This year marks 75 years since Derwent Evans Arkinstall murdered taxi driver Howard Thomas Chambers at Holland Park on Brisbane’s Southside. In June 1939, Brisbane was shocked when it was learnt that the killer was only 18 years of age. An electrician’s apprentice Arkinstall seemed a most unlikely killer. Indeed when interviewed by police soon after his arrest in Bangalow New South Wales where he had fled after committing the crime, he seemingly did not realise the gravity of what he had done: “It was not an accident, and I did not do it deliberately, yet I do not know how I did it. I just took the revolver out of my pocket and fired it.”
It was truly a terrible crime. Tom Chambers was a veteran cabbie, 74 years of age. His body was found at Slack’s Creek. He had been shot twice in the back of the head and once in the forehead – to make sure he was dead.
When he appeared in Brisbane Police Court Arkinstall was asked whether he admitted he had fired the shots that had killed Chambers. Cold-bloodedly the youth responded “They say there were only two shots, but I am sure I fired three”. Arkinstall was found guilty of murder in the Supreme Court soon after.
He would spend 43 years living behind the walls of Boggo Road Gaol becoming Australia’s longest serving prisoner at that time. In “Boggo” he was regarded as a dangerous trouble maker. In 1946 notorious escapologist Arthur Halliday, Arkinstall and Victor Travis staged one of the most daring prison breaks in Australian history. For this he was never trusted again.
His release 31 years ago was controversial. He had only one word for reporters at the time when asked what it was like to be leaving prison – “wonderful”.
The 62 years old had been released to die as a free man. In this case justice could truly have been said to have been served – prison had claimed the best part of Arkinstall’s life.
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