Friday, December 31, 2010

Keals family tragedy

In the Wesleyan section of the Symonds Street Cemetery, there is a grave for Catherine Keals, who died in 1864. A family history site speculates that she may have had Kennedys disease. Her husband was well known architect Richard Keals, who died while in England, in late 1885, about to return to New Zealand. He’s buried in Cornwall. A considerable amount of information on him to be found here.

Their son Robert William Keals (1848-1925) had children of his own, one of whom was Richard George Norman Keals or the “Little Norman”  of the headstone below. 

1ST MAY 1885

The year after Little Norman’s death, Richard and his wife Marion had another son, and named him Norman Edwin.

AUCKLAND, 16th September.
Norman Keals, after a week's remand, was brought before Mr. Kettle, S.M., at the Police Court this afternoon to answer the charges of breaking and entering the residence of the Rev. E. Perry at Penrose, and stealing money and jewellery to the value of about £30 and further with stealing a buggy, the property of Mrs. Hamlin, and a pony and harness, the property of P Eccles.

At the outset Mr Johnson, who appeared on behalf of accused, who is a young man of twenty-five, intimated that an information had been sworn that Keals was insane. He asked, therefore, that the information should be dealt with before the charges were gone into. Chief-Detective Marsack did not agree with this. He thought that the depositions of the witnesses should be taken at once, and the defence could then prove the man's insanity at the trial in the Supreme Court, were accused sent there. Mr. Kettle said that he could not overlook the information. It was true, he understood, that the defence did not deny the facts of the robberies, but how could Keals admit the facts if he were a lunatic? Mr. Johnson pressed for the question of sanity to be settled first, and at length Mr. Kettle set the case aside until two medical men could make an examination. After about an hour's delay, Mr. Marsack announced that the two doctors who had examined Keals pronounced him to be sane. The case was, therefore, proceeded with, and accused was committed for trial, reserving his defence. The doctors who examined Keals recommended that he should be kept in custody for observation, but Mr. Johnson made formal application for bail, the sureties being fixed at £50 on each charge.

(Evening Post 17 September 1908)

A sturdy-built young man, 22 years of age, named Norman Keals, appeared to answer a charge of breaking, entering, and theft. The case was adjourned till to-morrow to permit of prisoner being medically examined. It is alleged that he had met with an accident some time ago that had caused him to behave peculiarly.

(Evening Post 11 November 1908)

He was later sentenced to one year on each charge, to be served concurrently. Then, he headed to Australia.

A young man of good appearance named Norman Edwin Keals pleaded guilty to a series of four charges of housebreaking and stealing in the suburbs of Sydney. The accused was respectably dressed, and all the while he was In the dock a smile played upon his features. The haul from the four places in question was considerable and varied, running from tins of preserved fruit to clothing and jewellery.

His Honor asked whether the police knew anything of the accused's past
The gaol authorities stated that at Auckland in 1909 he was sentenced to 12 months' hard labour on two charges of breaking and entering and stealing.
His Honor: You are remanded at present. 
(Sydney Morning Herald, 7 August 1912)

Norman Edwin Keals was charged with stealing a boat at Mackerel Beach on February 13, the property of Mr. Bernard Stiles; with stealing clothes at Woodberry on May 15, belonging to Mr, Chas. Todd; stealing property from the house of Mr. Thomas Burnett at Wyong; and with stealing preserved fruit at Mona Vale from the dwelling-house of Emma Catherine Scott Fell. He was sentenced to three years' imprisonment with hard labour on one charge, and three and half years' penal servitude on three others , sentences to run concurrently. 

(Sydney Morning Herald 14 August 1912)

In 1915, Edith Keals, the wife of another son of Robert and Marion Keals, Leslie William, was murdered at Onewhero, along with a baby girl less than a year old.
The woman, Edith Emma Keals, who was murderously attacked near Onewhero, died at the district hospital this evening without regaining consciousness. A Herald representative, who is at the scene of the tragedy, telegraphed to-night that the baby is still missing, and although there are strong indications as to the identity of the assailant, settlers who are searching have been unable to locate his whereabouts. The lady help, Miss Hunter, who is now in Auckland, stated that as she had done washing on the day before the crime she went to bed very tired and slept soundly hearing no noise. Mrs. Keals retired to bed lated .When she opened deceased's bedroom door in the morning she saw blood on the sheets, and a club about the length of a beer bottle lying near. She immediately gave the alarm.
(Grey River Argus, 11 February 1915)

When the police caught up with her murderer, her brother-in-law Norman Keals, it turned out that he’d shot her, didn’t want to leave the baby behind “singing out”, so he took her as well, and strangled her five minutes later.
He had gone to the house on Monday night, intending to kill his brother and all of them, but after he had fired one shot he thought he had done enough. His motive for the crime was revenge, because when he was in Australia he heard that an interest in property near Onewhero had been taken away from him.
(Poverty Bay Herald, 15 February 1915)

He was sentenced to hang, but on the evidence of three mental health experts after the trial, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. (Poverty Bay Herald, 26 June 1915) In 1916, while at Mt Eden Gaol, he broke a medicine bottle in his cell, and mutilated himself with the jagged edges. (Evening Post, 4 January 1916), apparently cutting into his own scrotum. (Update 16 October 2011 - link now dead) After that, he seems to have been committed to the Auckland Mental Hospital at Pt Chevalier, from where he escaped in 1918. (Thames Star, 22 July 1918) Keals was found two days later in a “deserted whare” at Henderson and recaptured. (Thames Star, 24 July 1918) He was then returned to Mt Eden Gaol, and was still there in 1928. (NZ Truth, 13 September 1928). He died at Cherry Farm Hospital in 1965.


  1. Loving the posts Lisa :-) seee it's so dang easy to get addicted to hunting down information on headstones to complete stories. I spend so many hours on my flickr account, but learning about these interesting 'ordinary' people is such fun! ... i could think of worse past times!

  2. Absolutely agree, Sandy -- it's an addictive hobby, but I can't think of any better way to spend a few hours.