The Nelson Street Murder

Upper Nelson Street in Auckland, these days is mostly a network of motorway off ramps, but in 1914 the area housed factories and homes. Further down Nelson Street, older buildings and factories have been replaced by modern apartment complexes and restaurants. Many people familiar with the area are probably  unaware that over a century ago a married middle aged women was brutally murdered in a small alleyway off upper Nelson Street. Her killer was never caught.

On the evening of September 28th 1914 at around 7.30pm, Frances Marshall, aged around 43 years old, reportedly left the home she shared in Freemans Bay with her husband to go visit friends. After visiting a female friend’s place on Wellesley Street, around 9.50pm Frances visited another lady at a shop on Hobson Street, mentioning she was heading back home. The following morning, a local man found Frances’s body lying on her back in a small passageway between two properties off Upper Nelson Street. Frances’s throat and head had been slashed, her jaw broken, and numerous stab wounds punctured her body. She did not appear to have any obvious defensive wounds, but due to the narrowness of the passageway, there may not have been much room for a struggle.

The fact Frances was found lying on her back in a secluded spot could suggest possible sexual indiscretion on her part prior to the attack, but her killer could also have forced her into that position. Whoever killed Frances that night had probably meet up with her close to where she was murdered, as a couple of witness sightings placed her in the Upper Nelson Street area around 10pm, with one witness reporting she saw Frances in the company of an unidentified man.

Central Auckland 1921. Nelson Street is left to right in the foreground. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-4806
Central Auckland 1921. Wellesley St, with Nelson St left to right in the foreground. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-4806
Central Auckland, 1931. Hobson St with Nelson St the next street over.  Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-4820
Street Map of Central Auckland – around 1909. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-168

Modern online articles, only briefly summarize the basic details of the case and refer to Frances Marshall as a prostitute, however looking through newspaper articles from the time, the only references to Frances having been a prostitute are indirect. Due to the savage nature of the attack, comparisons were made to the Whitechapel murders, in which eleven London prostitutes were brutally savaged in the late nineteenth century, but Frances was not directly referred to as a prostitute. Her husband, when questioned about her character, stoutly defended her and she was also described as a sober and good women by friends.

Perhaps in a time were female promiscuity was still frowned upon, reports may have been less favorable had she been a prostitute, however it is also possible, back then a more chivalrous era, papers at the time extended a courtesy so as to not damage the deceased lady’s character. It is also possible incorrect assumptions were later made as more detailed accounts of the story, which was at the time widely circulated in New Zealand papers, faded into historical archives.

Fredrick Marshall, Frances’s husband, reportedly did not go out looking for her on the night of her murder, and rather than immediately report his wife missing to the police or search for her the next morning, he instead went out to see about a job. Was Fredrick used to his wife being out late? Could he have killed Frances himself and that is why he didn’t go out looking for her? Or was he simply very determined not to miss out on a potential work opportunity which is what he told the police at the time. The couples income was reported to have been quite low, and Mr Marshall was not in regular employment. While the police interviewed him, he was never declared as an official suspect.

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Hobson Street, Auckland, 2015

After enjoying a snack of dark chocolate and some rather sweet lemonade. I set off on my late afternoon trip to explore the general area of the Nelson Street murder. The afternoon was grey and mildly cold, with brief patches of sunshine, a typical late winter afternoon.

I went for a quick walk along the upper part of Hobson Street before I headed over to Nelson Street. My sister, who also has a keen interest in unsolved murders, used to reside in an apartment building on Nelson Street, and I visited her there a few times, neither of us aware that further up the road, many years before, a woman had been murdered.

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Union Street, Nelson Street off ramps across Street, Auckland, 2015
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Nelson Street off ramp, Auckland, 2015
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Nelson Street, Auckland, 2015

I wandered down Nelson Street, looking at buildings, wondering if any of them might have been linked to Frances’s murder in some way. Returning back to the Union Street end, with it’s motorway off ramp and road works, in the grey early evening, the area appeared bleak.

Researching archived newspaper articles of the time, and studying old street maps of Auckland City Centre, it appears Frances may have been murdered around the area which is now were the Nelson Street off ramps are. With no official suspects in the case and no other similar murders in New Zealand around that time, the sad and brutal murder of Frances Marshall remains unsolved and the identity of her killer remains a mystery.

Sources of information:

Foully murdered. 29th September 1914, Page 4. Auckland Star. Retrieved from http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast

Nelson Street Murder. 30th September 1914. Auckland Star. Retrieved from http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast

The Murder Mystery. 1st October 1914. Auckland Star. Retrieved from http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast

Who murdered Fanny Marshall? 17th October 1914. NZ Truth. Retrieved from http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast

Murder Mystery. 1st October 1914. Poverty Bay Herald. Retrieved from http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast

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