On November 8 1916 a fund-raising day was held at tiny Wakool, in the Riverina region of New South Wales.
The day’s events were of particular significance to Frank and Annie White, who ran the Wakool Hotel. A few days earlier word had arrived of their son, Frank Jnr. , being wounded while on active service.
The highly respected Hood family also attended. Siblings Richard, Mick, Isabel and Hazel stayed on after the picnic for the dance at the local hall. Their parents, Robert and Margaret Hood, had already returned to their grazing property Tararie, five miles north.
It was the custom for girls to change into their party dresses at the hotel then walk across the Wakool River bridge to the hall. They would collect their day clothes at the end of evening. The Hood boys had left their sulky behind the hotel.
As the dance was drawing to a close Hazel Hood left and returned to the hotel, escorted over the river by a friend, Eddie Harper. Eddie waited for her by the post office corner. Hazel was shown to her room by the publican Frank White. Minutes later, as they were chatting at the doorway, they were confronted by White’s wife, 45 year old Annie. The woman flew into an uncontrollable rage, accusing her husband and Hazel of improper behaviour. She even claimed that the pair had been having an affair for two years. She appeared to be affected by alcohol, and struck Hazel across the face. The shaken girl left with her day clothes and the Whites continued to argue outside by the town’s water tank.
Eddie Harper would later say that he heard Mr and Mrs White shouting at each other, and that Hazel told him; ‘Take no notice of that woman, she is drunk.‘ He said Hazel seemed very upset. She asked him to tell her brothers that she would be waiting for them at the sulky for the drive home. Tragically, that was last anyone saw of her.
When Richard, Mick and Isabel Hood were crossing the bridge soon afterwards they found Hazel’s parcel of clothes and presumed she had dropped it. They were not concerned until they were unable to find their sister and were told about the disturbing incident with Annie White. Eventually the siblings had to drive home and tell their parents that Hazel was missing.
Mr and Mrs Hood drove back to the Hotel with Richard. They confronted the Whites, who said they had no idea where she was. Frank White confirmed there had been a row. He was horrified by the whole business and said there was no truth in his wife’s accusations. He said she would sometimes behave like a lunatic, caused by a combination of drink and extreme, unprovoked jealousy. Mrs White herself did not deny some of the things she had said.
It was not until November 16 that a fisherman found the body of the missing girl in the river, about a mile and a half downstream of the bridge. The government medical officer, Mr Foster, performed an autopsy. His report included the injuries noted in the article below. In a rebuttal of Mrs White’s outlandish accusations he also stated that Hazel Hood hood was; ‘a chaste virgin’.
The coroner also stated that he found Miss Hood’s character to be completely unblemished and that he did not believe she had committed suicide.
The behaviour of Mrs White on the night Hazel disappeared made the loss of their daughter so much harder to bear. The couple gave evidence at the coronial inquest. Mrs White made some admissions about her baseless accusations, but remained defensive and showed little sympathy. She told the court that she and her husband were no longer speaking, but they remained together.
On November 22 the Riverina Recorder reported that virtually every settler from Wakool and surrounding districts attended the young girl’s funeral at Balranald cemetery. ‘The ceremony was a particularly sad one and many tears were shed for the untimely end of a promising young life cut off when just emerging into womanhood.‘
In February 1917 the Hood family sold up and left the area. It is entirely understandable that they would find staying too painful.
Frank and Annie White also left. In the wake of the tragedy Frank lost the licence of the Wakool Hotel. He and Annie moved to Victoria. The following year the couple’s son, Frank Jnr., was killed in action at Polygon Wood. It is highly likely that word had reached him about the tragedy, and of his parents’ involvement.
Mike Richards, great nephew of Hazel Hood, published a book on the case in 2012. Click here for details.