Cold Case: The murder of two soldiers at Queenscliff, Vic. 1942

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PatsFitztrick

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Mar 5, 2020
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Carlton
I was unaware of this story, until I picked up this excellent book (published 2016) at my local library.

In 1942, with Australia under threat of invasion by the Japanese, an Australian Army officer had his revolver stolen from a Queenscliff hotel.

Later that year, a soldier stationed at the coastal defence complex at Queenscliff was found shot to death on a nearby country road. Next, a sentry disappeared while on duty on the beachfront at night. A shadowy figure was challenged, but escaped behind a fusillade of shots that wounded another soldier and just missed a third. Four weeks later, the sentry’s body washed up on a beach nearby. It was in astonishingly good condition compared to similar cases, and it was confirmed that the bullets that killed and wounded all three men were fired from the stolen weapon.

During the search for the missing sentry, footprints were found that closely resembled the style of rubber boot worn by Japanese sailors. The soldier that discovered them was immediately transferred into a front-line unit in New Guinea, but he beat the odds and survived the war.

The murder weapon was never found, and no-one has ever been publicly arrested or charged with these crimes. The authorities clamped down on many details of the case, and some important police files have never been released.
 

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Murder at the Fort: Author claims to know identify of Queenscliff murderer
THE murders of two soldiers three months apart with the same weapon remain unsolved 74 years on. But did the army cover up an even bigger secret on the beaches of Queenscliff?

ERIN PEARSON
5 min read
October 17, 2016 - 9:19AM
Geelong Advertiser
0 comments

Former detective Bob Marmion has been looking into the wartime murders.
Former detective Bob Marmion has been looking into the wartime murders.
A TATTERED scrap of paper in a dusty dormant folder has brought a 70-year-old Queenscliff murder mystery to life.

More than 70 years after Private Roy Willis and Gunner John Hulston were gunned down, their deaths remain one of Australia’s most perplexing unsolved murder mysteries.

Queenscliff’s Bob Marmion has spent more than a decade investigating the 1942 double homicide, revealing who he believes the killer is in a new book, Murder at the Fort.

The former police detective turned teacher says a look inside top secret documents reveal long-forgotten secrets, an army cover-up and links to the wartime black market.

“I spent the better part of 10 years investigating what happened to these two young soldiers and I now believe that I have identified the killers,” he says.

“I believe it was due to a lack of evidence rather than not knowing who killed the two soldiers.

“When you look at all the murder files in public records for 1942 the only two missing are these two unsolved murders.”

The body of Roy Willis was found at Wallington.
The body of Roy Willis was found at Wallington.
Private Roy Willis’s body was found riddled with rounds from a .455 calibre revolver on the side of Wallington Rd, Ocean Grove, early on May 29, 1942.

“On the morning of the 29th he came into Geelong, met a solicitor and friends from Casterton way, then was on his way back to camp as he had arranged to be picked up by another soldier coming back from Melbourne,” Mr Marmion says.

“He was found the next morning murdered in Wallington on the side of the road. He’d been shot, placed in a car, moved to Wallington and dumped — but he must have moved, so they fired an extra few rounds into him to finish him off.”

Mr Marmion says there is evidence to suggest Willis’s death was related to his refusal to join the black market.

“I think it was a connection with the black market, but everything I found out about this fellow showed he was a decent, honest, hardworking, law-abiding citizen. Everything said he was legit, so I think he was probably approached and knocked it back and then silenced.”

The gun that killed Willis was later involved in another nearby unsolved murder.

“Three months later a 17-year-old soldier, John Hulston, who’d only been in the army a couple of months, was shot dead at Queenscliff with the same weapon.”

Hulston had followed his older brother into the army and was a member of a four-inch gun battery near Crows Nest in Queenscliff in an area occupied by troops and ringed with barbed wire, searchlights and artillery.

Mr Marmion says that on the night of August 30, 1942, Hulston was detailed for guard duty between 3.30am and 5.15am.

John Hulston (left), pictured with his brother George, died aged only 17.
John Hulston (left), pictured with his brother George, died aged only 17.

He was found to be missing soon after 5am and some of his colleagues followed drag marks that led towards the beach and saw a figure. Thinking it was Hulston, they called out but were met with a barrage of bullets. No search party was sent out.

Hulston’s torn trousers were left on the beach and his rifle and bayonet were later found in 3m of water. Ten days after he vanished, his body was discovered down the coastline, below Queenscliff Fort.

Like Willis, he had been shot in the chest with a .455 calibre revolver. By coincidence the same type of firearm had been stolen from the Royal Hotel cloakroom just before the first murder but was never reported missing, nor ever found.

“I think Hulston was the wrong fellow in the wrong place,” Mr Marmion says. “There was a story going around that someone who was supposed to be on guard duty that night was going to give evidence at the Willis inquest the next day and he was going to expose the killers.

“That fellow was suddenly taken off the guard duty roster and sent to a radar course over in Portsea.

“I think it was a case of mistaken identity — wrong man, wrong place, wrong time. Hulston was only a kid.”

Mr Marmion stumbled across the stories while working as a historian at Fort Queenscliff.

He says three of the best detectives of the time had been assigned to the case and knew who was responsible but lacked the final piece of evidence to lock them away.

He believes black market activity was behind both murders with cigarettes, alcohol and even nylon stockings in short supply because of the war.

“Geelong and the Bellarine were locked down really tightly as it was probably one of the most heavily defended areas in Australia,” he says.

“Willis actually went in to see a solicitor the day of his murder and, despite an appeal for (the solicitor) to come forward, he never did.

“Just when you think you’ve hung up the boots for the last time something like this comes along and it just had me intrigued.”

The Japanese link

FOR decades rumours swirled of a suspected Japanese landing along the Queenscliff coastline.

Although the claims are thought to be nothing more than folk tales, historian Bob Marmion says he now has proof the boots of foreign soldiers touched the sandy beaches once thought protected by army personnel.

Witness testimony, he says, previously kept sealed in a top secret army file for more than 70 years, has finally been opened. Inside are groundbreaking revelations a soldier was silenced after revealing he’d seen suspected Japanese boot prints in the sand.

A 17-year-old soldier reported seeing footprints on the beach that looked like they were cow prints, the same pattern left by the distinctive Japanese soldier boots known as Tabi boots.

Mr Marmion says there were no cows on the beach that night, or ever.

“When you look at the footprints — we had a display at the war museum — they leave a similar print to a cow print and nobody else wore them. This fellow saw a stack of prints on the beach,” he says.

“When he told someone two intelligence types threatened the daylights out of him and took him to Wilsons Prom.

“If you tell anyone you’ll be charged with treason, he was told. He was just a 17-year-old kid.”

World War II had been raging for more than two years and while the fighting initially seemed far away in Europe and North Africa, things suddenly changed in December 1941 with surprise Japanese attacks on the US Navy at Pearl Harbor.

Australia was under threat as Japanese forces swept southward through Asia. The fear of invasion was further heightened when, on February 26, a Japanese plane was seen over the Bellarine Peninsula, Point Cook and Williamstown.

“With the first murder of Roy Willis, a lady lying in bed heard the shots, yet when it came to the second murder you’ve got 250 soldiers all within a short distance and not one heard the shot that killed Hulston, including soldiers only 6m away,” he says.

“Then at the same time Hulston was killed, Japanese footprints were found on the beach.”

When Mr Marmion tried to access an army file detailing the footprint sighting he found it marked top secret.

After a lengthy battle the documents were finally released.

Murder at the Fort was launched on Saturday
 
Some contradiction between sources of Hulston's age (17 v 18), and hometown (Ballarat, Dimboola), and other minor details, but 1942 during a war, plus it seems there was a military/police cover up of sorts, and even contemporary efforts to suppress VicPol and Army files.

My guess is Harold Holt, with a revolver on the beach!
(He was a Japanese spy all along - it was a JAPANESE sub at Cheviot Beach!)
 

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