This is the story of the murder of Chrissie Venn. After several days of searching by locals, the missing fourteen-year-old was eventually found stuffed in a hollow tree stump. Her killer was never found. Here Unsolved Casebook takes a look at the harrowing case.
The Search For Chrissie Venn
It was around 7 pm on February 26, 1921, when Ena May Dawes started to become concerned about the whereabouts of her daughter Chrissie Venn. Earlier that afternoon Ena had sent fourteen-year-old Chrissie on an errand into town from her home in North Molton in Tasmania to buy some groceries. It was a chore she had undertaken numerous times and so Ena had little reason to worry when she sent her on her way. However, she had never taken this long before so after a brief walk along the route Chrissie would have taken Ena decided it was time to contact the authorities.
In the days that followed dozens of individuals searched the surrounding area hoping to find the missing teenager without success. Charles Purton was a neighbour of the missing child and he stated he had been out ploughing his field on the Saturday afternoon Chrissie vanished. He remembered seeing the girl walking along Allison Road, which headed into town, at around 5 pm.
Perhaps more worrying was the statement given by the two young sons of farmer John Hearps. One of the boys stated that he thought he heard someone scream whilst out working on his father’s field. As it was a singular scream the boy decided he was probably mistaken and chose not to investigate the noise any further. When asked the boy said this occurred at some time after five.
In the days that followed the search continued. On March 1st, a new search party gathered in an area just off Allison Road near the path leading to Hearps farm. In this area, a couple of the men decided to search several tree stumps found at the location. It would be here that the search for Chrissie Venn would reach its tragic conclusion. Inside a hollow in one of the trees was the body of the young girl.
The Crime Scene
Over the years since the discovery of Chrissie Venn the details have become muddied. Some reports claim the young girl was badly mutilated, with some even going as far as to say the tragic victim was decapitated. However, it seems this may be greatly exaggerated. What we do know is that Chrissie’s body had somehow been put into the tree hollow head first, seemingly stuffed through a sixteen-inch hole in the middle of the nine feet tall tree stump.
It was established she had died of asphyxiation. It was unclear what exactly had caused her to suffocate, but it was largely assumed a piece of her own clothing shoved forcibly into her mouth was the cause. However, a piece of hay baling wire was tied around the young girl’s throat, though it was believed this was done after Chrissie was already dead and used to aid the moving of the body.
There was evidence that Chrissie Venn had put up quite a struggle with her assailant but sadly this didn’t prevent the perpetrator from carrying out another heinous act as there was evidence Chrissie had also been sexually assaulted. Evidence found thirty-six feet from the tree in which she was found indicated to police this was where the attack took place. Hair believed to be Chrissie’s and a bloody stick were amongst several items found at the spot.
George William King
Suspicion quickly fell on a local man. George William King was a local farmer and friend of Chrissie Venn’s mother Ena May. King had also been a member of the search party that had helped look for Chrissie. Although he wasn’t part of the group that found the young girl (King was searching elsewhere with a different group) he was present when the victim’s body was removed from the tree. Some of the locals noticed that King had several scratch marks and cuts upon his hands, leading locals to question whether they could have come from a struggle with the deceased.
George William King denied any such suggestions. He claimed initially that he got the injuries to his hands during the search in an incident with a log, however, he also later claimed they could have been the result of play fighting with his wife.
Rumours quickly began to swirl that Chrissie Venn had been scared of King. No reason as to why seemed to be forthcoming but it was said Chrissie had taken to hiding in bushes whenever she saw him approach. When asked about this by police King claimed he had no idea if this was true and if it was he didn’t know the reason behind it.
On March 6 George William King received a letter related to the case. With no signature the letter simply read:
“Take Care- I saw you murder Chrissie Venn and if you don’t confess, I am going to tell the police.”
The letter also contained a crude picture of a man hanging from the gallows.
King made his way to the police station but not to confess as the letter had asked, he instead demanded police find the author. King believed he knew who the writer of the letter was, laying the blame at the door of one of the young Hearp boys. During the Coroners inquest held on March 26, Detective Harmon stated they had not found the author of the letter but he had deducted it had been written by a woman. By the time of the said inquest, George William King had already been arrested for the murder of Chrissie Venn.
The Trial And Aftermath
On August 14 the trial of George William King begun. Six days later the jury returned a verdict. George William King was found not guilty of the murder of Chrissie Venn.
In the days that followed the acquittal heads rolled. The detective heading up the investigation was dismissed under the grounds of incompetence. It was reported that several good suspects were dismissed without any further investigation or even been interviewed due to his absolute belief in George William King been the murderer despite little in the way of evidence against the suspect.
Likewise, the Coroner had become something of a laughing stock thanks to his handling of the case. Several times over the course of the six months between the murder of Chrissie Venn and the trial of George William King he had altered his findings. His utter incompetence made his testimony during King’s trial worthless but worse than that was his handling of the evidence. He had mislaid, failed to preserve and in some cases not even collected key pieces of evidence making any future arrest related to the case almost impossible.
And sadly that proved to be the case. Other than a confession made the following year that was easily disproven, no one else was ever named as a person of interest in the murder of Chrissie Venn. And despite been nationwide news during the early months of 1921 by year-end, it was almost as if the tragic event had never taken place.