Mysterious Explosion at the Brisbane CIB, 1927
This entry continues following the history and stories of the Brisbane Criminal Investigation Branch, or Brisbane's Scotland Yard (later nicknamed the Vatican due to the overwhelming Irish Catholic presence in the ranks of the detectives employed there).
On 14 August 1927, the Criminal Investigation Branch building was rocked by a violent explosion in a property room. ‘The roar of the discharge was heard for miles around, being audible in the suburbs.’ (BC, 15 Aug 1927, p. 13) Numerous crime records and exhibits in cases before the Police and Supreme Courts were destroyed, and nearly all windows and doors were shattered. Considerable damage from timber, iron and plaster hurled through the air was done to the buildings in the area.
Detective Michael Burns was sleeping in the building at the time of the bombing. Burns was knocked unconscious by falling debris and was lucky to survive. He was rescued by fire fighters and later admitted into Mater Misericordia Public Hospital ‘suffering from the effects of shock and concussion’. Detective Burns was superannuated a year later due to the injuries sustained.
A report filed to the Under Secretary a few days after the explosion suggested that the outrage had been committed by a person with a motive for destroying certain exhibits stored in the property room. The only exhibits in the room at the time relating to a serious pending charge was a quantity of shirting material, property of Buss & Turner & Bayards of Grey Street, South Brisbane. The property was evidence in a prosecution of a charge preferred against a man named Albert Orchard.
On 26 July 1972, James Fitzgerald and Albert Orchard broke into the Premier Shirt Company Warehouse, Grey Street, South Brisbane and stole 47 rolls of Tobralco (fine, light cotton) and six roles of zephyr shirting. Orchard was caught at the scene and the property was recovered. He was later released to await trial. James Fitzgerald escaped, however, and a warrant for his arrest was issued by the CIB.
A few days before the explosion, Daniel Williams, powder monkey, employed by the Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board, reported to the police that he left the door of the powder magazine in Merivale Street, South Brisbane, securely locked on the afternoon of 9 August. On the morning of 11 August, he found the powder magazine lock broken, the door open, and three packets of gelignite and two boxes, each containing 100 detonators stolen. Orchard was linked to the theft. He was apprehended on 1 October 1927 and committed for trial on the charge of stealing property to the value of £180 and attempting to destroy property by explosives. Orchard was sentenced to imprisonment for 7 years. The Crown entered nolle prosequi on the explosive charge.
On 28 November Fitzgerald was found guilty and sentenced to 8 years hard labour.