THE A.P.C. OF MURDER ….… click here for previous episode.
The coronial inquest into the death of 36 year old Mrs Vera Doris Watt on December 1 1941 opened on December 29. She had died from strychnine, placed in a Bex powder and delivered to her letterbox in Sydney’s Collaroy as a supposed free sample. Her ex-lover, 47 year old telephone linesman Conald Pagett, had been charged with her murder.
Vera Watt had ended her defacto relationship with Pagett, a married man, in July 1941. She married Daniel Watt 2 months later. Pagett did not accept the break-up. Watt testified that his wife would receive telephone calls from Pagett, who pretended to be from the Widows’ Pension Fund. He also continued to write letters to Vera, discovering her changes of address by deception. Mrs Edith Higgs had been the Watt family’s landlady at Narrabeen. She told the Inquiry that that just after her tenants moved to Collaroy she received a phone call from a man claiming to be Vera Watt’s father-in-law. She told the caller they had moved to Collaroy, but was horrified by the response.
‘There was a laugh at the other end of the line and the receiver was hung up. I knew then that the caller was not Mrs Watt’s father-in-law, and I knew then that I had made a mistake in revealing the woman’s address. Earlier there had been a number of calls by a man for Mrs Watt and we had grown rather tired of it.’
Asked how Mrs Watt had reacted to the earlier calls Mrs Higgs said, ‘ She got a fright and was very upset.’
Ironically, two of Pagett’s adult children were also contacting Vera Watt and her family, fearing their father was still involved. Daniel Watt testified that when he arrived home at Collaroy around the beginning of September he found Pagett’s eldest son Frank in the house. Frank Pagett said he had found the address on a paper in his father’s pocket. Vera told him that if Pagett Snr stopped communicating with her, all would be forgotten. Frank Pagett asked to be advised if any more letters were received.
Eighteen year old Muriel Pagett had tried to break-up her father’s relationship with Vera Watt (nee Knox) too. A letter was produced in evidence by the dead woman’s brother, Frederick Crowhurst, of Dulwich Hill. It was dated August 3 1941, when Vera was still living at Narrabeen.
Dear Mr Crowther.
You will be surprised to get a letter from me
I wish you could do something about your sister, Mrs Knox, who has been living with my father for over five years. She is influencing him from having his own home, and he wants Mum to get a divorce so he can marry her.. He says he will never live with Mum and his family again, and Dad has given up his job to be in Sydney with her. He visits her at Narrabeen and stays late nights with her.
From what I could find out from people living near her, she has another gentleman visit her, from Newcastle. He calls at her home too. I wish you could do something, Mr Crowhurst, and keep Dad away from Mrs Knox. She must be a real bad woman, and needs advice.
Yours sincerely, Muriel B. Pagett.
Bizarrely, Miss Pagett denied having written the letter, ‘It is not my handwriting’ she said firmly. ‘ I can hardly read it.’
In light of subsequent events, it’s troubling to think that Muriel had not only written this letter, but gone to the trouble of visiting Vera Watt’s neighbours at Narrabeen. Did she do the same at Collaroy?
Barely a month after losing their mother, Vera Watt’s two young children were required to give evidence. It must have been so traumatic for 10 year old Jill, who had watched her mother collapse and die.
The youngster appeared to answer questions put to them clearly and honestly. Nine year old David (known as Bill) said that Conald Pagett had always treated them nicely, but that he had seen his mother crying after Pagett had hit her. Jill stated that when ‘Uncle’ Con refused to give her mother money she said she would leave and he replied with something like,‘ Oh no you won’t.’
Traces of strychnine were found in the accused’s coat pocket. However, he claimed that he had not had the poison in his possession for many years. He did admit having used it in the past for poisoning rats.
On October 31, Conald Pagett had contacted the police and told them that Daniel and Vera Watt had been dealing in cocaine and were both drug addicts. There was no evidence at all to suggest that this was true. Mrs Higgs, the Narrabeen landlady, said she had seen no sign of drug use and that Vera Watt was , ‘ A quiet little woman who lived by herself with her two children.’
At the time of the murder Pagett was working as a PMG linesman in Sydney. His supervisor testified that the longest he had been out of his sight on December 1 was from 10 to 15 minutes.
As the inquest drew to a close, Constable W.C.J. Springthorpe was called. He said that at the C.I.B. on December 3rd, Sergeant Ramus had said to Pagett; ‘We have been told that Mrs Watt told her sister and a friend that you would ‘do for her’ and hang for it if she got another man.’ Pagett replied, ‘Oh no. We had arguments, but I never said that.’
On January 7 1942 the Coroner delivered his verdict;
Pagett was committed for trial and sent back to Long Bay Gaol. However, there would be a final twist in the story that took everyone by surprise. Click here for FINAL PART