THE CONCLUSION OF THE VERA WATT POISONING CASE. FOR THE FIRST PART, CLICK HERE.
When the Coronial Inquest into the death by poisoning of Mrs Vera Watt ended in January 1942. her ex-lover Conald Pagett was committed for trial and remanded in Long Bay Gaol.
However, on Friday February 13 there was a bombshell announcement. The case would not be going ahead. It certainly must have seemed like Black Friday for the victim’s family.
What could have led to this decision? According to the Attorney-General there were two important weaknesses in the Crown’s case.
1. Pagett’s behavior towards his ex-lover and her new husband had led the Coroner to declare that the accused was upset and jealous. However, this was not judged to be a strong enough motive. The fact that Pagett and his wife Muriel were living together again at the time of the murder was no doubt a consideration.
2. Pagett did not have an opportunity to put the strychnine filled A.P.C. sachets in the victim’s letterbox. His PMG supervisor had stated that he was at work all day on December 1.
The rest of the evidence against the accused was considered circumstantial and not strong enough to secure a conviction.
Pagett was released almost immediately. His wife, who delivered the news to him in person, spoke to reporters of her delight at their reunion. Considering her husband’s behaviour over so many years she was either the most forgiving woman in the world, or putting on a very good front. She spoke to the Sydney Sun;
It seems too good to be true, even though my husband was quite confident that he would not have to face the horror of a murder trial. …It is wonderful to be together again, The strain was terrible, but right along my husband was very confident that the charge against him would not be proceeded with.
A few malicious people – some we once counted as friends – had a shock when they read he had been released. It takes trouble like this to disclose who are your real friends. The other sort, the phoney ones, suddenly forgot they knew us when he was charged. They did not even answer my letters. I suppose now they will write and gush about how glad they are. But I won’t even answer their letters. Our real friends were wonderful, and I will never forget the way they stuck.
Two Pagett boys were away serving in the merchant navy, but she said the other five children had joined in giving their father a joyous welcome.
Following his release from Long Bay a relieved Conald Pagett gave a lengthy interview to the tabloid Truth newspaper. He spoke about the horror of his arrest and his time in Long Bay Gaol. Of the dead woman he said;
My mind flew back to the days long before, [Hmm, not that long!] when we had been in love. The paths of our lives which had once crossed each other had parted. Now she was dead! Surely I thought, nobody would do such a foul thing as doctor a headache powder with poison! Who could possibly hate her with such maniacal fury?
He thanked his defense team, particularly Mr Hardwick K.C.
The final paragraph of the interview was extraordinary;
Now there must be only one ending to this drama of the cruel death of Doris Watt. The police must find the real murderer and make him pay the price for his monstrous crime. I’m going to take a hand in this. I’m going to see if I can solve this death riddle. Maybe I may be able to untangle the skein of mystery and find the real criminal. First, there must be a motive. If I can find the motive I may find the murderer. Wouldn’t that be a climax to this tragedy!
No surprisingly, Pagett’s long-term relationship with Vera Watt had greatly affected his family. His eldest son, Frank and his only daughter, Muriel had been making efforts to stop it during the year of the murder. Frank had even called at the Watt’s home in October 1941.
Eighteen year Muriel Pagett had written to the dead woman’s brother in August;
There is no evidence of anyone else being investigated for the murder of Vera Watt and the case remains unsolved.
Conald Pagett died on September 21 1949, aged 54. His death notice appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald.
He was interred privately in the The Field of Mars Cemetery. His loyal wife Muriel died in 1962.
Daniel Watt moved interstate to South Australia. What happened to his step-children Jill and David ‘Billy’ I have no idea. Hopefully they were raised by their dead mother’s family. Their home life had been unstable ever since the accidental death of their father in 1935, and Jill had watched her mother die in the most terrible of circumstances. The children had then experienced the trauma of testifying at the inquest only to find that nobody would be held responsible.