The grave of Phllis Avis Symons (centre with no headstone) at Karori Cemetery
Grave Story #3
Everyone knows that you toot in the Mount Victoria Tunnel in Wellington but not everyone knows it’s supposed to be because of a ghost.
Since it’s Halloween we thought we would share with you the ghostly story of murdered 17-year-old Wellington girl Phillis Avis Symons.
Phillis was killed by her lover, George Erroll Coats. A widower with six children already, and he did not want another. So when Phillis told him she was pregnant he did not want to keep her around anymore.
Phillis was an unsophisticated girl, and her parents had not agreed with her liaison with Coats so she had ended up living with him in a ramshackle rooming house in Adelaide Road.
In June 1931 she went missing.
Work on the then-under-construction Mount Victoria Tunnel had to be halted as a massive search began for her. More than 100 workers shifted an estimated 2000 tonnes of rubble in the search, which ended when her body was found in the spoil excavated from the tunnel.
Phillis was found face down wearing a scarf.
The case horrified Wellington. A pathologist said he believed she was made to kneel before being hit over the head with a spade then tipped into the hole made for her.
But worse was to come. The pathologist believed also that she - and her unborn child - were still alive at the time and only died when the earth was thrown over the top of her.
Coats had been a relief worker at the works site but had lost his job, meaning he was familiar with the area.
Coats’ trial was a sensation. People queued to get into the Supreme Court to hear it. There was even a scramble for seats.
He was found guilty and hanged at the Mt Crawford Prison on December 17, 1931.
Phillis and her baby rest in an unmarked grave in Karori Cemetery. Coats too is in an unmarked grave in Karori sharing the grave with his wife Constance and their two-month-old baby Pat who died five days apart in April 1930 - a year before Phillis' murder.
While Phillis did not actually die in the tunnel it was believed the tooting started as a mark of respect to her.
Nearly 90 years after her death, Phillis is remembered, if only in the loud honking of horns by passing cars. Happy Halloween and don't forget to toot for the ghost of Phillis!