The murder of Errol John (Jack) Emanuel, GC: Derek Bell

Jack Emanuel was awarded the George Cross posthumously for gallantry in the service of the Australian Administration of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea between July 1969 and his death on 19 August 1971.  His award was noted in the London Gazette of 1 February 1972.

The author of this article, Derek Bell, is now retired and living in Brisbane. He acknowledges input by Harry West, Harry Bryant, Mike Baker and Grev Feeney. Publishers Harper Collins, Pymble, NSW, gave permission to use material from Trevor Shearston’s book A Straight Young Back.

At 9.30 am on Thursday 19 August 1971, the District Commissioner of the East New Britain District, Territory of Papua and New Guinea, Jack Emanuel, was stabbed to death at Kabaira Plantation on the Gazelle Peninsula.  This article describes the background to the murder, the police investigation and the subsequent trial in the Supreme Court in Rabaul.

As the Emanuel murder was believed by many to have political undertones it is necessary to look at the background. In May 1969 the Mataungan Association (MA) was formed on the Gazelle Peninsula.  As the self-appointed voice of the Tolai people, one of the most politically sophisticated groups in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, it sought the abolition of the recently created Multi Racial Local Government Council, and early independence for both Territories. During 1969 to 1971, there was friction between supporters and opponents of the MA. Buildings were destroyed and villagers assaulted. The Administration maintained a strong police presence and intelligence collection capability throughout the Peninsula.  The latter activity had two forms; the official network which reported through a District Intelligence Committee headed by District Commissioner Harry West to the Territory equivalent in Port Moresby; and from July 1969 a second source, Jack Emanuel who was detached and appointed District Commissioner (Special Duties).  These duties included one-on-one meetings with influential Tolais in both factions, in villages usually after dark.  Emanuel reported privately to the head of the Department of District Administration in Port Moresby, Tom Ellis.

To paraphrase the comments on sentencing by the Emanuel trial judge, land to the Tolai is the centre of their existence as a people.  From the late nineteenth century there had been gradual encroachment on traditional Tolai lands by German and Australian interests.  A recommendation by District Commissioner Bates at Rabaul just after World War Two, that the Administration buy up all run-down plantation land and hand it back to dispossessed Tolais, was vetoed by Canberra.  From 1946 onwards the people of the Kabaira area occupied about 120 acres of unused plantation land owned by expatriate interests under a Torrens title.  From 1967 there were intermittent attempts to evict the villagers from Kabaira Plantation.  The Kabaira villagers continued for six years to seek a solution in their favour from the Land Titles Commission.  A 1971 court decision on land at Vunapaladig nearby, made it clear to the Kabaira groups (Rasimen, Volavolo and Melivuan villages, not surprisingly all pro Mataungan) that the courts would not support their claim and their sense of frustration and anger increased.  They felt that the courts were denying them protection and that they might lose all their land to a titles system which they did not understand.   The leading villagers in the Kabaira area decided to bring their grievances to the notice of the new District Commissioner, Jack Emanuel, who had taken over from Harry West in April.  They met with him both in Rabaul and at Kabaira.

The Murder
At 8.20am on Thursday 19 August 1971, about 30 villagers from the Kabaira area moved on to Kabaira Plantation, chased the plantation labourers away and started cutting grass.  The plantation manager was alerted and the small police presence which had been left on the plantation after a previous trespass on 11 August radioed the authorities in Rabaul.  The District Commissioner Jack Emanuel and two squads of police totalling 60 men under the District Police Senior Superintendent Greville Feeney arrived from Rabaul about 9.20 am.  They were confronted by the grass cutters, and a large number of villagers on a hill nearby. A group of ten village leaders wearing face and hair decoration confronted Emanuel and Feeney.  One of them, William Taupa, appeared angry and excitable and was shouting “the title to the land is not right”.  He approached Emanuel and they spoke briefly before Emanuel took Tapua by the arm and they moved away from the main police party.  Taupa then guided Emanuel towards a path into the bush and they both walked off out of sight.  Feeney remained with the main party at Emanuel’s request.

Twenty minutes later when Emanuel had not returned, Feeney with two police constables set off down the bush path looking for him.  About 120 metres down the track he found the body of Emanuel.  He had apparently been stabbed to death. There was no sign of Taupa. The area was deserted. Feeney returned to the main group which was being subjected to stone-throwing by villagers in the bush and on nearby ridges.  Police attempted to disperse the villagers using tear smoke.  No arrests were made.  Reinforcements were called.  A police investigation team arrived from Rabaul and examined the scene for evidence.

Emanuel’s body was found on the track, lying face up with blood on his clothes and the undergrowth.  His glasses were located nearby. Two pieces of a broken rusty Japanese wartime bayonet were found about 30 metres from the body.  Emanuel had apparently been stabbed and had walked several paces back down the track before collapsing to the ground.

Police mobile squads moving through the area later that day searching for villagers found the Kabaira area almost deserted, with only a few women and children present.

Police investigation
An emergency meeting was held at 5.00 pm in Rabaul attended by senior police and District Administration officers, chaired by the newly arrived acting District Commissioner, Arthur Carey from Kimbe.  The police investigation team was led by Inspector Derek Bell, who had flown in from Port Moresby at 4.00 pm that same day with Sub Inspector Peter Hilder, a fingerprint expert.  The investigation team at his disposal included Sub Inspectors Horrie Kneebone, Harry Bryant, Michael Baker, Peter Walker and Graham Watkins, and eight other ranks: Constables Tobutinga, Kompaun, Senat, Togarana, Godana, Takwa, Wagi, and Paris. He could also call on 120 police mobile squad personnel based at Tomaringa, for large scale search and arrest operations.  As the trial judge wrote in his Reasons for Judgment: “The problem facing police was of immense magnitude [and there were] pressures on them to obtain quick results.”

Road blocks were set up.  Taupa’s wife and a road block detainee were questioned and the latter provided useful information which enabled a suspect list to be commenced.  Next day at 4.00 am large scale raids were carried out on three Kabaira villages.  Taupa was arrested at 7.30 am walking to the airport to catch a flight to Port Moresby. Five witnesses from Kabaira were interviewed. The suspect list grew to 41. Taupa named a young man Anton Tovaliria as the killer of Emanuel.  Early next morning a wider search of the area netted 26 witnesses and suspects, including Tovaliria.  The suspect list was now 120.  It was apparent that the murder was part of an orchestrated plan.  The small police investigation team was in danger of being swamped by the numbers involved.  Taupa and Tovaliria were interviewed by the team of Baker and Bryant, and charged with murder.  Seventeen men were charged with riotous behaviour.  An investigation master plan was used to keep track of witnesses, suspects and arrested men.  It held details of suspects’ whereabouts on the day and their knowledge of planned events. As witnesses and suspects were interviewed the plan was enlarged and became the basis for further investigations, arrests, interviews and charges.  On succeeding days over the next six weeks arrests were made, interviews conducted, charges laid, and appearances made in court.  Search warrants were taken out and executed on the offices of the MA and the home of the Kabaira MA Councillor Joseph Togigie.  Early interviews were held at Livuan Police Station, a temporary operations post halfway between Rabaul and Kabaira.  After a week the centre of operations moved to Rabaul.

The interviews revealed that a plan to kill Emanuel was discussed at late night meetings of Kabaira area leaders in the two weeks leading up to 19 August.  Taupa was the driving force behind the plan.  He argued that the government was ignoring their land grievances and it was necessary to highlight them by killing a “big man”. Taupa chose Emanuel as the victim and Tovaliria as the assassin.  The plan, known only to a group of village elders, called for a trespass by large numbers of villagers on to Kabaira Plantation land to induce intervention by the District Commissioner. (This action earlier, on 11 August, had resulted in Emanuel attending the scene with a large contingent of police, and the eviction of the villagers).  Taupa was confident that he could separate Emanuel from the main police party and persuade him to accompany him alone down a bush track to a spot where Tovaliria, hidden behind a tree, could stab him to death.  And so it unfolded, exactly as planned.

By the end of the investigation 150 men had been interviewed, 45 records of interview had been obtained, 21 men were charged with murder and 45 charged with riotous behaviour.   The records of interview were conducted by officers in Kuanua, Pidgin and English, using police constables as Kuanua interpreters where possible.  The records were typed in Pidgin by the officers conducting the interview. 

The Deputy Crown Solicitor’s office was consulted on the evidence and the charges early in the investigation. It sought additional information from time to time and gave advice to the team in the lead up to the committal proceedings in the Magistrates Court.  Thirteen of the men charged with murder, including Taupa and Tovaliria, were committed for trial in the Supreme Court. It was proposed that the remaining eight would be tried after the completion of the main trial.

The trial
The trial was held at the newly constructed Rabaul courthouse before the Chief Justice, (Sir) John Minogue, and was expected to last three weeks.  It opened on 3 February 1972 and ended on 20 June 1972.  The Crown was represented by (Sir) Gerard Brennan QC, who later became Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia.  He was assisted by Norris Pratt, Deputy Crown Solicitor, and Clive Wall, QC, currently District Court Judge in Southport.   Taupa’s counsel for the first three weeks was John Galbally, QC, leader of the Labor Party in the Victorian Legislative Council.  Latterly it was David Martin, QC, of Sydney.  Tovaliria’s counsel was Ted Lusher, QC, of Sydney.  Each QC had a junior counsel assisting. The remaining eleven accused were each represented by criminal law barristers from Australia and TPNG (including Eric Pratt and Brian Hoath, later District Court Judges in Brisbane).  It was a battery of legal talent never seen before in a Territory court.  The small and relatively untried police team thought wistfully of David and Goliath. The media were represented by local and international journalists.

Chief Justice Minogue in his Reasons for Judgment said: “It can safely be said that in the administration of criminal justice in this country never has a criminal charge been the subject of such thorough and exhaustive investigation as the charge against 13 men who were arraigned before the Court on 3 February last.”

As the Crown cases had little forensic evidence, they rested heavily on the confessions of the accused, as recorded in their interviews by police.  Each of these was challenged by their counsel and was the subject of a voir dire, or “search for the truth”, to determine if that evidence should be admitted.  This sometimes required the police witnesses to be examined in the witness box over several days.  Officers particularly targeted were Sub-Inspectors Baker and Bryant, who had interviewed Taupa and Tovaliria, the former on three separate occasions, as his first two interviews were assessed as untruthful in the light of the evidence of other witnesses.  Defence counsel went to great lengths to destroy the credibility of police witnesses in their efforts to have the confessions thrown out.  Each facet of the investigation was placed under a magnifying glass. Minute procedural errors by the investigation team assumed Dreyfus-like proportions in the hard light of the courtroom and in the press reports.  The duration and intensity of the trial had an effect on the health of Chief Justice Minogue.

After a trial of five months the Chief Justice found Taupa and Tovaliria guilty, and sentenced them to 14 years and 11 years respectively.  Three conspirators were sentenced to shorter sentences, and eight were acquitted.

In the years following the Emanuel trial there has been speculation about the role of the MA in the murder. Trevor Shearston’s book A Straight Young Back (Harper Collins, Pymble, 2000) throws some light on this. Shearston, a former teacher in PNG, based his novel on the Emanuel murder. His research took him to PNG where he read the transcript of the trial in Port Moresby, and interviewed Taupa and Tovaliria on the Gazelle.  Both men admitted to Shearston their presence at the killing, but denied that it had been planned, and claimed that Tovaliria had killed Emanuel in self defence.  This is at odds with their police interview records, and their evidence and those of other witnesses in court. Those who knew Emanuel can attest that, while he carried out Port Moresby’s hard line policy to the letter, he was essentially a quiet, unaggressive man.

Shearston also interviewed leaders of the MA, Daniel Rumet, Damien Kereku, Melchior Tomot and John Kaputin. Oscar Tammur was sick and refused to talk to him.  Rumet denied that the MA had any involvement in the murder.  He said that the MA executive knew of Emanuel’s nocturnal wanderings alone around the Gazelle shoring up support for the Multi Racial Council and attempting to weaken that for the MA.  He said if they had wished to kill him they could have done so with minimal risk of detection at night, and would hardly have planned to entice him away from a heavy police guard at a plantation land dispute.  Kereku claimed that Emanuel as District Commissioner was worth more to the MA alive than dead, as his Port Moresby inspired eviction tactics pushed more and more Tolais into the MA camp.  What is certain is that Kabaira was a Mataungan area and its MA councillor and tax collector Joseph Togigie was involved in discussions with the Administration on the plantation land dispute there.  There was evidence from the records of interview of co-accused and suspects, that Togigie was prominent and supportive at two meetings held by Taupa to plan the killing. This was sufficient for Togigie to be charged with wilful murder and be committed for trial.  After the main trial the Crown elected, for a range of reasons, not to proceed with Togigie and seven others, so his case was never tested.

The Emanuel murder caused fear and alarm throughout the Gazelle. There was pressure on the police to arrest those responsible promptly and have them dealt with by the courts. At stake was not just the political authority of the Administration, but the principle of the rule of law, and public perception that law enforcement was competent and professional.  The arrest and conviction of the accused had a settling effect on the local population, Tolai and expatriate.  Had the arrests not been made quickly, or had the primary accused been acquitted, there might well have been violent repercussions. Many individual police members, in a baptism by fire, gained valuable experience from the investigation and trial, and there were general benefits for the training curriculum.  The final analysis acknowledges political distractions, logistical and language difficulties, and an unusually protracted and detailed examination of the evidence.  But thirty-six years on, it can reasonably be argued that in the investigation of Emanuel’s murder and the trial of the accused, justice was well served.

Leave a Reply