Convicted killer Frederick Patrick Mouat was careful to stipulate in his will that his body be buried after his death. He showed no such care to his wife when he killed her, dismembered her body in the bath and incinerated the pieces in the garden of their Christchurch home in 1925.
Frederick, a mining engineer and hotel keeper, was skint, and when his wife Nellie began to question where all their money went, she disappeared.
Frederick was born in Purakanui, near Dunedin in 1878. He was one of the youngest of a long line of children born to Peter William Mouat, a settler from the Shetland Islands, and his wife Maria nee Driver.
As a young man Frederick headed to the West Coast where his older brother William, was an engineer. He found employment at the Garden Gully Mine, but soon decided more was to be made in the mines in West Africa.
By 1907 Frederick had emigrated to England and was working stints in a gold mine near Seccondee, Ghana. In 1910 he married Ellen Louisa Merrett (known as Nellie) in Catherington, Hampshire, England. Nellie was also a New Zealander. She was born in Turakina, near Wanganui in 1886, the youngest daughter of George Merrett and Phillis (nee Whittington).
After the wedding Frederick returned to the mines in Ghana and Nellie, after a short time in England, returned home to New Zealand. Shortly after, Frederick joined her and convinced her to go back to Ghana with him. By 1922 the couple decided to come back to New Zealand permanently and they settled in the small town of Glenavy, on the banks of the Waitaki River and bought the Glenavy Hotel. After a year, they sold up and moved to 10 Beckford Street, St Martin’s, Christchurch under a rent to buy arrangement.
But by February 1925 their money was running out. Frederick had some work on a drainage project, but it was not enough to cover their spending. On February 19 the Mouat’s landlady called around to pick up the mortgage cheque, which Frederick later admitted he had told Nellie would have bounced. They then went to visit some friends returning home later that night. It was the last time Nellie was seen.
The following day Frederick told neighbours that she had gone to visit her brother and would then travel with him to Dunedin to visit his mother. However, Frederick never left. Instead, neighbours noticed fires in the garden and smoke from the Mouat’s kitchen chimney. When Frederick was questioned about Nellie’s whereabouts, he first said she had gone away on holiday and then later said he did not know where she was. But Frederick did not report her missing. That was left to Nellie’s brother John who contacted police on March 2.
Police made a search of the Beckford Street house and property and discovered her hand bag, false teeth and all her clothing was still there. They dredged the nearby Heathcote River and dug through the ashes of the fires – locating small pieces of bone. Frederick was interviewed by police, but allowed to go free on the condition he return to the police station the next day. He didn’t, and like his wife, just disappeared.
On March 9, dishevelled and hungry, Frederick was arrested. He had been sleeping rough in the Port Hills. He was charged with Nellie’s murder and the following day made his first appearance in court. Mouat’s first trial was held in April. The evidence seemed overwhelming. The jury were told: that many of the bones uncovered in the ash were human; that Mouat had pawned Nellie’s jewellery the day after she disappeared telling the pawnbroker that he had no use for the items; that blood and flesh was found under the rim of the bath; that blood was found on blankets and sheets from the bed and that blood was found congealed in the drain under the bath. But the jury could not agree. A second trial was held on August 24 and this time he was found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter – the defence counsel had given the jury a stern warning that if Nellie turned up alive Frederick would have hanged for nothing.
The sentencing judge appeared to have no qualms over Frederick’s guilt, sentencing him to 17 years in prison, with hard labour.
An inquest into Nellie’s death was not held – the coroner decided that the bones did not constitute a body, so her death was never officially recorded.
In 1929, Frederick petitioned Parliament to quash his conviction – it was refused.
Frederick was released from prison on August 10, 1937. He moved to Glenfield in Auckland where he took a job as a fitter and turner. Frederick died on October 18, 1959 and is buried in Birkenhead Cemetery - as per the instructions in his will.
The bone fragments ended up at the Police Museum and in 2017 the mystery of what really happened to Nellie Mouat was finally solved. Forensic testing by Otago University confirmed that the bones were in fact Nellie’s mortal remains. The bones were buried with her parents in Linwood Cemetery 92 years after her brutal death.
Photo: New Zealand Police Gazette