194. MURDER.

"Also in A.S. it is said that Johns has murdered Lasseter".

Philip Taylor's Diary, Transcript, page 47, Camel Treks in the Outback. P. A. Scherer.

 

Harold Lasseter would be one of the few deceased persons to have two death certificates, the first was written out on Bob Bucks sworn, albeit reluctant testimony, in the presence of H. A. Heinrich, Justice of the Peace and Assistant Coroner at Hermannsburg on 25/04/31. The second certificate was completed by V. G. Carrington, the Administrator of Central Australia, at Alice Springs on 9/05/31, again in the presence of a reticent Bob Buck. Both documents show that Lasseter died of exposure and starvation, or in Centralian vernacular, he perished.

There were however, several sinister rumours surrounding Lasseter's death. When Paul Johns arrived in Alice Springs on 13/11/30 he reported to Carrington regarding his travels with Lasseter and apparently mentioned the violent altercation with Lasseter that has since become known as "The Fight in the Desert". According to P. A. Scherer, Carrington, perhaps in jest, said "what the hell did you do to Lasseter, he (Lasseter) said you had a fight and nearly murdered him. Are you sure you didn't do him in?"

Several months later Philip Taylor and Johns struggled into Hermannsburg, Taylor unable to carry on the search for Lasseter due to ill health. Taylor had a long discussion with Reverend Albrecht concerning Johns, "and appear to have given him proofs of which he was not sure" Neither man elaborated on what those proofs may have been, or if they were in any way connected with Lasseter's death. The following day, 18/02/31, Taylor sacked Johns and Albrecht gave Johns twelve hours to get off the Mission. Taylor noted in his diary that the Mission Aboriginals had taken to sleeping with their spears close by in fear of Johns return, and Heinrich told Taylor that Johns had threatened to shoot him. Significantly, Taylor added, "Also that in A.S. (Alice Springs) it is said that Johns has murdered Lasseter".

In 1957 Lasseter suffered the indignity of being disinterred and his remains transported to Alice Springs by the crew of a documentary film company, allegedly to give Lasseter a decent Christian burial. Senior Inspector W. McKinnon, in charge of central Australia's police at the time, thought the unsavoury incident nothing more than a blatant publicity stunt, and promptly had the culprits arrested for illegally disinterring a body. McKinnon added to his report on the incident that he had a, "condition of doubt about his (Lasseter's) death", and it was his intention in his early patrol days in the 1930's, to locate Lasseter's grave and bring his skull into Alice Springs for medical examination. Unfortunately for the record McKinnon never elaborated on his doubts, whether a suspicious cause of Lasseter's death or if the remains were really Lasseter's.

Of course Johns was well aware of the rumours surrounding his possible violent involvement with Lasseter's death, and in numerous newspaper interviews took the opportunity to blame the Aboriginals for Lasseter's demise. As late as 1972 in an interview with a London newspaper Johns said, "The records say he died of dysentery but I'm firmly convinced that the Aboriginals killed him". By all accounts Johns had an unhealthy interest in firearms and given his involvement with the Nazis and the SS at the outset of the Second World War, might deem him a 'Person of Interest' if a thorough inquiry were ever held into Lasseter's death.

Lasseter's demise may have been a matter of murder by degree, meaning he was simply abandoned by the Company for failing to find the reef, as Heinrich noted at the bottom of his death certificate, "Cause of Death - Starvation owing to the failure of the party from Illbilla". That being the case then culpable negligence would be an appropriate charge, although the Baileys could legitimately claim that they had no idea where Lasseter was likely to be, until Taylor returned to Hermannsburg in February 1931.

On the weight of evidence the rumours of Lasseter's murder are unfounded, Johns, the main suspect was in the company of Philip Taylor, a very creditable witness, or in Alice Springs, from 27/11/30 to 18/02/31. And Lasseter's diary and letters show dates, actual and reasonably inferred, from December 1930 to January 1931, and if the diary is authentic then Lasseter's entry on page 65, "I think I am near my finish", would indicate that he expected imminent death from starvation. This entry and several similar passages also eliminates the Aboriginals as culprits, contrary to Johns assertion, they would simply stay their hand and let nature take its course, and were probably mindful of the consequences of Fred Brooks murder at Coniston two years earlier. Here it worth recalling Cecil Madigans trenchant observation regarding outback homicide, "It should be noted that the whites are always murdered and the blacks just killed".

LASSETERIA

R.Ross. 1999-2006

Idriess, Ion. L. Lasseter's Last Ride. 101,102. P. A. Scherer, Lasseter Demystified & Two German Rouseabouts. 18A,34. & Camel Treks in the Outback. 47. National Archives Australia. Australian Television Enterprises Unit. Series No, F1, Control Symbol, 1957/150. Pg. 24. C. T. Madigan, Central Australia, pg. 252.