THE SLUM KILLINGS. The Auckland suburb of Freemans Bay was long feared as a breeding ground of sickness, crime and unrest. In 1951, the city council decided on a slum-clearance plan. Dilapidated, cheek-by-jowl hovels would be replaced with modern, terraced housing. On the slopes below Nelson St, commercial and industrial buildings would be erected. In a convenient synergy of town planning, the motorway later ploughed its wide path through the area. The Herald looks back at six killings connected to the central city in the 1940s and 50s

Mary Eileen Jones was divorced and comfortably off when she fell for a charming fraudster whose secret plan was to swindle her of her assets and get rid of her.

In World War II Auckland, Jones suddenly sold her Ponsonby home and married "George Arthur Turner" on the promise of a trip to Britain - plus cash and securities. "Turner", aged in his mid-30s, claimed to be the son of a wealthy Sheffield industrialist.

Jones had the equivalent of about $90,000 in today's money at the time of the wedding; "Turner" had had to borrow cash from her.

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If Jones had known he was really George Cecil Horry, she might have recalled some of the newspaper headlines and stories about this "habitual criminal", whose offending began at the age of 16 and included burglary, car conversion, assaults, fraud and demanding money by menaces.

George Cecil Horry used a series of assumed names and had been convicted of numerous offences, including fraud. Photo / Herald archives
George Cecil Horry used a series of assumed names and had been convicted of numerous offences, including fraud. Photo / Herald archives

But 37-year-old "Pat" Jones, as she was also known, swallowed Horry's story and paid a terrible price, disappearing without trace. The last reported sighting of her by anyone other than Horry was on the morning of Sunday July 12, 1942 - the day after their wedding - by her friend Celia Shepherd of Titirangi Rd.

George Turner disappeared too. Horry mostly reverted to his real name after returning their honeymoon car, rented in Jones' name, on the Monday. It had travelled 260km and had a damaged mudguard.

The couple had married at the Pitt St Methodist Church in central Auckland, which overlooked what was then the slum suburb of Freemans Bay.

Horry wouldn't permit photographs. After all, he said he was a British Secret Service agent on loan to the Governments of Australia and New Zealand.

The wedding party went to the bride's parents' place in Massey. Horry said he couldn't let them know when he and their daughter arrived in Britain because if he sent a telegram, the Germans could pick it up and start bombing.

Mary Eileen Jones disappeared immediately after she married a man who used the assumed name George Arthur Turner. Photo / Herald archives
Mary Eileen Jones disappeared immediately after she married a man who used the assumed name George Arthur Turner. Photo / Herald archives

The couple spent the night at the Helensville Hotel. In a midnight call to Mrs Turner's lawyer, the couple tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade him to release the "not-negotiable" cheque from the sale of the John St house, to make it easier to convert to cash.

On the Tuesday, Horry opened a bank account and presented the cheque, which had been endorsed by Jones. Under the new name of Charles Anderson he claimed to be acting for George Turner, who he said had returned to England. The money was paid into his account after the bank verified Jones' signature with her lawyer's office.

Horry made substantial deposits in his real name at another bank, all of which was withdrawn by the end of 1942, when the account was closed.

A presser in the clothing trade, Horry had in September bought a property at the corner of New North and Blockhouse Bay Rds.

On December 12, five months after marrying Jones, Horry, under his real name, took a new wife, Eunice Marcel Geale. He had met her about the same time as he met Jones early in the year, after his release from prison.

Horry and Geale were married by "Uncle Tom" Garland, a radio man who, in an early version of reality broadcasting, performed on-air marriages at 1ZB's Friendly Road Fellowship, a non-denominational radio church.

Days earlier, Jones' parents, who had become suspicious, went to the police, handing over a letter they had received from Australia and signed "George and Eileen" which was not in their daughter's handwriting. It said the couple had had a good flight to Australia and were moving on to England.

Horry was later accused of concocting a postal scam to settle any concerns of Jones' friends and relatives. Letters were addressed to his New Zealand targets and sent with a covering note to accommodation managers in Australia.

They were asked to post the letters if they were not retrieved by certain named people who were in fact fictitious. Sent from Australia, the letters would carry Australian postmarks and Australian stamps could be bought in Auckland at the time.

The plan backfired. The manager of the Hotel Australia in Sydney sent a covering note of his own, explaining that he was returning the letter because there was no reservation for "Mr T. L. Langdon" at the hotel.

Jones' mother Harriet Spargo said she did not know any Langdons and no letter to the hotel had been written from their house.

At risk of being identified by people who had attended the "Turner" wedding, Horry visited the Spargos and spun a fantastic yarn soon after he had married Geale.

Harriet Spargo recalled: "He came into my house and said, 'Do you know me? And I said, 'Yes, you are George Arthur Turner. Where is Eileen?'"

He sat with his hands over his face and said he had terrible news. Eileen had been lost. The liner Empress of India had been torpedoed by a German U-boat in the Atlantic Ocean. Eileen was among women put in lifeboats and she not been seen again. He had been rescued by a British warship.

In fact there was no such ship as the Empress of India.

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A second letter arrived from Australia, from "your affectionate son-in-law George", in February 1943. It said he had heard Eileen had died on a British ship. Again there was a covering note, this one from the YMCA in Brisbane. Spargo followed the letter's instructions to write to "Turner" care of the Sydney Post Office.

The letter was returned to the Auckland Chief Post Office (CPO) in lower Queen St where a waiting police officer secretly watched as "Turner" received, read and tore up the letter, before he returned to work at the clothing factory. He could now be traced.

Acting on the Spargos' concerns for their daughter, the police in December 1942 began a massive hunt for her. At first this was in the Helensville area and the South Head of the Kaipara Harbour, in bush, sandhills, mudflats, tidal creeks and cliffs.

But when they learned in June 1943 that Jones had been seen by Shepherd in Titirangi Rd, they switched to the Waitakere Ranges.

"Each morning, except on very wet days, the men left Auckland in a heavy truck and continued a systematic search of the district," the Herald wrote.

"They pushed deeply into the bush-clad slopes of the Waitakeres and explored many bays along the coast."

The unsuccessful search was halted in September 1943. Hundreds of people had been interviewed too, culminating in June of that year with Horry, at whose home police found clothes belonging to Jones, and her suitcase and hatbox. But in the absence of Jones' body, direct evidence of her death or a confession, the case against Horry was considered too weak.

Horry was conscripted into the Army in 1944 and switched to the Air Force. He was transferred to Christchurch and, on returning to his old trade, was jailed for two years for forgery and breaking into a Riccarton house.


Herald report on August 7, 1942 of the start of the George Horry murder trial. Source: Auckland Libraries

By 1951, when the legal presumption of Jones' death could be made, the Crown decided to act before key witnesses died. The police arrested Horry at work and took him home, where they met his wife.

The arresting officer, Senior Detective William Fell, later told the Supreme Court murder trial: "Accused said, 'It's that Turner business'. Mrs Horry said: 'Why? Has she turned up?' Accused replied, 'That's impossible. She couldn't have'. He then said: 'Say nothing more about it. Say nothing. Tell them nothing'."

Horry didn't reply when asked to explain why it was "impossible" that Eileen Turner (Jones) had turned up.

Magistrate J. H. Luxford (left), George Horry's lawyer N. Shieff, and Senior Detective William Fell. Photo / Herald archives
Magistrate J. H. Luxford (left), George Horry's lawyer N. Shieff, and Senior Detective William Fell. Photo / Herald archives

He admitted marrying Jones but denied writing the letters. He claimed he last saw Jones at the CPO on the afternoon of the day after the wedding, saying she gave him money because she wanted to be married and that she was running away with another man.

After the jury found him guilty, Horry told the court that Jones had gone to America and to the best of his knowledge was still there.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour, having escaped the death penalty, which had been restored by the time of the trial but was not in force at the time of Jones' murder.

Prosecutor Vincent Meredith had begun by telling the jury it was a common misapprehension that murder could not be established without the dead body. The case would be proven by circumstantial evidence.

He had to run the arguments again at the Court of Appeal in refuting a challenge by Horry's legal team.

Legal expert Professor Warren Brookbanks of Auckland University of Technology told the Herald in 2017: "Although such cases are rare there have been a handful of cases in the last century where juries have convicted of murder without a body.

"The Horry case established that because of the gravity of the charge, the courts have been careful to insist that the circumstantial evidence must be so cogent and compelling as to convince the jury that there is no other rational hypothesis than guilt."

Horry was released from prison in 1967 and legally changed his name to Taylor, the name Eunice had taken before his release. He died in 1981 and was survived by Eunice, according to the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Their only child, a daughter, had been killed in a car accident some years earlier.

Eunice died last January, aged 101.

The author of the dictionary article, Brian Stephenson, told the Herald Eunice remained loyal to Horry throughout his time in prison and after his release they resumed their life together.

"His prison file recorded visits from her up to three times a week when he was in Mt Eden, and letters from her with similar frequency when he was in Napier Prison, leading up to his release."

"Presumably he chose his new name for his former occupation. He had been a tailor's presser before his conviction and during his Mt Eden time worked in the prison tailor's shop, making uniforms for the officers. A meticulously drawn pattern for 'fashionable long trousers' was on his prison file."

The series
• Eileen Jones, July 1942
• Govind Ranchhod, April 1949
• Lee Hoy Chong, May 1950
• Stephen and Peter Wingrove, December 1949
• Alan Jacques, July 1955, Sharon Skiffington, March 1955