|Constable Thomas Lonigan
One of the more intriguing of the very many puzzles and unsolved mysteries of the Kelly story is the detail of exactly what happened when Constable Lonigan was shot and killed at Stringybark Creek. The puzzle that needs to be solved is the discrepancy between what two witnesses said happened, and the findings of the Doctor who did the Postmortem on the policemans body, because they suggest something else.
This is what Ned Kelly said in the Jerilderie Letter about the killing of Constable Lonigan when the Kelly Gang ambushed the Police at Stringybark Creek:
‘ ..when I called on them to throw up their hands McIntyre obeyed and Lonigan ran some six or seven yards to a battery of logs instead of dropping behind the one he was sitting on, he had just got to the logs and put his head up to take aim when I shot him that instant or he would have shot me….”
“As soon as I shot Lonigan he jumped up and staggered some distance from the logs with his hands raised and then fell, he surrendered but too late….’
There are a number of problems with this account. The first is that on the following day, when the body of Lonigan underwent a postmortem examination by Dr Samuel Reynolds of Mansfield, not one but three, or possibly four bullet wounds were found. Dr Reynolds described the lethal head wound where a bullet entered the brain diagonally through the right eye, but he also found a wound from a bullet that had passed right through Lonigans left arm, and another on his left thigh from which he extracted a small conical bullet. There was also a superficial wound, a graze, on Lonigans right temple that he thought was most probably also caused by a bullet.
The second problem is that in regard to the bullet that went into Lonigans brain, Dr Reynolds wrote “ death must have been almost instantaneous” A bullet through the eye that carries parts of the skull into the brain would have rendered him instantly unconscious so one is left wondering how Lonigan could have jumped up with his hands raised and stagger about – and according to McIntyre cry out “Christ Ive been shot” . It is much more likely that if Lonigan did indeed stagger about and cry out, it was after one of the other non-fatal shots had struck him.
One of the ways that Kelly sympathisers have attempted to reconcile these apparent contradictions – one shot and three or four bullet wounds – is to propose that Lonigans thigh wound was self-inflicted . It has been suggested that in attempting to get his powerful Webley revolver out of its holster, in a panic he accidentally discharged it into his left thigh. This would presuppose Lonigan was left handed, and able, while running for cover, in a few seconds to open the heavy holster that contained the gun , remove it and fire it from a position lateral to the thigh. However, as Ian MacFarlane points out in the Kelly Gang Unmasked, if that had indeed happened there would have been a huge wound in Lonigans thigh and skin burn from the large muzzle-flash. Instead there was a track that crossed under the skin from outside to inside the thigh and the bullet remained lodged there. The suggestion the wound was self-inflicted makes no sense.
Another more popular attempt to explain the 4 wounds and Ned Kellys claim that Lonigan was only shot once was to suggest that Ned Kellys gun was loaded with a “quartered bullet”, which is to say, a bullet that had been cut with a knife into four separate pieces. Apparently such a practice was not unheard of. One shot, four bullet wounds!
The problem with that suggestion though is that its impossible to create trajectories for those four quarters emerging simultaneously from the barrel of a gun, on very similar but diverging pathways such that one of these quarters could enter Lonigans brain from in front of his head and off to the right, another could pass through his left arm, another enter his left thigh from the left and slightly behind, and the fourth graze his right temple. Not only that, they had to explain how the thigh injury could occur while Lonigan was behind a log pile. Ned Kelly reportedly said his gun could shoot around corners but even Ned Kellys bullets would not have been able to defy the laws of physics.
On my now sabotaged Ned Kelly Truth Forum earlier this year I tried to extract from sympathisers who supported this theory a precise description of the trajectory of those four “quarters”, but they didn’t even attempt it. What they would have had to do is explain how Lonigan would have been positioned for the parts of his body that were injured to all be facing Kellys gun at the same time. Even a skilled contortionist couldn’t twist his body into such a shape that those four wounds could be created simultaneously by a quartered bullet. The reality is that the quartered bullets theory is nonsense – it sounds superficially plausible but when examined closely it simply cannot account for the known wounds.
So we are left with the inescapable conclusion that at least three bullets hit Lonigan, and that Ned Kelly lied about it. There is another problem though : the only police survivor of the killings, Sergeant McIntyre also only reported a single shot!
Now I can understand why Ned Kelly might want to claim he fired only once and killed Lonigan outright – for one thing it enhances his reputation as a crack shot – but why would McIntyre only report one shot if there were more? The best possible explanation of what happened that I can think of is that there was a series of shots, perhaps quite close together with the last one being the fatal one, and McIntyre’s recollection of exactly what happened was faulty.
The reality was that McIntyre was caught up in a horrifying chaotic and frenzied attack on the Police party. Two of his work mates were murdered in front of him and he believed he was about to be murdered as well. Modern research has revealed clearly that eye-witness testimony and recall by people involved in car crashes, hold ups, violent crimes and murders is so unreliable as to be almost usleless. Memory is not laid down in the brain like a video recording of what happened but is a very fluid and changeable phenomenon that can be influenced, and almost always is, by many external and internal cues and suggestions.
Minor discrepancies in McIntyres various accounts of what happened at SBC have been highlighted by Kelly sympathisers as evidence that McIntyre was a liar and cannot be believed. Ian Jones describes McIntyres testimony as “confused”. In fact, these discrepancies are the very human errors, inconsistencies and contradictions that demonstrate that his recollection was not at all contrived and manufactured, but a genuine testimony that demonstrates McIntyres authenticity. McIntyres motivation would be under greater suspicion if he only ever presented a perfectly coherent and consistent version of what happened.
For some reason the Kelly fanatics don’t apply the same reasoning to discrepancies in the various accounts of Ned Kelly, and call him a liar but he was reported to have told one of the hostages at the Euroa bank Robbery that he had fired twice at Lonigan, the second time while Lonigan was “in the act of throwing up his arms”. This actually sounds more truthful than the Jerilderie Letter version, and is a much better fit with the facts.
So what were the facts regarding the murder of Constable Thomas Lonigan? This is what I think happened : when he was ordered to bail up, he made a run for it. He didn’t have time to get his gun out and he never made it to the log pile but was shot at least once by Ned – perhaps in the thigh. He cried out and threw his hands up to surrender but was shot again, this time in the head, and died shortly after. McIntyre didn’t see any of this – he was facing Kelly. Later, McIntyre could only remember the last fatal shot.
|This is the image referred to by Bill in his comment below – I hope he won’t mind me using it but if he does I will remove it. Its the best drawing of the site that Ive ever seen.
Later still, McIntyres recollections were published in the newspapers, and included his mistaken belief that Kelly had killed Lonigan with a single shot. We know Ned Kelly would have read this but, being unaware of the post mortem findings, decided it would be convenient and would enhance his reputation to let that mistaken recollection of a single shot become part of his story of what happened – who would be able to contradict him? And so, when he wrote the Jerilderie Letter, that’s what he wrote, forgetting that he had already told one of the hostages at the Euroa hold up that he had fired twice at Lonigan.
The confusion about how Lonigan died has come about because everyone decided to believe Ned Kellys boast that he had killed Lonigan with a single shot, and then were obliged to perform whatever mental and logical gymnastics were necessary to defend it, and explain away inconvenient facts as they became known, even to the point of absurdity. To believe that Kelly didn’t lie and that he was a crack shot who killed Lonigan with a single shot, Kelly sympathisers are forced to believe in crazy theories that defy logic and physics, like the self inflicted wound, the quartered bullet and the vision of a man with a lethal head injury walking and talking before collapsing. Even Peter Fitzsimons fell for it all and maintains the lie in his 2013 book on Ned Kelly.
However the forensic evidence, Ned Kellys own words at Euroa, and simple logic demonstrate unequivocally that Kellys boast was a lie. All it takes to realize this is a little bit of thought.
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