The Forgotten Killara Greengate Murder
By ELLIOT LINDSAY
The original Greengate Hotel in what was then the district of Lane Cove (renamed Killara)
A crime buried for 120 years, rediscovered by our resident historian Elliot Lindsay
The bottom of a well
On the morning of Monday the 22nd of September, 1862, on the Greengate estate located in colonial Killara (although all the North Shore was known as Lane Cove in those days), a lifeless male body was found at the bottom of a deep, dark well. The throat of the man had a gaping wound, his arm lacerated. A folded-up pruning knife was found in his pocket with traces of blood on the blade.
The man’s name was Andrew Bromley, a local 43 years old timber cutter. Initially, it was thought Bromley had committed suicide. Perhaps attempting with the blade and then finishing the job by throwing himself in the well to drown. He had been depressed the days before due to a quarrel with his son.
The city press, always hungry for a story, didn’t wait for the Coroner’s verdict and printed this unproven detail as fact.
The City Coroner finally arrived and held a routine inquest at the local inn to determine the cause of death. However, the Coroner, perhaps assuming he was only attending the scene of an apparent suicide, came unprepared for a murder investigation. In the absence of a suicide note and having observed the neck wounds, the Coroner became doubtful that Bromley had taken his own life. He suspected foul play.
The body had to be professionally examined by a medical practitioner. Time was of the essence as the body was in decomposition. He ordered the body be transferred to the North Shore Police Station.
The two doctors conducted a thorough investigation of the body. Mr Bromley was found to have had three cuts to his throat, making a wound five inches in length. The first two cuts only penetrated the skin. However, the third cut was fatal, severing the lingual artery, the windpipe and the bone joining the tongue and larynx. The Coroner next undertook a post mortem examination. From the appearance of the internal organs, it was believed the death took place before Mr Bromley’s immersion in the water.
When Andrew Bromley was not working in the timber yards, he was employed as a labourer. On Friday the 19th of September, he was working for Mr Thomas Waterhouse, the publican of the Greengate Inn and owner of the Greengate estate. However, a bushfire raging through the surrounding Lane Cove forest had finally reached the local area during the day.
Waterhouse required all hands to subdue the fire before it overtook the local properties; already, it had devastated some neighbouring estates. Bromley joined in battling the blazes.
At approximately 3 pm that afternoon, Bromley was noticed missing. Still, he had not been seen that evening, and he did not come home to his wife and nine children. Saturday, morning came, and he was still missing. This was out of character for Bromley. By Sunday, the community was alarmed and searched the estate where he was seen last. Mr Waterhouse’s son found the hat he wore, and then dried splatters of blood were discovered next. That trailed off some 240 yards towards a deep water well.
Although no sign of Mr Bromley’s body was observed, the men decided to drag it. Their suspicions proved to be correct as emerging from the depths came the waterlogged corpse of Andrew Bromley.
Poor Andrew Bromley's body was found at the base of a deep well.
Murder was the case.
The doctors presented their evidence at the Coroner’s court held at North Shore Police Station. They testified that the wounds would have resulted in death within minutes. Hence, the ability of Mr Bromley to cut his own throat, close the knife, place it into his pocket, and then stumble 270 yards to the water well was near impossible.
The jury finally returned the verdict: – “We have no evidence before us to show how his body got into the well, and that great suspicion and mystery attaches to this man’s death.”
Thus, the inquest ruled out suicide.
With the community in a state of panic and confusion, the fires provided the perfect opportunity for a person to commit murder, primarily as no investigation into Bromley’s whereabouts was undertaken until the Sunday when presumably the fires had occurred subsided in the area.
On Friday 26th of September, law enforcement had a suspect brought before the Water Police Court on Phillip Street, Sydney. Joseph Bromley, Andrew’s seventeen-year-old son, was arrested on suspicion of murdering his father.
Andrew and Joseph had been quarrelling over a disagreement in the weeks prior. The police decided to investigate him. Upon inspecting the property where Joseph was employed, they found clothes he had allegedly worn when his father went missing. Suspicious bloodstains were found on the clothes, prompting the police to presume the worst.
They arrested Joseph, and the court held him on remand until Thursday 10th of October, when he was finally cleared and discharged. Witnesses gave evidence that Joseph and Andrew had reconciled soon after the quarrel and were on good terms when Andrew went missing. The blood-stained clothing was accounted for by corroborating evidence; Joseph had been bleeding from the nose, the blood staining the garments. He was later released.
However, another suspect was identified. A mysterious individual the records only refer to by the name ‘Leal’. When Andrew Bromley did not return home on the night of the fires, his wife, Sarah, went to the Greengate Inn to inquire about him. This man ‘Leal’ was drinking at the inn and told Sarah, “I don’t think you will ever see him again alive; perhaps he’s got in the fire.”
The drunk Leal later says, “mind your own business; your husband is dead!” The Sydney Morning Herald reported this encounter. Leal was questioned and stated, ‘he had not the slightest recollection of ever having made any remarks about the deceased to that effect’.
Unfortunately, there is no reference to Leal again.
Historic map of Greengate Estate. The hotel is on the corner of Green Gate St and Lane Cove Rd (now Pacific Hwy). The well, now covered, would have been nearby.
In more ways than one, the people of Lane Cove were disturbed by the events surrounding Bromley’s death. First and foremost is the grief surrounding the murder of a prominent member of the small community. But what also disturbed the residents was how authorities treated the case - errors from beginning to end.
The Coroner choosing to hold the court nine miles away from the crime scene was considered unusual.
Typically, the inquest would be held in the closest hotel because there were no morgues until the 1880s. The Coroner could have introduced Sarah Bromley’s evidence sooner had this occurred. The mysterious Leal could have been called to account for his whereabouts on the day. And Joseph Bromley would have been cleared of suspicion immediately. However, the government did offer a reward for any information leading to the arrest of the murderer.
Unfortunately, the law never apprehended the murderer, and almost 160 years later, it remains a cold case.
We will never know what happened on that strange day in 1862 when fire raged through the village that came to be known as Killara. Presuming murder was the case, the incredible chain of events that led to the opportunity for someone to seize and murder Andrew Bromley in such a cold-blooded manner is quite unbelievable.
Then the question arises, who was this mysterious man known as Leal? What did he know? Was he the murderer?
We will never know the answer.
The old inn was demolished in 1942 and rebuilt as The Killara Greengate Hotel. The orchards are long gone, the wells since buried, but locals still visit for a glass of ale. So, if you are ever driving by, consider pulling in and having a drink in memory of poor Andrew Bromley.
The Greengate Hotel, Killara, on Sydney's Upper North Shore, after it was rebuilt in 1942