WAR AGAINST CRIME
Reminiscences of ex-Superintendent John Roche, former chief of detectives in the New South Wales police force, and one of the most renowned detectives of his day.
THE BERTRAND MURDER
THE most remarkable crime in Australian annals would easily be identified as that for which Henry Louis Bertrand served 28 years in various gaols. At his trial he was defended by Mr. Dalley, afterwards the Right Hon. William Bede Dalley, P.C., whilst junior counsel was Mr. W. C. Windeyer, afterwards Mr. Justice Windeyer, a great lawyer, who, as judge, was to become the most execrated of all judges by the radical section of the press and the people. From Mr. Justice Windeyer the police always had a fair deal. The enmity he engendered was largely due to his keenness of vision leading him to arrive at conclusions that were hidden from the view of lesser men. He had the ire-raising attributes of great men. His greatest error was his lack of diplomacy. The Bertrand case gave Mr. Salomons, afterwards Sir Julian Salomons, the chance to begin the ascent of the ladder of fame. Later, both Windeyer and Salomons starred in that politico-criminal tragedy which became known as the Dean case. Henry Kinder, of North Shore, was done to death sixteen years before I joined the police force, but it was a case whose echoes reverberated through the soul of the colony for very many years. Briefly, these are the facts:—
Somewhere about 1862 Henry Louis Bertrand began to practise as a dentist in Hunter-street, but becoming popular, he removed to the more fashionable Wynyard Square. Despite all that has been said to the contrary, there was nothing abnormal about Bertrand’s life until he met Mrs. Kinder, although when he married Miss Palmer, her father opposed the union, as he thought he was a “bad” man. She bore him two children. In the way of business Bertrand met Mrs. Kinder. Mr. Kinder, a Londoner, had come to Sydney by way of New Zealand. In Sydney he was chief teller in the City Bank. Professionally, Kinder was clever, but he was rather over-fond of liquor. Mrs. Kinder, described as being good-looking—at this time about 23 years of age—first met Bertrand some nine months before the tragedy. She was taken to see Bertrand by her mother and sister. The second time she went to see him, despite similar chaperonage, they exchanged notes surreptitiously as they shook hands. Something primeval, something evil in one, was reciprocated by the other.
FOUR months after the affair between Bertrand and Mrs. Kinder was incubated a lover of the lady’s from New Zealand came over and became a guest in the Kinder home. He was said to have been the man who taught Kinder to drink. His name was Francis Arthur Jackson.
Furiously jealous, Bertrand decided to make Kinder so jealous of Jackson, that Kinder would kill him and then be hanged. By that means he would get rid of two rivals.
He half succeeded, but instead of Killing Jackson, Kinder turned him out of his house, and Jackson, Bertrand, and Mrs. Kinder discussed the matter. The woman said she loved Bertrand best, so Jackson went to live as a guest at Bertrand’s house. Surely, never before, outside fiction, has such an arrangement been outlined!
At this stage Bertrand lamented to Jackson that his wife was so virtuous, for he was eager to get rid of her, and he further announced that if Kinder didn’t drink himself to death, that desired end would have to be assisted.
With Jackson in his house, Bertrand drugged him and got a bundle of passionate letters written by Mrs. Kinder. He had decided that when Mr. Kinder was found dead, he would have in his hand the letters written by his wife to Jackson.
However, changing his tactics, he gave Jackson money to go back to New Zealand. That was in September, but Jackson went to Maitland instead.
Kinder had returned from sick leave quite well and played with his children in front of his house. Bertrand and Kinder went out and had a glass of ale at a nearby hotel at 5.20. That morning Mrs. Bertrand with her baby and nurse had gone to the Kinders, but the nurse and baby were sent back to Sydney.
Although Kinder was not shot until about six o’clock in the evening, word was left at Dr. Eichler’s surgery in the afternoon, asking him to call.
When the doctor arrived he found Kinder lying on the parlor sofa half-conscious. Half of Kinder’s face was shot away. Bertrand and Dr. Eichler returned to Sydney together. Bertrand told the doctor that Kinder was depressed over debts, and very jealous of Jackson.
Next day the doctor called and Kinder, speaking in German, greeted the doctor, who asked him in the same language how the accident happened, to which Kinder replied: “I don’t recollect.”
On October 4, two days after the shooting, Senior-constable Emmerton called at Kinder’s house. Bertrand informed him that Kinder had shot himself, but when the constable entered the bedroom, the wounded man who was smoking, asked: “What lies are these people saying about me shooting myself? I did not do it.”
Kinder died on October 6. Mrs. Kinder and Bertrand both swore at the inquest that it was a case of suicide, and the verdict was: “Deceased died from the effects of a wound inflicted by himself by discharging a pistol loaded with powder, whilst laboring under a fit of temporary insanity.”
Jackson, hearing of Kinder’s death, wrote to Bertrand announcing his horror. He said that he could put the police on the right trail. He demanded £20 by return mail, so that he could get away by the Tararua, never to return.
Bertrand handed the letter to the police, and Jackson was arrested and sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment for blackmail. Bertrand’s audacity was superb, but his vanity was pathetic.
He told Alexander Bellhouse, how he had bought the pistol that shot Kinder, and how by mesmeric influence he proposed to make his wife consent to him getting a divorce within twelve months.
He told Mrs. Robertson that he had shot Kinder, but that Mrs. Kinder wanted him to do the deed whilst Jackson was in the house, so that he would get the blame.
He also talked to his sister, Harriet Kerr, and she went to the Inspector-General of Police. As a result Bertrand, Mrs. Bertrand, and Mrs. Kinder were arrested.
At the trial, Mrs. Kerr swore that Bertrand had told her that he wished to marry Mrs. Kinder, and desired a divorce from his wife. Going to her room he said: “Kinder did not shoot himself. I shot him.”
When she cried he said that he did not regret his action. He explained that when he shot Kinder he put the pistol in his hand and a pipe in his mouth and that later he threw the pistol into the harbor.
He further said that he would force his wife to divorce him by incriminating some respectable married woman.
He announced that he must marry Mrs. Kinder because she was a wicked woman, and of her he would make a second Lucretia. Then leaning over her, he hissed: “Kinder did not die by the shot. We poisoned him!”
Pointing to his wife who was sleeping on the sofa, he said: “She gave him the poison.” He prophesied that before his sister went to Brisbane she would see his wife’s funeral.
A few weeks later she was present when Bertrand determined to kill his wife with a life preserver because she had dared to contradict him. She intervened, then fled from the room in dismay, but on the landing she listened and heard her brother say to his wife: “Go into the surgery Jane. I want you to write on this piece of paper that you are tired of life and that you poisoned yourself by your own hand.” Mrs. Bertrand refused.
Later Mrs. Bertrand told her that she was in the room with Mrs. Kinder when her husband shot Kinder. Mrs. Kinder ran out of the room, but Bertrand followed her, and putting the still smoking pistol to her head, told her that if she did not return to the room he would shoot her.
He then made Mrs. Bertrand attend to the victim, while Bertrand and Mrs. Kinder walked up and down the verandah in tight embrace. Mrs. Bertrand found a flattened bullet which her husband took from her.
This explains the coroner’s verdict of “shot with powder.”
As Kinder improved, Bertrand forced his wife to mix poison and Mrs. Kinder then administered it to him.
Burne, an assistant in Bertrand’s surgery, gave evidence that Bertrand, disguised as a woman, went with him to purchase pistols.
After the coroner’s inquest Mrs. Kinder had gone to her people in Bathurst. From there she wrote many letters to Bertrand, which were produced at the trial.
One, dated October 31, read:—
“Oh, darling, if you could but know how your kind, loving words seemed to have filled a void in my heart. I cannot convey to you in words the intense comfort your letter is to me. It has infused new life into my veins. I was tormenting myself with all sorts of naughty thoughts, darling. Write very often — every day if you can — and I will be here to answer. There is no fear of our correspondence being seen, as I do not read your letters out. The one to-day, I did, as it did not matter, and it was such a nice, good letter. I wished mamma to have a favorable opinion of you.
“Do bear up, my own love, and hope for better days . . . Now about your coming up, dear darling, how I should like to see your dear face and to have a long, long talk with you about affairs in general.
“But, my own love, I fear if you were to come just now you would not find it pay you. Everything is so dull, and what I fear more is that people to whom you owe money would be down on you directly, thinking you were going to run away.
“Dear darling, all this advice goes sorely against the dictates of my own heart, for my spirit is fairly dying for you. A glimpse of you! Oh, dearest, dearest, what would I not give to take you to my heart, if only for a moment. I think it would content me. It is no use dear, your love is food and nourishment to me. I cannot do without it . . . Nelly.”
Tradition tells us of a particularly disgraceful diary, but this is fiction. Bertrand did keep a diary, a passionate outpouring of his love for Mrs. Kinder.
In this diary for October 31, he wrote, a most remarkable thing for a Jew: “If you (Ellen) pray God with a true repentant heart to help you, love, I am sure he will. Oh, I dare not lift up my voice yet. I feel that I dare not, as yet ask His forgiveness. So Ellen, my own dear wife, pray also for thy husband. Supplicate our Saviour that He may soften your heart, and that He will suffer me to approach the throne of Grace . . . .
At this time he was still intent on encompassing his wife’s death. But he was getting shaky. He was beginning to see the ghost of Kinder, and when he saw jam on the table he talked of blood.
At the house of Mr. Defries in North Shore, he threatened to raise the ghost of Kinder. He pretended to be the devil and made strange noises. When he got home that night he went out to get a lobster, wearing Mrs. Robertson’s leghorn hat.
At Mrs. Robertson’s house he threatened to murder her with a butcher’s steel, and it was on this charge that he was first arrested by Detective Elliott. For that he was sentenced to fourteen days’ imprisonment. He was serving this sentence when arrested on the murder charge.
This trial aroused the people to a storm of indignation against Bertrand and Mrs. Kinder, and they became the objects of demonstrations of hate.
Mrs. Kinder was not put on trial. Attorney-General Martin — afterwards Chief Justice — explained that there was no proof that Kinder died of poison, and explained: “There is no evidence to show that Mrs. Kinder manifestly knew of Kinder’s murder; and, if she did know of it, and concealed it by merely abstaining from declaring it, she would not, by reason of such abstaining, be an accessory.”
Three medical men disagreed as to the cause of death, one maintaining that the pistol wound was self-inflicted. The jury disagreed, and a few days later a new trial was entered upon.
Counsels for the defence agreed in the second trial — the prisoner also being agreeable — that to save time the judge should read over the evidence to the witnesses who testified in the former case.
Within two hours the jury brought in a verdict of guilty.
Asked why sentence should not be passed on him, Bertrand replied that his counsel had not called evidence that would have proved his innocence. He referred to his wife and Mrs. Kinder not being called.
He said he had told his sister, Mrs. Kerr, the terrible story in jest. Continuing, he pointed out he could have poisoned Kinder, and asked why he should have shot him?
This sentence in his speech is audacious: “A certain amount of intelligence and ability is imputed to me, and yet it is assumed that I would entrust such a terrible secret to women, who are known not to be in the habit of keeping secrets.”
In passing sentence of death Sir Alfred Stephen referred to prisoner as “not being a human being in feeling . . . because I do not think you are fully possessed of the mind that God has been pleased to give to almost all of us.”
Bertrand’s execution was fixed to take place on March 19, he and Johnny Dunn, the bushranger, being booked for the same death on the same day.
His uncle petitioned the authorities, pointing out that insanity ran in the family. Petitions were presented asking for a reprieve.
Now entered Julian Salomons. He had been educated for the bar with funds provided by Sydney Jews, who recognised his great ability in debate. He was now a young barrister in Sydney.
He applied to the Supreme Court for a rule nisi for the arrest of the judgment. His application failed, but the Full Court, on March 12, granted the request, calling on the Attorney-General to show cause why the verdict of “guilty” should not be set aside, and a new trial granted, or judgment arrested.
The matter was sent to the Privy Council, and for two years Bertrand awaited the reply. The result was the commutation of the death sentence, and a sentence to imprisonment for life. After conviction Bertrand acknowledged his guilt.
During the period that Bertrand awaited the Privy Council’s decision he painted a life size “Crucifixion.” Afterwards there was a sale of his paintings done in gaol, at Lister’s in Pitt-street.
Mrs. Kinder went to New Zealand, where she earned her living as a barmaid. Bertrand’s wife spent her life in looking after her family. His mother during her life kept up an agitation — from London — on his behalf.
In October, 1891, Mr. A. J. Gould, the Minister for Justice, wrote a minute the day before the Parkes Government went out of office, pointing out that Bertrand had served 26 years, the longest period that had been served by any person in the country under a death commuted sentence. He mentioned February 25, 1893, as the date on which he would be eligible for discharge.
On June 15, 1894, Mr. T. M. Slattery, Minister for Justice in the Dibbs’ administration, advised the cabinet to release Bertrand. He set out that in Bertrand’s 28 years of gaol life he had only twice been guilty of breaking goal rules.
The minute continues: “I had always been under the impression since the prisoner’s trial that he had kept a diary of a most objectionable nature, relating to some ladies who had consulted him as a dentist before his apprehension for murder, but it appears from inquiry which has recently been made by the Under-Secretary for Justice, Mr. Fraser, that no such diary ever existed.”
The man who had gone into gaol a fashionable man 24 years of age came out a broken man in his fifties. He went to the Metropole Hotel and met some friends. A few days later he sailed in a P. and O. boat, and was last heard of many years ago now, working as a dentist in Paris.
- Memoirs of Ex-Superintendent Roche (1937, October 17). Truth (Sydney, NSW : 1894 – 1954), p. 32.
- Picture of John Roche Famous Cases of Past (1937, October 3). Truth (Sydney, NSW : 1894 – 1954), p. 17.