7. Wonderful detective work – by various people

Paul Quinlivan’s Snapshots

The Queen against Lapae was a wilful murder trial at Rabaul on 4 and 5 March 1952. It was so important that I immediately wrote a full report to Crown Law and it was circulated to all Kiaps and Police. It was later circulated to Law Students. The Defending Officer was Tom Leabeater (joined 10 June 1947) but before dealing with the case I should mention a peculiar background which is relevant. Admin. Departments had found that there was often no guarantee that monies allocated to them would arrive – for example, in one simple instance which I found particularly horrifying, somebody in Canberra had got rid of an importuning English doctor by giving her the Crown Law Library vote to print her lavishly illustrated paper on eye diseases in the Northern Territory.

The result was that an unofficial agreement had come into existence whereby, in return for an understanding that they would get funds in five or six years’ time, the Judges went without Associates, official cars and other expensive trappings of office and the money saved helped Dr Gunther’s project of bringing in DP doctors (Displaced Persons – highly qualified medicos who were refugees from the Nazi Occupation of their own countries) and setting them up in places like Saidor which, normally, would never get a doctor. One result was that Monte drove his own car, Betsy – a Model A Ford which had gone through the Rabaul Eruption and which Des Sullivan, the Official Secretary (Government House), loved to race when Monte was on circuit. In return, Des (Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar) got pilots to carry judges’ mail by hand. Thus Monte received the 25 January 1952 issue of Australian Law Journal (ALJ) by ‘express post’ and gave it to me before the circuit opened on 12 February because it contained the result of the appeal lodged by a famous radio announcer, named Kerr, against his conviction, on confession evidence, for killing a girl on a beach in Victoria. The case made headlines Australia-wide and, because of the publicity, Kerr refused to read what the police had recorded when they took his confession, saying they ‘already had more than enough’. The Appeal Court had now overturned the conviction because Kerr had not actually read the record made of his confession. Because the murder which I was charging LAPAE with had caused widespread outrage, it was vitally important that he be convicted but, as Monte pointed out in his speech of 12 February, I also had a duty to assist Defending Officers in any way I could so I gave the ALJ report to each Defending Officer. None of them used it in the 11 cases between 12 February and 4 March simply because I had never relied on a confession. I had always been able to produce plenty of other evidence.

In those days, Kiaps investigated all alleged offences ‘outside’ a town and the Police investigated ‘town’ offences, and Lapae’s case started in town despite the fact the body had been washed ashore at Mailiwan Village. This was because the Tultul recognised the body as that of Iapilomon, 16 year old daughter of Tovua, a highly respected Tultul and Catholic Catechist and, believing that she would not have drowned, he bailed up the first vehicle to come by and asked the driver if he would take him, and the stinking body, to the Native Hospital in Rabaul. The driver, a European, agreed – I regret that I did not record his name but he managed a local plantation – and, when they got to the hospital the Tultul told Dr Saave that he wanted an autopsy done, which Saave did and then he (Saave) called in Sub Inspector Brian Holloway who started the investigation. I have also forgotten the Tultul’s name but he was most impressive. Perhaps Brian or Jan can remember his name, and that of the planter?

At the trial, Tom Leabeater objected to the written confession which Holloway, in accordance with existing practice, wanted to give as evidence so a legal argument ensued and Monte upheld Leabeater’s argument. This radically changed the way the law was to be administered because, until then, everyone had produced a record in English, a practice justified by The Judges’ Rules. The point of Leabeater’s strategy was obvious but I got over it by getting Holloway to give oral testimony of what had been said. Leabeater, however, had a second purpose. He had spoken to his client (as all Kiaps had been trained to do) so he asked Holloway questions about his conversation with a man called Turan, who was to be later defended by a senior lawyer flown in from Sydney. This showed that Turan masterminded the whole crime – which had originally been rape but Iapilomon died so he ordered Lapae to tow the body out to sea so that people would think she had drowned. Thus Lapae was only a tool and warranted a lesser sentence.

Leabeater was complimented by the Chief Justice both in the case itself and, inferentially, in the Turan case where he said that ‘had I not given a sentence of only seven years in Lapae’s case I would now be imposing a far greater sentence on Turan’. Possibly this was because he was ‘having a go at’ the Sydney lawyer for letting people know that, being from Sydney, he was somehow superior, despite the fact he knew nothing about Kerr’s case, but one cannot be sure. It could also be that he felt that Counsel from Sydney had not taken the time to adequately discuss the case with his client and this, in Monte’s book was ‘letting The Law down’. I should also mention that Monte went out of his way to praise the work of Dr Saave saying, “One could say that Accused was ‘unfortunate’ that his attempt to pass off a dead body as ‘drowned’ was wrecked by the care and thought given at the autopsy by a DP doctor, Dr Jan Jerszy Saave, who proved conclusively that Deceased had been asphyxiated before immersion in the water and that she had been a virgin who had been raped immediately prior to that immersion.”


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