Forty eight year old Ronald Lachlan Leslie was a wealthy, retired grazier living in the Sydney suburb of Manly. He was a happily married family man with two young children.
On Wednesday, October 12 1927 he set out to drive to the central western town of Forbes, where he was negotiating the sale of a property. It was not the first time he had made the trip. On July 22 the Forbes Advocate reported on a visit by their former resident;
Mr Ron Leslie, who recently disposed of the Gilgai property, has been spending a few days in town on business. Ron looks well, and had a splendid trip from Sydney in his new Buick sedan. ‘Tis some car!
However, it was said that he had an uneasy feeling about making the October journey alone and had asked two of his brothers to join him. Unfortunately, neither could do so. His wife Elsie accompanied him as far as Spit Junction in Mosman, where she kissed him goodbye and returned home. From there Mr Leslie drove on alone in his blue Buick tourer.
Later that morning Mr William Bourke, storekeeper and postmaster in the village of Blaxland, noticed two cars travelling on the old Bathurst Road. A smart blue sedan was being followed by a darker coloured car. They were driving in the direction of Rusden Road, a rough track in an isolated area about half a mile from the village.
Mr Bourke left for Penrith by train at 11.00 o’clock. On his way back at 4.30pm he looked out the window and saw the blue sedan parked in Rusden Road. Meanwhile a passing motorist, Mr John Wise, had also noticed the car and felt something was wrong. He knocked on Bourke’s door and they went to investigate. The men were shocked to find a body crumpled in the back of the undamaged Buick.
Police were called and the dead man was identified as Ronald Leslie. The few pounds in cash he had taken with him had not been touched, nor had his cheque book or other documents. He was still wearing his wristwatch. Robbery was clearly not a motive.
Dr Frederick Higgins arrived at dusk and made an initial examination of the body before it was removed to the mortuary in Penrith, at the foot of the Mountains. He discovered there were three gunshot wounds, high on the left hand side of the spine. They had been fired from very close range, exiting through Mr Leslie’s chest. Dr Higgins concluded it was not possible for them to have been self-inflicted, and that the assailant must been inside the car.
The shooting itself had occurred in broad daylight a few miles away, at a spot near Valley Heights Station , where the highway passed under the rail line. Mrs Hilda Fessey, a fettler’s wife who lived in the railway gatehouse, had unknowingly witnessed the murder. She was outside tethering a cow just after 10am when she saw the Buick and heard loud noises, but assumed it was the car backfiring. In fact, it was the sound of three bullets being fired into Mr Leslie’s back. Mrs Fessey described the two occupants of the car as ‘jumping about’ . She then saw the person in the passenger seat push himself up, obscuring the driver. The car rolled backwards down a decline for a short distance before disappeared from her sight. Asked if it had moved backwards in a straight line she said no, and that she thought the occupants might have been drunk. For many years afterwards the section of road would be known as Leslie’s Dip.
Afterwards Mrs Fessey picked up a hat which had somehow fallen from the car. She handed it into the police when she heard about the murder and it was identified as belonging to the dead man.
When Detective Matthews and Sergeant George Loomes searched the area around the car they found the first clue. A blood stained dustcoat had been pushed into a hollow log, though it was not particularly well hidden. There was a set of keys in the pocket, and a boot cleaning rag with name Higgs Shoe Store, William Street printed on it.
The shoe store was located in Sydney’s Darlinghurst and owned by a highly respected businessman, Albert Higgs.
A closer inspection of the coat revealed a ticked with the name Federal Laundry and the number 3340 . A check was made, and when the laundry’s log book was checked, customer no. 3340 turned out to be HIGGS – ROSE BAY.
The Higgs family’s home Deloraine, was located in Salisbury Road, Rose Bay. It was here that the first of three Higgs brothers, Hubert, was charged over Ronald Leslie’s murder on Thursday evening, October 13th. His younger brothers William and Bruce were charged shortly afterwards at Rose Bay Police Station.
Albert and Margaret Higgs were shocked when their sons were arrested, but believed implicitly in their innocence.
Ronald Leslie’s death rocked the town of Forbes.
The trial at Sydney’s Central Criminal Court in Darlinghurst was presided over by Chief Justice Philip Street. It was one of the most sensational held in the city for many years.
The defence team in the murder trial included a recently qualified Clive Evatt.
A second tragedy for the Leslie family occurred just months after the murder. Ronald’s five year old niece Margaret, daughter of his brother Tom, died in the family’s backyard at Cremorne. She was swinging on the clothes line when it came down. Her neck was broken by a wooden support pole.