Child murder at Northcote, 1905
On Sunday 25th December 1904 the body of a new born child was found floating in the Merri Creek near Elizabeth Street. It had been wrapped in brown paper from Messs. Foy and Gibson of Smith St. Collingwood.
An autopspy established that the baby's throat had been cut.
Detective Carter diligently followed up clues and soon made a breakthrough when a witness, Mrs Cooper appeared. Mrs Coopeer reported that she was in the front garden of her Elizabeth Street house around the 28th November when she noticed a woman wearing a nurse's uniform pushing a pram towards the creek. Mrs Cooper saw the nurse lift the baby out of the pram and continue towards the creek. Later they heard a large splash from the creek and the woman was later seen pushing a now empty pram. Mrs Cooper said she sent her husband several times to search the creek but he found nothing.
Very shortly afterwards Detective Carter arrested nurse Edith Fillen on a charge of wilful murder of a newly born male child, name unknown. The newspapers reported that Fillen was '...plainly and neatly clothed in a blouse of black silk with cream Vandyck facings, a short walking grey skirt, a starched white collar of the pattern affected by nurses, and a black hat tilted sharply upward and tied with strings under the chin.' The same reporter also noted that '...she has sharp features which are never for a moment in repose, and with her dancing eyes show a distinctively nervous temperament.' Fillen declared her innocence and requested bail, which was refused.
As January wore on it was revealed that Fillen had previously spent two years in the Kew Lunatic Asylum and that her artist husband had recently left her.
Back in court on the 20th January, Fillen caused a stir in court when she loudly proclaimed '...Gloria in Excelsis Deoet in Terra Pax. I am innocent. Glory be to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men. I am innocent. He is my Judge, the worthy Judge, the tribunal I have to meet - a higher tribunal that this, a higher tribune than man, and a higher Judge than man shall judge me.' After this outburst she complained about how she had been treated in prison and that she had not been allowed a change of linen.
Further dramatic court scenes erupted the following week when Magistrate Chandler started cross examining Dr. Mollison about the cause of death of the infant. Dr. Mollison admitted that there was no common consensus about whether the child was living or dead when its throat was cut, nor could they positively state that the child had ever breathed. Mr. W. Smith, the defence lawyer tried to interject that Mrs Fillen was innocent but the Magistrate shut him down, saying '....I don't want to hav any question about this woman at all. I merely to was asertain in the first instance, whether it was born alive or dead.'
Mrs Fillen admitted in court that her correct name was Edith Sullivan but she had previously been engaged to a Mr. Fillen who had permitted her to use his surname.
The Magistrate then stated that the case is concluded, as the prosecution could not prove that the child lived therefore they could not state that the child was murdered. Mr. Smith tried to object, saying he wanted to clear the woman's name and that he had witnesses to say that Fillen had not been to Northcote. The Magistate shut him down and dismissed the case.
As she left the court Mrs Fillen 'Surely, how noble and what a good thing it is to suffer and be strong. I have suffered and I am strong.'
Ironically the only mention of the case in the Northcote Leader was a brief article by the editor complaining about the case being called the Northcote murder when the supposed murderer lived in Carlton.
Northcote Murder Case. No clue to perpetrator. Bendigo Advertiser (Vic. 1855-1918), 28 December 1904, p.5
Northcote Child Murder interview with Mrs Cooper. Some interestig particulars. The Ballarat Star (Vi. 1869-1954), 5 January 1905, p.1
Northcote Baby Murder. Accused again remanded. Bendigo Advertiser (Vic. 1855-1918), 21 January 1905, p.5
Northcote Child Murder. A nurse arrested. Maintains her innocence. Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. 1869-1954) 14 January 1905, p.24
The Northcote Murder. Dramatic scene in court. The Young Chronicle (N.S.W. 1902-1910), 25 January 1905, p.1