Gasps of shock ran through the Blenheim Supreme Court as the skull of murdered man James Flood was held up in court.
The horrific murder of Flood by a man wielding an axe had already created sensational headlines as did the sudden production of Flood’s actual skull.
The axe was also an exhibit in a packed courtroom.
Pathologist Philip Lynch - we’ve written about one of New Zealand’s premier pathologists before - was giving evidence at the trial of Walter Edward Tarrant, accused of killing Flood, when he brought out the skull.
Tarrant, 60, had been born in Australia in 1874, coming to New Zealand in 1908 from Tasmania and by 1931 he was living in Picton with his wife Eugenie Anne and his children.
The Great Depression had not been kind to Tarrant. He had tried his hand at a number of jobs, but now as a wood merchant, was in great financial trouble. He had been sued several times, been charged with forging a cheque and was behind in his rent.
James Flood lived in Picton in Canterbury Street. At 76, he was a retired bachelor who had spent his life farming with his brothers (Joseph and Jerome) and had considerable savings. He was known to keep large amounts of money about him, about £1000 - going so far as to have a custom made pocket attached to his coat for his wallet.
On November 3, 1931 a search was made for Flood who hadn’t been seen for several days. His body was found in front of his fireplace with significant head injuries.
About the same time Tarrant began spending money that he had not had before. He started paying off his rent and began making purchases with £20 and £10 notes - big notes for the day.
It drew people’s interest so in a pre-emptive strike, Tarrant went to the police and claimed initially he had saved some money - then that he had found it.
He was arrested and brought before the Supreme Court for trial.
Dr Lynch told the jury Flood had been hit on the back of the head with the axe and had fallen. He was then struck twice more, with blows so heavy they severed his spinal column and nearly his head.
Tarrant was found guilty and made an appeal which failed. An appeal to the Governor General for a new trial was denied.
He was hanged on March 6, 1933, at Wellington’s Mt Crawford Prison and buried in an unmarked grave in Karori Cemetery. His final word when asked if he had anything to say was “Nothing”.
James Flood was buried in Picton Cemetery but bizarrely without his skull which is still in the storage at the University of Otago.
Picture by Tyler Lastovich.
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