The Federal’s violent past revealed
By MICK ROBERTS ©
FREMANTLE’S Federal Hotel was the scene of a gruesome double murder in 1927, when Lillian Martin and her three-year-old son Daniel were found dead in an upstairs bedroom of the building.
The Federal Hotel was designed by George Charles Inskip and built by Jordine and Ruthven for the one-time proprietor of the Rockingham Arms, James Herbert.
The Federal Hotel opened for business in July 1887, and was described at the time as being “far in advance of anything so far erected in Western Australia and equal to the best in the sister colonies”.
The hotel’s colourful history though is darkened by a violent double murder, which occurred on February 8, 1927.
Lillian Josephine Martin and her three-year-old son Daniel Charles – known as “Tyke” – were found dead in an upstairs bedroom of the building.
Separated from her husband, Lillian and her lover, John ‘Jack’ Thomas, had booked into the Federal Hotel under the name of Mr and Mrs Martin on February 7. With them was young Tyke.
Jack Thomas left the hotel at 7.30am the following day, and the bodies of Lillian and Tyke were discovered at 11am by a yardman.
Horribly, Lillian had been suffocated by a pillow, and her son’s throat had been cut. The horrific murder made front page news around the country with the Perth Mirror reporting on Saturday February 12:
THROUGH the window of a disordered bedroom on Tuesday morning a yardman at the Federal Hotel, Fremantle, was the first to see the dreadful evidence of a double-crime that has shocked the State. Lying strangled on one side of the bed was a young woman; on the other was a beautiful baby boy with a great gash in his little throat from which his life-blood had ebbed. They were both dead, but there was no one to tell the how or the why of the tragedy. The man, who held the secret had hours before, crept quietly from the scene of the terrible deed. From an evening at the pictures, Mrs. Lillian Martin and her son Dan entered their hotel bedroom on Monday night never to leave it alive. The first the hotel people saw of them was when a man, a woman, and child came to the Federal Hotel, Fremantle on Monday evening, booking a room and dinner at the hotel, and spent the evening at the pictures, returning to their room at about 10.30. Probably only the man who murdered them saw the woman and child alive after that hour. Next morning at about 7.30 “Martin” (who is since believed to be Jack Thomas) left the hotel. But no importance was attached to this or to the failure of the woman and child to appear at breakfast. Growing anxious as the morning wore on, however, the licensee sent the housemaid and a yardman to investigate the locked and peering through the window they made their terrible discovery. The police were immediately notified, and when Constable Shannon opened the bedroom door the shocking nature of the crime that had taken place during the night was apparent. The child lay on the floor in a pool of blood, his neck cruelly gashed, his pretty hair dripping with his own blood. And the woman, scantly clothed, bruised and lifeless lay on the other side of the bed with her head under a pillow. Both had been dead several hours, the woman having evidently been strangled and the child done to a cruel death with a razor that almost severed his little head from his body. What followed the committing of the horrible crime can only be surmised. The detectives are, however, of the opinion that the man wiped his razor and replaced it in its case, washed his hands, and went to sleep with those ghastly reminders of his crime on each side of him. Whether he slept soundly or was tortured by terrible dreams he alone knows. But it is certain that he arose early and taking a revolver and a handful of cartridges, left the room taking the key with him. Only the evidences of his crime remained.
An extensive search was undertaken by the police for Thomas, whose body was later found near the Mends Street Jetty in South Perth. The Perth Sunday Times reported on February 13 1927:
SOLUTION as to the whereabouts of Jack Thomas, the man the detectives have been actively searching for since Tuesday last in connection with the Fremantle double murder came last evening when his dead body was found at South Perth. Definite identification will not be established until this morning, but there is no doubt that the remains are those of the wanted man. Late yesterday afternoon as Mr Dick Trenowerth was walking along foreshore at South Perth he came across the dead body of a man in the rushes about 300 yards to the east of the Mends Street Jetty. He at once communicated his discovery to Constable E. B. Richardson of South Perth, who, after an examination, concluded the description tallied with that of Thomas. A closer examination of the remains was then made and it was soon discovered that the dead man had shot himself in the head. He was lying on his back and a five chambered revolver was found at his side. Close by was a folded copy of the “West Australian” dated February 8 (the morning Thomas disappeared) and it had apparently not been opened.
The murdered women’s husband, and father of the toddler, Felix “Broncho” Martin is the real tragedy in this sad story.
Felix was born in 1899 in Southern Cross, a former goldmining town, 370kms east of Perth, in outback Western Australia. He was the son of a railway ganger, Charles Martin and his wife, Edith.
Felix was a keen soccer player, pulling on the boots for the Battlers in the Southern Cross football competition. As a teenager he was employed driving a bakers cart before joining the armed forces to fight in the Great War at the age of 17.
Seriously wounded on the battle fields a number of times, he eventually returned home to Southern Cross in 1919, where he was given a hero’s welcome.
The Great War veteran had been wounded by a bullet that tore through the roof of his mouth and reportedly he had plastic tubes in his throat to assist breathing. When Felix attended work in the mines, he was required to wrap his throat and lower face in bandages to protect the wound.
Felix married Lillian Bentley at Boulder in 1922 before the pair made their way to Perth where they would go onto have two children together. Their first child, a boy, Daniel was born in 1923. A second child, a girl, died in infancy.
Their short marriage was turbulent, and both reportedly were heavy drinkers.
Not much is known about murderer, Jack Thomas, except that he was originally from England, first landing in Victoria, where he worked as a gold-prospector near Ballarat, before making his way to Perth about 1926.
Thomas took a room at the Fremantle boarding house, located in Newcastle Street, where Felix, his wife, and son also called home. The new boarder was said to have been an introvert, who wasn’t short of money.
Thomas struck-up a friendship with Lillian, who by this time had become estranged from her husband, often buying her gifts, including plenty of beer. He was also said to have been highly jealous when any other men befriended Lillian.
By this time the Martins marriage had ended. In 1925 Felix had accused his wife of infidelity, and the pair had separated.
Felix was said to have “entertained little affection” for Lillian after their separation. However, his love for his son was strong.
With a great mass of curly hair and a round chubby face, young ‘Tyke’ had also gained the affection of residents around the Newcastle Street boarding house.
The Perth Mirror reported on February 12 1927 that although only three, Tyke was an intelligent child and “made friends with everybody and everybody made friends with him”.
“Daily he could be seen riding his little tricycle over to the shop after his mother, coming back with an ice-cream or a chocolate and greeting all the neighbours on the way. He was the kind of kiddie that everyone took too, for he was as lovely in his manner as his appearance”.
“I can’t understand how any man could be cruel enough to kill ‘Tyke’,” a neighbour told the Mirror newspaper.
At the Fremantle morgue where Felix had to identify his son ‘Tyke’, it took the detectives all their time to lead “a frenzied father” away from the body of his boy.
“With his home and his body a wreck, Martin today a pathetic, bandaged figure, must find this added burden almost more than he can bear,” the Mirror reported.
In March 1927, the coroner concluded that Jack Thomas had committed both murders, and then committed suicide by shooting himself with a revolver. We will probably never know the exact reason behind the tragic double murder at the Federal Hotel. However, it’s probably fair to say that her lover, Jack Thomas murdered them in a mad fit of jealousy.
A devastated Felix Martin never married again. In his later years he worked at the Emu Brewery’s bottling department and died in Perth at the age of 51 in 1951.
In 1989 the Federal Hotel was renamed to Rosie O’Grady’s, and became an Irish themed pub. In 1995 the building underwent internal alterations, and its front balcony and facade was restored. Further internal changes were made in 2001.
In January 2016 Rosie O’Grady’s closed for business and the name reverted to the Federal Hotel. The pub continues to trade in William Street Fremantle today (2022).
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2022
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