Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Murder at St Hilda’s, Stella Catherine Reynolds

St Hilda's in the 1940s
photo: Blue Mountains City Library

St Hilda’s Church of England was designed by prominent 20th century architect John Burcham Clamp, a partner of Walter Burley Griffin, and built by a Mr. Johnson of Leura. It replaces the first Anglican church built in 1885. This was known as the School Church of St Hilda and was built through the activity of the Rev. Simons, the incumbent at Blackheath. The first clergyman was the Rev. Power. The present building was dedicated by J C Wright, Archbishop of Sydney, on 16th September 1914.  

At about 4.00 pm on Sunday 10th May 1959, John (Jock) Reynolds, a 36 year old cook from the Gearin Hotel, accompanied by his baby son, entered the grounds of St Hilda’s Church.  Over 300 people had gathered in the church hall at the rear, part of the estimated one million Australians who heard a direct radio and landline broadcast of the Billy Graham crusade attended by 150,000 people at the Sydney Showground that afternoon.  Jock Reynolds confronted his wife Stella, who was preparing tea in the church hall at the rear, and started making accusations against her, then in his own words, “blew up” and attacked her with a large kitchen knife.
  

A woman’s screams were heard by the church warden Mr Robert Ashall, 56, who went to investigate. He was met by a woman staggering outside in the laneway, bleeding from stab wounds to the  abdomen. Inside lying on the floor was Stella Reynolds bleeding profusely from a deep stab wound to the chest, she would be pronounced dead on arrival at Katoomba Hospital a short time later. 
The lane way at St. Hilda's where Patricia Holcroft was found bleeding
from stab wounds and the hall at the rear where Stella Reynolds died.
photo: John Merriman

The woman in the lane was her friend, Mrs. Patricia Holcroft 29, of Railway Pde, Leura, who was injured attempting to protect Stella; she would recover after a four hour emergency operation at Katoomba Hospital. A third woman, Mrs. Helen Gifford, 47 of Canowindra, Stella’s sister, received deep cuts to the arms and hands while trying to protect her sister. The dead woman’s eighteen month old son was found unhurt in the hall. Captain Dixon of the Salvation Army later recovered a blood stained boning knife from the church garden.  
The headstone in Katoomba cemetery
In response to earlier complaints about his behaviour from his wife, Reynolds had told Police, “She is hanging about with a dago at Blackheath and I will continue to persecute her,” and later said in a statement to police, “I had to kill her, I placed her on a pedestal but she killed my love. I was taught to kill in five seconds in the war. I’d do it again. I feel 15 years younger. I’ve got no more worries. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”  

John Reynolds was committed for trial at Central Criminal Court on 11 November 1959 and was found not guilty of murder on the grounds of insanity. Mr Justice Moffitt then directed that he be kept in strict custody during the Governor’s pleasure, he served time in Long Bay gaol and was later deported to Ireland.
*****
John Merriman, Local Studies Librarian
2014 Blue Mountains City Library 

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