Mt Albert is a comfortable, leafy area in the western ring of central Auckland suburbs. Developed around a century ago, it was at first a place of bungalows and a few villas. Mt Albert is no hot-bed of crime, nor is it immune to violence. In the space of just over five years from 1927, it was the scene of two grisly multiple-killings. MARTIN JOHNSTON looks back.

The Kiddells' 'death pact'
The Kiddells shifted from Britain to New Zealand to reunite their family, after one had moved earlier and become a North Island farmer.

But within weeks of the arrival of the father, mother and daughter 90 years ago, they and their farmer son/brother were dead after what appeared to have been a "death-pact".

Unlike the Bain family killings in 1994 at Dunedin (five dead) and the Baxter family murder-suicide in 1908 at Invercargill (seven dead), the Kiddell case didn't make it onto the Te Ara/Encyclopaedia of New Zealand list of noteworthy mass killings.

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Herald report on the attack in Mt Royal Ave. Source: Herald archive
Herald report on the attack in Mt Royal Ave. Source: Herald archive

However, the deaths shocked the community in 1927 and are thought to have led to the renaming in 1928 of West St - where the family lived and died in Mt Albert, in a new, white-painted, rented bungalow - to Benfield Ave.

A coroner found that Ernest Kiddell, 62, shot and killed his wife Louisa, aged in her 50s, and their children, Lorna, 27, and Collen, aged around 25, with a Winchester rifle.

"There is some evidence to show that Louisa Jane Kiddell ... acquiesced in this. I am satisfied that Ernest Whitby Kiddell died a little later, the cause of his death being suicide by shooting," the coroner said, according to a Herald report.

There was no sign of a struggle.

The house in Mt Albert where the tomahawk attack occurred in 1932. Photo / NZ Herald, National Library of New Zealand.
The house in Mt Albert where the tomahawk attack occurred in 1932. Photo / NZ Herald, National Library of New Zealand.

The tragedy, "one of the most shocking ... on record in New Zealand", the Herald said, was discovered on July 4 - 11 days after it happened.

"Owing to the condition of the bodies, that of the man on the floor with the gun beside it, was wrongly believed at first to be that of the younger man, and the male body on the bed was thought to be that of the father, whereas the reverse was the case."

"The mother and son were found lying in bed, her arm about his neck."

Lorna was found on a settee made up as a bed in the sitting room.

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The police entered the house and found the dead family after being contacted by the house's owner, Mrs Clark. She had been told by neighbours that a light had been left on in the house for some days.

One set of neighbours didn't hear gunshots, according to a Herald report on the morning after the bodies were found. However, at the inquest, a neighbour told of hearing shots on the morning of June 23.

The son had lived in New Zealand for around five years. He worked on farms at Hawera, then, the Herald said, took one over on his own account near Mangaweka in the Rangitikei district. He was engaged to be married.

The father was a retired customs officer with a pension of 300 pounds a year, worth about $28,700 today, and the couple's daughter was a French scholar and a teacher.

She wanted to stay in Auckland; the son wanted the family to join him at Mangaweka. A dispute arose and a vicar the threesome had met on their sea journey acted as mediator.

"Evidence of the death-pact is provided by a letter addressed to the police and written by Mr Kiddell [senior], also by other letters to friends in Cardiff, Bradford, Southampton, and Somersetshire," the Herald wrote.


"These, the police state, show he was oppressed by financial trouble and domestic worry. The latter apparently concerned his son and daughter. It is suggested the whole family was gravely neurasthenic [suffering a nervous breakdown]."

Hundreds of people gathered in streets to watch the funeral procession of four hearses from Hobson St to Waikumete Cemetery, where the parents were buried in one grave, and their children in another.

Mt Albert Historical Society chairperson Mary Inomata said it was likely that West St - and its extension, Frederick St - were renamed owing to the Kiddell tragedy. She believes this because although a number of streets in the suburb whose names were duplicated elsewhere in Auckland were given new names, that didn't happen until around 1936 to 1938.

The tomahawk attack

Just over five years after the Kiddells' deaths, tragedy struck at the other end of Mt Albert, in Mount Royal Ave.

Eighty-year-old George Macfarlane, described as a kindly although eccentric fellow, became mentally unwell and suffered occasional delusions while recovering from rheumatic fever. He took a dislike to his housekeeper, 45-year-old Emily Constance Chappell, whom he had previously held in high regard.

At around 7.30am on October 6, 1932, Macfarlane attacked Chappell with a tomahawk.

The night nurse, Sister Begbie, had told the other nurse in the house, Greta Howard, that Macfarlane had had a good night and was now up.

Howard told the inquest: "Just after she had been speaking to me I heard screams from Miss Chappell, who was in the kitchen. I rushed into the kitchen and there saw Macfarlane standing near the kitchen bench.

"He had a tomahawk in his hands and was slashing at Miss Chappell. I saw Macfarlane strike her on the head with the axe, and at the same time heard him saying that he would 'do' for her.

"When Macfarlane struck her on the head Miss Chappell fell to the floor, and Macfarlane again slashed at her with the tomahawk, striking her.

"I rushed at Macfarlane and grabbed the tomahawk. Sister Begbie and a Mr Beeson, a neighbour who had been alarmed by Miss Chappell's screams, came and assisted me.

"The axe was taken from Mr Macfarlane and I put it under the mattress of my bed for safety sake.

Beeson phoned for a doctor, an ambulance and the police, while the two nurses and Beeson's wife attended to Chappell, who, bleeding and unconscious, had been carried to her bed.

Macfarlane had been escorted back to his room, where he was found clutching at a wound on his throat. On the dressing table was a blood-stained, open razor.

Chappell died at Auckland Hospital that day. Macfarlane died there too, three days later.

Howard told the coroner Macfarlane had taken to complaining that Chappell was poisoning his food. Consequently sharp instruments were removed from his room; it is thought he picked up the razor when returning there after the attack.

He had been acting oddly the day before the attack and spoke of wanting to take his own life.

The Herald said Macfarlane had been a large landholder and farmer in the Wairarapa. He was the son of a Scottish settler who had married a Maori princess in the early days of the New Zealand colony.