Nothing as yet found that happened on this very day in Kimberley’s history. Et quaerere semper.
DID YOU KNOW
John Theodore Misherley, the kind-hearted and charitable 59 year old Greek owner of the Union Hotel and Bar on North Circular Road, had spent some 30 years on the Diamond Fields, and indeed, was most respected in the hospitality industry. Monday, 5 July 1915, destined to be his last day alive in this world, was a most relaxing day for the popular man. He spent virtually the entire day playing bowls with some of his friends before having a hearty meal at the Kimberley Mine Bowling Club, then going home to his wife Catherine just a short walk away at 8 North Circular Road, the avenue that sweeps down the entire northern end of Kimberley’s renowned Big Hole. That, however, is where the pleasant monotony of living in a small town came to an end for the unfortunate Misherley, the oldest licensed victualler on the Diamond Fields.
Declining a meal with Catherine, he nevertheless enjoyed a cup of tea before heading off shortly before 5pm to his canteen cum hotel in order to open the business for those workers needing a relaxing drink after their days work. At the same time his wife went to spend some time with her two daughters at 2 Tucker Street, just around the corner from their home on North Circular Road. The daughters were alone, both their husbands being with the Kimberley Regiment in German South West Africa fighting for General Louis Botha’s army against the Germans.
Three Africans, Amos Molife, Dick Mazino, and William Lelo, all described as having full time employment as labourers, had decided that their meagre wages needed to be supplemented. Lelo, a “Ninevite” gang member who had only recently moved to Kimberley after having lived in Johannesburg most of his life, was the natural leader of the threesome, and it was he who carried out the planned robbery of the Union Hotel. Both Molife and Mazino were local Motswana residing in the nearby No 2 Location, as well as being members of the same gang as Lelo, the “Ninevites”.
Molife kept watch on the pavement outside the canteen, Mazino stood by the open doorway leading into the “hotel”, while Lelo himself went inside, armed with a claw hammer. The Union Hotel had two bars, one for black customers and the other for whites, the bars being separated from each other by a wooden screen. Both bars had separate entrances for the customers, whereas the entrance for Misherley was a single door leading from the sitting room to the space behind the bar counter that served both bars. A call for service from the black bar saw Misherley stop reading that days issue of the Diamond Fields Advertiser, place his reading glasses on top of the newspaper on the small table and go through to serve the customer.
Lelo ordered a spirituous drink from Misherley, who turned his back on the bar counter in order to fulfil the request, which was all Lelo needed, as he sprung across the counter and hit Misherley, described by many of his contemporaries as a quiet and good citizen of the town, several blows on the head with the hammer. Misherley collapsed senseless, blood pouring from the wounds. Lelo then proceeded to rob the premises, taking two (or three) bottles of “F.C.” brandy, a bottle of peppermint brandy with Misherley’s own label thereupon, a tumbler, plus a certain amount of money that included 40 sixpenny pieces wrapped in a handkerchief and five shillings worth of “tickeys”, or threepenny pieces. The keys for the Hotel were also taken. He rejoined his comrades keeping guard outside, and they left hurriedly for the location, stopping only to purchase a bottle of sherry at the Australian Arms on Tucker Street.
Another customer, a Mr Clarke, upon entering the white bar, heard moaning coming from the opposite side and went to investigate, finding the unconscious John Misherley lying quite still, although still breathing. Knowing the family well, he rushed to the Misherley house, before being re-directed to Tucker Street where he told the family to come quickly to the hotel as there had been a terrible tragedy. The family got there shortly before the De Beers ambulance arrived, Mrs Misherley holding her husband’s head cradled in her arms. His wounds were extremely serious, and upon arriving at the Kimberley Hospital, underwent an emergency operation, which sadly was unsuccessful, Misherley dying without regaining consciousness at 1 pm on Tuesday 6 July.
Perhaps if they had kept quiet about their deeds of the day, no-one would have been any the wiser, but William, his story corroborated by his two comrades, openly boasted about murdering Misherley and stealing the items already mentioned. Their bravado was not such a good idea, as there were many police informers in the township locations, and such bragging, while impressing some, would soon lead to their demise. David Bayi was the landlord of the hut in which the three murderers lived, and he had seen them leave for town earlier that day as well as upon their return, when Amos had paid his five shillings rent in “tickey” pieces, and Dick his four shillings rent in “tickeys”, sixpences and a shilling piece.
That same evening, the three had visited the home of the Williams sisters, Florrie, Sarah and Catherine. Dick had boasted that he had no need to work anymore as he “had money enough” while jingling the money in his trousers pocket. Amos told the three ladies that a white canteen keeper had been killed, and when Amos asked: “Where is father?” William Lelo had produced the bloodied hammer, saying the hammer was “father”. Lelo had warned them, in a dramatic fashion, to keep silent about what they had heard that night. Sarah had then asked Lelo if he knew of the killing of the white man, and he had replied that he was guilty of the murder. The next day, Amos invited David Bayi into his room, where he had shown his landlord a bottle of “green sweet stuff”, as well as two bottles of “F.C.” brandy. Bayi had never seen liquor in the room before that day.
Not content with telling the sisters of the evil deed, William Lelo then bragged to another “Ninevite” gang member, Sam Jacobs, that “we have killed a white man”. Amos and Dick nodded their heads in agreement with their leader. The three should have kept quiet because word of their complicity in the crime soon reached the ears of the police, and eight days after the murder of John Misherley, Detective Farr took the three into custody upon suspicion of murder. In Dicks’ room was found the missing keys, and in Amos’ room the tumbler was discovered. Together with the testimony of all the witnesses, the future for the three looked bleak.
The trial of the three prisoners took place in October 1915 before Judge Johannes (John) Henricus Lange, John Barclay Lloyd prosecuting for the Crown, with Advocate S.B. Kitchin appearing for the defence (at the request of the Crown). It seemed a foregone conclusion that the three men would be found guilty of murdering Misherley, although the defence did attempt to discredit one of the key witnesses, Sam Jacobs. Jacobs admitted that he had been convicted before, and when in the witness stand, was awaiting trial on a case unrelated to the murder. How could anyone believe a convicted felons story, argued Advocate Kitchin?
In his summing up of the evidence before the jury began their deliberation, Judge Lange mentioned that the evidence of Jacobs might well be unreliable, and touched upon the fact that the jury would have to also consider if Sarah Williams had “any deadly spite against William Lelo”. In concluding his brief, Judge Lange said that the jury could only bring in one of two verdicts – either the three accused were guilty of the murder, or that they were not guilty. There were no in-betweens. He directed that “two or three men acting in concert in order to commit a crime were all equally guilty, although one man struck the blow and the others were assisting in some way or other. If Amos and Dick stood guard while William committed the crime, then they were all guilty.” The motive for the murder appeared to be robbery; the claw hammer had been used in the murder; but the most damning evidence were the statements by the various witnesses. The sentence all hinged upon whether the jury believed the witnesses as everything was merely circumstantial.
The jury deliberated for fifteen minutes before returning with a verdict of guilty. The Clerk of the Court then enquired from the three if they had anything to say why sentence of death should not be passed upon them, Amos Molife answering that “There is no eye-witness of the occurrence”, the other two merely repeating his words ad verbatim. Judge Lange stated that they appeared to belong to a dangerous gang, indeed, Williams had come from Johannesburg “where such crimes were frequently committed.” Their motive had been robbery and they had not hesitated to murder the unfortunate Misherley for a little money and some liquor. Their boasting about not needing to work as they could always get ready money by violence and robbery, had resulted in a brutal, callous and cold-blooded murder, and he had no alternative but to pass the sentence of death upon all three of them, concluding with the words “May the Lord have mercy on your souls.”
As an aside, a few days prior to the three murderers being sentenced to death, the family van der Westhuizen, residing in Barkly West, suffered two tragedies within weeks of each other. The father, William, a diamond digger working a claim in the Vaal River just below the town hospital, died immediately when struck by lightning during a storm, his 14 year old son having been killed only a few weeks before when an artillerty shell he had been holding exploded. Death comes in so many different ways, and for some families, lightning does appear to strike twice in the same place.