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On June 28 1951 Tom and Betty Fleming made a car trip from their NSW cattle stud, Mt. Parry station, to Quirindi, for business and shopping.
It was a busy day for Mrs Fleming. She called at the chemist, buying toothbrushes for her children and a new lipstick. Elsewhere she purchased material for a dress to be made for her young daughter Jennifer and ordered a garment for herself, which she intended collecting next time she was in town.
She also had a brief, pre-arranged catch-up with her widowed mother Florence (Ruby ) MacKay, who was enroute by train from Armidale to her home at Aberdeen. Mrs MacKay had some exciting news. She said she was buying a new house, and looking forward to Betty and the children being her first guests. Her daughter responded, ‘Oh Mum, that’s just lovely!’.
There was one other thing Mrs Fleming did that day. She called at her solicitors to make a will, perhaps because she was due to inherit a share of a property from her late father, who had died in 1946. She mentioned leaving a sum to her husband, who was named as executor, but the solicitor suggested that as Tom was a very wealthy man it would be best to leave him a token amount only, with the residue going to her children. This would avoid heavy probate. When she called back later that day the solicitor hadn’t had time to prepare the document. This didn’t appear to concern his client , and it was arranged that she would make an appointment and sign it in a week or so.
The Flemings met up for afternoon tea and bought chocolates for the journey home. They stopped at Willow Tree on the way. According to Tom Fleming, his wife complained of a headache. He bought drinks at the local hotel; a rum and lemonade for himself and a refreshing beer for Betty, which he took out to the car. This was something he often did.
The Willow Tree Hotel
It was another 31 miles to Mt Parry station from Willow Tree. Tom Fleming would later say that when he stopped to open the boundary gate he was shocked to discover that his wife was dead on the seat beside him, three year old Jennifer presumably asleep on her lap. He drove on to the homestead and called Doctor Bryce Cooper of Quirindi, who arrived with Sergeant E.M. Lambert. Dr Cooper was Mrs Fleming’s G.P. and as far as he was aware she had been in perfect health.
A funeral service for Betty Fleming was held at the Presbyterian Church in Aberdeen, the home of both her mother and her sister, Nancy (Nan) Fleming, who was married to Tom Fleming’s brother Joseph. Following the church service the body was taken to Newcastle for a private cremation.
When someone dies so suddenly and mysteriously, questions arise through the pall of grief. A heartbroken Ruby McKay had questions for her son-in-law Tom and so did the police. They were all puzzled that he could be unaware of his wife having died during the journey home along an often rough, country road. Tests were carried out on the body to try to determine the cause of death.
From the Newcastle Morning Herald. July 4 1951;
WOMAN DIES; DETECTIVES OPEN INQUIRY.
TAMWORTH, Tuesday – Two detectives from the Homicide Squad and the Scientific Investigation Bureau flew to Tamworth today and then drove to Willow Tree to investigate into the death of a woman on Thursday…..She died in a car while her husband and their daughter Jennifer, 3, were returning home from Quirindi.
On Friday, July 13, Tom Fleming was arrested at Mount Parry and driven to Quirindi, where he was formally charged.
Both Betty and Tom Fleming had been prominent members of the community, and news of the arrest came as a huge shock.
Soon, Fleming would face a Coronial Inquiry, where the intimate details of his affair with a former employee, Norma Lokkerbol, would be aired, and a decision made as to whether he should face trial for murder.