William Thomas HALSE – Historical Adelaide Tours Profiles

The victim is William Thomas HALSE.  He was 77 years old, bootmaker and resided at 13 Thornton Street, Kensington.  On 2 May 1941 he was murdered at his shop at 32-34 O’Connell Street, North Adelaide.  He traded at this address from 1920 – 1941.  He usually locked his business at 8.30 p.m. on a Friday night and then went home.

At about 11.35 p.m. on 2 May 1941 his son, contacted the detective office and stated his father had not come home and he was worried for his safety.  At about 1.00 a.m. on 3 May 1941, the son went to the North Adelaide Police Station and in company with a Police Constable went to the shop at 32-34 O’Connell Street, North Adelaide.

The shop was locked up, so entry was gained by jumping over a back fence.  The power had been turned off at the main electricity box.  They went to the door of the small lean to at the back of the shop and inside on the floor they located the body of William Halse on the floor.  He had horrific injuries to his head.  

William Halse was known as a very loyal man to the British Empire and to the Government.  His son has never heard him say a word of praise for Hitler, and in fact whenever Germany was mentioned, he always became upset.  Nobody had ever heard him speak against the Government or against the British Empire.  He always attended the Anzac Day procession and cheered the diggers as they marched along the street.  He never used bad language and was never known to be under the influence of liquor.

Police made enquiries into the murder of William Halse and spoke to 16-year-old William Herbert FERGUSON, factory hand of Ward Street, North Adelaide states:

            I have known Brian John TURNER for two years.  On 2 May 1941, he came over and was carrying a brown paper parcel which appeared to contain something solid.  He only stayed for a short time and then asked to lend my bicycle to go to his girlfriend’s place.  Brian then left and William Ferguson went into town.

 After 9 o’clock that night, Brian Turner came back to the house, and he hurried straight up the stairs and into the bathroom.  He locked the door and would not let William Ferguson in. 

After some minutes he opened the door and William Ferguson went into the room and noticed there was blood on the collar of his short and on his tie.  His pants below the knee were saturated with blood.   There was also blood on his coat. 

Brian Turner said he had gone to his girlfriends but had fallen off the bicycle and cut his knee.  He would not let his friend look at his knee.  He also asked William Ferguson to tell anyone if they asked, he had been with him all evening.  He would not say why he wanted his friend to lie for him.

The next day Brian Turner came to the house of William Ferguson and spoke to him and Mrs. Ferguson about the blood on his clothes.  First, he said it was red paint, and then changed his mind saying he had been hit in the nose and had bled all over his clothes.  They did not believe him and suspected he was involved in the murder of William Halse.  They then contacted the police who came to the house and spoke to Brian Turner.

 He was taken to his house at 218 Greenhill Road, Linden Park where it was searched.  Here police located the metal part of a hammer which had freshly been painted, and a tin containing the remnants of a piece of wood which was attached to the hammer head.  It had been burnt.  Brian Turner was then arrested and charged with murder. 

Confession of Brian John TURNER

I killed him in self-defence.  I came out here to see Bill Ferguson at about 7 o’clock on Friday night, but he was going out to town with another boy, so I borrowed his bicycle and took some flowers out to my girl’s place, Miss Alexander at Prospect Road.  On arrival at her home, there was nobody home, so I left the flowers on a ledge of the window.

I then rode the bicycle back to O’Connell Street to Mr. Halse’s shop.  I got off my bike and left it in the gutter and went into the shop.  Mr Halse was mending shoes at the back of the shop.  As I entered the shop, he stood up and said, “What do you want?”  I said, “Nothing, I am Brian Turner.”  Mr. Halse said, “I did not recognise you” and I then sat down on the bench alongside of him.

Mr. Halse used to recognise me when I took my shoes there when I was living at Sunningdale flats some time ago.  The shoes he was mending in the shop, he took out to a shed at the rear of the shop and polished them up.  I went out with him.  he then came back to the shop again and mended some more shoes.  Whilst he was mending the second lot of shoes, we started to discus the war, and in course of the conversation he mentioned about Hitler being a good fellow and that we had no chance of winning the war.  Before this he said something about the Government, that they were a lot of bloody bastards.  I told him I did not agree with him.

Mr. Halse became very annoyed and threw something at me.  He then came towards me and went to get hold of me and I hit him on the head with a hammer.  I got the hammer from the bench.  I only hit him once, but I may have hit him half a dozen times.  I then dragged him out the back to the shed and left the premises with the hammer.  I turned off the lights at the meter and shut the front door after me.  I took the hammer with me and threw it away in Ward Street.  

I took the clothes I was wearing into the office this morning and gave them to Brett Pannell and asked him to take them to the dry cleaners to be dry cleaned.  I did not take them myself, as my brother came over on the train from Victoria this morning.  He is in the air force, and I wanted to meet him.

 A coroner’s inquest was held 12 and 13 May 1941.  Soon after, Turner was taken to court where a murder trial took place in June 1941.

Mr E Hogan acted on behalf of Brian John Turner.  He said the defence of his client was one on insanity. 

He would not call any evidence to deny that the boy committed the murder.  The jury must realise from” the evidence submitted by the Crown that there was no apparent motive for this crime.  It happened because the boy was insane; because he did not know what he was doing and could not help himself.  This particular form of insanity was what was known as a post traumatic-epileptic equivalent.  The law provided a proper remedy for anyone who was insane.

Alfred Cecil Turner who is the father of Brian, said that he had two

other boys of whom he was proud.  Brian, he said was a rather morose type of child. He had never passed a school examination and wanted to be by himself.

Dr. H. M. Birch, Superintendent of Medical Hospitals, examined Turner for five hours in all, and that he could not certify him for admission to a mental hospital. “He has not grown up to a mature mental state,” said Dr. Birch. “He does not give a proper emotional response, having regard to the circumstances.”

When asked some questions by Dr. Birch, Turner gave an inappropriate smile and giggled.  The fact that he took the hammerhead and handle home and burnt the handle and painted the head suggested to his mind that he knew at the time what he was doing and also what he was doing was wrong.  Brian John TURNER was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.

The Executive Council today commuted the penalty of death by hanging to imprisonment for life with hard labour.  He was to be removed from Adelaide Goal where all hangings took place and taken to Yatala Labour Prison.  It is unknown how long he was in Yatala prison.

Sign up for our mailing list!

Subscription Form