The Artist, The Fiancé & Murder at Elwood

The night of 20 November 1930 was to be a gay and convivial evening at the Bijou theatre in Bourke Street, Melbourne with the screening of Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion” (“My Fair Lady”) the highlight for the group of bohemian friends that included Colin Cuthbert Orr Colahan (1897-1987), the well-known Australian artist and his fiancé.

After discussing the play for about half an hour, the group decided to bid adieu and the fiancé heaved a heavy sigh before walking to Flinders Street station with Colahan on her way home to 86 Milton Street, Elwood. But something was troubling the young girl who remarked to Colahan, “I wish to God I did not have to go home!”.

(above) 5 Addison Street, Elwood where Dean was assaulted

Mary Winifred ‘Mollie’ Dean (1905-31) was a petite girl aged twenty-five, with brown eyes, dark bobbed hair and the world at her feet. Engaged to be married to Colahan, she taught art at the State Opportunity School in Queensberry Street North Melbourne, a school that specialised in educating backward children and had her sights set on a career as a writer. Soon after arriving at the St. Kilda railway station, she made a telephone call at 12:04am to Colahan’s apartment in Yarra Grove, Hawthorn to discuss leaving her teaching job to take up journalistic work. Colahan told her that any hurried decision was impetuous and foolish, and advised her not to do it. After the eight minute call, the worried girl probably missed the last Brighton-electric tram at 12:11am, and instead walked the two kilometres home.

(above) The laneway opposite 5 Addison Street where Dean was dragged

But fate reared its ugly head just before 1:00am when Beatrice Owen of 5 Addison Street, Elwood was awoken to the sounds of a moaning voice. On the footpath outside her front gate was found a pool of blood, a women’s hat, coat, handbag, and a book. No screams were heard indicating the victim knew her attacker. Dean’s body was found in the laneway opposite – traces of blood showed that she had been dragged across the street – and was rushed to the Alfred Hospital, but died at 4:25am that morning due to shock, haemorrhage and collapse of the lungs. 

Senior-Detectives Jeremiah O’Keeffe and Percy Lambell believed the motive was jealousy and the outrage had been committed to look like a sex attack. Various witnesses verified seeing a young girl 5 feet 6 inches in height, dark complexion and slim to medium build wearing a green floral frock, red beret, black shoes, black topcoat and with a silk bandanna handkerchief tied around her neck. Significantly, a Mr Harry Coles of Jackson Street, St. Kilda saw Dean sitting outside the St. Kilda station and noticed a man watching her who had a peculiar walking gait wearing a “blue-grey” suit. Other witnesses saw Dean being followed by the same man.

(above) The laneway where Dean’s body was found looking towards the house

At the two day coronial inquest held on 29 and 30 January 1931, sensation after sensation was played out. Evidence was heard against a close family friend Adam Graham a 30-year-old engineer having a peculiar walking gait; that blood was found on his “blue-grey” suit which could not be accounted for; that Dean’s mother, Ethel Mary née Wright (d 1962), who strongly objected to Mollie’s bohemian friends clashed repeatedly with her daughter, and had Graham follow her on a number of occasions; and finally, that both Mrs Dean and Graham had an improper intimate relationship. The coroner Mr D Grant concurred and found that Graham had wilfully and maliciously inflicted the injuries and ordered he stand trial in the Supreme Court on February 18. He was given bail on the surety of £1,000.

However, the Crown Prosecutor (Mr Book) thought otherwise and on 16 March 1931 a no-presentment was filed against Graham leaving yet another shocking tragedy unsolved coming just a fortnight after the brutal murder of Mena Griffiths (Springvale Botanical Cemetery) in November 1930. The girl described by Colahan as “self-reliant, independent and courageous” was buried in a private service (Meth*A*113) attended by fifty people officiated by Rev G Phillip Bray of St. John’s Congregational Church in St. Kilda.

Footnote: In George Johnston’s autobiographical-novel “My Brother Jack” (1964), both Dean and Colahan were portrayed as Jessica Wray and Sam Burlington.

The Argus 22, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28 November 1930; 24, 26, 27, 29 December 1930 & 6, 17 March 1931.
The Age 22, 24, 25, 26 November 1930.
The Herald 21, 22 November 1930.
Kinnane, G., “Colin Colahan.  A Portrait” (1996).
Johnston, G., “My Brother Jack” (1964).