Monday, June 2, 2014

Boggo Road Gaol: The Last Man Hanged

Earnest Austin was the last man * to be executed at Queensland’s Brisbane Boggo Road Gaol, in Australia. 

Austin was this jail’s most notorious prisoner. He was hanged in 1913. Many guards and prisoners after his execution reported hearing and seeing his ghost.

Boggo Road Gaol
* Queensland and New South Wales abolished capital punishment for murder in 1922. In 1967, the rest of Australia followed suit.

A Frantic Father

On the night of June 8, 1913, 11-year-old Ivy Alexander Mitchell went missing.

A school picture of Ivy Mitchell
At dusk Ivy’s father, a local farmer became worried when she did not return from a day of playing with friends. He and his son grabbed a lantern and went out to search. They headed for a nearby school.

Near this building, Farmer Mitchell spotted boot tracks alongside smaller barefoot prints --he and his son followed them. At one point the smaller tracks stopped, Mitchell, continued to follow the boot tracks.

A grim sight awaited him. He found Ivy lying in a pool of blood--her throat had been cut -- she had been molested--then murdered.

A Monster

Earnest Austin
Earnest Austin had a long history of run-ins with the police. As a child, he had been sentenced to a reform school. Several years before the murder of Ivy Mitchell he had attacked 12-year-old Louisa Adelaide Champion in 1909.

He had lured her into a washhouse and grabbed her by the throat. He then threatened her with an ax. She managed to scream, which attracted attention. Austin ran off, but within days he was found.

He served 4 years in the Melbourne Gaol for attempted rape. When he was released, he left Victoria and headed for New South Wales and then Queensland where he changed his last name from Johnson to Austin. It was here he found work at Mitchell’s farm.

A colorful bouquet was found near Ivy’s corpse. He had used this bouquet to lure Ivy into the bush. Before the murder, Austin had regularly been seen picking flowers with Ivy.

When Austin was taken to the crime scene after the murder, his boots matched the prints left behind exactly. When a sheet was pulled off Ivy’s battered body, he coldly informed the authorities, “I don’t know her.”

The Brisbane Courier described Austin’s crime as “one of the most horrible and abhorrent in the annals of Australian history.”

Justice Served

At his trial, Austin displayed a “callous indifference,” and he often wore a “silly grin.”

The jury returned a verdict of guilty within 6 hours. The judge sentenced the 23-year-old to “hang by the neck until he was dead.”

Austin put on weight for the noose.
The picture was taken close to his execution.
The day of his execution at Boggo Road Gaol several inmates stated Austin walked to the gallows laughing madly--he did not stop laughing until he was dead. Afterward, some felt his ghost continued to laugh.

Earnest Austin’s last words are disturbing and were not published at the time--instead, two other stories were widely told.

He actually stated, “She loved it”--referring to his victim--“She enjoyed it”--referring to the terrible act, he perpetrated upon her--“and I would do it again if I could.” He then laughed.

Several hardened criminals at Boggo serving long terms, who were not prone to exaggerate, stated Austin's laugh was heard frequently.

The general feeling at the prison was that Austin’s ghost “made a pact with the devil to meet a quota of souls to avoid his own fiery doom in hell.” Old-timers state his spirit tormented the guards and prisoners for years after his death.

The Haunting

Several accounts are lost because over the years the guards were encouraged not to talk about it.

Boggo Road Gallows

What is known is both the prisoners and guards did report hearing Austin’s evil laugh in the early morning hours throughout the cellblocks. 

Another frequent sound heard was a shrill shriek emanating from the gallows in E Wing.

A consistent witness report involves people seeing the shape of a dark figure in this wing. This figure is believed to be Austin’s ghost.

After 119 years in use, Boggo Road Gaol was closed down in 1989. This did not stop the haunting.

Most of the buildings at Boggo were torn down except Division 2. The old jail is now a museum and today tours are given.

Visitors still report seeing “a silhouette of a man on the upper floors and beneath the stairs at E Wing.” 

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