John Lynch

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Banned
John Lynch



A.K.A.: "The Berrima Axe Murderer"

Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Robberies
Number of victims: 9
Date of murders: 1835 - 1841
Date of arrest: February 21, 1841
Date of birth: 1922
Victims profile: Men, women and children
Method of murder: Bashed to death with a heavy blunt instrument
Location: Berrima, New South Wales, Australia
Status: Executed by hanging at Berrima Jail on April 22, 1842





John Lynch: The Berrima Axe Murderer


New South Wales, Australia: 1840-41

Situated on the southern highlands of New South Wales in eastern Australia, about an hour and a half drive from Sydney, the historic village of Berrima, population 284, is a welcome sight for the travelers seeking to relax over a cup of tea and country-style scones before resuming their journey.

Lush, laid-back Berrima is steeped in history, and has many arts and crafts shops, a museum, an old courthouse, and Australia’s oldest hotel, The Surveyor General.

It was also home to Australia’s worst serial killer.

He roamed the Berrima district almost a century and a half before the term serial killer was coined, murdering at will until he was finally brought to justice, tried at the Berrima Courthouse and put to death on the gallows in the Berrima Gaol (jail).

The extraordinary story of the Berrima Axe Murders -- and the ultimate capture of John Lynch, convict, bush ranger and serial killer -- began on the morning of February 19, 1841, when a drover, Hugh Tinney on his way to Sydney with a team of bullocks, stopped near the Ironstone Bridge just outside Berrima and noticed a dingo rummaging around a pile of brush and trying to get at what ever was concealed beneath.

Closer inspection revealed the body of a man whose skull had been pulverised at the back, suggesting that he had been bashed to death with a heavy blunt instrument. The man was lying on his back with a smile on his face, indicating that he had been in good humor when attacked from behind and had no idea what hit him.

From items found on the body, he was identified as a local farmhand named Kearns Landregan who was last seen in the company of a farmer named Dunleavy when the pair had dinner two nights earlier at the Woolpack Inn at Nattai not far from where Landregan’s body was discovered.

The trail led to a nearby farm once owned by the Mulligan family but now owned by John Dunleavy, who had allegedly bought it from the Mulligans for £700 before the family of Mr. and Mrs. Mulligan and their teenage son and daughter had mysteriously packed up and left town without telling a soul.

The barmaid from the Woolpack Inn identified the mysterious farmer Dunleavy as a local whose real name was John Lynch. With that and other irrefutable evidence gathered by police, on February 21, 1841, John Lynch was charged with the murder of Kearns Landregan.

Even in the light of the overwhelming evidence against him, Lynch steadfastly maintained his innocence in the belief that he would be exonerated and freed.

On March 21, 1842, just more than a year after he was charged, Lynch appeared before the Chief Justice of New South Wales, Sir James Dowling at Berrima Court House. It took the jury only an hour of deliberating to find him guilty of murder.

After the guilty verdict was handed down the court heard that Lynch was also implicated in the murder-disappearances of at least eight other people. The court also heard that Lynch had narrowly escaped the gallows in 1835 when, as an active bushranger, he had been incriminated in a murder committed in the district, had admitted his guilt, but had come out of it miraculously unscathed.

But that was not to be the case this time. Sir James Dowling had no hesitation in sentencing Lynch to death by hanging. Before passing sentence Justice Dowling said,

“John Lynch, the trade in blood which has so long marked your career is at last terminated, not by any sense of remorse, or the sating of any appetite for slaughter on your part, but by the energy of a few zealous spirits, roused into activity by the frightful picture of atrocity which the last tragic passage of your worthless life exhibits.

“It is now credibly believed, if not actually ascertained, that no less than eight other individuals have fallen by your hands. How many more have been violently ushered into the next world remains undiscovered, save it in the dark pages of your memory.

“By your own confession it is admitted that as late as 1835 justice was invoked on your head for a wilful murder committed in this immediate neighbourhood. Your unlucky escape on that occasion has, it would seem, whetted your tigrine relish for human gore but at length you have fallen into toils from which you cannot escape.”

John Lynch stood unmoved in the dock, a smirk of defiant indifference on his face as the judge announced, “You are sentenced to be hanged by the neck until you are dead.”

But not even the harsh words from the judge and the death sentence could dampen the optimistic Lynch’s belief that he would be reprieved and eventually set free. After all, God had lead him this far, why would he desert him now?


Part Two

Lynch steadfastly clung to the story that he was innocent, and only after every avenue of appeal was exhausted did John Lynch confess to his crimes.

In his confession Lynch said that he believed he had gone about his robbing and killing under the watchful, approving eye of God. Only when there was no hope left did he lose his faith in the Lord. On the eve of his execution John Lynch called a priest and police magistrates to his cell to witness his full confession.

It was a confession that rocked the fledging colony of New South Wales and ensured John Lynch’s place in the annals of Australian crime forever.

A diminutive but solidly built man of just 5-foot-3 with a fair, rugged complexion and brown hair, John Lynch was just 19 when he arrived in Australia in 1832 on the convict ship Dunregon Castle after being sentenced to deportation for stealing offences in County Cavan, Ireland, where he was born.

After working as a convict laborer at numerous farms in the area, he joined a renegade gang and became a bushranger (highway robber), robbing and stealing throughout the countryside and selling his ill-gotten gain around the district.

John Lynch had a close shave with the hangman in 1835 when he was charged with the murder of Tom Smith shortly after Smith had given evidence against Lynch’s gang. Lynch and two other bushrangers were tried for Smith’s murder and even though he had admitted to taking part in killing Smith, the jury chose not to believe him and he was set free while the other two bushrangers were found guilty and hanged.

The farmer Mulligan had purchased land that Lynch had stolen during his bushranging exploits. In his confession Lynch maintained that a dispute with Mulligan over the price of stolen items started him on his career as a multiple murderer.

Lynch had asked Mulligan for payment for some stolen goods, but Mulligan was only prepared to pay about a quarter of what Lynch was asking. A bitter argument ensued and Lynch stormed off swearing revenge. He went to a farm at nearby Oldbury where he had once worked for the owner, T. B. Humphrey, and stole an eight-bullock team and drove them off. “I’d broken them myself,” Lynch said in his confession. “I took them because I wanted to start out again honest. I intended taking the bullocks to Sydney and selling them.”


Part Three

But it didn’t take long for Lynch to forget about his “honest new start” and lapse back into crime. “At razorback Mountain,” Lynch said, “I met a cove named Ireland and fell in with him.”

Ireland was traveling with a black (aboriginal) boy, and together they were driving a full bullock team and its load of wheat, bacon and other produce to Sydney to deliver it for its owner, Thomas Cowper, who was a stranger to Lynch.

“It seemed to me,” said Lynch in his confession, “that it would pay me better to kill Ireland and take possession of the dray and its load of saleable produce than to drive Mr. Humphrey’s bullocks to Sydney.”

Ireland took quite a liking to the diminutive Irishman Lynch, and when they pulled up for the night he prepared him dinner and finished the evening off with one of Ireland’s cigars. All the while Lynch was plotting to murder Ireland and his young helper and make off with their wares.

According to Lynch’s confession, he lay awake that night asking God what to do.

Lynch didn’t say whether God gave his blessing to the forthcoming massacre, but Lynch said that, having consulted God was as good as getting the go-ahead.

The following morning Lynch asked the boy to help him round up his bullocks. The lad was happy to oblige. As the boy walked ahead in the scrub and well away from the camp, Lynch crept up behind him and smashed the back of the lad’s head in with a tomahawk. “All it needed to kill him,” Lynch said, “was just one tap with the tomahawk. He dropped like a log of wood.”


Part Four

Lynch returned to the camp to find Ireland preparing breakfast and rather than murder the unsuspecting farmhand immediately, he explained that the boy had gone looking for the bullocks and they should eat without him.

When Ireland was about to serve breakfast, Lynch distracted him, and when Ireland’s back was turned, Lynch cracked his head open with the tomahawk. As the man lay dead at his feet, Lynch wolfed down a hearty meal before dragging both bodies to a cleft between two rocks and covering them with brush and stones.

Then Lynch pointed the team of bullocks and dray in the direction of Berrima and set them loose, anticipating that someone would round them up and return them to the Oldbury farm and nothing would come of it. He then took possession of Ireland’s team, which was carrying the farm produce.

Believing the Lord was looking out for him, Lynch was in no hurry and remained at the camp for two days. On the second day, he was joined by two men named Lagge and Lee who were in charge of a team of horses. Lynch said he enjoyed the company of the two men and they ate, drank and sang well into the night.

The men even performed an Irish jig for Lynch’s entertainment. For these reasons Lynch didn’t dispatch the men with his tomahawk as they slept, conceal their bodies with the luckless Ireland and the black boy and steal their possessions and sell them in Sydney.


Part Five

The following morning, blissfully unaware of their narrow escape from death, Lagge and Lee invited Lynch to travel behind them for company, an offer he readily accepted. As they approached Liverpool on the outskirts of southern Sydney, Lynch nearly died of shock when a man cantered his horse alongside the dray that Lynch was driving and asked him what he was doing driving his team.

The man was Thomas Cowper. As quick as a flash Lynch smiled at the man and said, “I’m glad I’ve seen you. I was just wondering whether I’d knock into you. The fact is that your man Ireland was taken ill back there and begged me to take the load to Sydney for you. He said I’d probably meet you somewhere along the way.”

When Lynch explained that Ireland was very ill and that he had left the boy to look after him at the camp, Cowper expressed his gratitude that Lynch had taken the load of perishables ahead toward Sydney. He was even more grateful when Lynch agreed to continue to Sydney with the dray and its load while Cowper went back and looked for Ireland.

Silently thanking the Lord for looking after him through his close call with Cowper, Lynch arranged to meet Cowper in Sydney in a few days. He pushed on with the bullock team until he caught up with Lagge and Lee. They parted company at the junction of Liverpool Road and Dog Trap Road, when the two men turned in the opposite direction and headed toward Parramatta.

By driving all day and night, Lynch reached Sydney two days before his scheduled time to meet Cowper. He knew he had no time to lose because, when Cowper couldn’t find his missing employees, he would come looking for Lynch.

Lynch employed the services of a drunk to sell the produce so that he could not be incriminated at a later date and if questioned by police could stick to his story about Ireland being taken ill, adding that the produce had been stolen from the back of the dray while it was unattended.


Part Six

After pocketing the cash from the sale, Lynch headed out of town south along the Illawarra Road toward the Berrima Road. There he had another shock that further convinced him the Lord was on his side.

“As I neared the George’s River I saw Chief Constable McAlister of Campbelltown, and fearing he’d recognise me I turned into a cross track leading towards the Berrima Road,” Lynch said in his confession. “This close shave frightened the living daylights out of me and I decided that I would get rid of Cowper’s team at the first opportunity as it could only eventually get me into trouble.”

As Lynch approached Razorback Mountain where he had killed Ireland and the boy, he met the Frazers, a hard-working father and son who were making their way toward Berrima with a team owned by G. Bawten.

Lynch took an immediate fancy to the team and, from the minute he was in the Frazer’s company, began plotting the duo’s deaths and the theft of their team.

He traveled with the Frazers to a campsite at the Bargo Brush, where two married couples were already camped. “We all had supper,” Lynch said, “then I crawled under my dray with the intention of sleeping. No sooner had I got there than I saw a trooper ride into the camp. He asked Frazer if he had seen the dray I had stolen from Cowper, and Frazer shook his head and said he didn’t know anything about it.

“The trooper didn’t see me under the dray,” Lynch said, “and much to my surprise he rode off.”

Lynch said that his escape was nothing short of a miracle since the Cowper dray couldn’t have stood out any more if it had been painted bright pink. Yet again the Lord had intervened and saved Lynch from capture. He believed he was invincible and could go on killing as he desired. Lynch claimed to have consulted with the Lord, who told him that, in light of his narrow escape, the Frazers had to be killed and their team stolen.


Part Seven

During the night Lynch set his bullock team free. “My team appears to have strayed,” Lynch told the Frazers in the morning. “I’ll have to go home and fetch another one. Meanwhile I’d better hide the dray. Could you give me a hand.”

The unsuspecting Frazers were only too happy to assist John Lynch in his scheme to murder and rob them. After the three men had hidden the dray, Lynch said, “I helped them hitch their horses to their cart and we drove out of Bargo Brush. They agreed to let me travel as near the place as possible where I was supposed to live.”

They traveled all day until they reached Cordeaux Flat, where they made camp for the night. “In the morning young Frazer and I went in search of the horses,” said Lynch. “I put on my coat so as to hide the tomahawk. I let the youngster go ahead. Then when we were in the bush I thought to myself there’s no difficulty in settling him. So I crept up behind him and hit him with one blow and the young fellow fell like a log of wood.”

Lynch hid the boy’s body beneath some wood and returned to the camp with one horse. The elder Frazer inquired about the whereabouts of his son. “When I told him he was looking for the other horse,” Lynch said, “he became agitated, not because he suspected I killed the boy, but because the horses had never strayed before.”

Lynch distracted Frazer by pointing to what he said was his son in the bushes and when the man turned to look he hit him “a nice one on the back of the head and he dropped like a log of wood.”


Part Eight

After thanking the Lord for his assistance in murdering the father and son Lynch dragged their bodies into the bush and buried them in a shallow bush grave, hitched their team of horses to the dray and headed toward the Mulligan farm to settle an old score.

As he rode up to the farmhouse, he saw Mrs. Mulligan sitting in a rocking chair on the porch. She asked where he had gotten the horses and dray and he replied that they belonged to a man in Sydney. Lynch inquired about the whereabouts of her husband, son and daughter, and Mrs. Mulligan told him that they were in the fields working.

“What do you want?” the woman asked.

“The £30 your husband owes me,” he replied.

“What £30?” she asked.

“You know very well what -- for the articles which I got from burglaries and highway robberies I did at the risk of my life and which your old man was supposed to be holding for me,” Lynch said.

“There’s only £9 in the house,” Mrs Mulligan replied, giving Lynch the impression that she was fobbing him off until she could talk to her husband.

In his confession Lynch said, “I was much discouraged by her putting me off but I didn’t show it. Being a fair man I decided to wait until her husband returned and give him the chance to pay me my money and if he refused then I would see to it that he would get to meet the Almighty.”

Lynch then elected to walk to the Black Horse Hotel at Berrima and buy some rum in the belief that it would get Mulligan in the right frame of mind to pay him the money. On his return he saw Mr. and Mrs. Mulligan together on the verandah and they greeted him in a friendly manner.

Mrs. Mulligan fetched glasses for the rum, and they sat on the verandah drinking and chatting. Lynch eventually brought up the matter of the £30, and Mr. Mulligan asked him to be reasonable about the amount. Lynch left the verandah and sat brooding on a log nearby, deep in consultation with the Lord about what he was going to do next. The Lord gave Lynch his blessing to murder them.

After Mr. Mulligan had returned to the fields and Mrs. Mulligan had disappeared into the house, Lynch lured their young son Johnny into the woods on the pretext of cutting some wood for his mother.

Once out of sight, Lynch killed the boy with a single blow from his axe to the back of his skull, covered his body with brush and returned to the farmhouse.

“Where’s Johnny?” Mrs. Mulligan inquired.

“Gone to the paddock with the horses,” Lynch said.

Lynch thought Mrs. Mulligan suspected that he had murdered her son because she became hysterical and told Lynch to fire his gun to attract attention.

“What’s all the urgency?” he asked. “He’s all right. I only saw him a few minutes ago.”

But the woman insisted that Lynch shoot his gun indicating to anyone within ear shot that all was not well.

“But if I do it will alert the police,” Lynch said as Mr. Mulligan appeared and asked what was going on. Both the Mulligans were suspicious now. In fright Mrs. Mulligan returned to the house while her husband headed to the woods in search of his missing son.

He didn’t get far. Lynch ran up behind him and, with one swing of the axe, felled him. After dragging the body into the woods, Lynch saw Mrs. Mulligan coming toward him. He tripped her up and killed her with one blow to the head from the axe.

Lynch knew that the Mulligan’s 14-year-old daughter was in the house, and as he entered he saw her standing in the kitchen in terror. She had seen at least one of the murders.

“I saw her standing behind a table holding a butcher’s knife,” Lynch confessed. “She was sobbing with fear and trembling violently. I hadn’t been prepared for this so I just stood there staring at her. Then I yelled ‘put that knife down’ but she didn’t move so I yelled again ‘put that knife down’.

“She stiffened, her eyes bulging fearfully from their sockets, with a strange animal noise squealing from her tightly compressed mouth. The lobes of her nostrils were flared and she stood there impotent with terror.

“’Put that knife down,’” I told her. “’I don’t want to kill you, but if I let you live you’ll only put me away.’” I then ordered her to get down on her knees and prey as she only had ten minutes to live.”

Lynch then took the terrified young girl into the bedroom and repeatedly raped her. “I then brought her back out into the kitchen and tried to comfort her saying that life was full of trouble and that she’d be better off dead. Then I mercifully distracted her attention and as she turned away I struck her with the axe and she fell dead without a murmur,” he confessed.

Lynch then assembled the Mulligan family’s bodies in the bush and set them alight atop a huge pyre. “They burnt like bags of fat,” he said.

From then on Lynch’s confession dealt with how clever he was at getting rid of the Lynch’s possessions and taking over the farm as if it were his own. Every personal item and all of the dead family’s clothing were burned. Then he inserted an advertisement in the Sydney Gazette stating that Mrs. Mulligan had left the family home without her husband’s consent and that he, John Mulligan, wouldn’t be responsible for her debts.

The ad gave the impression that the Mulligans had broken up, which would explain why the farm had been sold. Next Lynch, again under the name of John Mulligan, wrote to all his creditors telling them he had sold the farm to John Dunleavy for £700, and Dunleavy had taken responsibility for any outstanding debts. Then he forged a deed of assignment stating that John Mulligan had signed over the farm and all its affects to John Dunleavy.


Part Nine

With all in order Lynch became Squire Dunleavy and, considering that he was well known throughout the district and still moved about freely (though under the name of John Dunleavy) without anyone becoming suspicious about the name change, Lynch probably couldn’t be blamed for thinking that the good Lord truly was looking after him.

Lynch even hired a couple, Terence and Clara Barnett, to run the farm for him while he took the produce to the markets. The bodies of the four other people he had murdered hadn’t been discovered and no one seemed to be looking for them.

For the next six months Lynch lived a charmed existence, and had it not been for his murder of the Irishman Kearns Landregan, he might have lived his life on the Mulligan’s farm without anyone being the wiser. John Dunleavy, aka Lynch, was a good farmer who was loved by his staff and trusted by his creditors and was from all accounts a gentle and considerate man.

The only reason that Lynch could give as to why he committed his ninth murder, leaving clues and witnesses all over the district, was that he was convinced that he was under the protection of a supreme being and beyond capture. The normally thorough Lynch hadn’t even gone to the trouble to prepare an alibi for the Landregan killing.

In Lynch’s confession he described the circumstances leading up to the murder. He said that he met Landregan on his way back from Sydney and offered him a job fencing on his farm. As they passed Crisp’s Inn, Landregan hid himself and explained to Lynch that he didn’t want to be seen because Crisp had summonsed him for stealing a bundle of clothes.

“After I heard that I was determined to get rid of him,” said Lynch, despite his own history of theft and armed robbery. Perhaps he had by then truly transformed himself into the respectable farmer John Dunleavy, who thought thieving rabble were best put to death.

After they had dinner together at the Woolpack Inn, which was witnessed by all of the staff and numerous patrons, Lynch drove Landregan to the Ironside Bridge where they set up camp for the night. As Landregan sat on a log chuckling away to himself at a joke that Lynch had told him, Lynch snuck up behind him and cracked him over the back of the skull with his tomahawk.

But the huge man didn’t die with the first blow. He rolled to the ground unconscious with the smile still on his face. It took a couple more blows to smash in the back of his skull and kill him. Lynch then took £40 from the dead man’s pockets.

John Lynch was hanged at Berrima Jail on April 22, 1842.

With the gruesome tally of nine victims, John Lynch is Australia’s most prolific individual serial killer.
 
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