many commercial banks collapsed owing to the bursting of a speculative boom in the property market… sound familiar to anyone? On this occasion, the banks suspended trading to avoid customer-led bank runs, which would lead to bankruptcy. This caused significant financial hardship to many people as they could not withdraw their money. Mr. Oxley had been particularly unfortunate because he had deposited his entire £1300 fortune into the Commercial Bank one week before it suspended trading.

His last hope came in the purchase of the fruiterer. He spent his final cash reserves on a horse carriage, fittings, goodwill, and the former owner's services for a full fortnight to introduce Mr. Oxley to existing customers.

Mr. Oxley finalized possession of the business a week before Christmas, but it did not take long for him to realize his error. The business returns proved to be so disappointingly small that he was driven into the depths of despair. The little store, his last hope, the fruits of many years of hard work and self-denial, was a failure.

Nominally a rich man, he was in practice penniless and unable to support his family. Mr. Oxley himself believed that he was ruined beyond any hope of recovery. Bereft of the means of keeping his family in the comfort in which he desired they should enjoy, his mind became unhinged. 

The verdict of the Christmas Day incident was that Harry Oxley had carried out the murders of his wife, son, and daughters before committing suicide during a fit of insanity.

The banking crisis of 1893 resulted in the ruination of many people. It caused incalculable pain for all impacted, but in the case of the Oxleys, it led to their total destruction at a time when they seemed to have so much to celebrate.  Although a joyous time of year, a story such as the Oxley's serves to highlight that many persevere through life, battling their own dark stories and demons. For them, the festive season may not be experienced as joyously as one would hope.

But on a far brighter, more positive note, allow me to take this moment to wish you the reader a very Merry Christmas and a hopeful, prosperous and happy new year from everyone in the Dark Stories team.

All of our tours will continue to operate over the Christmas and the New Year period. If we haven't seen you on one of them yet, we, with vast amounts of bias, believe true crime tours are the best walking tours around! Join us if you can:-

Maitland's True Crime Tour

Newcastle's True Crime Tour

Brisbane's True Crime Tour

Sydney's Razor Gangs True Crime Tour

Sydney's True Crime Tour

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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The Mystery Behind The Real Friday The 13th Killer

It was a typical day, just like any other. Perhaps it was just a horrible coincidence that the following events were to occur on such an inauspicious day.

Most Friday the 13th's come and go, but in the more innocent times of 1973, on this specific Friday the 13th, a monster was born. A crime without any seeming motivation now recalled as one of the most shocking crimes that the nation had ever witnessed.

The man forever afterward would come to be known by several names; The Real Friday the 13th Killer and sometimes as The Monster of Worcester. Before that, he operated under the much more familiar moniker of David McGreavy.

In 1973 David was just 20 years of age, and things were not going too well. He had suffered a string of job losses, a broken-off engagement, and found that he was no longer welcome to live with his parents.

He needed assistance, and it was his friend Clive that came to his rescue. Clive invited McGreavy to live with his family, which included his heavily pregnant wife Elsie and their two other children, 3-year-old Paul and 1-year-old Dawn.

McGreavy paid the weekly rent and sometimes cooked Sunday roast dinners and loved the children, frequently playing with them, and generally acted like a father. On occasions, he was even interested and involved with discussions about child discipline. It seemed a happy arrangement that worked for everyone.

Elsie soon gave birth to her third child Samantha and shortly afterward returned to the workforce. Both couples were working and earning money, and the need for McGreavy to perform regular babysitting duties increased.

On this Friday the 13th in 1973, McGreavy had been drinking heavily that evening at the local pub and had quickly downed 5-7 pints of beer and had even gotten himself involved in a minor flare-up. Clive collected him from the pub and drove him back home to act as a babysitter while he went to pick up his wife from work.

Between the timeframe of 10:15 pm and 11:15 pm, McGreavy became disturbed and aggravated by the constant crying of one of the children, and something about the baby's non-stop crying caused McGreavy to snap. The man who loved children vanished, and in his place stood the Monster of Worcester.

Clive and Elsie returned home late that evening only to discover that police were already present on the scene, with no sign of McGreavy. The couple was taken to the local police station and informed of the fate of their children.

All three children met their end in three different ways. 9-month-old Samantha was the first victim and succumbed to a skull fracture, 4-year-old Paul strangled with wire, and two-year-old Dawn had her throat slit.

As if the murders alone had not been tragic enough, what was to follow was even more baffling. McGreavy would desecrate the bodies. Firstly he mutilated the bodies via the use of a pick-ax, and in the final act of madness, he impaled the children on the wrought iron fence of a neighbor's house.

It was an act which reverberated around the country, and the neighborhood with the innocuous-sounding name of Rainbow Hill, Worcester, would never be the same.

McGreavy left the house, and the police found him walking the streets in the early hours of the next morning. His initial denials did not last long, and he began answering questions confessing that "It was me, but it wasn't me. All I could hear was kids, kids, f… kids".

The Real Friday the 13th Killer would go on to be sentenced to multiple life terms, with a minimum imprisonment of 20 years, and had to spend most of his time behind bars in protective custody. The earliest he could be released was 1993.

Repeated parole requests had been turned down, but after 46 years in custody, McGreavy's release was finally approved and took effect in June 2019. According to reports, he is a much-changed man who now accepts responsibility for all he has done. Nevertheless, the terms of his release mean he will be subject to exclusion zones for the rest of his days, and his acts on Friday the 13th ensure that he will go down in history for all the wrong reasons.

Stay tuned for further On This Day in Crime series articles coming soon. In the meantime, on this Friday the 13th, the Dark Stories True Crime Walking Tours will naturally be running throughout Sydney, Newcastle, Brisbane, and Maitland.  Stay safe today and be sure to avoid black cats, don't walk under ladders and be careful not to break any mirrors!

Recruiting a Hangman By The Numbers

Every country has had one but rarely does anyone stop to consider how a person gets hired for the position of national hangman. If you ever happen to come on a Dark Stories True Crime Walking Tour in Sydney, or elsewhere for that matter, there's a reasonably high chance that you will hear a story about a hanging.

But did you ever imagine yourself, back in your school days, dreaming of becoming the head executioner in your state? How would your career advisor help you reach that goal? What electives could you take? What university should you attend? Then, after graduation, where would you apply? Is there some hangman recruitment agency to whom you could email your resume? Or, conversely, what if you were looking to hire someone for the job; where would you even begin to search?

Governor Phillip faced this exact problem at the very beginning of Sydney's fledgling colony life. Precisely one month and one day after the First Fleet arrived in Australia, there was an execution – the first in Australian history (we'll even walk past the spot as we meander through on one of our walking tours in Sydney). However, the hangman was a last-minute recruit and not a permanent appointee; it was a one-off contract.

The position needed permanent filling, but no one wanted the job. The officers despised the role of hangman and refused to do it, and the convicts saw the position as the lowest of the low. So what was the Governor to do? Discipline at this early stage of the colony's life could have easily broken down, and so he needed to find an executioner, and he needed to do it quickly, to ensure that he wouldn't lose face nor control.

Then, in late February 1788, Governor Phillip found the solution to his problem.

The worst crime one could commit in the new colony concerned the government stores of food. The settlers had no way of knowing if or when resupplies might arrive, or whether the crops they were planting would even survive (spoiler alert, they didn't). They made it all around the world only to be immediately put on rations. Therefore, stealing food from the government stores was considered an offense worse than murder, and such crimes demanded severe repercussions. So when four convicts were found guilty of theft from the government stores they were condemned to die that very same day; justice was swift and severe.

But Governor Phillip still didn't have a hangman! Nevertheless, the execution ritual began, and the four men advanced under guard to the hanging tree. The first man was granted a reprieve and given lashes instead. Then the second man, James Freeman, was marched to the tree, and the hanging rope fastened around his neck. At the moment James expected to be launched into eternity, he received the offer of a full pardon, but only on the condition that he agree to take on the duty of executioner for as long as he remained in the country

James Freeman paused for a few moments, mustered his dignity, and agreed to accept the role. He was given a full pardon, on condition of taking the position for the remainder of his original 7-year sentence, and became a "free man" from that moment. Governor Phillip's strategy was successful, and he granted the remaining two men a reprieve, meaning James Freeman could take some time to get used to his new job. 

On May 2nd, 1788, James Freeman executed his first man without any complaint from the unwilling customer. His first performance was a killer, and Governor Phillip's innovative new HR Recruitment strategy had proven to be successful.