This week on 2SER Breakfast, the Dictionary’s special guest historian Minna Muhlen-Schulte talked to breakfast host Tess Connery about a suburban mystery that has intrigued Sydneysiders since 1963.
On the morning of New Year’s Day in 1963, two young boys were walking through the bushy scrub along the Lane Cove River in the quiet, respectable suburb of Chatswood looking for golf balls, when they stumbled upon a man lying face down on the ground. At first they thought he was just sleeping off his New Year’s Eve celebrations from the night before and wandered on. After an hour or so they came back that way and realised that, not only was he still there, but he didn’t look altogether well.
When the police arrived, they quickly confirmed that he was dead, and that, strangely, he was covered by a carpet and naked from the waist down, with his suit pants laid on top of him. About 12 metres away, they found the half naked body of a woman, covered by sheets of cardboard.
The couple were soon identified as Dr Gilbert Bogle, a brilliant physicist working at the CSIRO, who was meant to be leaving the country in a few days with his wife and children to work in quantum electronics in the United States, and Margaret Chandler, the wife of a scientific photographer at the CSIRO, Geoffrey Chandler. They had been having an affair and would have been at the river for a lovers’ liaison.
The autopsies showed no signs of violence apart from some purple coloured patches on their skin and the conclusion was that both had died from a fast-acting poison that was never identified. Eventually a local greyhound trainer confessed to having found the couple early that morning and covering them up, but was cleared of any other involvement in the deaths.
The obvious suspect was Margaret’s husband Geoffrey, but it transpired that the couple had an open relationship and not only had he encouraged the relationship between Bogle and his wife, but he had a watertight alibi as he was with his own mistress Pam at a party in Balmain.
In the deeply conservative society of Sydney at the time, the relationships between the Bogles, the Chandlers and others in their social milieu scandalised the public, and ever wilder theories began to be considered. Given that the Cuban missile crisis had only been three months before, the police started to investigate the possibility that the brilliant Bogle was a spy, or a target of espionage-related nerve gas. International police forces like Scotland Yard were also called in. The police looked at Chandler’s other former lovers, still looking for a motive, investigating a CSIRO librarian with the idea that she could have come across an identifiable poison. The possibility of an LSD overdose was also looked at, as were other toxic substances over the years.
In 2006, film maker and author Peter Butt released a film that recreated the events and presented a new theory that could explain the mysterious deaths that had been tantalising Sydneysiders for 40 years. High levels of industrial waste and sewerage in the water of the Lane Cove River over many years had resulted in toxic gases being released, and the cooler weather over the evening of the night in question would have kept these at ground level. If enough concentrated nitrogen sulfide had bubbled up it would have been enough to suffocate them. This theory would also explain the coloured patches on their skin.
With such a long gap between their deaths and this possible explanation, it seems unlikely however that there will ever be conclusive proof that this was the cause of their deaths.
- Cameron Hazlehurst, Bogle, Gilbert Stanley (1924–1963) Australian Dictionary of Biography, 1993, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bogle-gilbert-stanley-9534
- Geoffrey Chandler, So You Think I Did It, Sydney: Sun Books, 1969
- Who Killed Dr Bogle and Mrs Chandler?, Film Australia in association with Blackwattle Films, 2006
- DR. BOGLE AND MRS CHANDLER – DID HYDROGEN SULPHIDE REALLY KILL THEM? ABC Catalyst Story Archive, 23 November 2006, http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/s1795448.htm
- Peter Butt, Who Killed Dr Bogle and Mrs Chandler?, Sydney: New Holland, 2012
- Who Killed Dr Bogle and Mrs Chandler? (2006), Australian Screen Online https://aso.gov.au/titles/documentaries/who-killed-dr-bogle/
- Tracey Bowden,Two women may hold answer to how Dr Gilbert Bogle and Margaret Chandler died in 1963, ABC News, 2 September 2016: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-02/two-women-may-hold-answer-to-bogle-chandler-case/7808820
Minna Muhlen-Schulte is a professional historian and Senior Heritage Consultant at GML Heritage. She was the recipient of the Berry Family Fellowship at the State Library of Victoria and has worked on a range of history projects for community organisations, local and state government including the Third Quarantine Cemetery, Victorian War Heritage Inventory, Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (M.A.D.E) and Mallee Aboriginal District Services. In 2014, Minna developed a program on the life and work of Clarice Beckett for ABC Radio National’s Hindsight Program and in 2017 produced Crossing Enemy Lines for ABC Radio National’s Earshot Program. She’s appearing for the Dictionary today in a voluntary capacity. Thanks Minna!