Outrage at Lauriston Hall

Lieut-Colonel Eric William Tulloch MC & Bar was no nondescript member of the public, but a distinguished citizen, an honoured war-hero and a loving husband. Which is why his death in mysterious circumstances was all the more tragic. Born at Ballarat in Victoria the son of a brewer, he received an upper-class education at Melbourne Church of England Boys’ Grammar (1897-99) where he excelled as a sportsman and went on to represent Victoria in the eight-oared rowing crew that won consecutive interstate championships between 1902-04. He worked in Victoria and Western Australia as a brewer before enlisting in January 1915 with the rank of captain with the 11th Battalion; at Gallipoli he was in charge of one of two bodies of men who in an extraordinary feat managed to reach their immediate objective during the disastrous landing; while on the Western Front he was awarded the Military Cross in two separate acts of bravery. He returned to Australia in August 1919 and took up a senior position with “Victoria Brewery” – Victoria Parade, East Melbourne; in 1921 he was appointed head coach of Melbourne Boys’ Grammar school rowing crew.  

(above) Eric Tulloch

Lauriston Hall at 92 Wellington Parade, East Melbourne was a fashionable guest house in a fashionable part of the city catering to a well-to-do clientele; a home-away-from-home where guests could mingle freely while maintaining a degree of privacy. It was in every way the last place to expect a cold-blooded murder but all this was shattered on the night of Friday 7 May 1926. Tulloch had been living at Lauriston Hall for the last six months while his wife, Lilian had been recovering her health in Sydney since 9 April; she had been in poor health for some time.

At about 8:30pm on the fateful night, an impromptu dance party was held amongst the guests to celebrate the success of the rowing team in the heats of the Head of the River; the final of the fiercely fought public school’s boat race was to be held the following day. It had been raining heavily that night. Tulloch was believed to have been suffering from a heavy cold and retired to his room at 10:15pm; at about 1:45am in the morning the last light was extinguished by the proprietress Mary Beveridge. A few moments later guests were awoken from their slumber by the commotion of struggling noises, cries for help and the firing of two shots. Eileen McIntye, a clerk who occupied a room near Tulloch was awoken by scuffling noise outside her door followed by Tulloch saying “Now I’ve got you”. A shot was then fired and Tulloch shouted “Help!” before a second shot was discharged. She jumped out of bed, looked out of the door and saw Tulloch in the act of falling while grasping a rung of the banisters.

William Archibald Lawrie, an officer of the “English, Scottish & Australian Bank” occupied a room on the ground floor next to the sitting room and was one of the first to rush to the scene. Before running upstairs he heard the front door slam and momentarily caught sight of a “very small” hatless man of 5 feet 5 inches in height, medium to stout build wearing a dark suit and “running as fast as he could”; bloodstains were found on the front doorstep. Lawrie indicated the man turned left at Wellington Parade and ran away in the direction of Richmond. A doctor was called for but it was to be in vain; Tulloch was dead. A post mortem by Dr Crawford Mollison (1863-1949) revealed two bullet wounds to the left side, one on the chest and the other to the lower part of the abdomen; both had been fired at point-blank range.

Not since the tragic death of Alma Tirtschke (q.v.) in December 1921 had a murder caused a greater sensation nor a more baffling case for the police. Nothing was stolen, his room had not been ransacked nor did he have any enemies leading Truth to speculate that Tulloch had been the victim of an act of jealousy or revenge; the paper said that “Tulloch was a popular man with the ladies” and was “in the habit of taking women into his brewery at late hours”. The paper said one lady whom Tulloch was “particularly friendly with” had “married a small shopkeeper a few days before giving birth to a son” and that the husband permitted “dinners at Menzies and other hotels, to shows and entertainments” right up until a short time before Tulloch’s death. At his funeral held at the Brighton General Cemetery (CofE*ZH*88) on 10 May 1926 before some 2,500 graveside mourners, the women “gave way to uncontrollable grief” and was allegedly have said “My God, my God, what will I do? ‘X’ said he would shot Eric if he came between us”.

All the evidence suggests a murder cleverly planned to look like a house break-in gone awry. Mrs Beveridge testified having secured all doors and windows just prior to the murder; the kitchen window was found open and the back door unlocked, yet no tracks were left by wet boots. Tulloch’s bedroom was situated on the first floor in the remotest part of the house and to reach it, one had to pass a dozen other rooms along a maze of passages before reaching a blind passageway where his room and a women’s bathroom were located; it required prior knowledge. A fawn or grey coloured hat bought at “Mountford’s” of Bourke Street some weeks before was left behind in the struggle (near Tulloch’s body) as was an electric torch case (inside the front door) and battery (in the bathroom), two .25 calibre automatic pistol cartridge cases (bathroom) and a number of waistcoat buttons. The torch had been stolen from the room of a boarder some weeks before; all were likely to have been deliberately laid to deceive police. 

The coronial inquiry held on 29 June before Mr D Berriman PM took just two and a half hours to find that “Eric William Tulloch died from bullet wounds of the heart and lungs, the bullets having been fired from a pistol by a man whose name is unknown, and who, I find, is guilty of the murder of Mr Tulloch”. And so yet another crime went unsolved.

As for the Melbourne Boys’ Grammar eight-oared crew, they were to finish third place behind Scotch and Geelong in the final of the Head of the River.

ADB Volume 12 1891-1939 (Smy-Z).
The Argus 10 & 11 May 1926, 30 June 1926.
The Truth 22 May 1926.
“Liber Melburniensis”, Centenary Edition (1965).
Blatchford, C., “Legacy: The Story of the Melbourne Legacy Club” (1932).
Kiddle, J. (ed), “War Services of Old Melburnians 1914-18” (1923).
Bean, C., “The Official History of Australia in the War 1914-18”.
AWM “Biographical Cards for the Official History 1914-18”, AWM140.

(Image reproduced with kind permission of Melbourne Grammar School)