Harold Emms – Historical Adelaide Tours

                    The victim is Harold Edward Seymour Emms.  He was known to his friends as Ted.  He was 36 years old, and married to his wife, Laura.  They lived at McLaren Flat.  They had two children, John who is 13 and Judy who is 3 years old.

                    At about 8.15 a.m. on 10 February 1950, Allan Sigston rode his bicycle to Ted Emms house and here he saw, Mrs Emms sitting on the veranda at the front of the house.  Mrs. Emms told him that her husband was out, and she did not know where he was. 

                    At about 9.00 a.m. on Friday 10 February 1950, Sergeant Hurtle Ward of Barmera Police station received a telephone call from his stepdaughter, Laura Emms.  Laura asked him to come to Adelaide straight away, but she would not tell him the reason as people at the telephone exchange may be listening in on their telephone call.  Hurtle Ward and his wife, Laura’s mother left Barmera at 2.15 p.m., and arrived at McLaren Vale at about 7.25 p.m.

                    Laura approached the car and told her stepfather and mother that her husband Ted was dead.  She said he came home last night at about midnight and was drunk.  They had an argument over money, and he had then come to her with a gun.  She grappled with him to get it away from him and the gun went off.

                    Mrs Ward was physically sick after she heard this news.  Hurtle Ward went into the house where the shooting took place.  Laura had told him the body had been taken to the block she owned.  Hurtle then went to Willunga to report the matter to the local police. 

                    Hurtle said that his son-in-law had been cruel to Laura in the past and he had seen her with bruises to her face and body after Ted had assaulted her.  In the past Hurtle advised her to contact a solicitor about leaving her husband. 

                    At about 11.00 p.m. on Friday 10 February 1950, Detective Blyth and Detective Canney entered the home of the defendant at McLaren Vale and had a conversation with her regarding the death of her husband.  She was cautioned and made the following statement:

                    At about 8.30 p.m., my daughter Judy, son John and I got home.  My husband Ted was not home at the time.  I fed the children and put them to bed.  My husband, Ted came home at about 9.15 p.m.  He came inside and I gave him his tea.  He was drunk.

                    After tea he asked me what I had done with the 12 pounds I had been to town with.  We argued about the money and then I told him I wanted the money I had given him to buy his truck.  I told him I wanted the money back and when he gave it to me, I would take the children and leave him.  He got nasty and then went to the bedroom and got undressed and lay on the bed.

                    I then said I was going to sell up and go and take the children.  He said I could go but to leave the children.  He then got out of bed and said, “I’ll shoot you first.”  I grabbed the gun and we both fell onto the bed.  When I grabbed it, he was off balance because of the drink, and he fell on the bed and pulled me with him.  We wrestled for the gun, and it went off. 

                    I went out to the kitchen and then went back to the bedroom and picked up the gun and put it in the corner.  I decided to ring the police and then changed my mind as I wanted to see my mother and father first. 

                    I then sewed the sheet he was lying on top off and got some hessian and placed it on the floor and dragged the body onto the hessian.  I then dragged him out onto the front veranda.  I then got him into the truck at the back and drove him down to the block and dug a hole and put him in there and covered him over.

                    I washed the sheet and blanket and cleaned the mattress afterwards.  I rang my father the next morning after John had gone to school, and he and my mother came down that night.  I told them I had shot Ted.

                    The detective told her he did not believe her story and asked her if she had been telling him the truth about shooting her husband.  She then said the following:

                    My husband and I had an argument.  He got the gun and then stood it up and it slid to the floor.  He then lay down and I picked the gun up, put the blanket over his head and shot him.  He has ill-treated me on lots of occasions. 

                     The detectives then arrested Laura Elsa Emms for the murder of her husband.  She was charged at the city watch house and remanded in custody.

                     Laura then took the detectives to the block of land where she had buried her husbands’ body.  The body was buried in a sandy patch between rows of vines on land belonging to the Emms.  After the body had been unearthed, it was taken to the City Morgue where a post-mortem examination was made. 

           Police also spoke to John Edward Emms.  John Emms is 13 years of age and is the son of the deceased and accused.  He states he has seen his father ill-treat his mother by hitting her on several occasions.  He has also seen his father knock down the grandmother Mrs Ward as the same time as he has knocked down his mother.

           A coroner’s inquest took place and Mrs. Emms was committed to the Supreme Court for the murder of her husband.  At the start of the criminal trial, legal history was made in Adelaide, when Laura Elsa Emms pleaded guilty to the murder of her husband.   Because of her plea, she did not go before a jury.  She was sentenced to death after proceedings lasting only an hour.

           It is an uncommon course in British courts to enter a plea of guilty to a murder charge. It occurred last year in NSW for the first time in Australia. It has also been done in England.

           Mr. V. R. Millhouse (for Mrs. Emms) told his Honour he intended to call Mrs. Emms and other witnesses to outline the

story of the couple’s married life.  His Honour told the defence this would not affect the sentence?  Mrs. Emms in evidence, said she was married in 1936, but during the whole of her married life had had to work. Her husband, she said, had been addicted to drinking and frequently ill-treated her.

           Mrs Emms said she had, given her husband £486 towards buy a truck but there was scarcely a day a day when her husband was not drunk.  She had been advised by a solicitor to leave her husband.  Mrs. Emms mother, Mrs. Florence Ward, also told of occasions when her daughter had been knocked down by Emms. 

           It is understood that a petition is being organised for presentation to the Executive Council asking that the death sentence be commuted.  As a result, the death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the Executive Council.

           Only one woman was recorded as having been hanged in this State.  On September 5, 1873, at Yelta near Moonta, Elizabeth Woolcock of North Yelta, wilfully murdered her husband, Thomas Woolcock, by slow poison. On December 30, 1873, at the Adelaide gaol, she was hanged for the crime.

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