This is the second part of the Worrell story. For the first part, CLICK HERE. ✔
Leslie Worrell left his sweetheart Martha Lennon at home when he enlisted in WWI (the 35th Battalion). The pair corresponded for three years, but just before Worrell returned home in 1919 he met and married an English girl, Alice Notton.
Martha was heartbroken, having invested so much in the relationship. And then…everything changed. Poor Alice died from appendicitis on September 16, just a few weeks after arriving in Australia.
Following her death Worrell joined the Sydney police force. He was just the sort of recruit they were looking for; six foot tall, solidly built, and with an unblemished service record.
Almost immediately he re-connected with Martha Lennon. …so much for the grieving widower! They were married in Martha’s New England hometown of Manilla on Boxing Bay. The rather indecent haste was said to have been because Worrell had managed to get some leave.
Mr and Mrs Worrell afterwards left by car enroute for Sydney, where the honeymoon was spent. The bride travelling in a fawn gabardine coat and skirt with hat to match. (Manilla Express January 29 1920)
Unfortunately, Martha’s dream of living happily ever after was not to be. She was jealous of the recently dead Alice, and bitter that her husband had married another woman. To make matters worse, Leslie Worrell had a roving eye and Martha was understandably insecure. On New Year’s Eve Les was out at a city dancing academy, leaving his bride at home.
Despite everything, Martha Worrell adored her new husband, who she referred to affectionately as ‘My boy‘ . She was full of excitement on February 12, when he said he was taking her out; ‘Probably to the pictures‘ she told the landlady at their lodgings in Glebe. She was singing as she went upstairs to dress. The occasion called for her best clothes, including the shoes, coat and hat that had been part of her going away outfit. Around her neck was her husband’s marriage gift, a gold locket with his photo inside.
It wasn’t a picture show Les had in mind that day, but a trip to the Woronora River Reserve near Como . He had been there before, with members of the dancing academy. After arriving at Como by train the couple hired a boat, moored at a little bay, and picnicked in the bush on thermos tea and biscuits.
On February 22 a man cutting saplings at Woronora Reserve became aware of a strong odour. He found the badly decomposed body of a woman in thick scrub. She had died from a bullet wound to her temple. A newspaper by the body was dated February 12.
MRS WORRELL – VICTIM OF FOUL PLAY
The location of the body and details of the victim’s clothing were published next day, prompting the landlady at Glebe to come forward. She identified the body at the morgue. She also told detectives that Worrell had moved out, telling her that his wife had gone to visit her sick mother. Detectives interviewed Constable Worrell at Redfern police station, and he was arrested on February 25. A call went out for more witnesses.
AFTERNOON TRAIN TO COMO
A request was issued yesterday afternoon that any person who travelled on the 1.25pm train from Sydney to Como on February 12 should inform Superintendent Bannan, head of the Detective Branch, if they saw a young woman on the train wearing a holland coat with belt of similar material, with collar, cuffs and pockets of a blue striped material. She also wore a brown straw hat with white muslin crown, trimmed with pink leaves, white muslin under the brim and a brown veil. She was accompanied by a man. The train stopped at Sydenham and then Hurstville. After that it stopped at all stations to Como. (Evening News February 26 1920).
When Worrell’s various lies about his wife leaving him or visiting her family were exposed he changed his story, claiming that Martha had shot herself in a jealous rage. However, investigations at the site revealed the victim died while leaning against a tree, holding a shoe in one hand…perhaps removing a pebble. The weapon used was her husband’s police issue revolver. Martha was right-handed, but detectives believed that to have inflicted the fatal herself the gun would have to have been held in her left hand.
On the very evening his wife died Worrell went along to the dancing school, spinning his partners around the floor with (by his own admission) his dead wife’s blood on his jacket.
The young constable had complained to fellow police officers that his wife’s possessiveness was making his life hell. He told them he felt like killing both her and himself. He even spoke of French soldiers who he claimed had killed their wives and got away with it.
The murder was clearly premeditated. Worrell had changed the police issued bullets in his gun for those purchased at a sports store, in an effort to avoid detection.
Perhaps the most damning evidence during the trial was that the accused had lied continually regarding his dead wife’s whereabouts, and had behaved so callously after her death. The defence lawyer Mr J.W. Abigail, could only invoke his client’s war service in pleading mitigating circumstances;
Referring to the question of whether the accused had shown any sorrow when confronted with the body of his wife, Mr Abigail said that there was no standard of sorrow. This man had been to the war. He had been there for three years, and those who did not go to war could not fully understand the condition of mind which years living there would mean. They lived like rabbits in dugouts…..Men fly from things because they are moral cowards”, he added,” not because they are guilty, but because they are afraid that they may be thought guilty. That was what this man did. He was suffering from shell shock and war strain, and is still suffering.” Mr Abigail spoke for an hour and a half. (The Newcastle Sun, May 25 1920)
Judge Wade touched on the accused’s war service in his summing up. He said everyone admired the men who had volunteered, but they were returning to a civilized community and should expect to be held responsible for offences against life. He added;
If a man becomes callous as a result of his duty, juries were entitled to consider the question of recommending clemency, providing they had reliable evidence to act on. (Adelong & Tumut Express May 28 1920) Did they have evidence? None was provided.
The jury was out for a mere 45 minutes before returning with a verdict of guilty. Judge Wade then pronounced the death penalty.
A month later the death penalty was commuted to life imprisonment. Oddly enough it was not until July that the Crown made inquiries with military base records regarding Leslie Worrell’s claim of suffering from shellshock. Perhaps this was in response to suggestions of an appeal;
So many people are affected by murder; the victim’s family most of all, but also the relatives of the perpetrator. Lewis Worrell sold Melrose in 1921 and moved his family to Tamworth.
Worrell served his time in Goulburn gaol.
He became chief tailor in the prison, so adept at his work that he often earned 25/- a week instead of the average 5/-. In his spare time he studied music, becoming a competent piano, violin and clarinet player. He was organist in the prison chapel and leader of the highly regarded gaol choir.
In 1940 he applied for parole. He said that if released he would become a lay preacher. Is it possible that a man so lacking in moral conscience could change? Whatever the case, the application was denied and Worrell was not released until 1951. He changed his name and moved to Queensland.
FOR THE HISTORY OF THE 35TH BATTALION IN WWI, CLICK HERE.