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 with the central city in the 1940s and 50s.
When Albert Black saw Alan Jacques in the dim evening light of a Queen St cafe, the smouldering tension of their unresolved fight was sparked back to life with an insult.
"Dirty yellow Irish b******," Jacques spat at Black, a 20-year-old labourer from Northern Ireland who had come prepared for trouble at Ye Olde Barn with an unsheathed knife in his pocket.
Jacques, a 19-year-old English seaman, had a knife of his own, a pocket-knife with a 10cm blade, but it stayed in his jacket. He punched Black and, temporarily complacent and perhaps feeling in control, having got the better of the slightly older man in a fight the night before, leaned over the juke-box to select a song.
It was a fatal mistake: Black plunged his 12cm blade into the neck of Jacques, who fell to cafe floor. He died soon after in Auckland Hospital.
The "juke-box murder", across the road from the Town Hall in July 1955, was one of two killings within four months in Queen St. The other was the "milk-bar murder" of Sharon Skiffington by her former lover Frederick Foster at Somervell's milk and coffee bar at number 238, near Victoria St East.
Coming after the 1954 Parker-Hulme murder of Parker's mother in Christchurch and the teenage sex scandal in Lower Hutt, the Queen St killings fuelled a public and political panic over declining moral standards among young people.
The Government's "special committee on moral delinquency", headed by lawyer Oswald Mazengarb, said imported American popular culture had contributed to the problem of a decline in traditional values. Censorship was tightened and contraceptive advice to young people was restricted.
Black, known as Paddy and as Shaun Donovan, was caretaker of a boarding house at 105 Wellesley St, just below Nelson St and within the Freemans Bay slum-clearance scheme. Jacques stayed there too.
Jacques came to New Zealand as a child immigrant during World War II. He was known as Johnny McBride, a name he adopted from the central, violent character in the crime novel The Long Wait by American author Mickey Spillane.
The police explained to the Herald at the time that it was "the habit of these people to change their names to more attractive ones. Sometimes they get them out of books or comics, and sometimes from football or boxing heroes, or similar people"
Jacques' friends were mainly Teddy boys, the paper said. They liked heavy, flashy jewellery and Edwardian clothing - long coats and stove-pipe trousers for the young men, called "bodgies", and skin-tight skirts and sweaters for the young women, the "widgies".
Jacques and Black had clashed over a 16-year-old girl at a party at the boarding house the night before the killing.
The girl said in court she and Jacques were outside.
"Paddy came outside and wanted to know what we were doing and we both said we were just talking. He didn't believe us and told Johnny to get inside with his own girl. Johnny had only kissed me once before Paddy came out. Johnny didn't go inside when Paddy told him. They started calling each other names and then fighting."
Also at the party was Rainton Hastie, later a strip club magnate, who, as a 19-year-old gave evidence that he left the party to collect some girls and more beer. When he returned, Black, who had a black eye, was lying on a bed and called out: "Have you got your knife?" to which Hastie replied that he didn't.
Herald report of Black's being sentenced to hang in October 1955. Source / Herald archives
Black, whose account of Jacques' insult and punch in the cafe was not echoed in Crown evidence, claimed he acted in self-defence or from provocation; he did not intend to kill Jacques and the stabbing blow was, his lawyer said, a "fluke shot".
The Supreme Court jury was not persuaded and found Black guilty of murder.
On hearing the verdict, Black closed his eyes, swayed and was grasped by a prison officer. A number of women in the crowded public gallery cried bitterly when Justice Finlay sentenced him to hang.
In December 1955, Black became the seventh person to be executed since the reintroduction of capital punishment for murder in 1950; he was also the second-to-last to be executed for murder before the practice was halted again in 1958 and abolished in 1961.
Jacques and Black were buried about 200m apart in separate sections at Waikumete Cemetery in West Auckland. Their grave sites are marked by white crosses.
Earlier in the year of Jacques' killing, Frederick Foster, 26, was sitting at Somervell's milk bar with a single-barrelled shotgun wrapped in brown paper. As Sharon Skiffington, 19, was leaving, the gun fired and her jawbone and face were blasted away. She died in hospital.
A theatre usher, Skiffington boarded at a house in Brown St, Ponsonby. Foster was staying at a boarding house run by Skiffington's mother, Thelma Trentino Salonika Dick (her surname later became Pratt) at 79 Vincent St. In an unrelated case, Francis O'Rourke had been staying at 79 Vincent St in 1950 when he was charged with the murder of Lee Hoy Chong.
Foster, an English crane operator, claimed it was an accident when he slid his hand to the trigger and the gun fired. He had intended to shoot the wall. The gun was later found to have a light trigger and its firing hammer could release with a jolt.
Foster had wanted to do something "mad" to win back Skiffington's attention by gaining publicity and proving his undying love. They had wanted to wed, but her attachment to him had waned when she learned he was still married to a woman in Australia.
Herald report of Foster's being sentenced to hang in May 1955. Source / Herald archives
Found guilty of murder, Foster was sentenced to hang. Represented by Dr Martyn Finlay, who later became Minister of Justice, Foster challenged his conviction, but the appeal was dismissed by Chief Justice Sir Harold Barrowclough and other judges in the Court of Appeal.
Foster's mother made a four-day dash from Britain to Auckland to intercede for her son.
"I just had to see my Fred," said Alice Foster, 58, on arrival at Whenuapai airport. "I couldn't let him face this alone.
"He is still my son, no matter what he has done. I know he has to be punished," she said, before breaking down in tears."
She brought him oranges and Woodbine cigarettes and appealed to Justice Minister Jack Marshall and the Queen, but to no effect.
• Killings in an Auckland slum - Freemans Bay and the inner west side
• Auckland bride Mary Eileen Jones killed by 'British secret service' fraudster
• Aucklander who killed for love sentenced to life for manslaughter
• Aucklander Lee Hoy Chong killed for $200 and a packet of opium
• Jury urged mercy after mum convicted of killing sons
Foster's case sparked a debate in Parliament about the "barbaric" death penalty.
And the communist newspaper The People's Voice's printers and publisher were later fined by Barrowclough and other judges for contempt of court. The offending article was said to have suggested a class bias because one judge had condemned Foster, a common worker, to death while another had sentenced a refined lady doctor to three years in prison for manslaughter.
Foster was executed at Mt Eden Prison in July 1955.
Skiffington's and Foster's graves at Waikumete are about 150m apart, in separate sections. Skiffington's also has a memorial stone for her mother.