The pub murder of Robert Anderson: 1939 gay hate crime remains unsolved

The Cosmopolitan Hotel, corner of Erskine and Clarence Streets was the secene of what seems to be a gay hate murder in its basement toilets in 1939.


REPLACED by a large high rise office building, the art-deco Cosmopolitan Hotel was the scene of what was likely one of Sydney’s first recorded gay hate crimes.

The 1939 murder remains unsolved to this day, and caused a sensation around the nation at the time.

The shooting of 22-year-old Robert Anderson in the basement toilet of the Cosmopolitan Hotel – a known gay ‘beat’ – was not the first violent crime at the pub on the corner of Clarence and Erskine Streets.

Before the pub was rebuilt by its brewery owners, Tooth and Company, in 1934, the Cosmopolitan had a reputation of attracting shady characters.

An American sailor who called into the Cosmopolitan especially to see barmaid, Margaret Connelly, in 1905, ended up charged with her attempted murder.

Edward Connaughton had been “seeing” the barmaid for about two years when he visited port in Sydney. Connaughton, 29, was a fireman on the mail steamer Ventura.

Edward Connaughton and Margaret Connelly. Picture: Sydney Sportsman, June 7, 1905
The former Erskine Street Police Lock Up. Picture: Google.

The lock-up, at 85 Erskine Street, where Connaughton grappled with Connelly on the steps,  taking her by the shoulders, turning her round, and firing three shots at her with a revolver, was located opposite the Cosmopolitan Hotel.

One shot hit her in the groin, and Connaughton turned and ran up the street. Pursued by a crowd, he was eventually tackled to the ground and arrested by a police officer.

Connelly was taken to the Sydney Hospital, where she was admitted in a serious condition. She survived to testify in court, watching as her lover was found guilty of attempted murder by a jury, and sentenced to death by a judge.

The sentences of death was later commuted to penal servitude for life.

Another tragic crime occurred at the pub, which by this time had been rebuilt, just over 30 years later.

During 1939 a young aspiring actor and green grocer, described by his father at the coroner’s inquest into his death as “effeminate”, was shot through the heart with a revolver in the basement toilets of the pub.

The Cosmopolitan Hotel’s underground toilet was a ‘gay beat’, a place for men to meet for casual and anonymous sex. The Melbourne Age reported on Tuesday, March 21, 1939:


Sensational Shooting

Robert Anderson, 22, found shot through the heart in the basement toilets of the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Picture: Brisbane Truth, August 20, 1939.

SYDNEY, Monday.— A cold blooded murder was carried out in the basement of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, opposite the Erskine-street police station late this afternoon. Called by a customer to open the door of a lavatory in his hotel, Mr. John Moody found the body of Robert Vincent Anderson of Rozelle, lying on the floor. He had been shot through the heart.

Two shots were fired by the murderer, the first apparently missing the intended victim, for an empty cartridge, was found on the floor several feet away from the body.

After committing the crime the murderer pulled the body of his victim into the lavatory and then slammed and locked the door.

The police have not secured any clue to the identity of the gunman, nor have they succeeded in establishing any motive for the crime.

The tragedy occurred only a few yards from the police station, and to escape the murderer was forced to walk up a few stairs, through a saloon bar and to a door leading into a lane.

Two employes of the hotel stated that they heard what appeared to be shots below, where they were serving in the bar, but believed the sounds had come from the street. They did not notice anyone leaving the hotel under circumstances that would warrant their curiosity. A thorough search failed to locate a weapon.

The empty cartridge found was of .32 calibre.

The Sydney Truth reported a much more revealing story of the coroner’s hearing into the young gay man’s death on Sunday August 20 1939:

Cosmopolitan Hotel, Clarence Street, 1936. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University. Inset: Robert Anderson. Picture: Brisbane Truth, March 26, 1939.


Strange Story Of Queer Practices at Hotel

ONLY the sound of a man’s stifled sobs broke the heavy silence of the court; a man who buried his face in his hands while, his shoulders shook and heaved convulsively; Suddenly, Charles Gordon Kendall Wright, former choirmaster, raised his head, dried his eyes, and hurried from the court, a gaol warder at his heel.

Wright, at present an Inmate of Long Bay Penitentiary, had just heard the Coroner state that there was no evidence to implicate him in the shooting of young Robert James Anderson, whose still-warm body was found in a hotel convenience, said to be a rendezvous for sex perverts, on March 20.

SENSATIONAL climax to two days of extraordinary evidence was the police application for an adjournment of the inquest, which was granted, when Mr. Wood, S.M., intimated that no prlma facie case had been established against Wright, who was present to court.

Robert Anderson, the dead man about whom remarkable things were told. When police set about solving the mystery of the shooting of Anderson, they were faced with clues which were described as negligible. By whose hand and for what motive did the 22-year-old ardent church-goer, amateur theatrical player, described as effeminate by several witnesses, meet his death? Robert Anderson, shipping clerk, of Rozelle, father of the dead boy, said that his son was 22 years old. “My son neither drank nor smoked, and was a regular church attendant,” said Anderson. Sergeant Magnay (assisting the coroner): Did he discuss his business with you? — No, he .was a reserved type of boy. Was he a masculine type?— No. He was inclined to be a bit effeminate. William Francis Schey, of Lane Cove, and an employee of John Sands Ltd., also said that deceased was rather an effeminate type of youth. Anderson had told him of a man, named “Gussie,” the choirmaster of the church at Rozelle, which Anderson attended. “He told me,” said Schey, “that Gussie had ideas on sex matters and that he was always after the boys.” Jack Moody, licensee of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, said that a customer complained that he could not open the door leading to the toilet. Moody opened it with a screwdriver to find “a young chap” lying on the floor. Questioned by Sergeant Magnay, Moody said that he had heard that the lavatory had been used as a rendezvous for sex-perverts, but he had seen nothing there himself. Robert Lewis Hunt, a lithographer, of Normanhurst, detailed several conversations he had had with Anderson, with whom he daily came into con-tact, when the latter was employed at John Sands Ltd. “He used to tell me that he would fall In love with men,” declared Hunt. “He told me that he had been introduced to Fisher and had fallen In love with him.”


Wright, a choirmaster, is an inmate of the State Penitentiary. Although warned by the coroner that he need not answer questions which might end to incriminate him, he said that he was quite willing to give evidence. Sergeant Magnay: Did you indulge in sexual practices at the Cosmopolitan Hotel? – On one occasion I did. You knew Anderson’s mannerism and practices? — Yes. You and he were practically on common ground to regard to those practices?— As far as he was concerned, I only know what he told me. Did anything ever take place between you? — Most emphatically nothing ever took place between us. Was he effeminate?— Yes. While Wright sobbed bitterly, the Coroner, on the police application, adjourned the inquest to September 28.

The coroner returned a verdict that the young man was murdered by a person or persons unknown.

The police had previously asked for an adjournment of six weeks in which to undertake further inquiries, but it was stated that they had no further evidence to offer.

The cold case was re-looked at again during the 1940s and 1950s, but the young man’s murder remains an unsolved crime to this day.

The Cosmopolitan Hotel closed for business in 1961, and survived until the early 1980s, before its demolition to make way for an office tower.

First published 2016, updated 2023

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2023

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