Thornbury was tangled in scandal with the attempted murder of 18 year-old Hilda Veronica Taylor. At near on 7 o’clock on the evening of Sunday November 15, 1925 Hilda was returning from seeing a friend at a confectionary shop a few doors down from where she lived. She was stopped outside her house on St. Georges Road by 18 year-old pastry cook William James Murphy from Pender Street, Preston. The young man’s passion was inflamed and he was armed with a revolver. Hilda and William had been “keeping company” for about 18 months when just a week prior, she “turned him down for another man”, one Bert Robinson. The jilted Murphy became infatuated with his ex-lover and took to lurking around shop doorways close to her father’s bootmaker business near the corner of Normanby Road.
On the Sunday in question he pounced on her threatening:
“I’m going to finish you…or me - I think is going to be you. If you don’t come out with me tonight I will shoot you as soon as your back is turned.”
Hilda screamed alerting her family and as they came running, the young man fired a shot. Hilda’s father Alfred and a couple of neighbours gave chase as Murphy made off up the street. The young man called out “stand back” brandishing the gun at his pursuers, who ducked for cover, and he gained enough lead to get away. Alfred’s brother-in-law and next door neighbour Walter Cooper helped Hilda inside. The girl survived the attack without serious wound but she suffered severe pain where the bullet grazed her abdomen.
Alfred James Taylor was a respectable bootmaker with premises on St Georges Road. The family lived behind the shop and Murphy often waited there to catch Hilda to press his affections upon her. She had complained to the police several times about him but Murphy was persistent. On the night of the shooting Hilda remarked to her friend that she had seen William hanging around her house again but as she returned home alone she obviously did not expect him to harm her. Detective Harding from Russell Street attended the Taylor residence and as Hilda was not badly injured took her to Murphy’s house to identify the man. Murphy however was not home. He had decided to sleep rough down on the Darebin Creek that night and stay out of sight.
The following Tuesday saw the disappearance of a motorcycle belonging to William Murphy’s brother and it was believed that the desperate young man himself had absconded with it to elude evasion. Murphy had taken the motorcycle to Craigieburn to sleep rough a second night. Senior Detective P. Jones and Detectives McGuffrie and O’Keefe came knocking on Murphy’s door in Preston the next evening. The foolish young man was arrested and charged to appear at the Northcote Court in front of a bench comprising Justices of the Peace H. Evans, E. P. Jones, A. H. Oldis (Northcote’s Mayor) and J. Cohen. Bail for William Murphy was set at £500 and he was committed to trial at the Supreme Court on December 8. Murphy’s employer John Seeger put himself up as the young man’s bondsman.
At the Supreme Court Mr MacIndoe prosecuted for the Crown while Mr Brennan instructed by Mr Sonenberg, acted on behalf of the Defence. Murphy pleaded “not guilty” stating that he simply discovered the gun in his pocket that evening and was a quarter of a mile away, too far to take it safely home. He had gone to Hilda’s house, he claimed, with no intention of hurting her and the gun had gone off accidentally as he was waving it around to “frighten her into going with him again”. He claimed not to have known about Herbert Robinson being in the picture and said that he believed that if he persisted, Hilda would take him back. Murphy said under oath in court that he had not realised what was happening or that he had shot the girl until he was chased by a furious Alfred Taylor. Johanna Murphy leapt to her son’s defence. She claimed that Alfred Taylor had provoked the triggering of the gun by punching William “under the jaw”. Taylor denied this stating that he was “crippled in both legs” and not capable of such an attack although he did admit to losing his temper.
On December 18, 1925 William James Murphy was convicted of intent to do grievous bodily harm to Hilda Taylor but not attempted murder. The jury strongly recommended mercy.
GIRL’S NARROW ESCAPE. YOUNG MAN USES REVOLVER. (1925, November 17). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: 1860 - 1954), p. 2.
GIRL WOUNDED BY SHOT.NORTHCOTE SENSTAION. (1925, November 16) The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848 - 1956), p. 21
NORTHCOTE SHOOTING. WOUNDING OF MISS TAYLOR. YOUNG MAN SENT FOR TRIAL. (1925, November 24) The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848 - 1956), p.13
PASTRYCOOK REMANDED. (1925, November 19). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848 - 1956)
SHOOTING AT THORNBURY. MURPHY FOUND GUILTY. RECOMENRATION TO MERCY. (1925, December 18) The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848 - 1956), p.10
WARRANT ISSUED. YOUNG MAN SUSPECTED – AN ARREST MADE. (1925, November 18) The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: 1860 - 1954), p.6.