Saturday, November 23, 2019

When a rusty pistol fired once -- the death of William John Turner, 1945


"It is disturbing that any boy of secondary school age should ever point a weapon, but I am astounded that the fool hazard of spinning the magazine should be tried out," said the city coroner, Mr A Addison, when closing an inquest yesterday into the death of William John Turner, aged 14, son of Mr W A Turner, of 67 Marsden Avenue, Mount Eden. The boy died from a gunshot wound in the head shortly after an incident at the Domain in which he was seen by two schoolboy companions to take out a revolver, spin the chamber, point it at his temple and pull the trigger. 

Evidence was given by Cyril James Gordon, a delivery boy, that about the beginning of September he climbed through a manhole in the wash-house at his home and found an old rusty revolver lying on the ceiling. He did not know who owned it and did not inform his parents of his discovery. A few days later deceased called at his home to see the weapon and witness showed it to him. As they were going away to play he placed it in the letter box at the gate. When he went back in the evening the revolver was missing. A few days later he saw deceased with it at the Peary Road park, and agreed to let him have it a little longer. 

Walter Raymond Brown, a pupil of the Seddon Memorial Technical College, said he procured a partly-filled box of .22 calibre ammunition from another boy at school to go rabbit shooting at Huapai. While witness was acting as a platoon sergeant in charge of a squad of college cadets on parade at the Outer Domain, deceased, who was in the squad, showed him a revolver he was carrying in his tunic. When witness said he had a box of .22 cartridges, deceased kept pestering him for some of the ammunition. After the parade was dismissed witness gave him two rounds. He did not think they would fit the revolver. 

Another pupil at the Seddon Memorial Technical College, John Walker Watson, said that on one occasion just after school had finished he was with deceased at the corner of Wellesley and Symonds Streets, when deceased took a revolver out of his school-bag and put a live cartridge in the cylinder. He spun the cylinder round and placed the end of the barrel on his right temple, saying, "I am going to shoot myself." He then pulled the trigger, but the revolver just clicked on an empty chamber. "He did this about three times altogether, spinning the chamber, putting the revolver to his temple and pulling the trigger," witness continued. "He told me that, even if the hammer hit the bullet, it would not go off, as the bullet was short, and a long one was required. After doing this, deceased pointed the revolver at several other boys and pulled the trigger. The revolver clicked, but nothing happened." 

Brian Edward Page, also a pupil of the Seddon Memorial Technical College, said that he attended a parade held by the, school cadets in the Domain. After the parade was dismissed, he and another boy, Robert Seath, were walking toward the hospital when they were joined by deceased. On reaching the Inner Domain, deceased pulled a revolver from inside his tunic and said: "Watch me." He then spun the cylinder of the revolver and pointed it to his head. There was an explosion and deceased fell to the ground. Witness saw blood streaming from his head. "Prior to the shooting, deceased was in a good humour," witness added. "He was smiling when he drew the revolver. I do not think that he intended to shoot himself. I think that he was just fooling and was showing off. He never mentioned to me that he intended to take his life." 

Ernest Cyril Wooller, a master at the Seddon Memorial Technical College, said he held the rank of major in the Territorial Force. On Wednesday, September 26, he was in command of a parade of about 800 college cadets in the Outer Domain. It consisted mostly of footdrill and some weapon training with .303 rifles and Bren guns. No live ammunition was issued to any of the boys. He knew nothing about deceased having a revolver either at school or at the parade and was unaware of the accident until the next day. 

In a report on the revolver and ammunition, Gregory G Kelly, an arms expert attached to police headquarters in Wellington, said the weapon used by deceased was a .22 calibre double action revolver of seven cartridge capacity. It was old and decrepit. The mainspring was apt to slip out of place and when this occurred the hammer had a poor blow, One might snap the hammer dozens of times on live ammunition without firing a shot. It would seem that it was a misfortune that the blow which discharged the fatal shell was struck at the time the boy pointed the weapon at himself, continued the report. This was the 19th case reported this year in which minors had been killed or injured through unskillful or careless handling of firearms. 

"The evidence gives a very complete story of the tragedy and the circumstances leading up to the fatal culmination," said the coroner. "It shows that deceased had been making very dangerous play with the weapon and I am justified in drawing the conclusion that as a result of his experiments and inexperience he had formed the opinion that the revolver would not discharge with the mere action of snapping the hammer. "It may be that this is the result of those trashy thrillers seen, read and heard by boys with a thirst for sensationalism", he continued. Nothing could be said against the college authorities. 

Every one present in the Court would appreciate the amount of investigation and helpful work done by the police in bringing to light the full circumstances of the boy's death. He was satisfied that deceased did not intend to kill himself. The coroner returned a verdict that the cause of death was a gunshot wound in the head unintentionally self-inflicted by deceased. 
(NZ Herald 22 November 1945)