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The hangman and the electric chair - Part 1

By Bernie Matthews - posted Thursday, 28 July 2005

“You have heard it said: 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5: 38-39). The variation in interpretation of the Bible can be compared to the intense controversy surrounding the death penalty.

Advocates for the re-introduction of the death penalty would argue "an eye for an eye" is adequate justification for the return of the hangman. Accompanying this is a groundswell of opinion that prison does not appropriately exact society's revenge for murder and violent crime. In some cases that argument may be valid.

In 1962, Barry Gordon Hadlow was convicted of the sexual assault and murder of five-year-old Sandra Dorothy Bacon in Townsville, Queensland. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, serving 22 years before his release on parole in 1985. In May, 1990, nine-year-old Stacey Ann Tracy was found raped and murdered at Roma, Queensland, and Hadlow emerged as the main suspect. He was convicted and again sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder. The trial judge, Mr Justice  Shepardson, recommended Hadlow's papers be stamped NTBR - never to be released.


Hadlow is destined to die in prison, but there is a strong argument that had the death penalty been in effect at the time of the Bacon murder in 1962, Stacey Ann Tracy's life would have been spared in May 1990. Queensland abolished the death penalty in 1922.

In NSW in 1954, Leonard Keith Lawson was sentenced to death for the rape of two models. The sentence was later commuted to 14 years penal servitude. Lawson served seven years and was paroled in May 1961. In November 1961 6 months after being paroled, Lawson raped and murdered a 16-year-old schoolgirl, Jane Mary Bower, at Collaroy. He then drove south to Moss Vale, and next morning appeared at the chapel of the Church of England Girls Grammar School, where he waylaid teachers and students entering the church for morning prayer.

Lawson held the school hostage in a standoff with police who were surrounding the chapel. The headmistress, Jean Turnbull, grappled with Lawson, trying to wrestle the gun away from him. During the struggle, Lawson shot and killed 15-year-old Wendy Sue Luscombe before being overpowered by waiting police and charged with both murders.

At Sydney Supreme Court in July 1962 Mr Justice McClemmens sentenced Lawson to life imprisonment for the murders of Jane Mary Bower and Wendy Sue Luscombe.

In 1972, Lawson again featured prominently in the Sydney media, when he was duped by two long-serving prisoners at Parramatta jail into taking Sharon Hamilton, a singer and dancer who had performed at a concert inside the prison, hostage. On doing so, he was overpowered by the prisoners who had engineered the ruse. They were rewarded for "bravery" and immediately released from prison, while Lawson received another five years imprisonment. He died in Grafton Jail in 2003.

In Queensland, it has been argued the death penalty is the only viable means of deterring offenders from perpetrating violent crimes. Darren Osborne was released on parole in October, 1986, after serving four-and-a-half-years of a nine-year sentence for the rape of three girls in 1982. A week after his release, Shari Davis was kidnapped at knifepoint from a Brisbane carpark.


Ms Davis was forced to drive to secluded bushland at the rear of Goodna cemetery, bashed, and stabbed 12 times in the neck and body, before her throat was cut and she was left for dead. Although semi-conscious, she managed to crawl to the side of a road, where she was discovered 10 hours later. She was rushed to hospital, where she eventually recovered and identified her attacker as Osborne.

Osborne fled Queensland after the Davis abduction and attempted murder, but surfaced on November 27, 1986, raping a woman at knifepoint in the toilets of a McDonald's in Swanston St, Melbourne. He again re-surfaced in Western Australia on April 24, 1987, when he raped a 16-year-old girl at knifepoint in East Perth.

On May 5, 1987, Osborne abducted another woman at knifepoint from Albany, and forced her to drive to Mount Clarence, where he repeatedly raped her before fleeing the scene. Five days later he abducted twenty-three-year-old barmaid Susan Frost at knifepoint and forced her to a nearby carpark where he raped her and stabbed her repeatedly with a butcher's knife.

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About the Author

Bernie Matthews is a convicted bank robber and prison escapee who has served time for armed robbery and prison escapes in NSW (1969-1980) and Queensland (1996-2000). He is now a journalist. He is the author of Intractable published by Pan Macmillan in November 2006.

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