Sunday, 20 May 2012

Mrs Rixson's Demise: Did her ghost really attempt to set the record straight??

The township of Maryborough in 1874 (State Library of Qld)
History is full of tales regarding crimes that were solved due to the intervention of a ghost - both in the fictional & factual sphere. For those who have seen the 1990 movie Ghost, & those others who refuse to admit having seen it, we all watched on as the ghost of a murdered man attempted to reach out to the living world in the hope of identifying his killer & seeing justice done.  However, whilst such stories make for intriguing viewing on the big & small screen, similar events have occurred in the real world throughout history.  One such event, which unfolded in the United States, has endured the ravages of time to become one of the world's most unusual ghost stories...

In 1897, in the West Virginian town of Greenbrier, 23 year old Elva Zona Heaster Shue died under very strange circumstances.  Having been very recently married to a man of whom her mother strongly disapproved, Zona's lifeless body was discovered on the floor of her home by a young boy, sent to the address by her husband on an errand.  The alarm was immediately raised, & the local Doctor-come-Coroner was called for - an examination of the body would be required.  However, when the Coroner arrived on the scene, Zona's husband Edward had already returned home, & had inexplicably acted in a way that raised the suspicions of the Physician.  Edward had moved Zona's lifeless body to an upstairs bedroom, where he had redressed her in an elegant dress with a high neck & stiff collar.  Weeping bitterly & cradling his wife's head in his arms throughout the post-mortem examination, Edward protested when the Coroner attempted to examine slight marks on Zona's cheek & much so, the examination was terminated prematurely & cause of death was contributed to an "everlasting faint."  The next day, Edward festooned Zona's neck with a scarf he claimed was her favourite, & her friends & family attended her wake, all the while being shunned by Edward from approaching the coffin.  Zona was finally interred in the local cemetery, & many believed the saga had finally reached its tragic end...although it had not.

Just prior to Zona's final journey to the cemetery, her mother had removed a sheet from inside the coffin - offering the linen to Edward, he immediately turned down the gesture.  Puzzled at Edward's refusal of her offer, Zona's mother retained the sheet & took it home with her.  On arriving home & noticing the sheet had a pungent smell, Zona's mother undertook to washing the linen & was horrified at the result - the sheet & washing water turned red, & subsequent washes failed to remove the staining...Zona's mother was now certain that her daughter's death was not a result of natural causes, & the sheet incident hinted at something far more sinister.  Praying for weeks that her daughter would return in spirit to divulge the details of her death, Zona's mother finally succeeded in raising the ghost of her daughter...& the truth was finally revealed during a number of ghostly visitations - Edward had strangled Zona resulting in a broken neck.  Ultimately, Zona's mother contacted the local Prosecutor, who requested an exhumation & re-examination of Zona's body...the subsequent post-mortem revealed finger marks on the throat, a destroyed windpipe & broken neck.  The case was immediately reopened, & Edward was placed back on trial...which is where our story in this instance gets very interesting - Zona's mother testified against Edward on the basis of the information provided to her by the ghost of her daughter.  To this day, the case is the only of its kind in the legal history of the United States, where evidence provided by a ghost was successfully used in the sentencing of a murderer.

So...what does this case have to do with the haunted history of South-East Queensland, I hear you ask??  Well...whilst the above U.S. case in 1897 is still talked about to this day internationally, an almost identical case occurred in the township of Maryborough over a decade earlier in 1876...yet, I'd be very surprised if the story is even known these days amongst locals, let alone on the international stage...

On the 29th of September 1875, Alexander Rixon & Lydia Quipps arrived in Queensland aboard the Star Queen, having travelled from England in search of a better life.  Having lived together abroad for four months before their massive journey across the ocean, the two settled in Maryborough under the guise of a married couple, even though no official agreement bound them in matrimony.  Lydia had made the journey with a child to a previous relationship, & Alexander acted as a substitute father for the little one...for 6 months, all seemed to go well for the couple, however on the 3rd of March 1876 the relationship quickly fell off the rails.  After a fight, Alexander forced Lydia out of their house...Lydia, distraught, took up lodgings in a back room nearby at the Adamson's residence.  The very next day, in a show of defiance, Alexander spitefully married another local lady - Annie Bush.  However, immediately after the marriage, Alexander realised that his spiteful act had backfired...his knee-jerk choice in a wife had been a disaster.  The very next day, Alexander visited the lodgings of his recent ex-partner for a few hours...the day after he visited again until dark, confessing to his marriage & stating to Lydia that he wished he'd never left her.  Alexander again called in to Lydia on Tuesday & Wednesday for a time, then was absent until Sunday the 12th of March.  The next day, he returned again to the Adamson's, & declared he would not return to his marital home that night...he went to bed with Lydia & woke the next morning by her side.

On waking, he decided he would return to his marital house to fetch some sweet potatoes for Lydia at 6am...returning 2 hours later at 8am with the potatoes, he announced to Lydia, "I have been and done for my wife."  In a panic, Lydia challenged Alexander on the statement, to which Alexander clasped Lydia by the throat, digging his nails into her neck, stating, "I did it this way."  No sooner were the words out of his mouth, than Alexander denied his previous statements, & immediately left...however, a few hours after a little girl stopped by the Adamson's & broke the news that Annie Rixson (nee Bush) had been found dead.  Similarly to the case of Zona above, Alexander's reaction to the death of his new wife had been bizarre.  On the morning of her death, whilst Rixson had been at his house retrieving sweet potatoes, a fight was overheard by his neighbours...hours after at 10am, after having visited Lydia with the potatoes & then returning to his house, he went next door to the Kinna's residence & proclaimed that he thought his wife was dying - when Mrs Kinna followed Alexander back to his house, she found Annie lying lifeless on the bed with her bodice splayed open, & flies already milling on her face.  Another neighbour, Mrs Gibson, soon entered the house on hearing the news & begged Alexander to go for a doctor...he proclaimed he had rheumatism in his legs & could not walk, although left to seek a doctor after increasing pressure from both women.

An Inquest was held into Annie Rixson's death...horribly, the woman was cut from gullet to groin in the autopsy process, in what can only be described as sheer curiosity on behalf of the practitioners who carried out the post-mortem - her lungs, intestines & heart were removed for examination, & when those organs failed to discern her cause of death her skull was cut open & her brain was removed & dissected.  Strange marks on Annie's neck had already been pointed out, however these were put down to brooch scratches, & self-inflicted strangulation - the medical practitioners carrying out the autopsy came to the conclusion that Annie had died of apoplexy, & had clutched at her own throat during her dying minutes.  Comfortable that their gruesome job was done, the two medical practitioners released the body for burial to the local cemetery, & the townsfolk expected the saga was now at rest...which, like Zona's above, it definitely was not...the subsequent Inquest into Annie's death was held, & the Coroner's findings were upheld & the case closed, however Annie still had a hand to play...

The very next night after the Inquest, a man crossing the Maryborough Reserve happened upon a terrifying sight...according to the The Darling Downs Gazette and General Advertiser on the 19th of April 1876, "The night after the inquiry, a man named Adamson, going home across the reserve, saw a ghost.  If you consider this a laughing matter I assure you the man does not.  He becomes fightable if you but smile when he narrates his experience.  This is what he saw, or, if you like, fancies he saw: First, what appeared like a small heap of black earth.  As he approached, he saw it move, and concluded it was a large black dog.  But it still kept growing larger, and Adamson was certain it was a [censored].  Mustering all his courage, he walked toward the object.  As he drew near he was seized with a violent shaking, cold perspiration burst out all over his body, a bundle which he was carrying on his shoulder fell to the ground, and his hat rose from his head.  In the features of the apparition he recognised those of Mrs Rixson!  Then came a voice, "I am the murdered wife of Rixson!"  The apparition then placed one of its hands over its mouth, and the other on its throat, and - disappeared.  Adamson does not know how long he remained on the Reserve, or how he found his way home.  Next morning he took his wife's advice, and told his extraordinary experience to the police, and they, growing suspicious, arrested Rixson & Lydia Quipps.  The woman was no sooner in the police office than she made a statement, which she has since repeated in the Police Court."

As a result of the apparition being spotted by the man named Adamson (his relationship to the Adamson's with whom Lydia was boarding is unknown), & the subsequent information being handed to the Police, Annie's remains were exhumed for further investigation - even though Annie's body had already been butchered during the initial post-mortem, her throat was now cut open to examine the windpipe.  Whilst no suspicious discoveries were made regarding the airway, deep fingernail marks were clearly identified around the neck & the cause of death was amended from apoplexy to suffocation/strangulation.  Alexander Rixson was arrested on suspicion of murder, & was brought before the Maryborough Circuit Court to answer the charge.  Amazingly, in light of the evidence proffered against him, Alexander continued to profess his innocence at his arraignment, stating to the Magistrate, "I am innocent enough of that death, Sir; that is all I have to say."  Rixson was subsequently committed for trial in Brisbane, the hearing taking place on the 12th of April 1876...miraculously, amidst the evidence levelled against him, the Jury returned a unanimous verdict of "Not Guilty," & Alexander Rixson walked free.

So, had the ghost of Annie Rixson not appeared that fateful night on the Maryborough Reserve, her week-long husband Alexander Rixson would have escaped any risk of trial for the murder of his new wife...unfortunately, unlike Zona's case 11 years later in the United States, Queensland's legal fraternity were less accepting of "ghost testimony."  Whilst a murderer walked free in this instance, we can't discount the fact that the ghost of a murdered woman returned in the vain hope of aiding in the arrest of her killer...regardless of whether the effort was successful or not.  Given that the case of the Greenbrier Ghost is internationally known & discussed amongst the paranormal fraternity, due to the exhumation & subsequent court case it brought about, shouldn't the Maryborough case of Annie Rixson also rate an international mention??


  1. Never too sure about spirits seeking revenge; more so when they are a seemingly innocent victims even! A more expanded awareness in the afterlife might let them see that they too had been murderers in a past life and attracted the probable event(not that it needed to end in murder). But then again, in their heart of hearts all criminals want to be caught in the end and punished , and they will subconsciously arrange that capture. The punishment system will never stop crime, it creates criminals and is criminal. Criminals are ruthless with the punishment system, as are police more often than not. Love the tale though! So glad to have found this site. Thanks for your efforts Liam.

    1. Thank you for the very kind words & insightful comments - I'm very glad to hear that you're enjoying the content, which will be ongoing for a long time to come given the quantity of material I have to draw from ;-)

  2. I find it amazing that in the U.S. case, when the body was being examined, the husband was allowed to not only be in the room, but to hold (interfere with?) the body whilst it was being examined. Great story!

    1. I honestly can't believe that a County Coroner, who had noticed strange marks on the cheek & neck of a deceased woman, having died under fairly suspicious circumstances, would call the examination short & make no further manoeuvres to examine the body...however, the same could be said of the Rixson case - marks found on the throat on the subsequent autopsy were clearly identified as fingernail gouges, yet at the initial post-mortem were shrugged off as simple brooch scratches without a second's thought. How far our present-day medical fraternity have come in the last 120 years!