McLeod’s Bookshop lane - murder scene

Statham House service lane

Type
Incident
Region
Brisbane City

109 Elizabeth Street, Brisbane 4000

In July 1944, a US Army court martial sentenced Private Abelardo Fernandez to death for the murder of Brisbane woman Doris May Roberts. This was the first death penalty handed down by a court in Queensland in 31 years. As the death penalty had been abolished in Queensland, the state government would not permit the execution to take place in Queensland.

The US Army had to fly Fernandez to Papua for the death sentence to be carried out. Fernandez was hung on 14 November 1944 for the crime that he had committed in wartime Brisbane.

History

Apart from being the Headquarters of the General Douglas MacArthur’s South West Pacific Area (SWPA) Command, Brisbane was also a major rest and recuperation centre for US and Australian troops on leave.

Apart from the more innocent entertainment offered by the Red Cross, YMCA or servicemen’s canteens, some troops sought carnal pleasures and prostitution grew in Brisbane. Most of the brothels could be found in the City or across the river in South Brisbane. Such was the shortage of prostitutes in Brisbane during the war that, in September 1942, a trainload of these women was brought from Sydney to reinforce Brisbane’s sex workers

On the night of 19 June 1944, Private Abelardo Fernandez of the US 503rd Parachute Regiment murdered prostitute Doris May Roberts in the service laneway that ran beside McLeod’s Bookshop in Elizabeth Street, the City. Fernandez was in Brisbane recovering from an injury sustained in the Allied parachute assault on the Markam Valley, New Guinea on 5 September 1943. On leave from the US Army hospital at Holland Park, Fernandez and three buddies started a 'pub crawl' at Holland Park’s Mountain View Hotel, then down Logan Road to the Stones corner Hotel and finally into the City for a meal. At Nick’s Café in Elizabeth Street, 31 year-old Fernandez had met 41 year-old Doris. The US soldiers had bought whiskey (possibly from the Army PX in Creek Street) and another woman joined the party for a short time. Upon leaving Nick’s Cafe, Fernandez and Doris drunkenly fell down the cafe’s stairs and slightly injured themselves.

Fernandez and Doris then walked down Elizabeth Street, with the other US soldiers straggling behind at a distance. One soldier was on crutches. Upon reaching McLeod’s Bookshop, Fernandez pushed Doris into the service lane and began to molest her. She asked for money so that they could pay for a room in which to continue. Fernandez became enraged as he took Doris’s request for money as a slur that made him feel cheap. He proceeded to beat her and kick her savagely. She died in the Elizabeth Street lane.

On the morning of 20 June 1944, Brisbane detectives of the Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) at the Roma Street Police Headquarters questioned Fernandez. He admitted to the murder and underwent a two day court martial held at US Army Provost Headquarters at the South Brisbane Town Hall Chambers in Vulture Street. After his conviction, he was held at the Camp Layfeyette US Army Stockade (prison) where he repaired saddles for a US cavalry division while he awaited the carrying out of his sentence. As the death penalty had been abolished in Queensland in 1913, Fernandez was flown to Papua for execution. He was buried at Clark’s Cemetery, Angeles City in the Philippines.

Source/comments

BCC Heritage Unit citation