Cousins Deb Drummond and Jan Teunis knew from a young age not to ask questions about their grandfather Reg Brown. It was only as adults they learned the shocking truth. Reg had been jailed for the murder of his 19-year-old typist, Bronia Armstrong, in his Brisbane office in 1947. Nine days after being sentenced, he hanged himself in his cell.
They say every family has its secrets – well mine certainly did. I’ve spent a decade walking around the streets of Brisbane, poring over archives, trying to find out the truth about my grandfather. Deb Drummond, granddaughter
Reg Brown was at the centre of one of the most notorious murder cases to have happened in Brisbane. But on reviewing the case I would have some very serious questions about the way in which the police approached it. Bob Moles, Miscarriages of Justice Project
I think the weight of evidence is a clear indication that he was guilty. Alicia Bennett, former detective
Bronia’s murder led to an outpouring of public outrage. But behind the salacious headlines lay two family tragedies. The Armstrongs had lost their young daughter, supposedly at the hands of a man considered a family friend. And Reg Brown’s son, Ian, had lost the girl he loved.
Neither Ian Brown nor his sister, Val Herbertson, spoke to their children about their grandfather. “I suppose we were both ashamed,” Val said. “I locked it away and threw away the key.”
But when Ian Brown’s daughter, Deb Drummond, discovered the family secret she understood her father much better. “I always wondered why Dad had a lot of anger built up in him,” she said. “He thought his father had betrayed him by murdering Bronia.”
Deb and her cousin Jan decided to look into the crime and were disturbed by what they found. A circumstantial case, a lightning fast arrest, a conviction within weeks, a lack of forensic evidence, suggestions of verballing and a notoriously corrupt detective, Frank Bischof, behind the investigation.
“We began to believe that Reg had been framed by the police,” said Jan.
Dr Bob Moles, from the Miscarriages of Justice Project at Flinders University, is one of several legal experts to study the transcripts of the trial and cast doubts on its fairness and the strength of the conviction.
“One would probably conclude that they got the wrong man,” said Dr Moles, who was instrumental in the successful campaign to overturn the conviction of Henry Keogh.
Many, however, remain convinced Reg Brown was guilty, including former detective Alicia Bennett, who wrote a book about the case.
Although Deb and Jan are unable to prove their grandfather’s innocence, the process of discovery has been a healing one. “I think one of the greatest satisfactions I have had was to see our parents set free,” Jan said. “To be able to speak openly with us, to see my mother released from the trauma that happened to her at 18.”
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