Anniversary Of The Homestead Murders In Jerilderie, Australia

September 22, 2017

Written by Capt McNeely

Georgia Division ZADF Twitter: @ZADF_ORG

Hello there, is your mummy at home?
She is, but she’s asleep
Well, is Daddy there?
Yeah, but he’s asleep too.  He’s sleeping on the kitchen floor.
Oh? Could you go wake mummy for me and tell her to come to the phone?  I need to tell her something, can you do that for me?
No, no. I don’t like mummy any more ‘cause mummy’s turning black.”
This absolutely chilling phone call becomes even more haunting when the voice of 4-year old Tanya Lewis is heard.  She was unaware that her father lay dead in the kitchen and her mother, dead and decomposing, in the bedroom.

Jerilderie, Australia is a small farming town of just over 1,000 people.  It is found in the Southern Riverina region of New South Wales, Australia.  The town is notable due to the fact that its bank was robbed by the infamous Ned Kelly (the man who famously fought a gun battle with police while wearing home-made body armour in the 1800s).
This weekend, the town enjoys its annual celebration complete with horse races, fashion contests, and visitors from all over; however, back in 1978, the scene on this weekend was very different.  In 1978, Mick and Susan Lewis lived on a secluded homestead with their two small children.  Mick was a sheep shearer who was a good worker, but not a great husband or citizen.  He had been arrested multiple times for sheep theft, and, much to Susan’s chagrin, known to be a heavy drinker and gambler.  He would often stumble home late at night after spending or losing money at a local pub.  One night, the fighting between the two had raged to the point that Mick had pointed a gun at his wife.  She quickly grabbed the children and spent the night in the car with them. She agreed to return home on the condition that Mick get rid of the gun.  He agreed and complied.
Following the long weekend, Mick oddly didn’t show up for work.  His boss couldn’t get In touch with him on the party line that connected the phones, nor could friends or relatives.  Due to the remoteness of the Lewis homestead, a phone operator was asked to call.  After countless attempts, the older daughter answered and the cryptic phone conversation ensued.

Obviously police officials were called immediately to the house.  There, they found Mick in the the kitchen.  They moved past him to the upstairs bedroom where the shocking sight of Susan Lewis horrified them.  Her body was, as Tanya said, turning black and she had decomposed to the point where she was no longer recognizable as a woman, let alone Susan.  The children were in the house, grubby, frightened and had apparently been surviving on canned dog food.
Based in the initial evidence, the police assumed the all-to-common murder suicide by Mick.  However, there were some immediate holes in this theory such as: Why would Mick tend to the children for a few days and then leave them to starve on their own?  The little ones didn’t understand what had happened and evidence points to at least one of them sleeping in the bed with their murdered mother.  Again, if Mick was still alive for days, why would he allow this?  There was the one other question of Mick’s pocket being turned out as though something were taken from it.
The most grisly question was that of Susan’s rapid decomposition.  She had been seen only four days earlier, but was now looking as though she had been dead for a long time.  When the undertakers came, they found that Susan’s body had been cooking for four days while lying on a heated blanket with the dial turned all the way up. The undertakers also noticed something much more important.  Upon throwing the blankets back, a small piece of metal flew across the room. A .22 calibre bullet casing. No easily seen entry was found on Susan until this forced the investigators to examine much closer.  Two entry wounds were found in her head, and one was found later in the back if Mick’s.  A hole in the screen door leading into the kitchen and the lack of a gun in the house or on the property changed this investigation from a murder suicide to simply a murder.  The hunt was on.

The first break in the case came when ballistics identified that the bullets had come from a Fieldman .22 calibre rifle.  This particular gun was Australian made and only had about 2,000 sold.  Each and every known owner of the brand was brought in for questioning, but nothing immediately came from it.
After interviewing friends, family, work associates, drinking buddies and everyone else the authorities could think of, the investigation was opened to the public.  Police sent out a plea for any help from any person with any information.  The town responded with overwhelming help.  A command center was even created in the Jerilderie Court House so that citizens could come in, speak to the police, and bring in their rifles to be cleared.  Still nothing came. That is, nothing came until a rumour that Mick had intentionally crashed his car for insurance money started making a rumble.  Mick’s insurance agent, John Fairley, was questioned.  He had been questioned before and had offered an alibi, but upon a second round of questioning white lies began to form in his statement.  Things such as mixing up the names of people he was with on the night of the murder and even lying about which agency he worked for.  Soon it was brought to light that Fairley had even been asking around to see Mick to discuss “a money issue.”  Red flags were being thrown up everywhere and the police latched on to their suspect.
The biggest break came a short time later when the police were questioning Fieldman Rifle owner, Ray Rafferty.  Rafferty presented used cartridges from his rifle which were a perfect match to those used in the murder.  Rafferty confessed that he was unable to produce the gun itself because he had lent it to his friend, John Fairley.  The suspect was found painting at his nearby home and came peacefully for another round of questioning.  During this session, the police calmly presented all of the facts, one after the other, and Fairley, broken, finally confessed to the double murder.

The only thing left to discover was the motive.  Earlier, Mick had crashed and made a legitimate insurance claim on his vehicle.  He was promised $1,000 each month, but only received the money for the first month.  He continued to pay his insurance premiums, but received no money.  After this had been going on a long time, Mick began to contact Fairley daily.  Mick was known to be a bit of a bullish brute and was relentless in his demands for what was owed.  Finally, Mick intentionally crashed his car and made a claim in an attempt to receive the $5,000 dollars that the car was insured for.  Still, he received nothing.  It was obvious that Fairley was pocketing the cash and had no intention of paying the Lewis family.  Panicked that he would be discovered as a petty thief, Fairley followed Mick home from the bar one night and eliminated the threat.  It is still unknown if he was aware of the children being in the house and they were too young to give any useful details.
John Fairley plead guilty to the double homicide and was sentenced to two life sentences.  He was released after only nine years.
The beautiful little town of Jerilderie celebrates this weekend and the celebrations are stupendous! Nevertheless, there will always be a dark cloud that hangs over the community due to the heinous acts of John Fairley.

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