Grave of Harry and Johanna Tyson (centre) at Karori Cemetery. Grave Story #4
This unremarkable grave in Karori Cemetery in Wellington is the final chapter in the lives of two people who escaped the hangman’s noose and who may have got away with a double murder.
Interred in this grave are Harry and Johanna Tyson, but these were not the names they were using when they were charged with the poisoning murders of their illegitimate twin sons. Back then, in 1898 in Hastings, they went by the names of Charles Henry (or Edward) Tyson and Elizabeth Rosa Moran. Charles (whose nickname was Harry) was a barman at the Railway Hotel. The couple did not live together, with Elizabeth staying at a boarding house nearby with the twin boys.
This intriguing case began on Sunday, March 27, 1898 when the first of the three-month of twin boys, Charles Reginald Moran, was found dead in his bed.
Two days later, on March 29, Elizabeth awoke to find Charles Reginald’s twin, Francis Milton Moran, also dead.
March 29 was a very busy day for Elizabeth and Charles. Curiously, after finding Francis dead that morning, the couple proceeded to get married, before they attended the inquest on little Charles, and then later in the day appearing in court facing charges of murder. At the inquest, medical examiner Dr Robert Nairn gave evidence that the post-mortem had revealed Charles was a well-nourished and healthy boy except that his tongue, oesophagus and stomach showed considerable evidence of a strong corrosive poison. The jury returned a verdict that the boy had died by corrosive poisoning, but by whom it was administered there was no evidence to show.
The next day, March 30 was also a busy day for the pair. That day they again appeared in court facing the charge of murdering Charles before they attended the inquest on Francis’s death. Dr Nairn testified that he had examined the boy’s internal organs, which he presented to the court in glass jars labelled Exhibit A and Exhibit B, and had found no obvious cause of death. It was decided to adjourn proceedings till both children’s organs could be analysed. The jars were carefully shipped off to the Government analyst in Wellington in the care of Constable Butler, leaving the Tysons on tenterhooks in Napier Gaol and the readers of Hawke’s Bay’s newspapers on the edges of their seats.
At 7.30pm on April 5 the doors of Hastings Court were opened for the resumption of the inquest and, according to the Hastings Standard, a rush of people reminiscent of the “crush at the pit door of a theatre on a first night’s performance” ensued. A hush fell over the court as a police officer read a telegram from the Government analyst.
“No poison found in children’s exhibits.”
The public gallery broke out in applause. The Tysons were hurriedly released on bail on the murder charges and two days later the charges were dismissed.
But what did cause the deaths of two seemingly healthy twin boys? Could it have been natural causes or some disease? Or was it just that toxicology was not advanced enough in 1898 to detect the possible poison or poisons used? We may never know.
This was not the last time that the Tysons were involved in controversy. In February 1908 Charles and Elizabeth, who was now calling herself ‘May’ took over the management of the Upokongaro Hotel on the Whanganui river. In March 1910 residents of Upokongaro were awoken to a terrific explosion. All of the windows of the hotel had been shattered when a forestry contractor named George Laurent had attempted to blow up the hotel with two sticks of gelignite. He had committed suicide but left a note saying he had intended to kill Charles and May and May’s brother Gerald Moran over some undisclosed grievance.
By 1912 the Tysons had moved to Kelburn in Wellington. Charles died in September 1928 and is buried in Karori Cemetery under the name Harry. Elizabeth died in July 1952 and is buried under the name she was given by her parents when she was born in Waterford, Ireland in 1873, Johanna.