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Last Hanging at Fannie Bay

In 1952 Jerry Koci and John Novotny were young post war immigrants from Czechoslovakia who had been living in the Don Hotel in Darwin. Unhappy with their situation in Australia they planned to return to Europe and play music but did not have the means to do so. Tragically they resorted to killing a local taxi driver in order to steal his vehicle for transport to southern states and to raise funds for their planned journey. After buying a .310 calibre BSA rifle locally the pair watched a stately green Plymouth taxi driven by local man John Grantham who had taken fares along Cavenagh Street that day and thought it the ideal vehicle. Novotny wrapped the rifle up in a pair of jeans and the pair approached Grantham asking to be taken down ‘the track’ (Stuart Highway).


At the 13 mile Koci who was sitting in the front asked Grantham to pull over. After he stopped Novotny unwrapped the rifle and shot him in the head while he talked to Koci as they had planned. Grantham was killed instantly and the pair wrapped the Jeans around Grantham’s head to stem the blood flow and they dragged his body a short distance into the scrub. Novotny shot the body twice more to be certain he had killed him and the pair escaped in his vehicle, bound for Melbourne. The following day with Grantham missing a search was commenced but there was no idea what had befallen him. Aircraft and taxis tried to find his vehicle and police made enquiries to determine his whereabouts until by chance his body was found and the crime discovered. A BOLOF (Be On the Look Out For) was issued for the vehicle by description and registration and soon after it was stopped in Queensland on the road between Mt Isa and Duchess by Constable Herbert Hatton. Initially the pair gave false names (Tan Vasely and Milan Tostall) and denied any knowledge of the crime. When it became obvious the Queensland officers were well informed they then said they had been abducted by two other men who had killed the taxi driver and held them hostage until they got to Queensland where they had fled. Mt Isa Tracker Joe Pearson was taken to the location the said the ‘real offenders’ had fled but was confident that no person had covered that ground recently. Both men were taken to Mt Isa Police Station and Sgt Verdon ‘Joe’ Mutch, Sgt Eric ‘Sandy’ McNab and Constable Thomas ‘Tom’ Hollow flew in to interview them. The game was up and full confessions were made. The investigating members examined the vehicle and then drove it back into the NT along with the offenders and evidence. The rifle had been thrown into the bush 8.5 miles from Soudan Station and after collecting an Aboriginal from the station (as a tracker) they were able to locate the rifle which still had blood smears on it. Senior Constable Lionel McFarlane found green twine around the ankles of the jeans found at the crime scene and he found the same type of twine in the suspects room at the Don Hotel. Justice Martin Kriewaldt heard the case and a guilty verdict was quickly returned. A mandatory death sentence was imposed as was the law at that time and on 7 August 1952 Jerry Koci and John Novotny were executed for the Murder of John Grantham being the last men hanged at Fannie Bay Gaol. "2 Migrants Held" Trove article http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/18493438

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