The murderer was caught by his victim’s ghost
On a dark winter’s evening in 1826, John Farley, a highly respected farmer of Campbelltown, New South Wales, was walking near a house which belonged to a man named Frederick Fisher. There he saw a figure sitting on a railing of a nearby bridge and merely pointing to a spot in Fisher’s paddock, beyond the creek, before vanishing. So sinister was the figure that Farley fled, fully convinced that he had seen a ghost.
English-born Australian farmer Frederick Fisher was a paroled convict who had become a prosperous farmer in Australia. Sometime before when he thought that he would be incarcerated in prison for debt and assault, he had transferred the power of attorney over his properties and general affairs to his friend and neighbor, another ex-convict, named George Worrall, in order to prevent the seizure by the creditors or to give the impression that he had no assets. A boastful Worrall was heard saying,” It’s all mine now…all that was Fred’s…he give it to me ‘afore he went to prison.” However after serving a light sentence of six months in prison, Fisher unexpectedly returned.
After returning, Fred started to undertake more building ventures. In April 1826, he had a large, three storey brick building and had even commenced work on another building.
On 17 June 1826, Fisher suddenly disappeared and was never seen since. Worrall claimed that he had set sail to England on the ship, Lady Vincent, and after three weeks, he sold Fred’s horse and personal belongings, claiming Fred had sold them to him before he set sail. He also added that Fred had intended to never return to Australia. Suspicions arose.
Three months after his disappearance, the authorities inserted a notice in the Sydney Gazette which offered a reward of £20 for the discovery of Fisher’s body or £5 for information about his whereabouts, in case he had quit the colony.
Worrall was questioned by the police because he had been seen wearing trousers known to have belonged to Fisher. He accused four other men of murdering his friend, saying that he had seen them do it. This unlikely tale deepened official suspicion that Worrall was somehow either involved or knew something crucial about the crime.
One month later, a man came forward with an extraordinary story. It was at this point that John Farley had seen the ghost. He claimed that the ghost was bathed in an eerie light and had blood dripping from a wound in his head. Initially his tale was dismissed, but the circumstances surrounding the sudden disappearance of Fisher, and Farley’s continued insistence eventually led to the undertaking of the police search of the paddock which the ghost had pointed out to Farley.
What they found were traces of human blood on a rail and, at the spot that the ghost had indicated, they discovered Fisher’s savagely battered body buried in a shallow marshy grave, by the side of the creek.
The body was partially decomposed, and was ‘a saddened, deathlike sickly white’. The face was not recognizable, however the clothes, consisting of a plum colored jacket, a full bloused shirt and buckles on the braces were easily recognized as Fred’s.
“The face was completely flattened, the head fractured…Suspicion, it is said, attaches to a man resident in the neighborhood…”
-The Monitor (November 3, 1826)
George Worrall was arrested for the crime by Robert Burke, a chief constable of Campbelltown. He was convicted of the murder, and three days later, he even admitted to the clergyman that he had killed Fisher. On the scaffold, George confessed he had murdered Fred by mistake, thinking that he was a horse in the wheat crop, however, this confession was never believed by the locals. It is widely thought that Worrall had assumed when he had been appointed as Fred’s agent, that all of Fred’s property belonged to him. On Fred’s release from prison, Worrall murdered him to fully obtain his assets.
Worrall was subsequently hanged. Fred Fisher was buried in the cemetery at St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Campbelltown.
Several suggestions have been made that Farley invented the ghost story as a way of concealing some other speculated source of his knowledge about the whereabouts of Fisher’s body, with Joe Nickell going as far as writing that the ghost story may have originated from an anonymous poem in 1832, which fictionalized Fisher and Worrall, but this cannot be confirmed.