As they disembarked the ferry and excitedly charged up the beach, the group of young day-trippers were no doubt captivated by the magical beauty of Athol Bay.
They had travelled to Mosman from a Sunday school in Gladesville, and as a sunny morning of games and activities commenced, the children soon scattered themselves across the golden sands and into nearby bushland. It was Saturday, November 17, 1923.
A day trip to Mosman on the ferry ended in the gruesome discovery of a baby’s body inside a suitcase 100 years ago.
William Lodder, a Primary schoolboy from Drummoyne, was playing near the water when he spied a small, grey suitcase washed up on the beach.
Thinking it could be something of value, the boy unfastened the latches – and was immediately overcome by a putrid smell.
Instead of treasure, William had found nothing more than a sodden towel, wrapped around an object that was secured with a piece of string.
“There was an unpleasant smell, so I put the case down and touched the towel with my toe,” he later told police, “I went away – and left it there.”
William Lodder, a Primary schoolboy from Drummoyne, was playing near the water with a friend when he spied a small, grey suitcase washed up on the beach.
With the fetid, mysterious package now sitting inside an open suitcase on the beach, it didn’t take long for curious young minds to investigate further.
It was 12-year-old Eunice Clair, who would soon make one of Sydney’s most gruesome discoveries.
Less rattled than William, she picked up the towel and loosened the string, before reeling back in horror.
Inside was the body of a dead baby girl. She was just three weeks old.
Athol Beach, photographed in 1923.
Around her fragile neck was a firmly wrapped cord. And stuffed down her tiny throat was a white muslin handkerchief.
Her name was Josephine.
Police launched an investigation that revealed the newborn was thrown overboard, from a ferry that was bound for Mosman.
And it was the handkerchief pushed deep into the newborns throat, that would eventually lead them to the killer.
On 23 November 1923, Sarah Boyd was arrested by Police and charged with murder.
With its distinct purple stitching and a commercial laundry code that read 2/14, the delicate hanky was traced back to a Laundry in Goulburn St, where the manager was able to provide an address for its owner.
On November 23rd, two women were arrested, Sarah Boyd, the baby’s mother, and her close friend Jean Olliver (who owned the handkerchief).
Olliver quickly confessed to knowledge of the baby’s murder but claimed that Boyd was the killer.
An un-wed mother burdened by the shame of an illegitimate child, Boyd had indeed murdered her newborn, and the criminal case dominated headlines around Australia until the summer of 1924.
Jean Olliver – who owned the handkerchief that strangled baby Josephine – was also charged.
Both women stood trial. Boyd for the actual murder of her baby Josephine, and Olliver for aiding and abetting in the heinous crime. It was during the coronial inquest that the gruesome detail of the events leading to murder came to light.