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Author Topic: Murder and Suicide at Sheerness Barracks 1904  (Read 1940 times)

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Murder and Suicide at Sheerness Barracks 1904
« Reply #1 on: September 17, 2016, 23:23:07 »
Murder and Suicide at Sheerness.

Another extraordinary barracks tragedy has to be recorded, this time from Sheerness. Gunner Heanue murdered Bombardier Walter Chew, of No. 18 Company, Royal Garrison Artillery, and committed suicide, both deaths having apparently been instantaneous. Heanue, who was a servant to Lieutenant Simpson, had, it seems, been guilty of a petty offence, and an escort was sent to place him under arrest. He appears to have learned of the orders that had been given, and when Bombardier Walter Chew arrived with the escort he met him in the passage of the officers quarters, and shot him through the head with a bullet from a sporting rifle taken from Lieutenant Simpson's room. He then made a rush out of the passage, and was seen making his way along the fortifications. An alarm was raised, and the regimental Sergeant-Major Smith immediately organised search parties, and the civil police were also called in. The search for Heanue was continued for upwards of an hour without any trace of him being discovered, except that he had been seen running in the direction of the town. Patrols were sent out. At about 20 minutes to 11, eighty-five minutes after the murder, a rifle shot was heard close to the spot where the officers and police were discussing a plan of search.

The murderer was then found lying in a pool of blood with a wound through his head, which had been inflicted with the sporting rifle. Death took place instantaneously. Heanue's body was found behind a rampart on the Sheerness lines, immediately opposite the rear entrance to the officers quarters. Two live cartridges were found on him, and it is believed that he concealed himself with a view of shooting the mess corporal, who had reported him, in the event of his emerging from the door. He must have heard the directions given to the search parties, and realising that he must soon be discovered, shot himself. He was a single man, about 23 years of age.

Both bodies were removed to the mortuary. There had been no ill-feeling between Chew and Heanue, it is stated that when Chew, who is well liked by his comrades, received the order to arrest Heanue, he remarked to another non-commissioned officer, "More trouble; an officers servant has been pinching".


At the inquest, Chew, having been identified by his brother, (sic) Frederick William Atkins, mess butler, stated that he saw Heanue take some fish from one of the plates being removed from the mess-room, and reported the theft to Lieutenant Simpson, Heanue's master, when he came down. Heanue met witness on the stairs, and inquired what he was going to do with him (Heanue). Witness told him he would know in a few minutes, whereupon Heanue said, "I will do for you." Heanue was very excited, probably from the effects of drink. An escort was sent for, and a few minutes later witness heard firing. He went down the passage, and saw Chew lying on the floor, shot through the eye.

 Lieutenant Simpson stated that he had just returned from shooting, and placed his gun and cartridges on his bed. Atkins informed him of the theft by Heanue, and when he questioned Heanue the latter said "I did not take the fish." Atkins was positive Heanue committed the theft. No orders were given to Heanue that night to clean witness's gun, but there was a standing order to do so. Heanue was excitable, but sober. Gunner Ernest Marshall said he was sent with Bombardier Chew to remove Heanue to the guard-room. Chew told Heanue that he had come for him, and Heanue replied, "I know that. I want to go to the kitchen." Chew left witness and followed Heanue. Witness heard Chew say, "That will do," or words to that effect, and immediately afterwards there was a gun report.

P.C. Weasherley said he found the body of Heanue on the range ground with a gun-shot wound in the mouth and a rifle lying across his breast. A rambling letter found on Heanue was identified by Lieutenant Simpson as in Heanue's writing. It was written before the tragedy, and contained a threat by deceased to kill a man named Reed for breaking Lieutenant Simpson's bicycle, for which Heanue had to pay. The jury found that Bombardier Chew died from a gunshot wound inflicted by Gunner Heanue, and that Gunner Heanue committed suicide while temporarily insane. Sympathy was expressed with the relatives of Bombardier Chew. Subsequently Chew was buried at the Isle of Sheppey Cemetery with full military honours. Heanue was interred without military honours.

From The Australian Star. 20 October 1904.

No date is given above for the murder, but the two men were buried Sheerness Cemetery on 6 September 1904.
Walter Edward Chew, aged 23.
Michael Heanue, age 21.


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