Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Brutal Slaying of the Hawker, Heinrich Bode

German immigrant family on their farm, Logan district ca. 1872
From the early days of the colony of Queensland, German immigrants settled along the lower reaches of the Logan River.  There they established farms on the rich river flood plain.  Many of their descendants still live in the area.  Their heritage is reflected in the names of suburbs such as Steiglitz and Bethania.

Farm labourers on the Logan River with boatload of baled hay 

On the 5th September, 1865, Michael Heine, one of the German farmers in the Logan district, saw the body of a man floating in the Logan River.  With the help of another farmer he pulled the body up onto the bank. The young man’s corpse was quite well dressed, but bootless.  The police were sent for, the man was presumed drowned, and quickly buried by the river.

...  the body was floating on its back, the arms nearly meeting across the body; I pushed the body towards the land, and drew it with Mr. Beetham's help on shore; the body had on a woollen shirt, a kind of grey, with red stripes, a white shirt underneath, and a pair of trousers, which were also grey, with red stripes ; it had no boots, hat, pouch or belt on; I saw the police there the day after I found the body ; after I found the body I put it in a coffin, and buried it about nine or ten foot from the river.[1]

The Susanne Goddefroy
The corpse remained unidentified until about two weeks later when the German immigrant ship, the Susanne Goddefroy, sailed into Moreton Bay from Hamburg.  On board was a young German named Anselme Bode who was to meet his brother Heinrich who had arrived in the colony the previous year. After working as a labourer for six months, Heinrich had established himself as a hawker, peddling his merchandise mainly to the German communities of Queensland.  Anselme had brought various goods with him that his brother had requested.  After arriving at the boarding house where his brother lodged when in Brisbane, Anselme was told that his brother had travelled to the Logan District to collect some debts and had not returned as expected.  The landlady later testified about the last time she saw Heinrich Bode.

Sarah Ladling deposed: I live in Elizabeth-street; in August and September last I lived in Albert-street; I knew a German pedlar named Heinrich Bode; I had known him about twelve months; since he had arrived in the colony; he used to stay in my house; I saw him last on a Saturday night, about the end of August, about nine or ten days before the “Susanne Godeffroy” arrived; I know Anselme Bode the brother of the alleged deceased; he arrived in the “Susanne Godeffroy”; Heinrich Bode went away on the Sunday morning very early; I did not see him go; I got up at 7, or a little after 7 on the Sunday morning; Heinrich Bode had gone.[2]

Concerned that he could not locate his brother whose return from the Logan was now overdue, Anselme Bode went to the police. Sub-Inspector Samuel John Lloyd was soon on the case and immediately connected the missing Heinrich Bode with the body pulled from the Logan River.  A team which included Dr. William Hobbs and Anselme Bode, was dispatched with the gruesome task of examining and identifying the body.  The exhumation was carried out by Michael Heine, the same man who performed the burial two weeks earlier. Heine later testified:

Dr. William Hobbs
... on the 26th September I saw the body again ; the police were there; I and Master Stuntz dug up the grave and opened the coffin; the body was then dressed in the same manner as when it was buried; the doctor cut off one finger and the head, and also pieces of the shirt and trousers, and we buried the corpse again in the same place.[3]

The corpse was immediately confirmed as being that of the missing man. The doctor identified a severe head wound.  He had not drowned. Suspicion among the locals soon fell on two local small farmers, Rudolph Mornberger and Caspar Schaig. The pedlar was a frequent visitor to the district and several of the German farmers recalled that Mornberger had been lately wearing a purse on his belt identical to that of the murdered man. Mornberger and Schaig lived together in a two-room hut near the river but had left the area a few days earlier to work on the construction of the railway line west of Toowoomba. Sub-Inspector Lloyd soon caught up with the suspects.  Amazingly Mornberger was not only wearing Bode’s pouch but his boots which were obviously much too large for him.

The prisoners were apprehended on the 3rd October, fourteen miles beyond Toowoomba, on the Dalby line. Schaig, when he saw the police coming, threw down his tools and was making off, when Sergeant Buckley arrested him. In their hut Mr. Lloyd found a pair of boots nearly new, Mornberger said they were his and he was understood to state he bought them at a particular shop in Brisbane. The Logan ferryman, without being able to swear positively, believed they were the pair Bode had on the 27th August; and they were three inches too long for Mornberger. On the same prisoner a pouch was found, and Hoeman identified it at once as Bode's. On Mornberger's hat there was a spot of blood.[4]

After bringing the prisoners back to Brisbane, Inspector Lloyd lost no time in making his way to the Logan. A thorough inspection of the hut revealed further condemning evidence including a heavy maul which was consistent with the size of the fatal wound on the victim’s skull.

Inspector Lloyd, of the detective police, accompanied by a constable, and a German who knew the hawker, then went out to the Logan. He examined the hut occupied by the farmers, and found there a maul covered with blood, and some human hair sticking to it. In a box in the hut he also discovered a bed-tick[5] stained with blood. Ashes appeared to have been strewed on different parts of the floor, and the spots smelt strongly of putrid blood. In the bed-tick were concealed a hat and belt, which were identified as belonging to the pedlar.[6]

Amazingly the perpetrators of the homicide had made very little effort to remove traces of the crime.  Whether this was due to a lack of intelligence or an arrogant disregard for human life was never to emerge.

Judge Alfred James Lutwyche ca. 1859
The trial began on November 20, before his Honour Mr. Justice Lutwyche and a jury of twelve.

Rudolph Mornberger and Caspar Schaig stood indicted for that, on the 27th August last, at the Logan River, they feloniously, wilfully, and of their malice aforethought, did kill and murder one Heinrich Bode.[7]

The trial in the Supreme Court lasted two days.  Many witnesses were called and much material evidence shown to the court.  No witnesses appeared in defence of the accused.  The only defence offered by the prisoners was a bizarre statement made by Mornberger blaming his mate Schaig.

One of the two men (Rudolph Mornberger and Caspar Schaig) committed for trial on the charge of having, in August last, murdered a pedlar named Bode, at the Logan River, has made a written statement accusing his fellow prisoner of having committed the murder.

Rudolph Mornberger states that late on a Sunday night Bode came to his hut and had tea. He asked if Schaig, who was absent at the time, had any money; to which question an indefinite answer was returned. Shortly afterwards, Bode went to bed in the inner room of the hut, on some bags with which Mornberger accommodated him. Mornberger and Schaig slept in the other room.
Early in the morning, Mornberger (we quote his own expression) was awoke by God, and told to look in the inner room. He did so, and saw Schaig in the act of striking Bode with the mallet which was produced, in the Police-court. After the murder had been done, Mornberger remonstrated with Schaig, but was informed by the latter person that if he said anything he would be served in the same way.

He (Mornberger) then went to light a fire, and on his return the body had disappeared. The coat belonging to the murdered man was thrown into the river. Of course this statement is taken “cum grano Salis”.[8]

Ratcliffe Pring
The accused had no legal representation but a Brisbane prominent lawyer with the Dickensian name of Ratcliffe Pring, offered to observe the proceedings on their behalf.

Mr. Pring being in court was asked by his HONOR if he had received instructions to defend the prisoners. Mr. PRING replied that he had received no instructions, but that as the case was a remarkably difficult one he would watch it for the prisoners, and be of any assistance he could to the court.[9]

At the conclusion of the trial Pring struggled to present much in the way of solid defence, except the usual legal argument and the suggestion that Mornberger was the more likely perpetrator of the crime.  He pointed out that the fact the Schaig (described during the trial as the less clever of the two accused) had carried on with his normal routine on the morning following the murder.

Mr. PRING, on behalf of the prisoners, addressed the jury. In commencing his address he begged them calmly, carefully, and deliberately to consider the evidence which had been adduced before them during the last two days, and not to be influenced by any reports which they may have heard or read concerning the case.

Who struck the fatal blow? Schaig was at Beeton's at daybreak with the flour bag, and went to work at Wilson's two miles away. He did not appear flurried at all, and surely that was evidence in his favour that he did not strike the blow.

Mornberger possessed the articles, Mornberger possessed the box, and Mornberger owned the hut, Mornberger was the principal man. On behalf of Schaig the learned counsel felt it his duty to lay those facts before the jury, and state to them that in this respect they must consider the case of Mornberger different from that of Schaig. He then concluded his defence.[10]

In his instructions to the jury, the judge reiterated Pring’s point regarding the likely lack of involvement of Schaig in striking the murderous blow.

His HONOR summed up, directing the jury that they must be first satisfied that Bode was dead, and that the dead body was Bode's; and also directed them as to their coming to a conclusion with regard to who struck the blow, and it was in Schaig's favour that he had returned the flour bag at the break of day and gone to his work.

The jury retired, and after an absence of about an hour, returned a verdict of - Casper Schaig, not guilty. Rudolph Mornberger, guilty.

Casper Schaig was remanded on another charge.[11]

After the speedy return of the verdict of the jury, the obvious sentence was passed.

Rudolph Mornberger, upon being asked by the clerk of the court whether he had anything to say why sentence of death should not be passed upon him, replied that he had not.

His HONOR passed sentence in the following terms: - Rudolph Mornberger, you have been found guilty by a jury, upon the clearest possible evidence, considering the nature of that evidence, of the crime of the murder of Heinrich Bode. Nothing that I can say will, I fear, do you any good; but I will beg of you, during the short time, the very short time, that you remain on earth, to avail yourself of the advice and consolation of the ministers of religion who will no doubt attend on you. The murder was most cruel, and committed upon one of your own countrymen, under your own roof. I can hold out no hope of mercy, and the sentence of the law is, that you be taken from this court to the place from whence you came, and from that place you be taken to Her Majesty's gaol at Brisbane, and there, and at such time as his Excellency the Governor, with, the advice of his Executive Council, shall appoint, be hanged by the neck till you are dead; and may God have mercy on your soul.[12]

Mornberger was executed inside Brisbane Gaol exactly three weeks later. As was the custom of the time, the hanging was described in detail in the newspapers.


Rudolph Mornberger, who was convicted of the murder of Heinrich Bode, at the Logan River, on the 27th August, was hung yesterday morning within the precincts of the Gaol. This case from first to last has excited a great deal of interest.

The hut where Bode was murdered was occupied by Mornberger and Schaig jointly, but the jury guided by certain facts, came to the conclusion that Mornberger committed the murder. The demeanour of the prisoner since he was informed that the sentence of death would be carried out, contrasted strikingly with what it was previously.

Until all hope of escape was passed, he maintained Schaig made him commit the murder; but since the Revs. Schirmeister and Hausmann, of the Lutheran Church, have been attending on him he has confessed that he himself planned and executed the murder; and he asserted that Schaig assisted him. On Tuesday night, Mornberger expressed a wish to speak to Schaig, who, however, refused to see him.

Punctually at 8 o'clock, the appointed hour, Mornberger was conducted from his cell to the scaffold. He was accompanied by the clergymen, and knelt down at the foot of the gallows with them to pray, and one of the ministers then ascended the scaffold with him. Mornberger betrayed no symptoms of fear or emotion.

He seemed to be quite composed and prepared to meet his doom. He admitted the justice of the sentence, expressed sorrow for his crime, and was confident of obtaining mercy in the world to come. The rope having been adjusted by the hangman, the signal was given, the drop fell, and Mornberger died without a struggle. After hanging the allotted time, the body was cut down and buried in the usual place.[13]

The Gallows inside Brisbane Gaol

The reporter from the Brisbane Courier was appalled at the nonchalance of the hangman.

There were about twenty persons besides the officials present at the execution, and a considerable crowd collected outside the entrance to the gaol, in the vain hope of obtaining admission. We may observe that the ceremony, which was disgusting in itself, was rendered more so by the cool and off-hand way in which the hangman performed his duty. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that he did not appear to consider that the task he had to perform was in the least degree an unpleasant one.[14]

The Queenslander 18.1.1873
The charge against Caspar Schaig of being an accessory after the fact was later dropped due to a lack of evidence. Eight years later Schaig would meet his death in a bizarre accident - some would say a kind of divine justice.

A FEW days ago, our readers were informed, through the medium of a short paragraph, that one Gaspar Schaig, a German, was accidentally killed in the new Cemetery, at Maryborough, on the 7th instant, by the fall of a tree. He had been "grubbing" the day before; and it was on his return to work in the morning, and, apparently, before he had resumed operations that the accident occurred. We have been informed by the Inspector of Police that the deceased was the survivor of the two men who, some eight years ago, were arraigned for the murder of a German pedlar, on the Logan. Mornberger, it may be remembered, was convicted and hanged, but Schaig, his mate, managed to cheat the gallows.[15]


An unasked question:

Heinrich Bode was a well-known visitor to the German community along the Logan, and yet his body supposedly remained unidentified for two weeks until his brother went to the police.

One of the men who pulled the corpse from the river was the famer Beetham, who knew Bode and gave evidence at the trial that he had talked to him the day he was murdered.

Did the locals suspect Mornberger and his mate right away but were reluctant to go to the police for some reason?

This question never arose during the investigation and trial.

 © K. C. Sbeghen, 2012.

[1] The Brisbane Courier 21.11.1865
[2] The Brisbane Courier 21.11.1865
[3] The Brisbane Courier 21.11.1865
[4] The Brisbane Courier 2.10.1865
[5] The case or cover containing feathers, flocks, or the like, forming a mattress or pillow; also, from 16th c., applied to the strong hard linen or cotton material used for making such cases.(OED)
[6] The Brisbane Courier 29.9.1865
[7] The Brisbane Courier 21.11.1865
[8] With a grain of salt (Latin)
[9] The Brisbane Courier 21.11.1865
[10] The Brisbane Courier 23.11.1865
[11] The Brisbane Courier 23.11.1865
[12] The Brisbane Courier 23.11.1865
[13] The Brisbane Courier 14.12.1865
[14] The Brisbane Courier 14.12.1865
[15] The Brisbane Courier 16.1.1873

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