David Joel; a Blue Mountains Mystery



Mr David Joel

Mr David Joel, shortly before his disappearance.

David Joel is believed to have been born in London. He worked for many years at Adams Hotel in Sydney’s Pitt Street, as a waiter and hall porter.  He was a gregarious,  well liked character; a natty dresser  with a reputation for  being lucky (or astute)  at sports betting. In 1908 he  befriended the black American boxer Jack Johnson, who frequented Adams Hotel  prior  to  the  historic Sydney fight against  title holder Tommy Burns.  Joel  backed the underdog Johnson, and  won a packet when Burns was soundly beaten.

Adams Hotel Sydney

David Joel’s long term work place

Eventually  David Joel left the hotel, establishing  himself as a small-time  but successful  bookmaker. One sadness in his life was the chronic physical and mental  ill health  of his beloved wife, Emily.  He had  frequently paid colleagues  at Adams Hotel  to cover his shift while he spent a few extra hours at home with her.  During their marriage Emily  spent several  periods in  the Callan Park mental asylum.  Sometimes Joel would have her discharged, hoping  a change might be  beneficial. There were no children from this union.

If there was a shadow on their relationship, it was that when they married he allowed  Emily to believe he was a batchelor. He had actually been  a widower, with a daughter  who was being raised by friends.

Callan Part Asylum, Sydney

The asylum where Emily Joel spent  several long periods.

In  May 1918, Joel called at Adams Hotel. He told his old friends that doctors now believed Emily would never recover.  Worry  had clearly taken its toll.  The  man who’d  weighed about twelve stone  when he worked with them admitted he  had  dropped to just nine.  He had recently  approached his now adult daughter  suggesting he and Emily might live with her, but she refused.  She later  said that  her father’s manner  was  strange and  erratic.  Instead, Joel  arranged  to  rent a double room from the landlady in Coogee he was already lodging  with. Meanwhile, he organized Emily’s discharge from the asylum, saying they would spend  some time at Wentworth Falls. The pure air  and physical beauty of the Blue Mountains were considered therapeutic.

At the inquest into Emily’s death, her relatives spoke of David’s enduring  love and solicitude for her. They said it was unthinkable that he would willingly allow her to come to harm.  Emily’s sister, Mrs Moodie,  testified that   the couple had lived with her for a number of years and that  David visited Emily constantly when she was in hospital. He took her out for walks and never spared on medical treatments.  He once told her that if Emily died, he would too.   And yet, the day after  they arrived in the Blue Mountains, Emily was  sighted alone on a bush track  in a state of confusion.


Tablelands Road,Wentorth Falls.

Author on the still secluded road, well except for those wanting to lose a bit of tyre rubber.

There was some  evidence of discord between the Joels that  first night.  A  woman called Sutton, who lived near the turn off to Burragorang Road, gave evidence that  she was woken at about 9.00pm by a  couple arguing.  She claimed to have heard the woman say, ‘Don’t leave me!’  Her husband arrived home  on horseback shortly afterwards and said he had noticed a man stumbling along the road towards Lawson.  The Suttons said  they discussed the matter and informed  the police after Emily Joel was found close to death four days later.

Loction map where David Joel disappeared

Area where David Joel disappeared and his wife was found.


A wide ranging search was made for the missing man.  Local residents and   WWI soldiers   recuperating  at rest homes  joined the police. At one point a watch was  set up on a flock of crows,  in the hope the carrion eaters might lead them to Joel’s body.  Not a sign of him was found.

Wentworth Falls Blue Mountains

Wentworth Falls’ spectacular, but rugged country.

Luggage left by the couple at the railway station was inspected and  it was revealed that very little belonged to David Joel. It seemed clear he had no intention of spending any length of time  in the Mountains.  He did have plenty of cash. When he paid for a cab to the hotel it was from, ‘A large wad of  £50 and £20 notes.

Wentworth Falls station circa 1900

Railway Station circa 1900.











As often happens in such cases, people reported seeing  the missing man  at various locations, mostly in Sydney.  Detectives were never able to substantiate the claims.  Could he really have made his way back to the city, or  at least tried to?

It was claimed that the  night Joel  arrived he enquired at the  Hotel Grand View  and the railway station as to whether there was a train back to Sydney that night. He was told there was a mail train that did not stop at Wentworth Falls, but called at Lawson  at 2.30am to take on water..

Public interest in the case slowly began to wane, but several months  later, David Joel’s name was back in all the papers.


SYDNEY – AUGUST 12  1918

What are supposed to be the remains of the missing man Joel were found in the bush about a mile from the township of Lawson, in the Blue Mountains, yesterday. There was little left but the bony skeleton, and the fact that it was scattered over an area of 30 yards suggests that  the body was dragged to pieces by animals.  Joel and his wife disappeared one night in April, after having acted in a strange manner.  Some days later Mrs Joel was found in the bush in an exhausted condition.

The discovery had been made  by the stationmaster at Lawson while he was out collecting wildflowers. It was  ultimately discovered that the skeleton was that of a man who had disappeared two years earlier.  Sadly, he had committed suicide.

In August 1919 another body was found that created similar interest. Once again it was a victim of suicide, but not the missing David Joel.  The spectacular scenery of the Blue Mountains  attracts tourists from around the world, but also  anguished souls wishing to end their lives.


There were so many unanswered questions in the case.  One theory  was  that David Joel  travelled to Wentworth Falls  intending  a double suicide.  He and Emily were said to have been inebriated when they arrived, which was totally out of  character for them both.  Did David drink with Emily to persuade  her to do the same, and for Dutch courage?   It could be that when he was unable to find a double room in Wentworth Falls, his plan  unraveled.    Admittedly they were both behaving oddly,  but their separation   a few hours later is still  baffling.  Why would Joel  leave the woman he adored to suffer such a ghastly fate; drunk and disoriented in the bush?  Perhaps he was  in a similar state, unhinged by years of grief and worry.

The other possibility is that he had  set out  with euthanasia in mind. Did he suffer a crisis of guilt and take  his own life instead?  The landlady at Coogee, Mrs Lyons, said that on several occasions Mr Joel  remarked that he had enough poison to do away with himself  ‘.. íf  it  should ever become necessary.’

It seems highly   unlikely that David Joel actually left the Mountains.  One day a bush walker  or abseiler  may come across his remains along with his gold watch and chain and  the diamond  ring he was wearing.  Until then the mystery remains, one of many associated with  the Blue Mountains.

Grose Valley, Blue Mountains

The glorious Blue Mountains holds its secrets close to its heart.

NOTE- The  Joel case inspired photographer  Kurt Sorensen’s  evocative series,  ‘I get some terrible  frights here’.






  1. Such a sad mystery. But then, mysteries are usually tinged with sadness. I’ve never been to the Blue mountains but the terrain certainly looks rugged. I have just returned to America from Australia. We went specifically to visit family. We took one side trip to Tasmania. Most of our time was spent in the area of my childhood home in the Sunshine Coast. I began to ask myself why I had ever left such a beautiful country. So, we have decided to uproot ourselves once again and return to Australia. This won’t take place until early next year, because we are obliged to complete our commitments, which originally brought us to the USA.

    • Pauline

      Ooh, I’m delighted you are returning to Australia, Heather. In the current world political climate it does seem a beautiful, serene place to live. Mind you I have great affection for both the US and the UK.

  2. Glad i did not have to wait too long for the completing of the story. What a pitty he was never found. One hundred years next year and still missing. That area is so thick with timber and the forest floor is also deep with tree etc litter that he may never be found. That Waterfall looks something like the fall i and my friends used to go down to almost sixty years ago. I cannot remember if it was called the bridal veil 7or if that was another one nearby. Thank you Pauline for another great read.

  3. and so the story ends… or does it?

    • Pauline

      Ah yes Chris, we all love neat solutions, especially me. I hope there will be one eventually, but after nearly 100 years it doesn’t seem likely.

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