While combing New Zealand newspapers for mentions of my ancestors on the magnificent Papers Past site, I came across a terrible tragedy. I can’t help but think that this is somebody’s family history waiting to be discovered.
In what seems to be the typical journalistic style of its time, the descriptions are quite graphic.
3 December 1896 – Star
A MANIAC MURDERS HIS WIFE.
[Per Press Association.]
WELLINGTON, Dec. 2.
A shocking tragedy happened at Pangatotara, near Motueka, last Saturday night. John Grooby, who, a fortnight ago, was released from the Nelson asylum on probation at the request of his wife and sons, who undertook to take care of him, about halfpast five o’clock on Saturday evening took an axe used for cutting firewood, and attacked his wife.
Mrs Grooby was, at the time, in the act of drawing bread from an oven. She apparently held up the bread tin to ward off the blows, as the tin was found cut right through.
The unfortunate woman was apparently then forced to the ground, and as she lay there helpless the maniac knelt down and with the axe completed his murderous deed. The whole of the front and sides of the head were cut and beaten into a fearful and unrecognisable mass. After finishing the deed Grooby washed his hands and face, laid the axe beside the house and walked to and fro beside the body. He told one of his sons that he committed the act with a tomahawk, and he subsequently said that the devil did it.
Grooby’s sister, who was close by, heard screams and rushing in saw her brother chopping at his wife’s head. She spoke to him but he did not reply, and she then sent for help. The murderer was subsequently arrested by the police, and at the inquest a verdict of wilful murder was returned against him. Grooby has since been brought before the Magistrate’s Court, and stands remanded. The family is well known in the district.
The next source mentions how Grooby was remanded so that the family, who were witnesses to the event, could attend the funeral that afternoon.
Apparently, mental health issues ran in the family. John Grooby’s sister, who is mentioned only by her husband’s name is recorded in the same edition of the Colonist (2 December 1896):
“Mrs Joseph Graves, who was formerly committed to the Lunatic Asylum, but was released some two or three years ago, has again exhibited strong symptoms of insanity. It is rumored that she left her home on Monday night, and was wandering about the whole night”.
John Grooby and his sister ended up in the asylum together. The whole affair is indeed “a most sad one”.