Revisiting a murder, in this case, my father’s murder is not an easy thing to do. There must be something deep inside of me that wants to set the record straight. Usually when a loved one dies their secrets are buried in the ground with them, never to resurface. We want to remember the dead fondly in coloured portraits or grainy black and white photographs of yesterday. Imagine years later, standing in your sister’s kitchen and being handed something as simple as a faded letter, about the death of your father, dark memories come floating back. How do you deal with pain hidden-away since a child about a winter’s nightmare, in a hotel car park, a long time ago? It’s a mystery, like a classic crime novel only with the final chapter ripped from the book. This is my father’s story and also mine. Because believe it or not I was there, just a kid drinking raspberry lemonade.
‘Every mystery in life has its origin in the heart’
Mum died on the 11th of June 2016 in Queensland after months of ill health, leaving behind a letter, written on fine-faded paper. A letter I probably typed for her, detailing the brutal death of my father in Sydney back in the late 1960’s. No one in our family knew of the letter’s existence until my sister accidentally discovered it cleaning out my mum’s things, tucked away with her marriage certificate. Did mum want us to find it?
‘Do you know what’s written inside this? You’ll never believe it! Guess?’
THE LETTER – My mother’s letter was typed I believe on an old Olivetti typewriter, the typewriter was mine. According to my mother, on ‘6th June 1968’ my father was escorted out of the Narwee hotel in suburban Sydney by the doorman and the publican (misspelt in mum’s letter as publicman) for swearing. Several minutes later at around ‘9.05pm’ my father is left bleeding outside in the car park, and screaming ‘I can’t hear, I can’t hear.’ So, with massive injuries to his brain, he’s rushed to Canterbury Hospital by a friend drinking at the hotel. Dad is in a coma for a week, the hospital staff perform two unsuccessful operations to remove blood clots from his brain. He never recovers and dies on the 14/06/1968 .
In mum’s letter there’s no explanation why my dad was behaving badly and escorted out. She mentions that she arrived at 5pm, and that I was waiting in the car outside. That would leave me in the car for four hours before the ‘accident’ this seems an odd thing for my mum to do, and out of character. The lack of background information is strange, particularly as mum was very verbose naturally. Mum goes to considerable length in her letter to explain what dad’s wearing when the accident/bashing occurred, ‘He was wearing black trousers, blue nylon shirt, brown jumper, dark sports coat and brown shoes.’ But, the reason for dad being removed from the bar in the first place is completely left out of her typed statement. Something unspoken, maybe? Mum also names the names of the men ‘she’ believes involved in my father’s death. She states exactly what she was drinking on the night ‘four brandy ice and ginger ales’ Her knowledge of the men’s names suggests she was friendly with at least one of them, maybe writing down their names not to forget at the time. Or did she track them down after the so call ‘accident?’. But, perhaps the most chilling thing in my mum’s letter from the grave are several lines attributed to the hotel doorman, who asks my mother ‘Is that husband your outside?’Then he adds ‘Get up now and get him to hospital as we just smashed his head in’
‘Care shouldn’t start in an emergency room’
Reading mum’s letter over again, there are many things that don’t add up. Mum says, there wasn’t any time to call the police as he (my father) was in a bad way. Yet she drove me and my friend home, putting us to bed, before going to the hospital, arriving there at ‘9.45pm’ forty minutes after dad was beaten. Would things have turned out differently if dad was taken straight to the hospital? And, what happened to the other men in the hotel at the time? Where did they go? Why did no one call the police if dad was in such a bad way? Mum also refers to my father’s bashing several times in her letter as an ‘accident’ yet ultimately she is stating it was no accident, that he had his head bashed in deliberately and after it had happened, she was told by the hotel doorman that ‘he (my father) needs help so you better get him to a (Canterbury) Hospital’ More telling for me is my memory of mum in tears holding me, saying in the car after she learned dad had passed away, ‘They killed him. The bastards’.
‘What a marvellous day for an exorcism’
CHILDHOOD DREAMS – They say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I believe this to be true. You see there’s a twist in the story I’m telling about my dad’s final moments and it’s that I was there, just a kid in the car, drinking lemonade with raspberry cordial, watching safely at a distance. Waiting with a friend for mum and dad to drive us home. ‘Stay here, I was told, and wait for mum. I won’t be long.’ On that night, as I sat chatting, I remember thinking ‘what’s that shouting about’, and started looking around to see where the male voices were coming from. I saw the brawl but had no idea dad was involved. I remember punches flying, and seeing three men (bouncers) in a circle, on their hand’s, large rings or maybe knuckle busters. Then suddenly, everything fell deathly quiet. The fight ended. I only found out dad had been involved in the fight when mum came running back to the car, her face white as a ghost, screaming ‘Oh, God. Your father been bashed. Move over Noel. Jesus, there’s blood everywhere. We’ve got to get him to hospital’ On that cold winter night, I remember dad being carried to the car, blood dripping freely onto his shirt. ‘I can’t hear. I can’t hear’. I remember seeing his face cut, bruised and bleeding through the car window, the car door opening and him falling in. I shuffled across the back seat of the car, scared…dad slumped forward, his eyes lifeless, and we drove off.
“So why didn’t mum contact the police, Noel?” my sister asked as I closed mum’s letter. ‘I don’t know..I think the police were contacted by the hospital at the time of dad ‘s death, or maybe earlier,’ I told her. In mum’s typed statement of the so called ‘accident’ she mentions that it wasn’t until the next morning she learned that my friend and I witnessed the whole thing, unaware dad was involved. I described the three men involved as ‘white shirts, dark trousers (bouncers), one gray hair with glasses, one dark haired and the third man, blond’ My father died eights days after being admitted to Canterbury Hospital, beaten unconscious by the bouncers on the property of well-known chain of hotels. To this day no one was charged with manslaughter.
‘Don’t compromise yourself – you’re all you have’
The months that followed dad’s death were long and painful. How do you ever forget something that terrible? I remember nights of waking way before breakfast and crying, alone. I don’t recall ever asking for comfort, or receiving it. But, I don’t remember much about anything after dad got into the car, bleeding. I do recall mum telling me as she tied my school shoelaces, I was going to be asked to testify as a witness in court, and to just tell the truth. ‘Son just stand up there and tell the truth, what you saw. You’ve always spoken clearly. Describe the three men clearly’. As a kid, death became a reoccurring theme in my dreams, and often as an adult it has weaved its way into my writing and my work. At NIDA in 1996, I wrote an end of year war piece about the death of a Japanese soldier called ‘Germ Warfare.’ Reading it today, it’s clearly the story about my dad’s death. For a long time I feared death, but in later years I have found peace resting beside it. I occasionally run through the cemetery near my home on hot days, and often think of dad when I stop to rest. Standing amongst the tombstones, I am fearless.
‘We heard you did okay out of it? Your mum and you’
I had my day in court. Standing on the stand, a child in an adult world, reliving that winter of my worst dreams, dressed carefully by mum, so I looked presentable. Perfect, spotless in fact. I articulated everything ‘clearly’ on the witness stand, telling what I had seen, describing the men responsible, even then as a little kid I could hold an audience. The case would be adjourned, and a new date would be set we were told by the judge, and we left the court. But, that new date never came. I remember mum talking about how we’d be financially okay once dad’s case was settled, but it never was settled. Everything was just forgotten as if my dad never ever existed. Eventually, over time, my mum stopped mentioning dad’s murder, she got on with her life and I grew up.
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass,
of glory in the flower,
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind
I recall watching ‘Splendor in the Grass’ with Natalie Wood at home and mum saying as she brought in two mugs of coffee and milk, ‘it’s been 5 years since your father died, son. Gone fast’. I believe she missed him, even given his bad temperament and their constant fighting. People would often stop her on the street and say “Doreen, we heard you did okay after Andy’s death. You and your boy were taken good care of,” Mum smiled, and corrected them, “We got nothing. Heard nothing. I reckon someone paid them off. The men, probably. They were all involved. They hushed it up,” and we’d get on with our day, shopping. No one gave a damn. The case remains untried, and unsettled in my mind. A mystery, except for my mother’s letter about a winter’s night a long time ago. ‘Nobody will love you like mum and dad,’ she’d say to me as a little kid, while watching a love story on TV. I have found this statement to be ‘the truth’.
‘Monsters are real, Ghost are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes they win’
Standing in the kitchen at 9.05pm last winter in Melbourne, I thought I saw something floating outside the window, but it was nothing. I finished pouring a cuppa, walked into the lounge room and felt a soft warm hug, then another, the presence of both my mother and my father standing beside me, together at long last. I smiled, sipped my coffee and started typing this story, ‘Who Killed My Dad.’ After a few minutes I looked up at mum’s wedding picture sitting on the mantle, and I thought to myself, ‘Noel? Do you believe in ghosts? I answered I do. In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost, I am a believer.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Noel has directed over 50 theatrical productions and worked in film and TV. He completed NIDA’s Playwright Studio in 1996 and studied directing in London and New York. Noel’s written work includes the play Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame and the musical Audrey Hepburn and I Consider Our Assets. Noel believes in the power of music, pop art and Campbell’s Soup (thanks to Mr Warhol).
More Info: https://linktr.ee/noelanderson