Ballarat Archives Centre

Author: Dannielle Roberts

Access Services Officer, Ballarat Archives Centre

Please note that this article contains descriptions of violence and may be upsetting for some readers.

In 1904, in the doorway of a jewellery shop, Kate Beachley was tragically struck down with an axe by her lover. Thirty-three years later Merle Moss took her final breaths in a lane behind her respected boss’ establishment, after refusing a proposed engagement. For Ballarat Heritage Festival 2024, Dannielle Roberts digs into the Ballarat Archive Centre's crime files to discover the stories behind these horrific murders.


Handwritten case file
Captial Case VPRS 264, P0001, James Rouhan. Detail from page 68


Kate Beachley

When Kate Beachley first met James Rouhan, she would never have anticipated that within a few months, she would be left for dead on Lydiard Street. Kate, also known fondly as Kittie, worked as a domestic servant when she met Rouhan, a yardsman at the Grand Hotel, Ballarat. 

On the night of October 12th, Beachley went with some girlfriends to a dance at Miss Campbell’s, without the knowledge of Rouhan who was visiting a few hotels with his friend James Hutchinson. Bettie Conway arrived at the hotel with a man named Bill calling out to her, “Have you been to the dance?”

“No,” Conway replied, when Rouhan enquired: 

“Where is Kittie Beachley?” 

“She has gone up the road with Miss Tamar and another girl,” Conway responded. 

Rohan arrived at the party, “Come out Kittie, I want you a minute.” Beachley grabbed a hold of friend Tamar Patrick, who said “I am not going to let her go out.” Rouhan left the room and returned, taking the cup of tea from Beachley’s hand, the contents spilling all over Patrick. He promptly left once more, going back to the bar where he spoke to Hutchinson, recalling that Beachley had told him she was going to visit her aunt but was at the dance instead.

“Is that not a bugger?” Hutchinson said. “You ought to kill her”.

“I would like to meet her now, coming home,” Rouhan replied to which Hutchison said “There is sure to be blokes with them, and you ought to have something to land them with.” Rouhan went into the yard of the hotel, retrieving an axe and headed back to the George Hotel, Hutchinson trailing behind him.

“I would frighten a month’s growth out of the blokes with her,” Rouhan said, axe in hand. “I will be with you,” said Hutchinson.


An open book with writing in it
Rouhan Trial Register VPRS 3524 P0. Page 254


Beachley and her friends decided to leave the dance, walking up Lydiard Street towards the Grand Hotel. Looking further up the street, they saw Rouhan and Hutchinson coming towards them.

Rouhan called out to Beachley when Hutchinson suddenly pushed her towards Rouhan, with the other girls calling out to them.

Rouhan put a hand on Beachley’s shoulder, “Kittie, I thought you were not going to the dance.” 

“I had no intention of going when I left home,” Beachley replied. 

Beachley's friend Nellie spoke up to Rouhan, “Don’t blame her, it was my fault that she went to the dance.” Rouhan warned the girls to keep away. Beachley had told Nellie that Rouhan would object to the dance, for he would be angry if any young man saw her home and that he would [do them in]. 

“Are you going to be such a coward as to hit a woman?” Patrick said sternly. 

Rouhan turned abruptly to face the other two girls, “Tamar and Nellie, go home.” Patrick refused to which Rouhan threatened, “If you don’t go home, I’ll do you in first.” The two girls went across to the Grand Hotel.

“Come here by yourself for a minute,” Rouhan said to Beachley, quickly showing her the axe in hand. As she screamed, Hutchinson came over and shoved Beachley to the ground.

“Shut up the police will be here,” Rouhan yelled and struck her on the head with the axe.

Suddenly the girls heard a heavy sound, like a body falling. Beachley laid on the footpath after receiving a wound on the back of her head, resulting in a haemorrhage.  


Criminal file with text and mug shots
Rouhan Prison Register VPRS 515 P0, Central Register for Male Prisoners 30337-30738 (1903-1905)


The next morning, Arthur Radcliffe heard a knocking at his door. “Let me in, let me in”. Rouhan rushed in and threw himself on the floor stating “Don’t ask me; don’t send for the police. Me and another fellow have killed a woman”. 

“If you have killed anyone”, Ratcliffe’s father responded, “the watch house is the best place for you”. Rouhan later consented to go. Ratcliffe noted that he didn’t seem drunk but had been drinking from the smell. 

“I have killed her and I suppose I’ll have to be bloody well hanged for her” Rouhan cried.

On the way to the watchhouse, Rouhan and the Ratcliffes’ ran into Constable Walker to whom Rouhan made the following statement.

“I’m sorry I murdered the girl, I struck her”.

“That makes things look bad for you", replied Constable Walker.

“There’s more in it than me” said Rouhan. But Hutchinson denied any involvement in the murder: 

“It is false where he states that I knew he had the axe. It’s also false that I knew what Rouhan was going to do. It is also false where he states I asked him to get something to land the blokes. It is false that I said that I would be with him if we were hanged together. Rouhan was drunk at the time he struck the girl and I was very drunk”.

Rouhan had no notable criminal history but was known for another domestic incident. Police were approached in 1904 by a Miss Turnbull who complained that Rouhan had cut up her clothes. It appeared that Rouhan and Turnbull were keeping company and had a few words over Beachley. The inquest investigation revealed that she was three months pregnant at the time of her death.

Rouhan was sentenced to death which was later commuted to a life sentence. He was sent to Geelong Gaol as the court believed he was having an epileptic fit during the murder and therefore couldn’t fully recall what happened. Evidence given at trial suggested that Rouhan had suffered from convulsive fits for some years. He continued to serve 14 years imprisonment during which his conduct was deemed good. Many petitions were put forward, asking for his early release. Rouhan was released early in 1919, returning home to Creswick. He lived until the age of 50, dying in 1934 from heart failure under anaesthesia.


Merle Maud Moss

In 1937, Merle Maud Moss was keeping company with a local man Sydney Gordon Smart. Her father Edwin Moss detailed how on Christmas Day, Moss spent time with her family, in good spirits and health. She told her father that Smart had proposed to her and had desired to give her an engagement ring as a Christmas present. She however, told Smart that she did not want to become engaged and had refused the ring. Moss asked her father for his opinion, who stated that she shouldn’t make any decisions for a while as she was still very young. On Christmas eve, Moss, accompanied by her friend Margaret Telford, went for a walk and noticed they were being followed by Smart everywhere they went. He finally met up with the girls and asked if Moss wanted to go out with him that evening, Moss declined saying she wanted to go out with her girlfriends.


Detail from a typed up deposition of a witness
Inquest VPRS 24 P0000, 1937 74. Detail from page 14.


Telford, mentioned that a week before Christmas, Moss had told her that she and Smart had an argument which resulted in Smart pulling out a revolver and firing two shots into the air. Telford told her friend to tell the police, with Moss replying, 

“I don’t like to do that; I don’t think he would harm me; he always treated me well”.

On the 3rd January, 1937, Moss was found lying in the lane at the rear of Dr Salter’s residence of Sturt Street, Ballarat. The young woman was suffering from gunshot wounds, two to the brain and one to the heart. She was taken to the Ballarat Base Hospital where she died hours later.

Earlier that day Dulcie Lumsden had called upon Moss at Dr Salter’s residence where Moss worked as a domestic servant. Lumsden saw Smart heading up Sturt Street near Raglan Street. He asked her if she was going to see Merle, “Tell her I want to see her for a minute.”

Lumsden passed on the message but Moss replied “I don’t want to see him.”

The girls decided to go for a walk to the lake. Lumsden was quick to notice that they were being initially followed by Smart, who was standing on the corner of Lyons and Sturt Street. The girls headed up the street to catch a tram, Smart following them. He asked Moss to meet with him later with Moss replying that she was not going to meet him anymore. The girls jumped on the tram, but so did Smart.

The group disembarked at the lake and Smart tried to talk to Moss again but she made it clear that she wasn't interested. Eventually he left.


A page of an inquisition with printed and handwritten writing
Inquest VPRS 24 P0000, 1937 74. Page 2


In the evening, the girls had tea at the Roxy Café in Bridge Street. Heading back up Sturt Street, the they ran into Smart once more who caught a hold of Moss and said “I want to go for a walk with you.”

Moss refused but Smart insisted that if she did not go, there would be trouble. Grabbing Moss by the wrist, he produced a revolver from his coat. He levelled it at her head then put it back in his pocket. 

“Don’t be a coward,” Moss responded.

Both girls continued with Smart towards the lane at the rear of Dr Salter’s property. Smart called out “Don’t go in or there will be trouble.” He then caught Moss by the belt and pushed her up against the fence.

“Will you meet me tonight?” Smart asked, holding Moss to the wall.

“I don’t want to meet you, let me go,” yelled Moss. He still held her in place and fired eight shots at Moss, who fell to the ground instantly. 

Lumsden ran inside the property to notify Dr Salter.

Smart quickly laid down beside her, with the gun to his own temple pulling the trigger which failed. He then rose and ran towards Lyon Street.

By 9.30pm, detectives found a hat on the waters edge at the lake, at the rear of the Pleasant Street School. Constable Raper acquired a boat and whilst rowing past the nearby boatsheds, came across the body of Smart. There appeared to be gunshot wounds to his head. Inquests later revealed that his death was not due to the gunshot wound but drowning willfully caused by himself.



All quotes in Kate Beachley story from: Capital Case for James Rouhan, dated 1st January to 31st December, 1904. PROV, VPRS264/P0001, item Rouhan, James. Retrieved from:

All quotes in Merle Maud Moss story from: Inquest File for Merle Maud Moss and Sydney Gordon Smart, dated 28th January, 1937: VPRS 24/P0, item 1937/74. Retrieved from:

Additional research in Merle Maud Moss story from: “Police Find Ballarat Murder Suspect Dead in Lake” (1937, January 5). The Sun News-Pictorial (page 10) Retrieved from:



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