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The Mangamahu Murder, 1921
Thanks to John Archer who has recounted here Merv Addenbrooke's story of the 1921 Mangamahu Murder for
George Gordon was a man about in his forties, and had been a bushman in past years. While I was at Cecil's he mainly worked on the road with the permanent roadman, besides doing a few jobs for local farmers.

George and I shared a whare that was about five hundred yards from the homestead, and was close to the road. George used the big room with the fireplace at one end, while I slept in a small room at the back.

George had his bouts of drinking, usually every six weeks or two months, which normally went on for a week or more with his mates helping him out, then ordering more grog from the Mangamahu Hotel. This time drinking had been going on for nearly a fortnight with George, while I was having very little sleep night after night, until one evening I remonstrated with Jack Kinsella, his drinking mate, for his persistent playing of my accordion and keeping me awake. I had to calm down, for he offered to bash my brains out, so I was not too happy about his idea.

In the morning when I left to got to work, George was sober enough to be sharpening his axe with a file. I had told Cecil I thought something drastic might happen later, by the way things were shaping. Also I owned a long-bladed pig-sticking knife which Kinsella had taken from my cupboard to threaten George. He drew the back of the blade across George's throat, then George said "You made a bloody bad job of that, Jack."

On July 22nd, 1921, on returning from work at about five thirty-five pm, I went for the cows, and on my return Cecil asked me to bring my bed clothes down to the house, so as I could get some sleep, because the drinking bout still seemed to be in progress.

On going into the whare to get cleaned up and changed for the evening meal at Cecil's, I walked into the dark room through the open door, then felt myself walking in something sticky.

On striking a match I was horrified to see George with his head severed except for a thin piece of neck skin still intact and his head lying sideways from his shoulder. He was a big fattish man and must had bled profusely, for half the floor was covered in blood. While I was there, Kinsella and another man were very intoxicated, sitting on a form nearby, Kinsella telling the other man that he, Kinsella, had done the deed, because George his old bushmate cobber had asked him to do it. "He asked me to cut his head off. He lay on the floor and asked me to cut his head off, and I did it."

I got out post-haste, tore down to my cousin to tell Cecil there had been a murder and that George had lost his head. Cecil then asked me to run around to Jim Campbell to tell him to come quickly, because Cecil feared for his family. Jim was having his dinner when I went in hastily to tell them, but he insisted on finishing his meal in a casual way, while I stood on one foot then another, waiting in suspense.

We went back in time to intercept Kinsella and the other man on their way to the house, where they said they wanted Cecil to ring the police. We coaxed them up onto the road, Jim watching Kinsella while I kept an eye on the other man. Kinsella seemed to be sobering, and made the excuse of wanting to put the cover on the horse, but perhaps he may have wanted to jump into the Whangaehu River from the very high cliff beside the whare. We kept them on the road for about an hour until neighbours arrived to give help. It came on to rain, so we all went into the woolshed that was close to the road, where they gave Kinsella a tot of whisky now and then to calm down his agitation.

While waiting for about three hours for the police to arrive from Wanganui, Kinsella was at times very restless, groping around the wool-press where we thought he might make a break for freedom, using the iron bale clips, so another good double tot of whisky calmed him.

When the police car was arriving, with lights showing in the distance, someone yelled "Here come the police" and Kinsella made a flying leap off the high steps of the doorway, but one of the neighbours caught his foot and tripped him, then we grabbed him before he could escape. He was taken away in the police car, leaving one policeman to clean up and bring the body to Wanganui the next day.

Next morning the policeman, McMullen, and I went up to the whare to clean up the mess. After cleaning up everything in the frosty morning, we wrapped the corpse in its own blankets, which did not cover its full
He lay on the floor and asked me to cut his head off, and I did it.
length, for a bare foot was left protruding from the blankets. McMullen sewed the head back onto the neck with baling twine, so as to hold it rigid. My cousin those days had a yellow Maxwell five-seater car, and the back seat was taken by the corpse, while three of us sat in the front for the six-mile journey to Mangamahu. When we arrived at the hotel, the constable pulled the corpse out of the car, got it on his shoulder and carried it over to the pub, where he leaned it against the wall near the bar entrance while we went for a few spots.

Some children came home for lunch and were scrutinising this unwieldy parcel, when the constable told them they better run home. As the news had travelled through the grape vine, the children got an idea of what it was and went home for their lives.

At last the Royal Mail arrived, a big Hudson bus, the driver going in to dine before leaving for the return jour ney to Wanganui. The corpse was placed in the very back compartment, ready for the journey, no passengers excepting the constable boarding at Mangamahu.

About halfway to Fordell the bus stopped at Kaungaroa to pick up some Maoris from that quite big pa.

One Maori carrying a big portmanteau asked the policeman "Where I put my bag?" and the constable, taking it from him, put the bag inside the very back door. On arriving at Fordell, where most of the passengers alighted for drinks at the hotel, the owner of the port man teau asked, "Where you put my bag?" The constable said "Just inside that back door." The Maori opened the door, gripped the big case by the handle, at the same time seeing the protruding foot. He held onto the case, but got out of range quickly, making a bee-line to get on the train, which was leaving for Wanganui. After this episode the Maoris never rode again in that particular bus.

Large crowds turned up to hear the inquest later on, and I, being only twenty years of age, never been in a Court House before, felt very nervous and embarrassed. Kinsella had chosen, as his lawyer, Humphrey O'Leary, who in later years became the Chief Justice for New Zealand, as well as being knighted a Sir.

As I was the chief witness, I was kept in the witness box for what seemed hours with questions thrown at me right and left, especially by O'Leary.

I was asked why I had a premonition that something drastic might happen and how did Kinsella come to threaten the deceased with your knife. I found these questions hard to answer, but stuck to what I truthfully knew.

George was a man that had no relations in New Zealand and was a real hermit. I had no doubt in my mind that George Gordon asked Kinsella to do him in, because I had several experiences of George asking me to shoot him when I was cleaning my rifle after coming from pig hunting, and this only happened when he was drunk. Many a time I had dragged George to his bed, getting him there with great effort, after he had rocked himself backwards off a seat and be came cast on the floor.

Kinsella was a man whose physical actions, when drunk, were as good as a sober man, and he would be able to wield an axe with accuracy. The other man who drank found it an effort to stand, let alone walk, and he would be a poor axeman when drunk. Kinsella was granted 14 years in prison, but I was told he got off with eight years for good conduct.

At the time of this execution, Sandy McDonald was the brand of whisky George Gordon had been drinking. It was taken off the market after the murder trial and not sold again in New Zealand for 66 years.

I believe it only just came back on the new Zealand market again recently, in 1988.

Merv Addenbrooke was born in Mangamahu in 1901. He was 88 years old when he showed me a biscuit-tin full of his stories written on scrap paper.

"Could you help me put all this into a book? A hard-bound book with gold lettering? I want to give copies of it to guests at my 90th birthday party."

You can now find that book in most New Zealand libraries. Or you can read it on John Archer's Web site. Merv passed away in 1994.
- John Archer

Back to Murder Index

Geoge Gordon binged on Sandy McDonald whiskey for several days, then asked his bushmate to chop off his head. And he did.

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