Emily Joel
Emily Jane  Joel


On April 15 1918,  Mr David  Joel and his wife Emily  left Sydney by train  for the Blue Mountains village of Wentworth Falls, about  95km (60 miles) west of the city.  Forty seven year old.  Mr Joel was a  small time, but successful bookmaker in Sydney. He had once worked at the city’s famous Adams Hotel. The following article appeared in The Bendigo Independent.

Emily was prone to mental breakdowns and had recently been in an asylum. Her husband had organized her discharge,  hoping a change of air might be beneficial.

Gates of Callan Park Asylum
Callan Park Asylum, where Mrs Joel had been a patient.

They arrived at about 7.30pm, and Mr Joel asked a cab driver to take them  to the house of a Mr. Smith.  There, the  couple asked for board, but were turned down.  They were then taken to the Hotel Grand View.

Hotel Grnd View Wentworth Falls
Hotel Grand View

It was noted  by both the cab driver and hotel staff that the Joels appeared to act rather strangely, as if they were intoxicated. At one point David Joel had  almost fallen  out of the cab, and during dinner he  astonished other patrons by putting  a mixture of jam and pickles on his fish.

The couple enquired about accommodation, but were informed there were no double rooms available. Leaving a bag at the hotel they told staff they were going for a walk.  It was  assumed they would return, and perhaps take single rooms.  At about 9.30pm they were  spotted together on secluded  Burragorang  Road. It was then  scarcely more than a bush track.

Tablelands Road, Wentworth Falls
Burragorang Rd today  (now Tablelands Road)
Loction map where David Joel disappeared
Area where David Joel disappeared and his wife was found on Burragorang Road.

Next day  a  local farmer saw Emily Joel by herself on the same road. Her clothes were disarranged and her hair awry.  She screamed when she saw him, causing his cows to stampede. She told him, ‘I get some terrible frights here’, then disappeared into the bush. On the following day he saw her again. She was now barefoot.  She said she wasn’t lost and commented that it was a fine day.  He thought she sounded a bit odd, but drove on past. He did tell a young boy to report the sighting to the police, but there was some confusion and nothing was done

The next person to see Mrs Joel  was a resident called Joseph Clarke. It was now  the evening of April 18, and had been raining. Emily was lying almost naked  by the side of Burragorang road, six and a half miles east of Wentworth Falls.  Clarke thought she was dead.  He immediately  raised the alarm   When Constable Davis arrived Emily was alive, but barely conscious, and smelling  strongly of alcohol. Oddly enough, no  bottles of liquor were found in the area. She said she didn’t know where her husband was. She was taken by train  to Penrith hospital at the foot of the Blue Mountains.

Asked by a doctor  whether her husband had been wandering in the bush with her she said yes, but it was difficult to know   just how rational she was.   To the question, ‘Have you been drinking?’   she first said, no…then yes.  Soon she lost her voice and was unable to speak at all.   During this time she  was physically sick, producing  vomit that smelled strongly of alcohol and contained  blood from gastric bleeding.  She died on April 26, a week after being admitted


At a coronial inquest a long term friend  of the dead woman testified;

Witness had known deceased for 20 years. She was one of the best and sweetest women in the world, and was of strictly temperate habits, but of a delicate constitution. The deceased suffered from the severest form of gastritis and breakdown of the nervous system. About four years ago her mind became deranged and she was placed in a mental institution, remaining there for 11 months. Her husband was an ideal husband, and a very temperate man. Medical men had [previously] ordered her brandy as a stimulant, but she could not retain it on her stomach, and she had a strong aversion to alcohol.

Members of Emily’s family spoke in a similar vein, particularly regarding  David Joel’s love and concern for his wife.

The Coroner found that death was due to exhaustion and exposure during four days spent in inclement weather on the Burragorang Road.

Initially,  Emily Joel  was buried at Penrith.  However, her family  arranged for the body to be exhumed and she was reinterred at Rookwood Cemetery on May 4.

A search party scoured the area around Wentworth Falls and Lawson, but no trace of Mr Joel could be found. Stories of him being sighted in Sydney were quickly discounted.

So many questions remained. Where was David Joel? Why had this caring man seemingly abandoned the woman he  so clearly cherished? To this date, no answers have been found. His body has never been found.

Mr David Joel
Mr David Joel, shortly before his disappearance.

The following year David Joel was declared deceased. He had died intestate. From the NSW Government Gazette, March 1919;

  1. The oddest story. Where do you find them? Can’t wait for the denouement.

    • Pauline

      Thanks Robyne, I just have a fascination for local history. I find them in newspapers or people tell me about them etc. It’s a terrible distraction because I’m supposed to be finishing a biography of a bogus Tasmanian surgeon.

  2. I understand distractions… I’m supposed to be writing a second post re convicts, but here I am… couldn’t resist reading your story.. I’m glad I did, where is poor David Joel?

    • Pauline

      That is the question, Chris. Where is the wretched fellow??

  3. I dont know how many times i have typed this. That was a crook ending Pauline. It is still quite cold outside so i am nice and comfortable reading your story an it came to an about ending. All i have to do is remember to look for it next week. This must let you know that i enjoy your stories. I really like local, or at least ozzie stories. There are heaps about and you are finding them very well. Used to spend many a day in my teen years at Waterfall as there was a beautiful semi circle Waterfall on a walk that went from Waterfall to Katoomba. You just had to remember that how far you walked you had to walk back. Take care. Looking forward to next week. Diane.

    • Pauline

      Success, Diane!! Thanks so much for persevering. I know how frustrating it can be posting comments. You can always register and receive notification by email. Like you, I love local stories too. Yes, easy to get lost up here, especially if the mist descends. Stay warm!

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