Murder on Mt. Coot-Tha

Within the collection at QSA we have an array of secrets and treasures, from documents that shed light on the development of Queensland to mugshots of our more infamous citizens. In this blog, we wanted to share the story behind a colourful watercolour held in the QSA reps. A chromatic map of the iconic Mount Coot-Tha that leads us into a dark tale of jealousy, torment and, ultimately, tragedy.

The following testimony is all drawn from Deposition File: ID 349460.

Bridge-Road-excerpt

On the morning of the 17 November 1927 Thomas Gordan, a dairyman working from Glen Albro Dairy, was driving his dairy herd along Simpson’s Road. The cattle followed the normal routine moseying along the road before cutting through a path between some lantana. However, on this morning Gordan noticed that there was someone in the lantana, a figure whose presence disturbed the cattle so much they bolted.

Gordan called out, thinking that the person in the lantana could be his son, “is that you Arch?”

An unfamiliar man’s voice replied with something that sounded to Gordan like “hi”.

He bent down to get a better understanding of who he was talking to. Under the sweeping twilight shade of the lantana Gordan could make out the figure of a man dragging himself down from a seated position onto his belly. The man began crawling towards Gordan, his long coat dragging in the red dirt. For a moment Gordan thought that the coat meant the man might be a chauffeur who for some reason had been ‘bottled or knocked out’. The man crawled out on his hands and knees from the shade of the lantana into the morning light. Gordan went towards him to offer assistance and to find out what he had been “up to”.

Gordan-Man-moment

“Good God what happened?”

As Gordan described it in his witness statement:

The man had blood all black and dried on him. I noticed a sort of frothy matter about his mouth. He was not able to speak or stand up … I ran over to the carpenters who were working on a house about 40 yards away, and I told Tom Westerman to come over and have a look at this chap. When we got back he was halfway to the road still crawling.

Tom said to me, “what are you going to do with him?”

“Nothing, get in the car and go up for Sergeant Beck, that’s a police case not ours.”


Cecilia Miller and Reginald Vaughan had been engaged since January 1926. Vaughan had asked Cecilia’s father, Thomas Miller, for permission, the latter querying whether Vaughan ‘was in a position financially to put her into a home’ and had sufficient ‘work to keep a wife’.

Cecilia Miller
Cecilia Miller, Truth newspaper, 28 February 1928

Vaughan’s answers seemed to satisfy her father’s concerns, for Cecilia, known to the family as Cissie, and Vaughan became engaged. Cissie sported an engagement ring her sister Isabella said she used to “wear that ring every time she went out, and wore it at home in the house when we had visitors and when Vaughan was there.”

Life seemed to be going well for the couple. They dated, made plans for the future. Then, in October, Cissie confided in her father that Vaughan had ‘taken back her ring from her and had not given it back, and I said to her was she sure that Reggie took it and what was it all about? She told me that Vaughan took the ring off her finger and was fooling about with it, and put it in his waist coat pocket.’

Vaughan
Reginald Vaughan, Truth newspaper, 28 February 1928

As Isabella, Cecilia’s sister, recalls:

I was downstairs in the kitchen at the time that being underneath the sitting room. I heard them speaking loudly. They were not quarrelling but they were angry. I went upstairs and I asked them what was the matter and Reggie said that Cissie had lost her ring, and she said “I never lost it” and Vaughan said he had given it back to her. […] We all searched for the ring then, Vaughan being present at the time, but we failed to find it. My sister said “you took the ring I’m not engaged now” and Vaughan then said that he would buy her another ring. My sister said she would not have another ring, she would not take two rings off any man. On the following night the 25th October 1927 Vaughan came to our house, and I told him that my sister had been worrying about the ring and had not slept, and I asked him to tell her not to worry about it. This was said in the kitchen. His temper was bad then. He banged his fist on the table and said “everything points to her I’m not worrying about it”. My sister was absent during this conversation but she came out just after that, and Vaughan said to my sister “have you found the ring?” and my sister said “no Reggie you have it.”

The spat seemed to resolve itself only a few days later, for on Sunday 30 October Vaughan approached Mr Miller and asked if he again had any objections to the couple getting married. Mr Miller responded that he had no concerns,  so long as Vaughan could maintain ‘regular work and a home to take her to.’

Wednesday, 16 November, and Vaughan calls at the house of the Miller family around 6.50 p.m., Isabella was in the kitchen:

He came in downstairs to the kitchen, and he had his overcoat on, and he kept his hand in his pocket all the time that I was talking to him. I went up and asked him how he was and he was very abrupt and said “oh I’m alright” he did not feel inclined to speak to me. My sister at this time was upstairs getting dressed. Vaughan previously either carried the overcoat on his arm or taken it off as soon as he got into the house. He kept his hands in the pocket of his overcoat all the time. [..] I was dressed to go out and he asked me where I was going, and I said I was going out, and he said “oh you have a good time don’t you, you might just as well”. I left the house then, and my sister was still in her bedroom getting tidied.

Mrs Miller was sitting on the verandah and could oversee Vaughan and Cissie talking:

Vaughan was teasing my daughter that he had seen her down at a boat the day before, and he said he was watching her down there. My daughter said to him “I never saw you” and he said “well I saw you”. He was sitting near my daughter and he put his arms round her neck and kissed her and he asked her to go out but she said that she did not want to go out as she was too tired. He said he was going down to Hamilton to Mrs Owen Russell’s place, to see Owen, and my daughter said ‘Oh I don’t want to go there’ and he then said ‘you’ll go somewhere, we’ll go to the pictures.’

She said ‘no I don’t want to go to the pictures I will have to change my dress’ and he said ‘it does not matter about changing the dress the one you have on will do, I have the car at the top, meaning at the top of Rockburne Terrace. It is not many people who bring a car down our street. He said to put on a coat, and she said she would put on a thin one, and he said, “No, put a thick one on you’ll need it. It had been raining during  the day, but it was a beautiful starry night, and was not cold but cool.

The couple left into the starry night.


Constable Gilbert Beck was on duty on Thursday 17 November 1928 at Simpson’s Road Police Station:

At about 11.20am […] a youth name Thomas Westerman called at the police station and told me something, telling me that there was a man with his throat cut in the lantana near his home at Mt. Coot-Tha Road, that being 2 1/2 miles from my station. I rang up the Ambulance Brigade and they arrived soon afterward, and I accompanied them towards the Westerman’s residence, and when about 150 yards from a bridge which spans the upper Ithaca Creek on a flat piece of ground about 318 feet from the bridge, I saw a motor car standing, Chevrolet motor car no Q48862 and when I got to the bend near the bridge I saw the body of a woman lying near the motor car.

Car-Excerpt

[…] I got down off the wagon, and ran over towards the motor car where the body was lying, and the Ambulance man followed me, and when I got to the body I recognized the body as that of the deceased Cecilia Josephine Miller. […] There was blood on the right cheek, and I noticed a large clot of blood under the head. […] The body appeared to have been dead a number of hours as the ants were attacking the body and the face discoloured. There was no indication that a struggle had taken place.

Beck checked the car noticing a man’s grey felt hat left on the front seat and a small paper bag of Minties. He widened his search and quickly discovered Vaughan:

Beck-Man

[…] lying on the ground on his back fully dressed with the exception of a hat and an overcoat. […] I recognized him and said “Hullo Reg” but he did not recognize me and appeared unconscious. I noticed that there was congealed blood at the back of his head and his mouth appeared as if there was lysol there and there was a strong smell of lysol. The Ambulance bearer attended to him and took him away in his ambulance.

[…] I then returned to where the body was lying […] and I made a further search, and a distance of 42 feet from the body, I saw a single line of tracks leading along the creek, then going through a lantana through a narrow path, and a distance of 131 feet from the body I found a five chamber American revolver. I examined the revolver, and I found it contained three live and two spent cartridges. At a distance of 4 feet from the revolver I found a small red handled pocket knife and small folding comb. 8 feet from the revolver I saw what appeared to be blood and vomet [sic] mixed, and there was a strong smell of lysol from it.

 

Revolver

James Connelly was working as an ambulance bearer on that day:

When the ambulance car got to about the bridge I saw the body of a woman lying at the side of the car. […] I looked at the body and discovered that it was dead, and had been for a number of hours. From there I went with Constable Beck for a distance of about 100 yards along Mr Coot-tha Road and I saw a man there […] he was lying, with some bags propped under his head on his back. I examined him and found that he was very weak from loss of blood and he had a large lacerated wound at the back of his head. There was a fair amount of congealed blood about his head, and on his clothes, the front of his chest and on his shirt and coat. […] I conveyed him to the Brisbane General Hospital.

At the hospital Vaughan was examined by Dr.Reginald Quinn:

He was lying on the bed and he had blood stains on the back of his neck and clothes […] He had a wound on his neck about 3 inches long by about 2 inches wide and I picked out two pieces of metal […] I asked him if her used a revolver as there was some doubt what had happened to him when he arrived at hospital., and he told me that he had a revolved in the car […] There was brown stains round his mouth, stains being stains and burns. I asked him when I saw the burns what had happened and he told me then that he had drank lysol […] the back of his mouth inside and his throat were burned. The wound at the back of his neck could have been self-inflicted.

Detective Thomas O’Rourke interviewed Vaughan later at the General Hospital:

I went to No. 14 ward there, and I saw […] Vaughan lying on the bed. His head was bandaged but he was fully conscious and appeared to be quite rational. I said to him “I belong to the Police, is your name Reg Vaughan?” and he said “yes”, and I said:

The dead body of a girl name Cecilia Miller was found today at the Horse Shoe Bend, and the cause of death was gunshot wound on the head, you were found in the locality about the same time, also suffering from a gunshot wound, can you tell me anything about her death?” And Vaughan said “Cissie Miller was my girl, we went out there last night for a drive in a motor car. We pulled up against the lantana a bit down from the bridge and sat down on the running board of the car. We talked there for a while, and then I felt a cloud come over my mind, and the next thing that I know was that Cissie was lying on the ground shot, and I must have been drinking lysol because my mouth was burning and I was holding an empty lysol in my hand. I then threw the bottle away in the bushes.”

O’Rourke: “Did you have a revolver with you last night?”

Vaughan: Yes I had it in the side pocket of the car.

O’Rourke: How long have you had the revolver?

Vaughan: About twelve months.

O’Rourke: Did you shoot the girl with that revolver last night?

Vaughan: I don’t remember.

O’Rourke: When did you put the revolver in the side pocket of the car?

Vaughan: At about 7 o’clock last night before I left my mother’s place to go for Cissie.

O’Rourke: Did you and the girl have a quarrel there last night?

Vaughan: No, we never had a quarrel in our lives and I must have been mad to do it.


At the inquiry held over the 20 and 21 February 1928 Detective O’Rourke described the events of that night:

Vaughan shot the girl and then walked a short distance away and drank lysol. It appeared that he then went to the edge of the Ithaca Creek and shot himself in the head. Witness thought that Vaughan was afraid the girl Miller would learn that he had no money and would then have nothing more to do with him. As Cissie’s Mother would describe in her statement, “my daughter told me that Vaughan said to her several times that if he did not have her no one else would, he would blow her brains out. I think she took it as a joke as she just laughed about it.” Vaughan’s threats were also witnessed by Isabella, who recollected that she “heard Vaughan say that if she jilted him he would blow her brains out, and he said that again on another occasion that he would shoot her and shoot himself too.

The inquiry captured the imagination of the Queensland community, with the media giving extensive coverage to the revelations:

Truth, 28 February 1928

Pretty Girl Shot Dead – Man in Living Tomb

The Truth 1

 

It was a veritable sylvan glade in which the girl’s murdered body was found, in surroundings dedicated to the elves, fairies and the spirits of the trees, with a rippling brook tricking past a sward of rich green fringed and touched with colour by flowering lantana bushes.

It was here that Reginald Vaughan chose to end the life of the girl he loved – into this peaceful haven he drove her in a motor car, his brain unbalanced. As the rays of the headlights shot across the sylvan landscape a cloud was descending upon his mind, which soon was to travel down the lanes of darkness.

The car sped on. Presently it stopped and the two lovers sat on the running board. Then Vaughan shot Cecilia – shot her dead.

What they talked of on that fatal journey no one but Vaughan knows. The mouth of one is sealed for ever; that of the other gibbers meaningless things in a ward where are kept in confinement those who are certified as insane.

 

The Truth 2

the truth 3

Overall-Map
Watercolour Map depiciting the scene of the murder of Cecilia Miller

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