Payroll Murder, 1938
On Thursday 2 September 1938, Frederick William Sherry (of Sherry Shoe Factory, 171 Roseneath Street Clifton), was delivering the payroll for the factory when he was ambushed in High Street, Northcote. Sherry and Mr. Thomas had just picked up the the weekly payroll and were heading back to their Clifton Hill factory, when a maroon coloured car pulled up along side their's as they passed under the railway bridge on Queens Parade.
Two shots rang out, hitting Sherry's car near the driver's seat. Mr. Thomas was cut by flying glass. Mr Sherry leapt from the now stationary car carrying the bag containing the payroll. Another shot rang out and Mr Sherry fell to the ground. The masked gun man then fired the fatal shot whilst standing over the prostrate man. The gunman was wearing a black mask, covering his nose and mouth, whilst a second man, the driver of the maroon car, wore a white mask.
Mr B. Moore, working at the Clifton Hill tram depot approached the gunman but second bandit fired two warning shots in the air and he back off. The killer then grabbed the bag containing the payroll and moved toward their car. At this point Mr Thomas tried to intervene but was knocked to the ground. The two bandits then fled by car down Hoddle Street. Ironically for the bandits, the vast bulk of the payroll had been in Mr. Sherry's jacket pocket, not in the bag, which only contained £50 in change. Over £700 was in Mr. Sherry's pocket.
There were a number of witnesses to the crime. Wallace Bunge, 14, noted that one man wore a yellow raincoat and white mask. Laurence Standing, tram driver, gave a slightly different version of the robbery, saying that Mr Sherry began running from his car with one man chasing him. He said there was a shot and Mr Sherry fell down, the man then fired two more shots into Mr. Sherry. According to Mr. Standing the killer then retrieved the bag from the car. Yet another witness claimed that the fatal shot was fired as Mr. Sherry was getting back on his feet.
Mr. Sherry left six children aged between six and twenty years old.
On the 7th September, Senior Detective William Sloan and Detective Carey arrested Selwyn Wallace, aged 22, and charged him with murder. In court on 18 October, Wallace claimed he had been approached on the morning of the robbery and offered £100 if he was prepared to drive a get-away car during a robbery. Wallace said he had known the man for five or six years. Wallace forced Sherry's car off the road and then his companion raced over to the car and began struggling with Sherry. Wallace said he came to the aid of his companion but was only armed with a monkey wrench, not the gun claimed by witnesses.
After the robbery they drove through the back streets of Fitzroy before abandoning the car in a garage. After his arrest Wallace identified his companion as Herbert Jenner and stated that he received no money from the proceedings of the crime. He only had £11 on him at the time of his arrest. Joseph Blanks stated in court that Wallace was one of two men who had rented the Fitzroy garage from him and had warned him that the car was 'hot'.
At the inquest in October Wallace had repeatedly refused to say who the second man was, saying her would '...would never squeal on a pal.' However as it dawned on him that he was facing a murder charge and possibly the death sentence his story changed. 'Jenner is the man who was with me. He shot Sherry.'
Herbert Jenner, 23, was subsequently arrested in Sydney and brought back to Melbourne to face charges with Wallace. The Crown Prosecutor, Mr. Book, declared that the evidence would show that two guns were discharged during the robbery, one being a .32 calibre and the other a .22 calibre, thus disproving Wallace's claim to have been unarmed. Bullets found in Jenner's sister-in-laws flat matched those used to kill Mr. Sherry. The Coroner found that Mr Sherry would have died within two minutes of the bullet hitting his heart.
Both Kenner and Wallace admitted to having minor roles in the robbery but denied firing the fatal shots. As the trial progressed into its second day, a witness stated that Sherry '...knew he had no hope. He put his hands up in a kind of surrender, and then the second man shot him.' Another witness stated that the man who fired the fatal shot was not the driver of the car. Both men had previously made police statements that they participated in the robbery but argued that it was the other man who was armed and fired the fatal shots.
Mrs Heape, of Elwood, testified that she saw Jenner as the passenger in the getaway car as it passed her and her husband in Hoddle Street. Continuing the damaging evidence against the two men, James Yates testified that both men had revolvers, matching police evidence that there were bullets from two separate calibre guns used. Mr Sherry, brother of the deceased, made a statement in court that he thought he had seen Jenner before at a previous holdup. This was sufficient for Jenner's lawyer, Dr. Brennan, QC, to request that the jury be dismissed, as it implied that he was guilty of a similar crime, and was of 'bad character.' Given the wealth of evidence against his client, it seems that Brennan was clutching a straws a little bit. Justice Gavan Duffy considered the request overnight but then overruled the request. The defence then argued a third robber was present, despite a large number of witnesses stating only two men were there.
Later the same day (2nd December 1938) the jury retired to consider their verdict. It took them only 2¾ hours to come back with a a guilty verdict of murder for Jenner and guilty of being an accessory after the murder for Wallace. Justice Duffy told the jury that the verdict for Wallace was 'not proper', as that was not the charge placed against him. Half an hour later the jury returned with a guilty verdict. Jenner stated that he believed that '...a deliberate perjury has been committed in this case.' The judge then passed the death sentence upon Jenner, who nearly collapsed and had to be assisted from the dock by two warders. Wallace took the same sentence calmly and walked unassisted back to his cell. The jury had recommended mercy for both men due to their ages.
After sentencing, Justice Duffy said he would pass the recommendation for mercy on to the Executive Council. The two convicted men lodged appeals against their convictions and the death sentence. The Court of Criminal Appeal dismissed their appeals on the 16th December. The State Cabinet considered the jury's recommendation of mercy and the Governor-in-Council commuted their death sentence to '...imprisonment for the full term of their natural lives, with no remissions whatsoever, and without benefit of the gaol regulations.' This basically ensured that neither man could be released unless directed by the King or a special decision of the Executive Council.
Both Jenner and Herbert had previous criminal records with both of them serving in a reform prison for minor offences such as shop breaking and stealing.
The attempted robbery by Jenner and Wallace was to have a significence beyond their immediate crime. The brazeness of their crime led to the introduction of armoured cars as a way of delivering payroll to factories. This was to remain in place until the introduce of direct salary payments into bank accounts in the 1980s.
Shot by payroll bandit. Northcote street tragedy. Shepparton Advertiser (Vic. 1914-1953), 2 September 1938, p.1
Dramatic version of armed hold-up. News (Adelaide, S.A. 1923-1954), 29 November 1938, p.7
Mask murder. Inquiry into Sherry hold-up. National Advocate (Bathurst, N.S.W. 1889-1954), 18 October 1938, p.2
Shot by bandits. Inquest on F.W. Sherry. Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga, N.S.W. 1911-1938), 18 October 1938, p.1
Two shots fired in hold-up. Crown charge in Sherry case. The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. 1933-1954), 29 November 1938, p.9
Admissions alleged in Sherry murder trial. The Daily News (Perth, W.A. 1882-1950), 28 November 1938, p.6
Clifton Hill Murder. Witnesses' accounts of shooting. The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. 1860-1954), 30 November 1938, p.11
Clifton Hill Hold-up. Woman identifies one of the accused. Warwick Daily News (Qld. 1919-1954), 1 December 1938, p.7
Pay-roll murder. New trial plea rejected. The Newcastle Sun (N.S.W. 1918-1954), 2 December 1938, p.7
Jenner and Wallace sentenced to death. Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld. 1860-1947) 3 December 1938, p.11
Jenner and Wallace. Death sentences commuted. The Age (Melbourne, Vic. 1854-1954), 22 December 1938, p.13
Your wages came by armoured car. The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. 1933-1954), 29 January 1951, p.2