Tragedy at Wickham Terrace

On 1 December 1955 Karl Kast, equipped with ‘a revolver, more than 100 rounds of .38 calibre ammunition, a box of detonators and a satchel of home-made piping bombs’ murdered two prominent doctors at their practices on Wickham Terrace, Brisbane. Another doctor was injured and a local horse trainer had two fingers blown off as he saved others from Kast’s home-made bombs.

Kast was born in Bavaria on March 28 1916, and first arrived in Brisbane when he deserted from his employment as a fireman aboard the steamship Halle on 8 July 1939. Kast was subsequently charged with desertion, but as no evidence was offered at his hearing on 25 September, he was discharged. However the next day Kast found himself being interned, as discussed by the National Archives of Australia:

During World War II, Australian authorities established internment camps for three reasons – to prevent residents from assisting Australia’s enemies, to appease public opinion and to house overseas internees sent to Australia for the duration of the war.

Unlike World War I, the initial aim of internment in WWII was to identify and intern those who posed a particular threat to the safety or defence of the country. As the war progressed, however, this policy changed and Japanese residents were interned en masse. In the later years of the war, Germans and Italians were also interned on the basis of nationality, particularly those living in the north of Australia. In all, just over 20 per cent of all Italians resident in Australia were interned.

Australia interned about 7000 residents, including more than 1500 British nationals, during World War II. A further 8000 people were sent to Australia to be interned after being detained overseas by Australia’s allies. At its peak in 1942, more than 12,000 people were interned in Australia.

Kast escaped from his internment camp at Gaythorne, Queensland on 29 December but was recaptured on 2 January 1940. He was then transferred to a Victorian internment camp, from which he escaped and returned to on three separate occasions. On 20 March 1944 Kast was officially released from the camp, working at Alice Springs before returning to Brisbane as a salesman. Kast then moved north to Cairns, where he gained Australian citizenship.

Kast’s Certificate of Naturalization, August 1950

In Cairns Kast had the accident that would serve as the catalyst for his murderous rampage. As reported in the Central Queensland Herald:

[…] on August 10, 1954, Kast slipped and fell against a drain while working at Earlville, Cairns, and had been granted compensation until August 25 […] Kast had sought treatment in Brisbane [for his back] and had returned to Cairns, he was seen in possession of a shotgun, a rifle and ammunition. He told a Cairns man he was going to let a bomb off under the Cairns State Government Insurance Office to bring his back injury under notice.

Letter from State Government Insurance Office regarding Karl Kast

Tragically on 1 December 1955 Kast’s anger and resentment at his claim for compensation being, in his opinion, ignored led to his murderous rampage. Various witnesses found themselves caught up in the violence, Dr Michael Gallagher’s witness testimony offers an insight into events on that fateful day:

“Shortly before 3pm on Thursday 1 Dec, 1955 I was examining a patient in my examination room and I was standing at the end of the examination couch examining her foot on which I had recently operated. In the room at the time was the girl’s mother and my relieving assistant Mrs Joan Morahan. A door leads from my office into the examination room and I looked up and saw a man whom I did not recognise standing in the room. I was about to speak to him to tell him to wait outside then I noticed a revolver in his hand and he fired. This bullet struck my right forearm or wrist. A second shot was then fired which entered the right side of my chest. As a result of that I gradually fell to the floor of the surgery supporting myself on a table as I fell. Whilst I was on the floor he walked around to where my feet were and fired another shot standing at my feet. This bullet struck me in the right leg. After he fired the first shot, as I did not recognise the man I asked him what was the meaning of such behaviour and I thought he replied ‘It is to do with spies!’ but after subsequent thought I think he replied ‘it is to do with spine.’

Another victim of Kast’s attack was George Boland, a horse trainer who was visiting another doctor’s practice on the day of the shooting:

“After being examined I left his surgery […] I walked down the stairs to the first floor. When I reached the hallway of the first floor leading out into Wickham Terrace I walked into the foyer and I saw a sister and I heard her ‘We will all be burnt to death here.’ I noticed a brown paper parcel burning at one end. There was nobody else there. I proceeded to walk out of the building. On getting halfway out, I decided I would go back and put the fire out, which looked very simple. I walked back and put my foot on the lighted end of the parcel about half a dozen times but could not extinguish the flame. I then picked the parcel up and noticed a stone flower vase in the centre of the room and I was going to put it out in that as it had sand in it. When I picked the parcel up I became very sceptical of it owing to its weight as it was 7 o r8 lbs.

QSA Item ID 349867 [Inquest file 337 of 1956]: Photographic evidence of scene

On turning it upside down to put it out after bumping it 2 or 3 times on the bottom of the vase, a round thing slipped out of the brown paper. I then noticed was appeared to be a piece of lead piping of condute about 15 inches long and 3 inches round. I noticed what appeared to be a candle protruding out of it burning. There also appeared to be a bandage beside it saturated with fluid beside it. I broke the candle off then put my hand over the end of it trying to extinguish it as I realised it was a home-made bomb. I was going to leave it there then I put it into my left hand and I was going to throw it out onto the street. I had only taken one step to go out and it exploded about my knees. There was a terrific crash and blinding light and my left eye was closed and my right one almost closed and my hand was blown above my head. I did not realise I had lost two fingers until I saw the blood.”

Kast would kill two people Dr Arthur Vincent Meehan, a sympathetic orthopaedic surgeon who did not back Kast’s compensation claim, and Dr Andrew Russell Murray, the latter of which practiced at Ballow Chambers where Kast’s rampage ended. As the deposition of Constable Quinn describes:

“[…] I looked in the direction of the stairs [within Wickham House] and saw a man dressed in a light coloured safari jacket and darker colour trousers just running from the hallway on to the top of the stairs leading downwards. I now know this man to be Siegfried Karl Kast. I ran down the stairs after him but did not catch sight of him again until I reached the hallway at the foot of the stairs on the ground floor. When I arrived at the hallway I saw Kast running through the swing doors at the Wickham Terrace end of the hallway. He ran out on to Wickham Terrace, and made a left turn. I ran out on to Wickham Terrace after him, and saw him running on the footpath about 50 yards away. I do not recall if he was carrying a leather satchel at the time, but I did see the butt of a revolver sticking out of his right hand side trousers pocket. He continued running and turned into Ballow Chambers. By the time I got to Ballow Chambers he had disappeared. As soon as I entered the ground floor of Ballow Chambers, I entered a doctor’s receptionist room, on the right hand side of the passage way, intending to phone the C.I. Branch, but as I did so, I heard a shot, which I thought came from somewhere on the ground floor.

I ran out on to the hallway, and looked towards the back of the building, but caught no sign of Kast. […] A minute or so later, I heard a loud explosion, which I thought came from somewhere in the building above me. I ran out on to Wickham Terrace, and saw smoke coming from the windows on the first floor and on the corner of Wharf Street. […] I went back into Ballow Chambers, and took up position at the foot of the stairs. Shortly afterwards some members of the Fire Brigade arrived and they were followed almost immediately by some uniformed police.

QSA Item ID 349867 [Inquest file 337 of 1956]: Photographic evidence of scene

[…] On arrival at the first floor I saw some firemen and Plain Clothes Constable Best outside the door of Dr. Larhz consulting room. This door was barricaded with chairs and forms and the door itself was closed. The barricades were removed and we entered the room. I saw that the glass of the door leading off the room we were in was smashed. […] we all entered the room. I saw Kast lying on the floor […] the room was in disorder and it was obvious to me that the explosion I had heard earlier had occurred in this room. The office table in the room was badly damaged. Glass from picture frames was strewn about the floor, and glass in the windows was broken. An ambulance bearer had entered the room with us and soon afterwards he and another bearer removed Kast from the room. I did not see the gun until Sergt. Howard picked it up. The gun was a revolver.”

Kast would later die of his self-inflicted wounds in hospital.

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25 Responses

  1. I remember the incident well, at the time I was working for the Courier Mail as a news room typist, the papers police roundsman was at the scene and relaying over the phone the action as he saw it, I typed as he spoke with the copy then going to the Chief of Staff and ultimately to feature in the next day’s edition of the paper.

    1. Kade

      Hello Anonymous, I was wondering if you would be able to talk to me in private with regard to your comment of events you typed.

  2. peter campbell

    i was 12 years old at the time and lived at the fire station in wharf st . my father was a senior officer when i got home from school dad said not to go up to wickam terrace as a terrible accident had happened i remember the first fireman to enter the building was tom douglas and dad told me many years years later that mr douglas never got over the incident.

  3. John Windolf

    My mother was a patient of Dr Meehan’s, and I can remember our astonishment when we were notified that her next appointment was cancelled … and why!
    We lived 125km from Brisbane, and her journey to Wickham Terrace was a long one, involving travel by boat on the Maroochy River from Coolum, and then a long train journey. Each visit to Wickham Terrace involved several days away from home.

      1. John Fitzgerald

        John Fitzgerald 4/12/2020
        In 1955, I was 16 and a patient of Dr Meehan who was endevouring to find the cause of my wasted thumb joint on my right hand. Was it polio or what? Sadly after his death i never found the cause, I learnt to live with it.

  4. Matt

    Item ID and case number would be great, JUS/N1276 seems to have a lot of case files in it when I look at your online catalogue

  5. Anonymous

    I have never heard this story before. Just goes to show how it would have all been averted had proper screening been done and the perpetrator not allowed into Australia in the first place, let alone given Australian citizenship. Very interesting, even though it was very traumatic for all those involved.

  6. Shirley Powley

    My mother was operated on by Dr. Meehan in 1928 – she had worn an “iron” on one leg since the age of 5 when she contracted polio (or Infantile Paralysis as it was then called) in 1906 in England…..Dr. Meehan grafted muscles from one part of her leg to another – I am not sure whether it was from her calf to her foot, or the other way round – but after the operation she was able to wear low heeled shoes – size 5 on her “good”foot and size 2 on her smaller foot. She was always so grateful to him….Incidentally,she was a patient at the Mater Hospital when the 1955 tragedy occurred, and was in the room opposite the one where Dr. Gallagher was being treated.

  7. Rosanne Buck

    My father was a patient of Dr Meehan’s back in the late 1920’s. He broke is back in an accident on his horse. Dr Meehan operated and took a bone out of his ankle and implanted in his back as he was thought to never walk again. This was very new surgery for this time.
    My father through sheer determination did walk again.
    My father was down the beach at the Gold Coast approx 1955 and ran across Dr Meehan who was very pleased to see my father. Dr Meehan asked him to make an appointment, as he wanted to see how the graft in his back had taken.
    Before my father had made the appointment, it became known that tragically Dr Meehan had been shot and killed.
    It distressed my father enormously.

  8. Magi

    I was only 9 at the time and remember it so well as Dr. M Gallagher’s father Dr. Joe Gallagher’s was my parents family Doctor in Mackay and I can remember us all praying for his son who is shot in Brisbane. In 1955 your family Dr was part of your family not like today.

  9. Colin Evans

    also involved Wickham House on cnr Wickham Tce and Upper Edward St.

    there was a book written by “ghost hunter” cant recall his name. called Murder on the Terrace

  10. anon

    Dr. Lahz was still practicing in Morris Towers in the Mid 1980s.
    He was a consultant to the SGIO, which then handled all Workers Compensation in Queensland.
    I was told the story about that time by a fellow worker who remembered it from 1955, though I thought Dr.Lahz’s father, also an Orthopedic Surgeon, was killed by the bomb blast, and that Karl Kast had been a Partisan, which may have explained his extraordinary behaviour.

  11. Errol Price

    I was a floor boy working for Edmund Rosenstengel in Brunswick Street in 1956 when the damaged desk arrived for repairs. Wow! The top of the desk was split from the explosion. They put a new desk top on and my job was to clean the draws. I will never forget cleaning the human gore off for the cabinet makers. I was only 16 years old having only recently finished my schooling at New Farm State School. I am now 79 Years Old.

  12. Lorraine Wallis Taylor

    I was there with my mother. I was 4 years old. I was supposed to be in the room with Dr Meehan but because we were running late we were sitting in the waiting room.. We had travelled from Casino , I had polio and I had been fitted with boots and iron that days and we were on our way back to show the Dr. I was sitting next to his door, we heard the shots, the scream from the woman and as I looked around the door I saw Dr Meehan slumped over his desk. I remember about the man who threw the bomb, I thought he threw it out the window…I would tell people about this but it wasn’t until today that I looked it up on google. I am 71 now and writing my memoir. This was something that has never left me. RIP Dr Meehan.

  13. Lorraine Wallis-Taylor

    I had responded. I was 4 years old in the waiting room with my mother Marjorie Wallis. My name is Lorraine and we were 10mins late for our appointment with Dr Meehan. I sat on the left of his door and when he was shot I looked in and saw him slumped over is desk, something about him getting water for the patient.

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