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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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Arthur Henry Trotter (1869–1913)

Early yesterday morning a tragedy rendered more startling by its extreme suddenness and audacity occurred at Fitzroy. The victim was Mr Arthur Trotter, aged 42 years, a commercial traveller employed by Messrs MacRobertson and Co, who was shot by one of two armed burglars and died shortly after his admission to St Vincent's Hospital.

The scene of the outrage was at 'Harrietville', 403 George street, Fitzroy, where Mr Trotter resided with his wife and five year old son. 'Harrietville', which was built by Mr Trotter about 18 months ago is a six roomed dwelling exceedingly handsome in contrast with its somewhat sombre surroundings. A well cared for garden separates the house from the street.

That the burglars possessed a good knowledge of the inside of the residence, and that they were also well acquainted with the methods of the murdered man, is amply evident. In the course of his duties as a traveller, Mr Trotter had to collect large sums of money for his firm, and, as he was often unable to reach town until after Messrs MacRobertson and Co's office was closed, he had to take care of the money until he could hand it over next morning. In order to more completely safeguard this money, he made it a practice to deposit it under the bedding. On Monday he had an exceptionally busy day, visiting customers at Carlton, North Melbourne, Footscray, Yarraville, Newport, and Williamstown. Owing to the fact that these calls followed on the Christmas sales many tradespeople settled with him for big accounts, and consequently when he arrived home he had over £200 in his charge. He counted the cash in the breakfast room to make sure that it was all correct and then after replacing it in his bag he had dinner with his wife and child. The cheques he did not touch until after dinner, and when the meal was over he totalled the amounts they were drawn for and tallied them with his books. While this proceeding was being carried out the blinds were drawn, and the same care was observed when the cash was handled.

At about half past 10 o'clock Mrs Trotter retired, but her husband sat up until about 10 minutes past 11 o'clock. He then entered the bedroom, complained of feeling tired and was soon asleep. Almost two hours had passed since her husband's retirement, when Mrs Trotter suddenly awoke owing to the electric light (which is installed throughout the house) flashing in her face. She had no sooner opened her eyes than she was startled at seeing two men in the room each holding a revolver, with which they covered herself and her husband. Practically at the same instant Mr Trotter awoke. He evidently took in the situation at a glance for he at once asked the men what their game was. One of the intruders replied 'Get up we want your money'. Mr Trotter replied that he had no money but the burglar maintained that there was some in the room. The householder seeing that bluff was of no use, decided to show a bold front and sitting up in bed he exclaimed, 'I have only got my boss's money and you won't get that'.

All the while this conversation that led up to the grim tragedy was going on Harry Trotter, whose bed was situated in a corner of his parents bedroom, slept peaccfully on but at this juncture he opened his eyes and saw the two men with their revolvers. The taller of the two, becoming impatient at the last remark, made a menacing movement, and the child plantively appealed to him not to shoot daddy. Mrs Trotter was terrified, and called out, 'Give them the money. Don't shoot'. She was told to keep quiet. 'Don't worry madam we won't touch you', added the man who had been the most talkative.

Then the crisis came. Mr Trotter without the slightest warning leapt out of bed and rushed at the man who was standing at his side. The other burglar was stationed at the foot of the bed with his revolver levelled full at Mrs Trotter. One blow was made by the traveller at the burglar, who stepped back quickly and fired at his assailant's head. Mr Trotter staggered across the floor to a portion of the wall just behind the door when he collapsed. A pool of blood marked the spot where he lay. Without any hesitation whatever the man who had been guarding Mrs Trotter at the request of his companion, pulled the bedding up on the side where the murdered man had slept, and extracted the bag containing the money. The wife screamed and both men hastily decamped.

Mrs Trotter ran out of the front door into the garden, still screaming. Her cries soon attracted several neighbours, whom she informed in a broken and confused way of what had taken place. One of the first persons whom she met was Miss Johnson, a sister to George Johnson who acted as chauffeur to Mr Trotter. The screams awakened George Johnson and when he was told by his sister that Mr Trotter had been shot by burglars he hastily dressed and went in search of a policeman. Previously Miss Johnston had run to the corner for a constable, but could not find one. Johnson traversed several streets, and then came across a constable at Bell Street. Accompanied by the police constable, he went to the Fitzroy police station and narrated all he knew of the occurrence. He then hurried back to the house, and as the ambulance, which he states was telephoned for, had not arrived he took the injured man to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Trotter’s motor-car, where he was admitted at half-past 2 o’clock. Drs C. E. Tucker and D. P. Greenham were in immediate attendance, but they recognised as soon as they examined their patient that his case was hopeless. He was unconscious when picked up in his bedroom, and in that state he lingered until half past 8 o’clock, when he died. The bullet had entered the inner angle of the left eye and penetrated the brain. Dr Tucker believes that the bullet was fired from a medium-sized revolver at close quarters. At one period during his short term of life at the hospital the deceased was heard to mumble something about a diamond ring. His actual words could not be caught, but it was thought that he desired that the ring should be handed over to his wife, and this was done.

In an interview, Johnson expressed sorrow at losing his employer, for whom he had worked for about four months. ‘A short time ago Mr Trotter bought a car’, he said, ‘and I taught him how to drive it. He then offered to keep me on as a driver and I accepted the position. On Monday Mr Trotter’s son, Harry, came with us, and both father and son were very happy. When I left him last night, between 7 and 8 o’clock, he said, “We’ll make an early start in the morning, George”’.

Deceased's widow, Mrs Beatrice Trotter, was naturally much over-wrought by her trying experience. In conversation with the detective she said: ‘I went to bed at half-past 10 o’clcok and Mr Trotter came in about 20 minutes past 11 o’clock. My husband and I were awakened by the electric light being turned on. We saw two men in the room and my husband called out, ‘What’s your game?’ The taller man of the two replied, ‘We want money.’ My husband said, ‘What money? There’s no money here. This is murder.’ One of the men said ‘Shoot the ——.’ Suddenly my husband jumped out of bed and hit the man who was pointing a revolver at him. The man then fired, and when my husband fell he said to the other man, ‘Get the ——'s money.’ The smaller man ran to the bed where Mr Trotter had been sleeping and, turning over the mattress, he took the money. The other man covered me with his revolver and told me to keep quiet. They then ran out the back door.’

In giving a description of the burglars Mrs Trotter said: — The taller of the two was about 5ft 6in high, of slight build, but fairly well made. He wore a green-striped suit and a light brown felt hat. The other man was about 5ft 4in high, and of a similar build to his companion. He wore a cap but I could not distinguish his clothing. Mrs Trotter added that she thought she would know the voice of the first man if she heard it again. ‘His voice’ she said, ‘was that of a youth ... [illegible]…. hood. Both men had white handkerchiefs tied across their faces under the eyes.

Nothing definite can be said as to how the burglars gained an entrance to the house, but it is surmised that they climbed that portion of the fence which terminates an alleyway. On the other hand, they may have come across an adjoining yard which opens on to a side street. The latter supposition is rendered feasible by the fact that a dog which is kept in this yard was heard barking furiously not long after midnight. Before retiring Mrs Trotter thought she had fastened all the windows and doors securely, but in the morning one at the back was found with the catch undone. There were no marks to show that the catch had been forced back although some fingerprints were discovered on the ledge. These, however, may have been made by the occupants. An investigation of the rear of the premises revealed the fact that a wire door which closes over the back door was propped open with bricks, showing that the marauders had taken precautions to ensure a hasty exit. The key of the back door was missing. It is therefore believed by the detectives that the men got in through the window mentioned and then opened the back door. All the rooms excepting the bedroom, which faces George-street, were undisturbed. No difficulty was experienced in securing admittance to the sleeping apartment, as the door of this room was never locked while the inmates of the house were at home.

When the police arrived the bedroom was in a fairly orderly state, though the bed was in a rather topsy-turvy condition. The wall near the door bore bloodstains while a pool of blood disfigured the carpet and linoleum at that spot.

Suspicious characters were seen lurking in the vicinity on Saturday by Mr James Cotter, a brother-in law of Mr Trotter. No notice was taken of this fact at the time, but the carefully planned outrage seems to suggest that the house was under surveillance for some time.

The total amount stolen was £200/15/11, being made up of £82/2/9 in gold, notes, and silver and £118/13/2 in cheques. The cheques will, of course, be valueless to the thieves. On the diningroom table was found a slip of piper used by MacRobertson and Co’s travellers when paying in money at the office. The slip showed that the cheques were drawn on the following people for the amounts mentioned — J. Redmond, Carlton, £85/0/11; Mrs Layton, Carlton £14/7/9; J. Gow, Footscray, £9/11/; Thomas Lewis, Newport, £8/8/6 and - Ditchburn £1/5/. Payment in each instance has been stopped.

'I would sooner have lost £5,000 than have parted with Mr Trotter', remarked Mr MacRobertson while discussing his unfortunate employee’s death. 'It is not the money I care about,' he continued, ‘it is the man. He was an excellent traveller and was exceedingly popular everywhere. During his service with my firm he was most successful in all business matters. He had just re-started work yesterday after the holidays.’ Six detectives, assisted by Detective Potter, the finger-print expert, were working up till a late hour last night on the murder, and, though it is stated that they followed up many clues, no arrests were effected. In fact, no tangible information was secured which would raise a hope that the crime would be speedily elucidated.

The detectives were confronted with the question as to how the robbers knew that the money was concealed under the mattress of the bed, as without hesitation they looked for it there after Mr Trotter had been shot. An answer, which in the minds of the detectives is a feasible one, was secured by the information that was readily forthcoming in many Fitzroy hotels. It is asserted that some-one who knew Mr Trotter’s movements almost as well as he did himself often visited the hotels, and openly conversed about the large sums the murdered man frequently brought home and hid under his mattress until he was able to hand it over to his employer in the morning. The detectives are certain on one point, and that is that the perpetrators of the crime knew the interior of the house very well.

So far the detectives are inclined to the belief that the two men who committed the murder and robbery are Melbourne residents, as they are not aware of the presence of any interstate criminals here.

Mr Trotter's body will be interred in the Melbourne Cemetery this afternoon. The furneral will leave George-street at half-past 3 o’clock. Messrs. MacRobertson and Co. have informed their employees that work will cease at noon to-day, in order that they may be present at the funeral.

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'Trotter, Arthur Henry (1869–1913)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 15 June 2024.

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